Boring homilies? Preaching without killing of boredom

Have you fallen asleep while preaching at Mass? No, you are not the only one and, on more than one occasion, the reason lies in a really boring preaching.

February 12, 2021-Reading time: 3 minutes

When I was preparing to become a priest, I almost always fell asleep during homilies at Mass. Especially when one of my superiors - don't ask, I won't say who - was the one preaching. I always fell asleep. I never failed. There's a whole technique that you perfect so that you don't notice too much that you're asleep at Mass. Sometimes it will look like you're nodding along to what the priest is saying; sometimes it will look like you're deep in contemplation, or it might look like you're emotional and can't lift your head to keep the tears from showing. The truth is that I, inevitably, was sleeping.

One day, after confessing to that, I wanted to convince myself that the problem was not the preacher's problem but mine, and I decided to transcribe the homily in its entirety, from "pe" to "pa". That way, avoiding drowsiness, I would be able to understand the depth of the message that had made me surrender into the arms of Morpheus on other occasions. Said and done. That day I wrote down everything that good priest said. Then I read it. I read it again. I underlined it. Finally I came to the terrible conclusion that he had simply said nothing. It was 20 minutes of not saying anything and not stopping talking. I didn't think that was possible, but it was. Then I realized that it is more frequent than it seems and that it is not an exclusive specialty of priests; politicians, professors, even lecturers walk through those nihilistic places communicatively speaking and provoke, whether they want to or not, whether they know it or not, the same dream that I suffered in those very long homilies in my student days.

It is more frequent than it seems and it is not an exclusive specialty of priests; politicians, professors, even lecturers walk through these places and provoke the same dream.

Boredom in homilies is nothing new. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that in Troas, a city on the Aegean coast, St. Paul was preaching to the Christians. On the third floor, sitting on the window sill, a young boy, Eutychius, was listening to him. He too was overcome by drowsiness and fell asleep. At that moment he fell to the ground and killed himself. He literally died of boredom. The story ends well, because St. Paul resuscitates the boy and returns him to his mother, who was already threatening him with the bag, but it remains as a warning to navigators in the tortuous waters of preaching. In this case, St. Paul had a lot to say; perhaps his failure was that he wanted to say too much. It was not the "what" but the "how" that failed him.

Bored and boring people are everywhere in all the strata of the Church. Not even the bishops are spared from being enveloped by drowsiness before the preaching of one of their brothers in the episcopate. In those ceremonies, the episcopal doze becomes more evident to the eyes of all by the bowing of the mitre on his head, which does not admit any strategy to disguise it.

I would like to help you so that this does not happen to you, and I would like to write down some ideas to see if I apply myself, too, the story.

During my last years of seminary I was lucky enough to be assigned to a parish in the center of Madrid, the parish of Concepción de Nuestra Señora. There the seminarians did everything. On Sundays I did three things and I enjoyed all three very much. First I played the organ at 11:00 Mass. Then I helped at 12:30 Mass. But what I liked the most was what came next: at the 2:00 p.m. Mass an exceptional priest celebrated Mass, Pablo Dominguez.

There was preparation, intelligence, passion, closeness and a desire to communicate.

The large church was filled with young people to pray and also to listen to him. I always stayed in the back room to listen to his homilies. I never fell asleep. Like the whole church, I was absorbed, captivated, gripped by Paul's words. His message touched my head, touched my heart and moved my will. He extracted novelty from the usual and made you see with amazement things in the Gospel that you already knew and that you had overlooked a thousand times. I think that's when I began to be passionate about preaching.

An instinct? A natural gift? Maybe, but I am convinced that there was also preparation, intelligence, passion, closeness, desire to communicate and many other things that I want to tell you about in these lines.

So for you, who have to preach every week or every day, for you, brother priest or deacon, for you who are preparing for the priesthood in the seminary, even for you, Mr. Bishop, successor of the apostles and "herald of the Word" - as St. John Paul II said (cfr. Gregis Shepherds3) - these are some of the ideas that I try to repeat to myself when I prepare and preach, so that every Sunday I can communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and captivate the people, and not bore the suffering parishioners to sleep and bore them to death.

The authorJavier Sánchez Cervera

Priest. Pastor of San Sebastián Mártir de San Sebastián de los Reyes (Madrid).

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