CNS photo/Paul Haring

To the point

  • January 7, 2016

At a recent ordination of a bishop, Pope Francis shared his secrets for success. He advised the bishop to be a disciple of mercy and patience — and short homilies.

Francis is accomplished in all three, but a particular hallmark of his papacy has been a knack to deliver homilies that are short, yes, but also clear and inspirational.

“Let your words be simple so that everyone can understand,” he said. “Don’t give long homilies.”

In pews worldwide that advice will elicit a short and simple Hallelujah!

We should be thankful that the Pope offered this advice in public and his words were widely transmitted. His message is not only relevant for rookie bishops in Rome but should be heard by clergy everywhere. Effective homilies are those that are mindful of everyday vocabulary and the clock.

Thankfully, many priests already know that truth and work hard to deliver homilies that are meaningful, interesting and concise. Public speaking is seldom easy. Those that do it well should be commended and encouraged. But as the Pope concedes there is much room for improvement.

Francis practises what he preaches. Several mornings each week he says Mass at the chapel in his Vatican residence and delivers a succinct homily — 10 minutes, tops — to a gathering of about 50 people. The audience can range from bishops and cardinals to gardeners and cafeteria staff. He faces them without notes, informally, sincerely, as if he were once again a parish priest.

These homilies are widely reported and draw international interest precisely because they are plainly spoken, sometimes colourful, often inspirational and always concise. It is from this pulpit that Pope Francis has coined such memorable phrases as “couch-potato Christian,” “Mr. and Mrs. Whiner,” and “melancholic Christian faces that have more in common with pickled peppers than joy.” A summary of each day’s homily is distributed to the media and appears on various web sites, including

Two years ago in his apostolic exhortation Joy of the Gospel, Francis devoted several pages to homilies and their key role as evangelizing tools. He called them “the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” Homilies, he said, are neither entertainment nor lectures, but should link the Gospel message to human situations. Language should be simple and positive, delivered with warmth and humility — and “be brief.”

Homilists should use imagery to awaken senses, says Francis, and they should avoid academic and theological jargon. Above all, he says, a homily should never be boring.

Perhaps that is obvious, but what Francis might mean is that he prefers homilies that are sincere and come from the heart. That and knowing when to quit.

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