I have been thinking about the best preacher I ever heard. Not about the single best homily or sermon, but about the best and most consistent preaching I have encountered.
When it comes to preaching, we all have our horror stories and I have done my fair share of grumbling.
But rather than focus on the bad preaching, I have been thinking about what makes the good preaching good. As Catholics seeking holiness, we have the saints to model ourselves after. We find a saint that seems like us and we try to do some of the things that helped them become more holy. The same goes for preaching, do what the good preachers do.
So what is it about the best preaching I ever had and what about it made it consistently good?
As I thought about it, I kept coming back to one particular priest that week in and week out offered good solid preaching. I realized that he was the best preacher I ever had. So what about his preaching made it so good? Well, no one particular thing. I have tried to distill certain elements of his preaching and other good preaching to come up with a list of things I think are at the root of it.
—He rarely gave a homily more than 10 minutes long. Most of the homilies were in the 7-9 minute range.
—Every homily he gave was prepared in advance (with obvious care) and he worked from notes.
—He did not walk around during his homilies, but rather stayed put at the pulpit referencing his aforementioned notes but never reading.
—He spoke in a clear, assertive, and masculine style that avoided any misplaced interrogative lilt, the fake soft voice (think Harry Reid), or the sing-songy style so common today. In short, he spoke as one with authority.
—His brief homilies and sermons generally sought to make a single point and to make it well. He avoided the temptation to tangents and humorous asides. Any stories or quotes served to illustrate the main thrust of his sermon.
—And perhaps most of all, his homilies and sermons were all theologically solid, teaching unequivocally what the Church teaches. They were never fire and brimstone just as they were never soft-pedaled. There is no greater sign of love than plain truth stated plainly.
I believe that his consistent application of the above principles and methods resulted in consistently good (and sometimes great) preaching. Just as we emulate saints to be more holy, priests looking to become better preachers can emulate those who are so good.
I am not saying that there is only one way to do it, but my experience has shown me that consistent application of these sound principles will result in consistently sound preaching.
And before you ask, who was the best preacher I ever had? Father John McCartney currently at St. Mary's in Roslyn, NY.