No jokes please, just break The Word

About a year and a half ago I felt convicted by the Lord to start breaking ‘The Word’ at mass. I am not a scripture scholar and to be honest while I passed my scripture classes in seminary with flying colours, little entered my head or my heart. If I write scripture exegesis today it is with much fear and trepidation yet with the confidence that that while the words are mine, the thoughts are His.

I always took the trouble to prepare my homilies but in time came to realise that most of them were what people wanted;  interesting stories, jokes, anecdotes and ‘practical examples’.  For this I received much acclamation and was constantly called to preach across the Archdiocese of Bombay.

When the people of this tiny parish in Malad East, to whom I  minister ( and they do the same right back)suggested the need for a better understanding of scripture, I thought to myself, why not do it where is should be, at the time of the homily. At every Eucharist, we are fed from two tables, the table of the bread (altar) and the table of the word (lectern). The ‘breaking of The Word’ is exactly what it means, explain the scriptures. It is not a time for lengthy catechesis, not a time for imparting life skills and most certainly not a time for a moral lecture.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Phillip is led by the Spirit to approach the Ethiopian eunuch, the finance minister of the Queen of Candace. He was reading the prophet Isaiah but had no understanding of it for he says to Philip, “How can I unless someone guides me.” (Acts 8:31) And guide him, Philip did. This is the role of the priest and deacon at Mass, to explain the scriptures.

So should we not tell an anecdote at all? Should we never crack a joke or share life examples? Of course we should but the question must be asked, what drives the homily, the anecdote or the scripture? If the anecdote or example helps deepen the understanding of the scripture then by all means uses it.

When we were in seminary we were taught a method of preaching a homily. The long and short of the method was this; begin with ‘a starter’, explain the scriptures, give a few examples and perhaps share a personal example (testimony). While this sounds excellent on paper the demand for a ten minutes homily leaves the explanation of God’s Word to barely two minutes. This is certainly no feeding for a hungry flock.

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