ASK FATHER: I’m angry! Father’s sermons are boring, lack joy!

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Our priest’s sermons are dull, dry, predictable, boring, , too
serious (they lack joy) don’t speak to the heart and are uninspiring. It’s like listening to a student teacher stand at the pulpit and give a 10 minute lecture on some topic except the priest has been ordained for 9 years. They’ not convicting, nor are they uplifting. They make me angry because I’m too spiritually dry to motivate myself in the spiritual life.

Our previous priests have been very good at homeletics, and every once in awhile God throws me a bone and said priest needs to go somewhere for the weekend and we get a different priest to fill in on a Sunday, but that’s becoming a rarity. I’ve been praying for this priest every day since we found out we were getting him over three years ago but nothing has really improved. Things have actually gotten worse. His Superior has set in place a policy forbidding their priests from posting their sermons online so I can’t even just rely on the sermons of other priests from his fraternity.

I want him to be better at homeletics, and I wish his brother priests could/would help him, but that doesn’t seem like a reality. What do you recommend? I feel terrible about how I feel, but I’m so frustrated and fighting the urge to write his Superior to do something to help him/us.

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. T. Ferguson

It seems that the best way to ensure better preaching would be to harangue the homilist – after Mass, surrounded by a crowd of other troubled parishioners. Pitchforks and torches are optional, but encouraged especially during the Easter season. There must be a commitment to keeping it up throughout the week – rallies in front of the rectory, with egg-throwing and chants.  Try…

“Ho Ho, Hey Hey / you should preach like Bossuet!”

or

“You’re too boring / we’re all snoring / flames of insight aren’t downpouring!”

or

“We’re not trying to be mean / why aren’t you like Fulton Sheen!”.

Bribery sometimes has effect – buy Father a new car, but only give him the keys if his preaching improves.

Angry letters to the bishop are also a good suggestion – the angrier and less grammatically precise, the better.

More seriously, in this day and age, if you’re not able to self-motivate in the spiritual life and you don’t find yourself spiritually fed by your parish priest, there are tons of resources out there to fill up the gap. You mention that this particular religious community forbids the posting of sermons online – an odd mandate, but hey, suum cuiusque – there are hundreds, if not thousands of other priests who are not members of that community who do so.

Spend the ten minutes that Father is preaching praying the rosary, and then go home and listen to a sermon online to motivate yourself spiritually, if you need to.

Not all priests are gifted homilists, it is, and always has been a simple fact, and that’s okay. Of the 12 Apostles, only two wrote Gospels, and an additional two wrote epistles – that doesn’t mean that the other 8 were bad Apostles. Similarly, a bad preacher does not necessarily make a bad pastor.

 

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35 Responses to ASK FATHER: I’m angry! Father’s sermons are boring, lack joy!

  1. Ave Maria says:

    It seems rare, across the board, to get a teaching sermon. Somewhere I read that priests were being taught just to speak only on the readings so what we mostly get around here is a rehash of what was read and maybe a little history lesson of sorts. Rare it is to hear something that touches on the issues of the day–except for those of a certain political or “social justice” bent. I relish when I can assist at a Mass with a traditional priest who will give us a little teaching and relate what the readings are to our lives. It is sad when you can attend Mass every Sunday and never learn the faith. Yes, ideally we should make the effort to learn things for ourselves but we as a whole are a lazy lot and the Church demands so little of us any more. Also we get very confusing messages from this cleric or that. So our Catholics marry and divorce and contracept and are addicted to porn about the same as the seculars. We desperately need good and holy shepherds who will preach and teach and guide us.

  2. Lurker 59 says:

    Honestly, if you are experiencing spiritual aridity, a priest who “speaks to the heart” is going to come off as boring. That is what spiritual aridity is all about.

    That said, we must be careful when we use such terms as “joy” and “speaks to the heart” as if they were replacements for “affirming” and “gets me right in the feels”. We don’t want that type of preaching for that is only entertainment and emotional manipulation. The heart, biblically and theologically speaking, is not the emotional center of the person. That is an erroneous and modern notion. Rather, the heart is the center of the person’s being.

    As such, a preacher who “speaks to the heart”, or “cuts to the heart of the matter”, is going to reveal the heart of the person, which is to call individuals to repentance and the restorative and transformational impact of grace and salvation through Christ.

    Back to spiritual aridity. Spiritual aridity is not overcome by external sources. It is not resolved by having a better preacher. In fact, that is likely to make it worse for, if you know that you have a fantastic preacher, but get nothing out of it, you are likely to grow despondent and will be tempted from the Faith. Spiritual aridity is only overcome by “keeping on truckin'”. It is the 20th mile of a marathon when all you want to do is quit. It is the 4am up all night with a sick child and a presentation at 9am. It is all the day in day out chores. It is the daily grind and 20-year rut. You simply keep on going doing what needs to be done. Don’t flag, keep on keeping on.

    The thing about the Faith is that the consolations that we get, the spiritual joy (which is serene not bounce off the walls like a kid on Christmas), is that it comes from God and is not a given result of practicing the Faith. Consolations come from God at His choosing and His pleasure and as we grow in Faith, they are taken away, to try us, to temper us, and to bring us to love God for who He is, not what He gives us. Consolations are training wheels for the soul — there are deeper things and more majestic things still.

  3. monstrance says:

    I often find it curious that the priests who put more effort into the homily are typically fast and loose with the rubrics of the Mass ( NO ).
    If you have a priest who conducts the Mass reverently, give thanks to God and don’t fret over the homily.

  4. Benedict Joseph says:

    When the joy appears to be insufficient, I’m sure there is a means of accessing that memorable album of the late sixties “Joy is Like the Rain.”
    That will provide sufficient “joy” for those who mistake it for a cheap confection.

  5. adriennep says:

    Frankly, if you need the homily to entertain you every week, you should change your religion. If you are too spiritually arid to even turn on EWTN to watch daily Mass, then no homily can help you. Even the new-agey Matthew Kelly recommends taking notes in a small notebook during Mass—it kinda forces you to lean forward and “actively participate.”

    We had a terrible modernist pastor at our last parish take all kinds of silly stuff out of a brown bag during the homily. This was the same one who tried to foist his marketing message on us, claiming that a recent study showed the top three things churchgoers wanted was Music, Welcome, and Message. Maybe in some generic evangelical church, but no Catholic would be naming “music” as number one issue. Thusly, he made us all turn around and say howdy to our pew neighbors BEFORE Mass, ignoring the fact this was the same people every week.

    Be glad your homily’s does not try and coerce you into “joy.” Kinda removes the fun.

  6. APX says:

    If you are too spiritually arid to even turn on EWTN to watch daily Mass, then no homily can help yo

    Not everyone has a TV let alone a cable plan that get EWTN. I sure don’t.

  7. beelady says:

    I sympathise with the questioner. We are blessed with a priest who is an excellent homilist yet he frequently delegates the homily to the Deacon.
    I wish I understood why. The situation is frustrating and I find myself becoming angry about it on occasion. Our Deacon is a very poor homilist. His homilies are dull, dry,uninspiring, and long (20+ mins). I am not the only person who feels this way. I know many people who will attend Mass at a different parish when they think we are due for the Deacon to speak.
    I have found it helpful to focus on the crucifix and pray the Jesus prayer over and over and over again until he is finished talking.

  8. THREEHEARTS says:

    MIKE HURCUM
    I wonder why is there is no mention of his pastoral abilities? I wonder have letters been written to a bishop complaining of errors in former homilies that has shell-shocked the priest, Perhaps the original letter writer can get back and tell us?

  9. richiedel says:

    But, if past preachers led one to develop a spirituality by which so much depended on feeling inspired every week, how inspiring were they REALLY? It seems as if they rather targeted the very idea that people just need to FEEL inspired, and perpetuated this idea by presenting themselves and the Mass – in such a manner that they were there to inspire, and that’s it, which makes you wonder what intellectual content they communicated during such homilies which people could learn, retain, and elicit for the remaining 167 hours of the week when they are faced with opportunities, even temptation, to apply such content to their lives. Though both characteristics at once would obviously be preferable, I would rather prefer a student teacher who presents actual content over a preacher who makes me feel inspired but who presents little discernible content to apply to one’s life, aside from the idea that going to Mass is all about getting that inspiring feeling.

  10. “Not everyone has a TV let alone a cable plan that get EWTN. I sure don’t.”

    Not everyone is convinced that EWTN has been the same since Mother Angelica left.

  11. Benedict Joseph says:

    Thank you, Father Z. I have the personal distinction of having attended the same Catholic high school in New Jersey as Sister Miriam Teresa Winter, though some years later. We had the privilege of a personal performance [while she still could be seen in a habit] in about 1967!

  12. Fuerza says:

    I’d personally be fine with a boring priest. The priests at my TLM parish are fantastic, but more often than not due to my work schedule I wind up attending a “last chance” Mass at another parish. The priest there frequently delegates the homily to a woman, the parish life director. While she is a very nice lady, she is all about interactive homilies and frequently asks questions of those in attendance. On top of that, on at least one occasion her homily was blatantly heretical. To me it doesn’t sound like the OP has it so bad.

  13. Patrick71 says:

    I understand why a community of priests would be uncomfortable posting homilies online given how insane social media has made us. I honestly don’t know how all the priests online deal with all the addendums and “actually, Fathers” that follow every thing they post.

    I give my beloved priests a couple minutes to catch my attention. If they dont, I read the commentary on the readings or liturgical catechesis in my St. Andrew Daily Missal. I assume there are others who are benefiting from father’s homily, but that is just not me on that particular day.

    One more thing, I get great joy from 10 minute “joyless” lectures from the pulpit.

  14. Patrick71 says:

    Radio? Catholic bookstore? Magazine subscription? Library? Pamphlet from the vestibule? Bible? Daily missal?

  15. Gab says:

    Poor Father, he’s doing his best.

    Maybe the reader would consider listening to Fr Ripperger homilies during the week, on the way to work, on the way to church etc. Not much in the way of “joy” but loads of truth and learning about our faith. And always interesting.
    Pray to St Anthony for Father. St Anthony, Doctor Evangelicus, was able to interest even the fish with his sermons.

    By the way, “joy” is a gift from the Holy Spirit. So there’s something in that.

  16. Gab says:

    Also, perhaps the reader could consider listening to Father as a form of penance and offering this up to God for the priest??

  17. Ms. M-S says:

    It’s hard to avoid the lesson encountered just about everywhere that we must be constantly “fed” or entertained in all our waking (not to mention woke) moments. Does Father say Mass with reverence? Is he there for Confession? Could you count on him to be there in dire need? If he’s not Fulton Sheen in the pulpit, thank God he’s not channeling Groucho Marx. Pray for him, and say your rosary unobtrusively during his homily.

  18. Jerome Charles says:

    I’ve given up hoping that I’ll be inspired by a homily at my church– boring, poor theology, offensive, etc. And, the worse they are, the longer they are. But– I believe it’s my responsibility to fill in that 10-15 min gap during Mass in a meaningful way, if I’m not going to listen to the homily. Sometimes I simply re-read the readings and reflect on those; I might meditate, or send loving-kindness or prayers of healing out to everyone I know; breathe in the breath of God, breathe out my negative thoughts and feelings; or just talk to God. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of those. I’ve considered wearing ear plugs, but I have resisted thus far, and have gotten pretty good at blocking it out so as to focus on my spiritual practice during that time. I also wish I could use my phone to bring up some good web sites with reflections on the readings, but people would think I’m texting or playing games, no doubt. So that I usually do when I get home.

    For me, the homily is an extra piece that can be an enhancement to hearing the Word of God; but I’ve found, usually it does not add much. And, it’s annoying when it is longer than the entire set of Eucharistic prayers and Communion put together. When that happens, I find myself wondering why the priest/deacon is trying to upstage the Eucharist. Really, five minutes is plenty–it respects the restlessness of children, the frustration of parents trying to control their restless children, elderly or others who struggle with pain, etc. It doesn’t tempt the preacher to pile numerous homilies into one. Some of the best homilies I’ve heard are at daily Mass: five or less minutes, one strong point–that I remember. Less is usually more, for most things, but I find this is quite applicable to homilies.

    So, I try to stay focused on the essentials of Mass, and I feel like I do ok. I agree with what others have noted: If this person is experiencing spiritual aridity, he/she might need more spiritual support than what even a good homily will accomplish.

  19. Kathleen10 says:

    This is the Protestant Effect. Protestantism is alll about the charismatic nature of the speaker, and a good physical appearance helps too. You’ll be a more popular preacher if you have both, and if you’re a snappy dresser, the sky’s the limit.
    All superficialities, because that’s what human beings like best, a good cover on the book. This emphasis on superficialities has bled over into Catholicism and now we too, are whining if we don’t “get anything out of the homily”. I hear this again and again from relatives, and it’s falling on deaf ears to try to tell them the homily is completely, totally, and in all ways a mere speck in the cosmos compared to the unbelievable mystery and incomprehensible drama that is unfolding right in front of their eyes on that altar, no matter how unremittingly boring Father may be. Fr. Snore has the ability in those chubby little hands to bring about the re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and this right after he put you to sleep with his ten minutes of a poor attempt at verbalizing something you might find useful in your spiritual walk. Then poor Father fails in the attempt and he gets to look out and see people shifting in the pews, unsatisfied, looking at each other, unhappy because they didn’t get the golden nugget they came for. Being a priest must be grand fun all the time.

  20. Several points:

    1. It is true that many priests were trained the wrong way in preaching. As someone mentioned above, many priests were told that they should just stay close to the readings, and not be too didactic. “Kerygma, not catechesis!” was the watchword (Kerygma referring to the invitation to believe in Christ, and catechesis, referring to teaching about Christ). Whatever the merits of such claims, the actual documents of the Church are not so restrictive. A homilist has very wide latitude.

    2. The best thing to do with a bishop, priest or deacon who is not particularly gifted in oratory is to have that homilist try to be natural and stick to what he feels passionate about. This takes for granted that the preacher is presenting only what is orthodox, and attempting to convey real content.

    3. Every preacher should ask himself, both before he starts and before he considers his work complete, a very simple question: “what basic point or idea am I trying to convey here? In a sentence, what is this sermon about? If he’s not particularly good at analyzing his own work, he might show his homily text to someone else and ask those questions. It’s perfectly fine to make more than one point, but at least make one identifiable point.

    4. The notion that fellow priests are going to help a priest be a better homilist is ill-grounded. It is quite rare that one priest hears another priest’s homily, even when there are two priests in a rectory. A pastor might successfully provide guidance, but vanishingly rare would be the pastor who lets his vicar school him, and the vicar who manages to pull it off.

    5. Most people, after all, are very loathe to offer candid feedback, even when it is invited. I know, because I really want it, and get only a little of it. For one, most laity are intimidated when, after they tell me they liked my homily, I follow up seeking more details. I have almost given up asking those questions because I do not like making people uncomfortable. I have no idea whether most priests would really welcome pointed commentary on their homilies, although they should. So for you as an offerer of such feedback, it’s high risk. The net result is that priests get almost no “customer feedback.” Worse, even the worst preachers probably still hear “good homily,” because people want to be nice and aren’t sure what to say.

    6. What to do, what to do? Two ideas. First, whenever your priest manages to do something right, seek him out, or else write him an email, and praise that very specific thing in a specific way. I mean: don’t just say you liked it; say WHY you liked it. Either he will perk up — which is a good sign — or he won’t. If he perks up, then that means he values positive feedback, and he cares if people are listening. There is a good chance he will take such feedback to heart. If you continue this, he may decide that you are someone worth talking to more often: because he knows at least one person who really listens and is eager to share his or her reactions. That may actually lead to him seeking you out for more feedback, and who knows, he may even ask, “is there anything you think I could do better?”

    7. The second thing is related. Try to get to know the priest. Invite him for coffee or a meal. The worst that can happen is that he refuses, or doesn’t have much time for such niceties. But it may be that he will enjoy talking with you, and here is another avenue by which you might give him encouragement.

    8. I just thought of a third thing you could try. In a polite, non-ambush-y way, you might ask the priest: “Father, have you ever thought about giving a homily on such-and-such?” or, “Would you take it amiss if I asked if you could say more about such-and-such?” Don’t be demanding; just let him know in a friendly way that a particular topic would be interesting. Again, this sort of information from parishioners is rare, and unless the question is really obnoxious, it’s hard to take offense. Again, it tells a priest that someone is really listening! Of course, he may come back with, “well, I just gave a homily about that last week” — in which case, you may need to reply, “well, yes, Father, that’s why I asked; I was hoping you might dig into that subject further…” There’s at least some chance the priest will be very glad to have this sort of conversation, because it tells him at least one subject that at least one non-mute parishioner would like to hear about.

    At any rate, if all this is handled in a genuine way — not manipulatively — it’s hard for a priest to take offense at any of it, or to be made worse.

  21. wmeyer says:

    First, I routinely do hear teaching homilies. But then, that’s a factor in finding the right parish. I’m not looking for entertainment, but for someone who is committed to trying to get us all to heaven.
    I have experienced parishes where to be “good” a homily must be humorous and light-hearted. Do these people notice the state of the world we live in? And if we say all men are sinners and mean it, how on earth can we not want Father to keep trying to teach us?
    Perhaps the cumulative effect of Haugen and Haas has destroyed brain cells and spirit.

  22. “Short sermons are the best. When they are good, the people want more; when they are bad, they are over quickly.”

    —-Bl. Humbert of Romans, O.P. (Fifth Master of the Order of Preachers)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  23. Deborah Y says:

    I live in a foreign country where my local language abilities are sorely lacking. I have no idea whether the pastor’s homlies are good, boring or heretical (though admittedly I get wistful when the congregation laughs at something witty he said). I use the homily time to just slowly read and contemplate the day’s gospel.

    One of my favorite sayings is that expectations are just premeditated resentments. So, lower your expectations and count your blessings if the priest’s homilies are orthdox, even if somehwat dull.

  24. APX says:

    I’m amazed at how many people here assume that if someone wants sermons that come from the heart, are convicting, etc, they’re looking to be entertained.

    I fell asleep on Sunday night listening to a sermon for Passiontide. The priest was encouraging his flock to get out of themselves and to focus on Christ during Passiontide and to focus more on Christ, to step things up and become more intense in these last two weeks, and to really push through these last two weeks and not give up. To sacrifice more and ask, “What have I done for Christ?; What am I doing for Him?; What am I going to do for Him?” I fell asleep resolving to spend the rest of Lent fasting.

    There was nothing entertaining about it; nothing charismatic, etc. It spoke to the heart and encouraged us to do more and sacrifice for Him who sacrificed for us and loved us.

    Compare that to a priest standing at the pulpit giving a lecture on some topic that you could have easily just read in a book and that’s it.

    Emotions and feelings aren’t bad. Even Jesus wept and got angry. I bet he was even happy sometimes . *gasp!*

  25. Okay, as Fr. Z did not consider my quotation of Bl. Humbert a rabbit hole, here goes another on the same theme for preachers:

    “For a sermon to be immortal, it not need be eternal.”

    —Augustine Thompson, O.P, S.T.M. (just another random friar)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  26. adriennep says:

    EWTN was only mentioned because it has a worldwide 24/7 Catholic presence. If you have no TV or cable you can listen on the AM radio, shortwave, or streaming live on your favorite Internet browser or even app on your phone. They provide all of their programming for free, for instance to start up radio stations. But don’t go knocking EWTN because they may not be as good as when Mother Angelica blazed the trail in pre-Internet era. We can only pray that they continue to reach souls in need. I know because I was one.

    By the way, Raymond Arroyo’s long World Over interview with Steve Bannon a few days ago is a must see.

  27. Charivari Rob says:

    What would I recommend?

    Besides charitable, constructive feedback (which requires enough self-honesty to sort out one’s own subjective and objective reactions)?

    I’d say engage the priest in conversation. Things that interest you, things that interest him, can be theology but doesn’t have to be, can be sports. Anything but the theory and practice of homiletics and public speaking. If he becomes more comfortable speaking with you, perhaps it will improve his preaching. Also, you might gain a greater appreciation for what he does say while preaching.

  28. BrionyB says:

    I imagine it’s difficult to please everyone with a sermon. What one person considers dry and boring, another could find informative and helpful. What one experiences as joy-filled and inspiring, another might criticise as showy and style-over-substance. I would try to just take from each sermon anything you find useful, and leave the rest, maybe offering up your boredom as a little mortification!

  29. Justalurkingfool says:

    I attend a parish where a priest, who was my favorite, was removed, not long ago, due to allegations of impropriety with teens, decades ago. I never spoke to Father personally, but his language was easy to understand and usually from personal experiences as he preached. Being hard of hearing and visually impaired, over the last year, attending his masses was a gift, as he PRAYED the mass and he did not PERFORM it. His reverence at the altar was wonderful to see.

    I doubt that I will ever be blessed to to be able to attend another of his masses, even if he is exonerated. I miss him. I hope and pray that he is innocent.

    I can no longer follow the words of mass in my parish as none of the priests speak with projection and clarity, But, we also have priests whose accents, under the circumstances, prevent me from understanding what they say, particularly during their sermons.

    It is too bad. But it is what it is.

    Karl

  30. Jerome Charles says:

    “I’m amazed at how many people here assume that if someone wants sermons that come from the heart, are convicting, etc, they’re looking to be entertained.” Thanks, APX. Yes, emotions are not bad–even joy. There can be joy in the Mass– in the community spirit, in the music, in the preaching. That’s not necessarily entertainment (it can be at times, but joy doesn’t have to equal entertainment). Sometimes it’s simply joy rooted in and produced by our faith.

  31. JuliB says:

    I’d like to recommend reading Msgr. Pope’s daily column. He switches it up between a homily based on the readings to challenging spiritual topis. http://blog.adw.org/ is his site.

  32. JGavin says:

    I know that some are offering suggestions for this person and some seem determined to attack the author of the query. First,for that person, be thankful you have a priest. Second, imagine yourself in his shoes! The thought of composing and delivering a homily is a prospect I find daunting. I recall a Pastor from my childhood who would ramble from one topic to another, yet friends had an elderly mother who this same pastor visited and he was wonderful! His true gift. As to the other people who seem to not understand the frustration this person feels, be charitable as well. Saying the rosary is a wonderful idea. I have the Blessed be God prayerbook, and will read one of the Litanies or my Father Lasance prayerbook such as Prisoner of Love with plenty of meditations, worthy of your attention to read while your priest rambles on. Above all pray.

  33. wmeyer says:

    adriennep: My thought after watch and listening intently to Mr. Bannon with Raymond Arroyo was that his talk that night made abundantly clear why the media wanted to destroy him. He is brilliant, direct, concise, and effective.

  34. maternalView says:

    For me a good homily is a bonus as I can get spiritual nourishment by many means (radio, books, podcasts, etc) but I can only get the Eucharist at Mass (barring exceptions such as hospitalization).

    Length of homilies don’t concern me or even if it is dry or not, contain clever turns-of-phrase or catchy pop culture references. I only hope that it flows smoothly from the readings to the Eucharistic prayer. I can’t stand it when the homily feels like an intermission.

  35. hwriggles4 says:

    While I do find that some priests and deacons are more gifted at preaching than others, it’s only within the last few years that I have realized that many of our clergy do not have as much time to prepare for homilies. For example, our Protestant brethren, particularly Baptists and Methodists, have pastors who are not subject to a daily service, liturgy of the hours, hearing confessions, certain managerial duties, etc. Also, many of our Protestant brethren preaching is the bulk of the church service.

    A friend of mine is a newly ordained permanent deacon. During formation, these deacons were instructed to keep their homilies to 10-15 minutes, and were even critiqued on public speaking (pitch, points, effectiveness, etc.) A former seminary rector (i.e. around 2004) mentioned to a group of us that this is normal training in public speaking.

    One college I attended (mid to late 1980s), just about every major required a basic, 3 hour speech class since in any profession, one may be called upon to run a meeting or make a presentation. We were also required to attend class and listen too.

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