So your pastor can’t preach. Now what?

When I first began preaching, I asked my sister-in-law what she thought. “Oh I will have to listen next time,” she said. “I am used to shutting out the homily because my pastor only makes me mad or confused.” I hope her experience has changed over the years, but I have been hesitant to check back with her on the topic. I doubt her experience is unique.

Perhaps you are among the many Catholics participating in Sunday Eucharist—but just barely enduring the preaching. Maybe your pastor seems like a faithful, good person but is unable to connect. He offers some nice phrases and mild church jokes but no meat, really. You used to think it was your problem; you weren’t listening intensely enough, so you sat closer and really concentrated.


Still, nothing.

Then you thought that it was because you weren’t prepared, so you start praying with the Sunday readings during the week. You like this new practice, but it doesn’t help the preaching. In fact, you begin to doubt if your priest is actually reading them beforehand.

Perhaps you are among the many Catholics participating in Sunday Eucharist—but just barely enduring the preaching.

So you take some advice and get to know your priest and even offer some kind feedback. It is well received, but he is still a poor preacher, only now he appears apologetic about it. Communication is just not one of his gifts. Now what do you do?

You could quit going to Mass—many do. But then you would be without the Eucharist and community and would enter a state of mortal sin. Instead, you could dip into your online resources. The internet is a big place, and there is a lot of preaching both live and in archives. Not all of it is going to speak to you, but I want to suggest you give a listen to the following folks. See if they begin to feed that hunger inside of you for the preached word.

Father Michael O’Connor. The pastor in a southern seaside parish, Father O’Connor is a passionate, challenging, loving communicator blessed with a thick Mississippi accent, who leads his parish deeper into the Scriptures. His homilies are recorded live for the “Pod Apostle” podcast, and he preaches from the same set of readings you will hear in your parish.

Andy Stanley. Pastor Andy offers classic nondenominational evangelical preaching at its best. His huge community church called North Point in suburban Atlanta is very different worship experience for most Catholics, and the sermons are beautifully produced on video and audio. And while Pastor Andy and his team don’t use the Catholic lectionary, they are eminently worth listening to. Andy Stanley preaches in a series of sermons that are held together by a theme, often excellent and useful in day-to-day life.

Sneaking in your headphones at the end of the Gospel reading is not going help things.

Nadia Bolz-Weber. Rev. Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of an alternative Evangelical Lutheran community in Denver. While she has moved on from this community, her preaching archive can be found on the House for All website. Be prepared for preaching that is inspired, irreverent, funny, heartbreaking and challenging. You won’t agree with all of it, but you might be fed by some of it.

These are just three of many good preachers out there. Some of the best ones only occasionally pop up online without a podcast format or a preaching archive. But Traci Blackmon, Heidi Neumark and Barbara Brown Taylor are also worth seeking out online for stand-alone sermons.

If you are Catholic, listening to a Catholic priest online will be a familiar experience—a male voice, the usual Sunday readings, the length of the preaching and the way it fits into a larger celebration of the Mass. Preaching in other communities may strike Catholics as exotic but can serve as a bracing tonic to the way we usually do things. Listening to a non-Catholic approach to the Scriptures, hearing a female voice preaching the Word and listening to a sermon that unfolds in an unhurried 45 minutes—all can open our minds and hearts in new ways.

I suggest listening to preachers as an addition to attending your local parish, not as a substitute. Sneaking in your headphones at the end of the Gospel reading is not going help things, either. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have been exploring the online preaching experience long enough to have some rich reflections on its real limitations for gathering us together. The author Read Mercer Schuchardt points out in Christianity Today, “By its very nature, podcasting the sermon reduces the entire liturgy and purpose of church as the corporate meeting of Christ’s bride to simply ‘listening to a sermon.’” So online resources can help support an experience but they are not meant to replace it.

I hope my sister-in-law reads this and begins to get fed by the Word as spoken through effective preachers. I hope we all can seek out the nourishment we all long for in our Sunday worship.

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JR Cosgrove
1 year 8 months ago

You are not a Mass for a homily. That is the cherry and the whipped cream on top of the sundae. One of the problems in our area is the lack of American priests and the use of African priests who are often not understandable. Their homily may be very good but their dialect leaves everyone wondering what he said. This is not a prejudice thing since I often go to the next parish to hear a Mass from a priest from Ghana who speaks good English. I often find the best sermons to be those that explain the scriptures in terms of context and history. One of the best examples was when the gospels moved from Mark to John's gospels of the Bread earlier this summer. The priest spent his time on the context of the five gospels and the apostle's reactions to them.

G Key
1 year 8 months ago

A priest in a neighboring diocese snarks so disrespectfully about Pope Francis that I am too angry to take communion until I go to reconciliation (with a different priest). If only his homilies were unintelligible!

JR Cosgrove
1 year 8 months ago

Funny sign

Listened to Fr O'Connor. He is great and will be a Sunday go to for additional insight. Highly recommended after listening to a few homilies.

Stephen Samenuk
1 year 8 months ago

Love the part in the article, "You could quit going to Mass—many do. But then you would be without the Eucharist and community and would enter a state of mortal sin." After reading that uplifting threat of fire and brimstone, I better get to mass to hear that uplifting garbage most priest are dishing out these days. You know what I got out of the article after that comment, nothing.

Tom Toale
1 year 8 months ago

Agree on the “mortal sin” point. Nothing like a cleric trying to put a guilt trip on those trying to remain faithful in the midst of the clerical abuse scandal.

Nancy Walton-House
1 year 8 months ago

I agree on the threat and invalid claim that we commit mortal sin by quitting Mass attendance. I am very turned off by that statement. However, I found much of value in the article and do enrich my understanding and appreciation of the liturgy and local homilies by using additional online resources. My favorites are:
Catholic Women Preach
Fr. John Whitney SJ, pastor of Saint Joseph Church Seattle

Kester Ratcliff
1 year 8 months ago

My home parish's priest, where I joined the Catholic Church as an adult, his homilies are always long, usually 35-40 minutes, but always intellectually interesting and move me to tears most weeks. He explains all four readings and how they relate to each other and their original social contexts and how it applies to us now. He's not shy of challenging people, but very kindly and it's "we" not "you".

I've since moved for studying and work a few times and never encountered such an intellectual and inspiring preacher, and now I'm in the Netherlands so the homilies are in Dutch.

My solution is to read the patristic homily in the Office of Readings using the Universalis lectionary app on my phone. Sometimes I read more of the Office of Readings during the homily. One time I even brought in a book which is similar to a homily: Gift of the Other: a theology of hospitality inspired by Levinas and Derrida (and the part I was reading that week included Zizioulas). Or sometimes I re-read the Mass readings and mentally give myself a homily about them.

J Jones
1 year 8 months ago

I was once told by a gorgeous homilist and confessor that I should never again make even general complaints about the quality of some priests' homilies because the Eucharist is why we come to Mass. I appreciated this gifted priest's effort to keep people at Mass even where the priests are NOT good preachers and his unwillingness to listen to gossip/complaining about his brother priests.

And, though I never said it to him again, I don't go to Mass where the priest can't preach anymore than I go to school where the teachers can't teach.

People can lecture us and say that we are bad Catholics if the Eucharist is not enough for us, and most younger people will still de-camp, especially in this age when we have so many other forums for spiritual instruction, inspiration, nurturance, beauty.

How about we - the whole Church - cease and desist with our bigoted harangues about seminaries screening out gay men who are committed to celibacy and instead SCREEN OUT THE SEMINARIANS WHO CANNOT PREACH!

By the way: some of the best preachers I have encountered have been Catholics sisters. Maybe we should think abo......................................................................................

Stephen Pope
1 year 8 months ago

"But then you would be without the Eucharist and community and would enter a state of mortal sin." Seriously?

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