About 11 years ago when I was assigned to be the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese, I started going around from church to church every Sunday to preach about priestly vocations and the importance of praying for vocations. At the same time I also served as the Master of Ceremonies for one of our auxiliary bishops, so there were weekends when I would not preach. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bishop Noonan and visiting different churches in the tri-county area, I really missed preaching on Sundays to my parishioners on the readings of the day. So in an effort to stay sharp, every weekend I would write a brief homily as if I was going to preach it to one of the two parishes that I had served at. Sometime in 2006, I started emailing these homilies to a few friends. Late that year, I started posting my homilies on (ready for this?) Myspace of all places. Soon the email list got longer, I moved from Myspace to Facebook like everyone else, and by the time I returned to parish life in January 2009, I was writing, or better yet transcribing my homilies every single week.
More often than not, here is how the process would go. I rarely write my entire homily before I preach. I usually start thinking and praying about what I want to preach about in the middle of the week. By Friday or Saturday, I have 4 or 5 things that I want to mention in my homily that I jot down on a post it note and I put it in my pocket. By Sunday morning I (usually) know what I want to communicate during those precious 7-10 minutes during Mass that I get to share the Word of God with my parishioners. I seldom take the post it note out of my pocket unless there’s a quote on it that I don’t want to butcher, and then when I start preaching, it’s all up to the Holy Spirit from there.
Every Sunday night around 9pm, I would sit down in my room with my laptop with only that post it note as my reference and I would transcribe what I preached that day. Only on very few occasions would I write down the entire homily before I actually preached it. I really enjoy writing. I really enjoy communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ through the different social mediums at our disposal. For me it’s like a journal of my priestly journey of faith and how I communicate that faith to the people of God.
So I did this every Sunday night, except when I was on vacation or out of town, for 10 years. I don’t know how many homilies I have written. I have on occasion peeked back and looked at what I wrote in 2006 or 2007 and cringed at what I had transcribed. Sometimes I would wonder if this weekly Sunday night routine was an exercise in vanity, but the comments I have received over the years have been so uplifting and not surprisingly, some of those positive comments are in response to homilies that I don’t think are that good. Just another proof that the Holy Spirit is in charge when I stand in my church to preach or sit in front of a keyboard to type.
Last June, I started to feel rust and started to get weary from my Sunday evening routine. It was a lot easier to do when I wasn’t a pastor. On June 5th of last year, I wrote a very personal and heartfelt homily to my students who were about to graduate from 8th grade and by extension to all the students I have ever taught. I still remember preaching that homily about coming home and staying home with my heart in my hand. When I put it in writing later that evening and shared it with a few friends, I realized that it was one of those rare homilies that I was (almost) completely satisfied with. So I posted it, and thought to myself, “if that’s the last homily I ever post, that’s fine with me.” You see, one of the primary reasons I posted my homilies in the first place was to reach out to those who have wandered far from the Church. Whenever I would sit down and write, I would always have my kids in the back of my mind praying that they would read what were essentially love letters from God to them.
That mini-sabbatical lasted barely two months. The people on my email list asked me to keep on writing which I did. But the New Year rolled around, and I started noticing that at least the written version of my homilies didn’t have the same spirit they once had. I was doing this more out of duty than out of passion. So after returning from the March for Life in January, I wrote one final homily for the closing Mass of a retreat we hosted for families with children with special needs…and then I stopped. I needed a break. I did not want this labor of love to be a routine. Some friends pleaded with me to keep writing, but this time I stood firm because I needed the break. Over the past few months, the homilies I have preached in my parish have been more heart to hearts with my parishioners as we endeavor to grow closer to Christ. They have been probably the most personal homilies I have ever given. They are homilies that “you just gotta be there.”
This doesn’t mean that I won’t return to this medium again. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to write these lines was because on Tuesday I got an email from our editor in the Archdiocese that she was going to publish that homily I mentioned earlier from June of last year. The power of the written word is not lost on me especially when that power is amplified because I am writing about the Living Word of God. I wish I could have you all in my pews every single Sunday, but I implore you to listen to the words of your priests in your parishes. Yes I know that some are more eloquent than others, but listen because the Lord is communicating to you through these chosen ones of His. There is more power in a homily heard and experienced during the celebration of the Eucharist than in any words that I can possibly write to you on Sunday nights.
So for now, “I’m on a break” from writing…not from preaching the gospel. Pray for me. Pray for each other. And above all, pray for your priests!