Faith, Doubt, and Mercy

Teaching Mass for Faith First Students / Confirmation Retreat

 Fr. Raymond Lafontaine  April 23, 2017

Teaching on the Homily

What the homily is meant to accomplish is beautifully set out in Pope Francis’ teaching on the proclamation of the Good News, “The Joy of the Gospel”:

Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy. I will dwell in particular … on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry … The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them, and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth. (135)

Some people think they can be good preachers because they know what ought to be said, but they pay no attention to how it should be said, that is, the concrete way of constructing a homily. They complain when people do not listen to or appreciate them, but they have never taken the trouble to find the proper way of presenting their message. In the Bible, we can find advice on how to prepare a homily so as to best to reach people: “Speak concisely, say much in few words” (Sir 32:8). (156)

One of the most important things is to learn how to use images in preaching. Sometimes examples are used to clarify a certain point, but these examples usually appeal only to the mind. An attractive image makes the message seem familiar, close to home, practical and related to everyday life. A successful image makes people savour the message, awakens desire, moves the will towards the Gospel. A good homily, an old teacher once told me, should have “an idea, a feeling, an image.” (157)

Pope Paul VI said that “the faithful… expect much from preaching, and will greatly benefit from it, provided that it is simple, clear, direct, well-adapted”.  Simplicity has to do with the language we use. It must be words that people understand ... If we wish to adapt to people’s language and to reach them with God’s word, we need to share in their lives and pay loving attention to them. Simplicity and clarity are two different things. Our language may be simple but our preaching not very clear. It can end up being incomprehensible because it is disorganized, lacks logical progression or tries to deal with too many things at one time.  (158)

Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better. If it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, and not remain mired in complaints, criticisms and reproaches. Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity. How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive and meaningful! (159)

Here is an illustration from the master himself, Pope Francis: his homily on today’s Gospel: Faith, Doubt, and Mercy:

(After excerpt …)

Transition from faith theme to the profession of Catholic faith of Shermar and Justin Lowe, the renewal of faith of our young people preparing for Confirmation, and the renewal of our baptismal promises we all accomplished at the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday masses last weekend.


St. John tells us that on the evening after Jesus rose from the dead, he came and stood among the disciples. He said to them, “Peace be with you!”  Showing them his hands and his side, he also showed them his wounds.  They knew it was truly him, the Lord, and they were filled with joy.  Eight days later, Jesus came once again into the Upper Room and showed his wounds to Thomas, so that he could touch them also, and so believe and become himself a witness to the Resurrection.

To us also, on this Sunday dedicated by St. John Paul II to Divine Mercy, the Lord shows us his wounds.  They are wounds of mercy. Jesus invites us to behold these wounds, to touch them as Thomas did, to heal our lack of belief.  Above all, he invites us to enter into the mystery of these wounds, the mystery of God’s merciful love.  Through these wounds, we can see the entire mystery of Christ: his Passion; his earthly life and ministry, filled with compassion for the weak and the sick; his incarnation in Mary’s womb.  And we can retrace the whole history of salvation: the prophecies, the liberation from Egypt, the patriarchs, all the way back to Abel, whose blood cried out from the earth.  All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen.

Faced with the tragic events of human history we can feel crushed at times, asking ourselves, “Why?”  Humanity’s evil appears in the world like an abyss, a great void: empty of love, of goodness, of life.  And so we ask: how can we fill this abyss?  For us it is impossible; only God can fill this emptiness that evil brings to our hearts and to human history.  It is Jesus, who died on the Cross, who rose again, who fills the abyss of sin with the depth of his mercy.

Brothers and sisters, behold the way which God has opened for us to finally go out from our slavery to sin and death, and thus enter into the land of life and peace.  The risen Christ is the way and his wounds are full of mercy.  Keeping our gaze on the wounds of the Risen Jesus, we can sing with the Church: “His mercy endures forever!” With these words impressed on our hearts, let us go forth, led by the hand of our Lord and Saviour, wounded and glorified, our life and our hope. 

Malcolm Guite, St. Thomas the Apostle

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh! place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.