Preaching and Personality

In a recent issue of The Priest magazine, Richard Hart, O.F.M., Cap., gave the reader an inspiring article and an excellent set of reflections for current deacons and priests, as well as for those preparing for such in their homily preparation classes.

I would just like to list some very important words from his sharing. The homily should: be powerful, inspiring and enlivening; have a sense of freshness; be consoling and supportive. If we can integrate all of these elements after preparing well with Scripture and reflecting on how the homily will have some direct and specific impact on our parishioners, I affirm strongly that the deacon/priest will “own” his homily; he will have a deep personal conviction as to what he is a about to share. He will have allowed the Word “hug” and capture him. And this carries over to his listeners.

All of the above create significant challenges for the preacher. From my point of view, what looms as significant centers on the personality of the one to proclaim the word. In my over 25 years I have watched myself trying my best to capture this “ownership”; the task is not easy, but it can happen.

I have watched my own deacons at Mass and have watched in a class at the seminary for priest preparation in homiletics. What I have seen and listened to stems from the particular personality of the deacon or student. We need to remember that here in this artificial setting of a Mass, the student stands before the professor and students as his parishioners for the first time. I have known and watched the shy student, the rather shy student and the rather outgoing student. Often a change occurs up there behind the ambo. Here to me comes the kairos for the “ownership” of the homily; the conviction. It is not a lecture, which often happens with shy ones.

What I recommend here centers on the ability to identify one’s feeling and to express them; to “open up”; to be seen and heard in a way that shows that you strongly believe in what you are sharing; to be looked at as really “with it.” If the student cannot let his feeling emerge, then those special words above do not live in his homily.

I have seen, however, that the shy student with encouragement and opening to the spirit can experience a healthy sense of transformation to express that outgoing sense of vibrancy and conviction. I knew one young student very well, a fine young man with a fine spiritual base but very much a bit shy. This showed in his first few homilies, all of which felt rather lifeless. He knew this and with encouragement he became the best homilist in the class, allowing that quiet but strong feeling level emerge into his sharing of the word.

Yes, understanding of one’s authentic personality for me looms as very significant in order to encompass best what Father Hart emphasized in “Preaching the Mystery of Faith.” If only those special words of Father Hart’s article that I emphasized became the root of the homily, then the homilist will truly bear good fruit.

Now, parishioners are very generous people in their expectations. They hope to hear a good homily (I feel that means one “from the heart”), but if they don’t, they realize that this person up there with the priestly robes has the same human flesh as they have. Usually, they are very kind with their recommendations; sometimes not so kind, and most of the time they say nothing. Also, unfortunately, some decide that the homily justifies their leaving the church. The homilist is definitely human with his own personality and cannot please everyone, but if he keeps working on a sense of “heart” homily, I feel that parishioners will never want to leave.

FATHER BEAVER, O.S.B., is a retired monk at St. Vincent Archabbey located in Latrobe, Pa. He was ordained in 1985 (at the age of 56) and had been assigned at several parishes until his retirement in 2011. Before entering the monastery at 51, he had been an administrator in higher education institutions. He has a BA in English, an MA in Education, and an MS in Theology.