In his homilies, Fr Terence tries to find examples from daily life and the local culture to translate the Word of God.
Growing up as a shy boy, public speaking was one of my greatest fears. In fact, whenever someone suggested the priesthood to me, I would use this fear as a reason why God could not be calling me to be a priest.
Thankfully as I grew up, I was able to face my fear and grow in confidence, to give some short talks and presentations. But I still had to make sure that I had prepared my content before opening my mouth. How I envied those who were able to speak off-the-cuff so naturally.
When I finally felt God’s call to be a priest, I realised that I had to do something to help in my future ministry of preaching and teaching. The first thing that I did was to start a blog, that would force me to reflect on Scripture, and structure my thoughts so that it can be shared with others. The next thing I did, was to start to observe the priests when they delivered their homilies. i was not only focusing on their content, but analysing how they delivered it, and more importantly, what it was that made me catch the message.
In the seminary, we had a couple of speech and communications modules, as well as one on homiletics, which taught us some techniques, as well as gave us a safe space to start practising, with feedback from our lecturers and fellow classmates.
In preparing for my homilies, the most obvious step would be to read and reflect on the Scripture passages for the Mass. But more importantly, it would be to pray for God’s guidance, for ultimately it is a prophetic role for me to be speaking what God wants His people to hear.
For weekday Masses, I would read the passage the day before, but for weekend Masses, I would read it on Monday and slowly reflect on it during the week.
Though I tend to prepare beforehand, there have been occasions when an event or inspiration happens just before the Mass, which can change the message of the homily.
As for the delivery style, I found that the homilies that I enjoyed hearing were the ones that used stories and analogies to help me to understand and relate to God’s message. Just as Jesus’ parables used what was common at His time to explain the mysteries of God to the common folk, I try to find examples from daily life, movies, and the local culture to translate the Word of God into our modern culture and understanding.
Knowing the audience also makes a difference in terms of the examples and message to be delivered. For example, it is generally more challenging for Sunday Masses where the congregation is so varied that the homily has to be more generic, and yet cater to the varied needs. Some people prefer a simple explanation of the Scriptures, while some are looking to be intellectually stimulated, and different styles appeal to different people.
At the end of the day, I am often reminded that though preparation and techniques are important, it is the Spirit of God who touches the hearts. On some days when I feel that I did not deliver something “up to standard”, someone will tell me that something I said touched them, even if it was not the message that I intended to deliver.
Ultimately it is still His Word that is at work.
Fr Terence is the Catechetical Director of the Office for Catechesis
Takeaways from the Liturgy of the Word
- Read and reflect on the readings before the Mass. With the various apps and websites available, it is easy to get hold of the readings before the Mass. By spending some time praying and reflecting on it first, it helps us to be more familiar with what is proclaimed than if we were to be listening to it for the first time during the Mass.
- Take some notes. After the readings and the homily, there is not much time to reflect before we move on to the Creed and the Eucharistic Prayer. Most of us would forget these by the end of the Mass. Try to remember one or two points that struck you, and write it down, so that you can further reflect on it after the Mass.
- Write your own homily. Sometimes the priest will end the Mass with “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”. We are sent forth from the Mass to bring the Good News of Jesus to others. Challenge yourself to think of how you would share the message you have received at Mass with the people you meet.