Catholics tend to have a love/hate relationship with the concept of a homily. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis laments how everyone suffers when it comes to the homily. The priest suffers because he has to give it, and the laity suffers having to listen. This can be made worse by the fact that preachers can have a bit of an ego, and think that everyone needs to learn about their pet project. As bad as this is, I think sometimes we lay faithful commit a different kind of error I wish to discuss today.
If you hang out amongst any group of Catholics looking to live their faith in these confusing times, you will inevitably come across the following scenario. People will complain “I wish Father would talk more about the evils of fornication, abortion, and gay marriage in his homilies. He needs to stand up for Catholic truth, even if a lot of people get angry and leave!” Before we go any further, we need to make something crystal clear. When a priest is preaching modernist nonsense (denying miracles, interpreting Scripture so it defies the obvious meaning of the text), or teaches something from the pulpit directly contrary to the faith (people should come to receive communion without bothering to examine if they need to go to confession first), then we should speak up, preferably loudly. The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum condemns preachers who engage in this type of activity. If the priest doesn’t listen, then by all means, vote with your feet and go to another parish. (If your new parish happens to offer Mass in Latin, don’t let me stop you from attending!)
Now that we have dispensed with the obvious, let’s deal with the more difficult situations. The priest isn’t preaching modernism, he is otherwise faithfully expounding Christian doctrine; he just doesn’t emphasize the things you think are most important to the Gospel. Did I touch a nerve there? Let’s take abortion and contraception for example. How many regular Mass going Catholics are not aware of the Church’s teaching on abortion and contraception? How many young Catholics who attend Church every Sunday are cohabitating? While one is too many in each circumstance, the likely answer is “not many.” Sometimes these circumstances are different, and preachers should take this into account. Yet we should not presume that is the case.
Another aspect we need to consider is how talking about the issues you want to hear will impact your spiritual life. If you are asking why Father doesn’t condemn the sins of others in the homily, you are doing it wrong. Personally, I want a preacher who is willing to challenge my own sins. I never engaged in cohabitation or committed fornication, but I sure had a problem with pride and arrogance. I never worried about contraception, but I had a serious problem with condescension. The homily should be an opportunity for an examination of your own conscience before receiving the Eucharist, not a chance to examine the perceived conscience of another.
A third aspect to consider is sometimes it really is okay to talk about joy. The Gospel is about being liberated from sin, and about having hope infused into us. We aren’t revivalist preachers who give nothing but fire and brimstone. Sometimes you might have to bring those subject up, but there needs to be a delicate balance.
Finally, we need to consider what the Church says a homily should be based on. Redemptionis Sacramentum states the following:
Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church.
Homilies need to be based upon the texts we just heard during the proclamation of the Gospel. They need to be modeled off of the Sermon of the Mount. Christ proclaimed the Beatitudes, but then gave an in-depth explanation of them, to make sure that they didn’t just become pious platitudes. If those “hard truths” can be worked into homilies based on the texts, then this is all the better. Where I go to Church for example, Father frequently preaches about how difficult it is becoming to be a faithful Catholic, and how this generation will be one of the first in ages where there will be a real cost to being a Catholic. When he mentions things like abortion and contraception, it is not to state the obvious (they are evil), but that living a life that treats these things as evil will have real consequences, and that is part of taking up the Cross. These hard truths serve a greater point. If they don’t have anything to do with the readings for the day, then something else is mentioned. Above all, Catholics need to be fed by the Gospel to amend their lives more than being reinforced in what they know to be true.
Have you considered all of these things and still come to the conclusion of “yes, Father does everything else good, but for various reasons he should talk more about this issue?” Then by all means, go talk to him, and do so diplomatically. Yet I think we need to be honest with ourselves, and make sure our desire to hear something in the homily (itself a noble endeavor) is not really just a mask for our own pride. While our first instinct is to recoil whenever we hear the P-word, we need to hold ourselves to the same standards we aspire our preachers to live by.