A Parish Priest's Top Ten List



            David Letterman has his Top Ten list and I've got mine.  His might be funnier but mine is a lot more useful.  My list includes the Top Ten resources  I use in preparing homilies and talks.  This is the major effort of my week and the major point of contact of most Catholics with their church.

I have never used any of those "canned " homily services though.  I think you can tell when a priest is just reading somebody else's words. The day I subscribe to canned homilies, is the day I hang up my stole.

Of course, it goes without saying that the scriptures are the number one source of inspiration for homilies.  You can't preach if you get too far from THE WORD,  in the Bible.

 I also rely heavily on "things my mother taught me" and my own personal experience.

 It is important to read a good daily newspaper to get the old blood pumping.   I read The Washington Post.  But, I never base my homilies on the comics.   (I've heard one to many homilies based on Peanuts.)

 Some magazines are great  resources.  I read  America, the Jesuit weekly magazine, and First Things, the thoughtful (and occasionally pompous) conservative monthly.  They are the yin and yang of my spiritual reading.  Among secular magazines I like Atlantic Monthly a lot.

  Movies are a great source of material, but you should never tell the whole story of a movie (boring!).   I use lots of quotes  from movies though.   My favorite is the Blues Brothers,  "We're on a mission from God."

In the dozen or so homilies and talks I give each week , I need  serious help which I get from my friends listed below.  So here is " A Modern American Parish Priest's Top Ten List of  Homily Helpers."

10.  The guys I call "the Germans".  I mean the heavy  hitter theologians like Karl Rahner, Karl Barth, and Bernard Haring.  They all need to be digested and regurgitated a bit for preaching, but there is nutrition there.  I think the best book in this group is The Foundations of Christian Faith  by Karl Rahner.

9.       Anything by M. Scott Peck, M.D.  This Episcopalian psychiatrist, who  now calls himself an evangelist.  He has captured in modern language an ancient Christian spirituality.  He is generous and joyful.  I use his Road Less Traveled and his tapes Further Along the Road Less Traveled a lot.

8.       Meditation books and anthologies.  I especially use the ones put out for  people in 12 step programs, which I think is the best spirituality of the 20th Century.  The little books from Hazelden Press are full of pithy, three minute homilies.  Twelve step programs use modern proverbs like, "let go and let God " or "when you have one finger pointed out, you've go three pointed back at you."  Great stuff!   Other good stuff includes the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

7.      The guys I call "the English.," especially from the Oxford movement.  G.K. Chesterton and Cardinal John  Henry Newman  are the best.  I think Chesterton's Orthodoxy  is a classic.    His books on the saints are great.  These English guys can write.

6.        The "Americans", especially included among these are Thomas Merton, and  Dorothy Day,   Some of the modern spiritual writers are good , though not yet worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence.

5.      Modern Catholic novelists and playwrites, especially Walker Percy and Robert Bolt.  The  ability to tell a story is essential to preaching.  Bolt's  play on Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons, is loaded with great lines.   Percy's The Movie Goer and The Last Gentleman are great.  Graham Greene, George Bernanos, Edwin O'Connor and the Japanese Catholic author, Shusaku Endo have stories and quotes that reveal our souls to ourselves.

4.       The Documents of Vatican II and writings of  John Paul II.  I'm not just saying this to get on the bishop's good side.  (Well, o k, I am, but it is also true.)  You can't preach today without Vatican II.  I think the best quotes are in the document on the church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes.  The Pope has great insights, especially in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  His encyclicals are difficult reading  but I like  "The Gospel of Life" and "The Splendor of Truth."   While I am on church documents, I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church is helpful but not very quotable.  It is, after all, a reference book.  Using it in a homily is like using the dictionary, o k for a definition, but not for a discourse.

3.      Anything by C. S. Lewis.  The most useful and quotable author of our age, for homilists was not a cleric or even a Catholic.  Clive Staples Lewis, the Anglican essayist,  is  the best friend a preacher ever had in putting difficult and complicated things in a pithy,  that people can understand.

2.       Poetry, especially Shakespeare, John Donne, and  Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Nothing stirs the soul like poetry.  Using Shakespeare is like singing the national anthem at a political convention, you can't miss.  John Donne is beautiful.  I think Gerard Manley Hopkins deserves to be mentioned in this company.  He is a jewel for preachers.

1.      Anything by Raymond Brown.  He is  the greatest Catholic biblical scholar of the 20th Century.  His stuff is readable and insightful.  I especially like The Birth of the Messiah, his commentary on John's gospel and his historical essays on the early church.   He collaborated with Joseph Firzmyer, S.J. and Roland Murphy, O.Carm., on the most useful thing ever published for Catholic preachers, The Jerome Biblical Comentary.   Don't leave your rectory without it.


And there you have it my friends.  The secret of homily preparation in 10 not so easy steps.