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Book: Preaching Better: Practical Suggestions for Homilists
Author: Ken Untener
Paulist Press, NY, pp. 130

Excerpt from Introduction:

This book comes from the ground up. It will help to know the background.

Beginning in 1975, I taught homiletics part-time at St. John's Seminary just outside of Detroit. My only qualifications were a graduate degree in theology and 12 years of preaching.

I bought a pocket notebook and began to ask people (Columbo style) what they liked or didn't like about homilies. I asked only "the people in the pew," that is, folks who were not in ministry and, as far as I could tell, had no particular axe to grind. I did it every chance I had with friends, strangers, at dinner tables, at parties, on airplanes. They talked; I wrote.

Surprising how willing people were (and are) to talk about this. Others who overheard would chime in.

I've kept up the practice and by now have collected thousands of comments. Along the way, I've sorted them int about 25 basic categories. The convergence is remarkable. (One category quickly began to outdistance the others as "numero uno." [See excerpt from book below]

These gathered comments plus my reflections on them are the heart of this book.

Excerpt from Book:

There is no sense saying more if it means they'll hear less.

"Too many thoughts" is the most frequently voiced complaint about homilies, a runaway for first place. We need to talk about it.

Homilists are sometimes taught that a homily should have three points. I don't think that is a normative model, but it presents no problem "if" the three points are the development of one core thought. It becomes a problem when, instead of one core thought with three points, it turns out to be one broad theme with three different thoughts.

Gradually, as we look over our scattered scribblings, think, and pray, we need to focus on just one core thought and stay with it. I refer to it as a "pearl" that I describe as a core thought with depth, a valuable insight to be treasured.

The image of a precious jewel conveys the nature of a homily as distinct from a lesson. Homilies have to do with the rich mysteries of our faith and the word "pearl" catches this.

A pearl is something worth listening to. It doesn't have to be sensational or clever or cute the clever and cute things are often oversimplifications anyway, like most bumper stickers. A pearl need not contain something new or extraordinary; it simply conveys a profound truth in a way that we all "realize" it with clarity we didn't have before.

"Pearl" also expresses compactness, compression, unity. We're not talking about a string of pearls; we're talking about one pearl. "Main thought" seems logical and discursive and evokes the head. If we ask a homilist, "What is your main thought?: we'll probably receive an intellectual statement. If we ask, "What is your pearl?" we tend to receive something quite different.

Table of Contents:

1. An "Attitude"

2. What is a homily?

3. What isn't quite a homily

4. The beginnings of a homily

5. Endings

6. Preparing a homily: some preliminary thoughts

7. Preparing a homily: the scripture readings

8. Preparing a homily: just one pearl . . . but of great price

9. Preparing a homily: writing

10 Preparing a homily: editing

11.Preparing a homily: take control of your material

12. Depth

13. Connect with real life

14. Stories

15. Length

16. Sidebars

17. Jargon

18. Personal. . . but not self-centered

19. Good feedback is priceless because it is hard to get

20. Learn from weekday homilies

21. Using props

22. Don't try to make the homily do everything that needs to be done

23. Assembly participation

24. There's a time for consolation

25. Preaching about sin

26. Ten demons

27. A homily to homilists