Some thoughts on congratulating the homilist today: Coulda; shoulda; woulda; and category mistakes.
I am fortunate to live in a parish where, by and large, the homilies are very well done. Even the quiet weekday Mass is typically an occasion for words from the preachers which are thought-out, prepared, profound and explicative of the Scripture or the feast day being celebrated. It is not so everywhere and that is a tragedy.
The Mass I attended today, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, benefitted again from a wonderful homily. In my small way of adding my voice to the project of encouraging good preaching, I thanked the homilist for his efforts this morning. I wanted to let him know that his hard work is much appreciated. I know it has to be hard work that is put into the homilies because they are so finely crafted and intricately balanced. The words are delivered with passion. None of this “just happens.”
When I returned home today, however, I realized my words of gratitude to the homilist were inapt. Although he may enjoy a metaphorical “atta-boy” pat on the back as much as anyone, the thanks I offered, albeit entirely sincere, were misdirected and failed to articulate what I experienced during the homily and, indeed, the rest of the Mass.
This good priest strikes me as a devout and holy man who knows that his homiletic role at the Mass is miniscule, compared to the infinite mercies and miracles being worked on the altar in front of and in the midst of the congregation. Although I thank him for his words, to think that the homilist’s artistry (however elevated it might be!) is appropriately measured against the infinite scale of the Sacrifice of the Mass is to cross into absurdity. I believe it was from Cardinal George that I first heard the expression “a category mistake.” No measure of exalted homiletic words can compare with what happens by God’s grace at the Eucharist. It is participating in “a category mistake” to offer words of gratitude about a homily when the homily is only the human effort to try to articulate the ineffable.
Rather than praise the homilist’s efforts today, I should have mentioned to him that one could have heard a pin drop during the pauses in his delivery. The congregation was hanging on his words, hungry to hear how the Incarnation expresses Gods love for us. I should have said to the homilist that it seems he knows this hunger first hand and he shared some of what he knew about satisfying that hunger. I am reminded of the old line about evangelization—evangelization is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread might be found.
Father, thank you for telling us where we might eat. You know where we can find what we need—because you must have been there first.
The title of the blog comes from a phrase in a T. S. Eliot poem. He writes of grace: "the unattended moment, the moment in and out of time...the wild thyme unseen or the winter lightning...the gift half understood is Incarnation." The grace that we do not always attend to remains nevertheless. The joy is to be startled awake by the winter lightning and become aware of Grace.
I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago, a director of a retreat house and a lawyer.
It is my hope that everything I offer in this blog and everything that I say is consistent with the views of the Catholic Church. If I ever fail in that regard, it is not because of any willfulness on my part. It is because I do not understand or I have not submitted to sufficient prayer or study.