Homily Packs don't provide generic, ready-made homilies. We believe that no one knows your Congregation better than yourself. So no one can write your homily for you. Homily Packs take a different tack. They give you ingredients, ideas, and options that can help make every homily touch the hearts and feed the souls of your flock.
The Structure of Homily Packs
Each pack has four elements: Lessons, Illustrations, Applications, and Preaching Tips. Each pack contains outlines for three or more homilies. As you skim through the different elements, you can choose the ones most relevant for your Congregation (coded by the simple numbering system) and ignore the rest.
- The Lessons provide insights into the major themes of the week's liturgy1. You choose the one (just one) that you feel best meets the needs of your Congregation. These insights take the form of brief, synthetic statements accompanied by conceptual explanations that may be taken from different sources. (Note: it is not a good idea to try to prepare your homily without having previously read and meditated on the Scripture passages yourself.)
- The Illustrations point out some possible illustrations for each of the Lessons. These are meant to help the Lesson sink in, to help the Congregation understand and assimilate the revealed truth of the Lesson more deeply. You can choose one or two of them, and develop them in your own words, or maybe the list will spark your own imagination. The best illustrations are not the most dramatic or clever; the best illustrations are images or anecdotes that come from your own experience and have touched your own heart. Try to take time to find some like that for each lesson; the illustrations we provide can help spark your memory. Vivid illustrations make or break the homily. The Congregation needs to be able to SEE the lesson.
- The Applications show how each Lesson can be relevant to daily life. These too are suggestions; other applications may occur to you as you pray and prepare. It's important to choose just one that will really be relevant to your Congregation.
- Preaching Tips are simple reminders of the basic principles behind effective preaching. We all need reminders to keep us from getting rusty or falling into routine.
The Homily Packs do not give you the full text of a homily; we only provide ideas, insights, and structure – the ingredients. We leave it up to each priest to turn them into a recipe that will meet the particular needs of his Congregation. We are convinced that each flock responds best to the voice of their own pastor
The Reason behind the Structure
God always has something to say to his people—that's the Lesson. The Lesson isn't always new; most of the time we simply need to be reminded of the basic truths of our faith, which are inexhaustible in their wisdom and power.
You have to do your best to mediate that message (the Lesson) to your people—the Illustrations provide suggestions to help make the Lesson clear and memorable.
The Liturgy, however, is more than an academic exercise or an entertaining show: the Applications make sure that God's Word actually nourishes His people, touching their hearts and their lives. These three ingredients insure that every homily will be substantial, memorable, and satisfying.
Getting the Most out of the Homily Pack
The structure of Homily Packs gives ideas and information for the content of your homily, while at the same time leaving you flexibility in putting it all together. For example:
- Some priests prefer to start with an Illustration, in order to catch the Congregation's attention, and then they draw out the Lesson and make the Application. This can be especially effective if there happened to be a current event that week that everyone is talking about—you can tie the theme into that subject.
- Others state the Lesson in simple, direct terms, and then they illustrate it with one or more Illustrations and finish with a concrete Application.
- Still others first touch on the relevancy of the readings by jumping right to the Application: they present it as a solution to a common difficulty. And then they show the wisdom behind that application through explaining the Lesson and illustrating it with Illustrations.
- Think of it this way: 1 or 2 minutes to state the lesson and explain it a bit conceptually; 3 or 4 minutes to give one or more interesting, vivid illustrations; 2 or 3 minutes to suggest some relevant applications, to exhort your Congregation to keep up the spiritual journey—voilá, you've got your 6-9 minute, honed, focused, clear and memorable homily ready to go.
Although each week's readings contain multiple lessons, in the short space of a homily it is more effective to deal with only one. One lesson relevant to your Congregation, communicated effectively, will give the Holy Spirit plenty of room to work. Squeezing multiple lessons into one homily can easily make the homily hard to digest, and therefore ineffective, at best, and boring and unpleasant, at worst.
Sometimes the best way to choose which lesson you will focus on is by looking first at the applications. If one jumps out as something that your Congregation particularly needs to hear, then you can work backwards in choosing the lesson and illustrations.
1 During Ordinary Time the Sunday readings provide two tracks. One track consists of the Old Testament Reading, the Psalm, and the Gospel, all of which have been chosen by the Church to reinforce one another thematically. The second track consists of the Second Reading, which is simply read chronologically from one Sunday to the next; it has not been chosen to fit in thematically with the other readings. If you like, however, you can usually find some kind of link (and we will make some suggestions). But there is no requirement to do so. There will always be more lessons than time in which to give them. During the other Seasons all the readings have purposeful thematic unity.