Holy Spirit and Sermons

I would like to start another thread of discussion. Is the spread of the Gospel of God dependent on the people, or will it spread by itself?

Secondly, does the Holy Spirit comes upon us only through some experience like Life in the Spirit Seminar or through some form of camps or talks?

The reason I present these questions is because I question the lacklustre way in which most priests give homilies, sermons and talks. If our reaction to the Gospel is dependent on faith (gift of the Holy Spirit) then surely any priest or speaker who tries to spread the Gospel in any form (interesting or boring) would be able to touch the listener.

But in reality, with the influx of experience with good speakers in our workplace and professional seminars, when we are exposed to entertaining speakers, would such mediocre homilies be able to touch the masses? And can the church or church groups facilitate the touching of the Holy Spirit? Other than the socalled LISS experience, surely there are no outward expression of the Holy Spirit, except through Confirmation.

What I am trying to get through here is, the church's primary objective is to spread the gospel and to go forth and baptise people in Jesus' name. I wonder if the church is properly doing that. I agree that the priests are doing a very good job in offering a physical church for people to pray and also to administer the sacraments when needed, but are they doing a proper job in offering us the Gospel? Indeed, we should be the one who evangelise and bring people into Church. However, that's all we can do. Being the steward of the Church, the masses are drawn or push away by what they receive from the priests. They are the "professionals", if they are not doing their jobs, then I think there is only that much we laypeople can do.

From my experiences with priests, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that people look upon them especially in spiritual guidance and knowledge. In fact the best time to evangelise and strengthen the beliefs of the congregation is through homilies in mass. But alas, they often give a slipshod effort with this opportunity. But I qualify, I'm speaking about the older priests who don't even prepare their homilies but speak off-the-cuff.

Whatver the case, can people also comment if priests are already doing all they can, what do you think we laypeople should do to compliment the priests? Please share non-cliche activities like joining groups or living the gospel by being a good Christian.


ChrisYeo said...

"Is the spread of the Gospel of God dependent on the people, or will it spread by itself?" Obviously, it is spread by people. Jesus said to his disciples: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15) If the gospel is not spread by people then how is it spread?

I think what you meant to ask is whether priests have a special duty to preach the gospel, and the simple answer is yes.

"Does the Holy Spirit come upon us only through some experience like Life in the Spirit Seminar or through some form of camps or talks?"

The Holy Spirit is not some entity that come upon us only during LISS or Confirmation. It is the breath of God working and it can be found daily :

- in the Scriptures he (the Holy Spirit) inspired;
- in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
- in the Church's Magisterium, which he assists;
- in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;
- in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
- in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
- in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
- in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation. (CCC#688)

So, I believe, the answer is no, the Spirit does not come only through LISS, camps or talks.

ChrisYeo said...


You seem to share a frustration that we all have towards some priests that don't seem to use the homily properly. You must remember that for this small minority of older priests, perhaps they are already doing all they can to spread the gospel. Perhaps action and love are their fortes and not public speaking. The needs and expectations of the church today are quite different from what it was 40 years ago, and not everyone can adapt and excel. You must also remember that some priests may not have joined for the 'right reasons' as well. Why fault and condemn these priests when perhaps they are doing all they can?

In my view, the archdiocese and the congregation will have to adapt to the experience of Church in the 21st century. If some priests cannot give inspirational homilies, then so be it; we'll just have to wait for a new generation of inspirational priests. In the meantime, attend a different mass in which the priest offers the spiritual guidance and knowledge you desire. Vote with your feet, as they say.

If you want to compliment a priest, just go up to him after mass and tell him what a wonderful homily he gave. ;) Actually, to complement the priest, you could begin by telling him what you really thought of his homily. Inquire about what the church offers in terms of spiritual guidance and knowledge. You could work with the various ministries to bring more to mass. For example, make sure the liturgical music is up to par, have a bible sharing before mass, introduce pamphlets that explain the readings, introduce talks and courses, work with the youthgroups, bring in inspirational christian speakers and p&w leaders. Be honest and loving with your priest, and work with him to improve the faith community in your church.

The future is in our hands my friends.

Nick Teo said...

I can agree to a certain extent that not everyone can speak well. Hence I wonder if the Gospel's message can transient through showmanship. Cos by your "vote with your feet" alternative, no wonder we are seeing some churches bursting at the seams while others are dead towns.

But yet I think many "mature" Catholics do not go to mass looking for entertainment, but rather for the Eucharist. Hence to them and me included, I am not really bothered by the priest's sermons.

I think we also need to establish the objective of the homilies. From what I gathered from a priest, homilies are not meant to give a "high" feeling like a motivation talk. So what is it? A bible study or an interpretation of the reading?

ChrisYeo said...

Para 1: "transient through showmanship" ? Not sure what you're saying here.

Para 2: If you're not bothered with priest's sermons, why "question the lacklustre way in which most priests give homilies, sermons and talks" then?

Para 3: According to this priest the four purposes of a homily are worship, a call to repentance, catechesis, and entertainment. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says that the homily is "a living commentary on the word". "It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners."

Nick Teo said...

My apologies, I meant devoid of showmanship. What I am trying to question here is, can the Gospel message be spread by simple ways or is there a need for showmanship. What is the original intention? From this priest's comments, there should be entertainment, and Jesus himself did draw people to Him by performing miracles before speaking His message. So I think entertainment to a certain extent is an important element.

I am bothered because even though I do not go there to be "entertained", the youths are. And I speak from their point of view.

If we lose them when they are youths, adding on to their perceptions that mass is boring and the priests are boring, we might lose them forever.

But yet priests that I know of, at least some (not just old but some middle aged) just sweepingly say they do not know how to reach out to youths or be relevant.

So I reiterate my question, can the Gospel message be effectively spread even if a monotone reader reads it? Or do we need some exciting speaker to speak before people listens? I'm wondering about God's intention. How should His words "in the beginning" spread to the end.

Anonymous said...

"Does the Holy Spirit come upon us only through some experience like Life in the Spirit Seminar or through some form of camps or talks?"

From personal experience, yes the Holy Spirit can work very powerfully and manifest very visibly in charismatic Praise & Worship, but when all is said and done, at best it is at best a rather low level of spiritual experience. As one matures in the faith, it remains a fact that one will experience spiritual plateaus or low points. These are designed for growth, and when one experiences these, an opportunity for further spiritual growth is presented. The apparent ‘highs’ that one may experience in charismatic P&W are really sometimes immaterial. Further, in experiencing the workings of the Holy Spirit it is more prudent to look at the lives of the Saints and if one is very sensitive to how the Holy Spirit works, then the lives of the mystics. The spiritual experiences of the mystics had no need for a hyped up music setting at all. Here again lies the problem of catechesis. The depths of the Catholic faith are found in its Saints, not the skills of a worship leader and his/her band.

In experiencing the works of the Holy Spirit, more importantly one needs to identify the daily subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in many different ways, and it is in the silence of one’s heart that one is taught wisdom. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that assists one in dying to oneself daily, taking up one’s cross and following the way of Christ. This process is long and arduous, but at the end of it all, it is far more beautiful to become more like Christ.

One off experiences even though they may occur regularly are really nothing at all. At every moment, one is to shine forth as light to the world, and how one goes about doing it is drawing strength from the Holy Spirit There is no condition of first needing to be in a charismatic P&W setting.

As for the issue about boring homilies, I would again point towards the problem of catechesis. The most important part of worship services by our separated/heretical brethren is the power packed talk by their pastor. The Most important part of the Mass however, is Christ being offered up as a pleasing Sacrifice to God the Father and giving us his body and blood so that we may have life. The homily is just the sideshow, nothing more.

While there is historical precedence for the faithful flocking to hear the preaching of wonderful preachers, there really is nothing more radical than the action of the Son of God giving himself up for us. And in the very first place wonderful preaching would point towards this aspect. Only Christ has the right of preaching and pointing towards himself, all others are to point at him and not themselves. Further good preaching will include the very basic tenets of the loving and merciful God as well as the just God.

What can the laity do about Priests who give mediocre homilies? One should pray and do penance for him that the Lord may grant him his grace again.

Daniel said...

I believe that the homily should not be taken on its own, but that it is part of the Liturgy of the Word, which is equally as important as the Liturgy of the Eucharist, for Christ is both the Word and the Eucharist.

This Liturgy of the Word begins at the first reading and ends with the homily, which is meant to explain the readings to the congregation and help them apply it to their daily lives. Many members of the congregation of every parish listen to the homily in the hope of taking something back with them that will nourish them and give them something to ponder about throughout the week.

Even if a priest's homily is really bad, we should not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through him. This is where a proper disposition comes into play. When a lay person attends Mass with the proper disposition, he is more open to the actions of the Holy Spirit. Thus, a properly disposed lay person will be able to take away some word of encouragement or otherwise from even the most boring homilies. Or it could be from some source other than the homily. The key here is: proper disposition and openness to the Holy Spirit.

Regarding your question on LISS and other charismatic movements, I would have to say that for many active and zealous Catholics, this is how they first came to know the Holy Spirit. These charismatic movements are in our time what miracles and signs would have been in the time of Jesus and the apostles. They are meant to draw people to Christ and act as a way of glorifying God.

Every charismatic session is more than just praise and worship. Every session always has a speaker to talk about a certain topic. The praise and worship session that precedes it helps the participants to "loosen up" and to be more open to the Holy Spirit. It creates in them the proper disposition to listen to the words of the speaker and the message that God has for them through the speaker. Of course, this is not the only way that the Holy Spirit works, as we have seen above, and in many more examples that can be given.

As for the spread of the gospel, each baptized Christian is commissioned to go out and preach the Good News to all peoples. The spread of the Gospel takes place when baptized Christians carry out their mission while cooperating with the Holy Spirit. For it is not Christians that convert hearts and save souls, but it is God who does so.

We can say that it is the role of Christians to prepare pagans and create in them a proper disposition to receive the Holy Spirit who will act in them and bring them to conversion. Only then will they have to make a choice, whether or not to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

ChrisYeo said...

Demerzel's and Daniel's comments highlight how the most important part of mass is the Eucharist, with the homily being just a "sideshow"; The Holy Spirit can work beyond this and the "lay person will be able to take away some word of encouragement or otherwise from even the most boring homilies."; If your priest is a bad homilist, pray for him. I beg to differ.

Daniel is right to point out that "the key here is proper disposition and openness to the Holy Spirit.". However, if the only experience of worship that a hypothetical youth has is mass, and the homily is bad, whatever disposition he might have had in the first place might be destroyed. Thus, I'm saying that a bad homily is not superflous, but has a negative effect. The suggestion then becomes circular. If a person did not have a proper disposition in the first place, then where is he to get it? Go to mass?

In my view, it is not proper to just say "pray for the priest" or "we should not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through him". We need to properly do something about bad homilies. If a priest is not a good speaker, then keep a homily simple and short, and try to improve. Granted that not every homily appeals to everyone, but there is no excuse for a bad homily. And, we have a part to play to help improve the Eucharistic Celebration in any way we can (not just pray).

I always think of the story of the man in the flood in such situations. The story goes that a man is caught in flood waters and is stuck on his roof. A boat and finally a helicopter come by and offer to save him, but each time he replies "Don't worry, God will save me." When he drowns, God tells him that He sent the boat and the helicopter to save him, but he refused.

To me, this story parallels the discussion on the homily. Each time God prompts us to improve the Mass, these suggestions are put down by comments such as "Even if a priest's homily is really bad, we should not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through him". To me, these are destructive excuses (sorry Daniel) that prevent us from any real growth in our liturgy.

Anonymous said...

“One should pray and do penance for him that the Lord may grant him his grace again.” This goes beyond just praying for them. The action of penance is also extremely important. Yet I should have developed this point much further. Before embarking on anything, actually doing it and after doing it, prayer and sacrifice must take the place of primary importance. The central activity of the follower of Christ is prayer and sacrifice, since in whatever we do, we remain weak and pathetic sinners that need to draw the strength that comes from God. This is not a destructive excuse it is just following the example of Christ.

Even if we are inspired about the need to change certain aspects, the immediate response should be praying to God that his Will be done, not our own; and asking Him to be the one taking charge, and we only being his instrument. This is still no case of inaction. St Paul, before the start of his ministry, spent years in the desert. Discerning God’s Will does take time, but in following his plan, the path is already laid before us and even before we start on the journey, we have already learnt to draw upon the strength of the Almighty God. In all things, we need to let the Lord do his work, and facilitating that work, instead of getting in the way. For all our own good intentions, it can be that the Lord has decided otherwise, and the end of it all further actions in a particular direction may ultimately be detrimental in nature.

A good homily preach the Truth, but in the words of St Augustine “the victory of Truth is Charity”. Charity must not be set aside.

Daniel said...

Yup, I agree with you Chris. That comment on relying on the Holy Spirit for inspiration is just one thing that we can do.

What we can definitely do is to give feedback to our priests. For most priests who actually do prepare their homilies (regardless of whether or not they are good or bad), they will definitely welcome any feedback, critiques and suggestions that you might have. The reason here is that feedback on his homilies is what a priest needs most and receives least.

For my part, I have personally complimented some priests when I feel that their homily was good and well-prepared, and given feedback to priests whose homilies wasn't very good. And I can say with certainty that they certainly do appreciate the feedback.

It is no understatement to say that it is the responsibility of parishioners to feedback to their priests when they feel that they are not receiving adequate spiritual nourishment.

There are, however, some priests who really do try very hard to give a good homily but are simply unable to. You can see that they really do prepare for their homilies, but somehow it would be what we would call a "lousy" homily which nothing touches us. Do continue to give them feedback, and remember that a priest's pastoral work is not limited to giving good homilies.

Hence, I must stress that if all our spiritual nourishment comes from just a priest's homily once a week, then it is no wonder that we are sorely lacking in spirituality. Other forms of spiritual nourishment certainly need to be sought as well, such as personal reflection on the daily readings, praying the Divine Office, reading and reflecting on church documents, cell groups, etc.

If you need additional spiritual nourishment and are not sure of what you can do, you can approach that priest with bad homilies and see how else he can help you pastorally. Perhaps his strength lies elsewhere.

For example, I know of one priest who consistently gives terribly boring homilies and doesn't seem to improve even with feedback. However, he is an excellent confessor to go to.

ChrisYeo said...

Thanks for your clarification Demerzel. I think I agree.