That’s the provocative idea put forth by Rev. Terrence Klein in the current issue of America.
He offers some tips for people in the pews to get more out of homilies:
1. Look at the preacher. Even in large churches, the person preaching scans the faces of congregants. I find immediate encouragement comes from seeing faces turned towards me.
Keeping your eyes on the preacher also helps him to better read the room, if you will. Some groups are more responsive than others. Sometimes differences can be felt even among the crowds at the various Mass times at the same parish. Preachers’ expectations of how they will be received vary even if they are not explicitly conscious of them, and they often adjust accordingly. For example, if a crowd at a particular Mass tends not to be inclined to laugh, this may contribute to why your preacher rarely attempts to insert a little humor into homilies.
2. Do not read during the homily. It is hard not to view this as a way of silently screaming at the preacher, “I want nothing of this!” Why else would the bulletin or the hymnal suddenly become that interesting? Maybe you do indeed want to say, “I want nothing of this.” If so, it is better to make an appointment and explain your perspective to the priest or deacon directly. To the extent that I can, I have altered how I preach in response to negative comments. And the golden rule in the life of any parish is that negative comments should be directed to the person who can respond to them.
It should not need to be noted, but picking up your phone while another person is speaking is always rude. In and out of church. Period.
3. Sit still during the homily. There are many perfectly understandable reasons why you may need to move about during the homily. But try to imagine what it is like to speak to someone who gets up to leave as you begin. Again, perhaps this is the message that you want to send, but then do it in a kindly, more personable way.
There’s more. Read it all.
He offers an interesting take.
But I disagree.
Yes, it’s helpful if people pay attention and look at the speaker and take a moment to go over the readings before arriving at church. But even the most attentive, diligent and conscientious Catholic will be looking at his watch, surfing his cellphone and leafing through the funeral parlor ads in the bulletin if the preaching is flaccid, meandering, repetitive, pointless or just plain dull.
People will sit still and look at you and respond if you are giving them something to respond to.
When I’ve taught homiletics, I always begin with the same basic points. Be interesting! Engage! Speak like a normal person, not a a grad student working on his thesis. Don’t make your homily sound like a Wikipedia entry. Be relevant. Tell people what they need to hear (which is not necessarily what they want to hear). Inspire. Challenge. Uplift. Offer reassurance and hope. Know your audience — their worries, concerns, fears, problems. As I tell my homily students: go beyond the cerebral and academic. Every now and then, compose a homily using an organ below the neck.
And: don’t wait until Saturday night to put together your thoughts for Sunday morning. Take the time to plan, pray, research, practice.
Have trouble speaking in public? Record yourself. Listen. Work on timing, phrasing, enunciation, pacing. Remember you are preaching for the ear. People will only hear it once. Make it count.
People will pay attention if you are interesting. Give them a reason to listen — and then a reason to walk out the doors of the church on a mission to change their lives and, maybe, the world.
Good preaching needs good listeners, of course — but it begins with good preachers.
Don’t blame the listener if you aren’t giving them something worth listening to.