The three stories every homily should tell
When Jude Siciliano, O.P, sits down to write his homily, he always has a Venn diagram in mind. “It is one of the theories of preaching that there should be three stories,” Jude says, “The story of God, the story of the preacher, and the story of the listeners, the congregation.” And it is in the overlap of these three stories that Jude preaches.
Jude Siciliano, O.P, is a member of the Southern Dominican Province, USA. For fourteen years he taught Homiletics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California and is past president of the Catholic Association of Teachers of Homiletics. Jude has given retreats and preaching workshops to ordained and lay preachers alongside Sr. Catherine Hilkert, O.P, and Sr. Patricia Bruno, O.P. You can read Jude’s weekly email reflections on the Sunday Scriptures called "First Impressions" by visiting PreacherExchange.com.
Listen to Jude's homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time on this week’s episode of “Preach.” After the homily, he shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J.—a Jesuit priest from South Africa, associate editor at America and associate pastor at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan—his top tips for preaching and what women preachers have taught him about the craft.
Scripture Readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Jer 20:7-9
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Second Reading: Rom 12:1-2
Gospel: Mt 16:21-27
You can find the full text of the readings here.
Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time by Jude Siciliano, O.P.
A friend of mine told me about a pharmacist she knew whose name was Bill. He was one of three at the pharmacy: the chief pharmacist, a female pharmacist, and himself. The chief pharmacist was retiring and offered the position to Bill. Bill was flattered, but protested that his female colleague should be given the position. She was an excellent pharmacist and had been there longer. The chief pharmacist rejected his suggestion. The reason he gave was that the female pharmacist was a married woman and didn't need the higher pay. Bill saw the injustice towards a highly qualified employee, and so, he quit his job. He took a stand, saying, “I have three daughters, and I want to fight the injustice that they meet, may meet, in their future jobs. It's an injustice many women face, sometimes daily.” Well, Bill's decision cost him. He was unemployed for a while as he searched for a new job. So let's put it in biblical terms. Bill was a prophet; like Jeremiah, he was a spokesperson for justice. He took a stand, and paid the price. When someone is annoyed at another person, when they meet the person, they skip right over the pleasantries, like, “How are you?” or, “Good to see you. How have you been?” Instead, they launch right into their complaint, and they voice their grievances, saying things like, “How could you? I thought we were friends.”
That's what Jeremiah is doing in our first reading. He laments and complains to God: “You duped me, oh Lord, and I let myself be duped.” He continues: “I'm an object of laughter, everyone mocks me.” Well, some of us might say, “You shouldn't talk to God that way.” It's as if we're afraid that we might hurt God's feelings, or God might be angry with us, or we might drive God away from us; not Jeremiah. This great prophet encourages us to speak our minds to God, as we say, to blow off steam at God. Not to hold back when the situation calls for it, but keep the channels of communication open with God, by honest speech, and even complaints if necessary. That's better than silence. That's the situation Jeremiah found himself in. He was not by nature a courageous man, but he heard a call from God, and he had to respond to it. That's what got him in trouble, not only with his community around him, but with the religious authorities in the temple as well.
You see, Israel had betrayed its covenant with God. They lacked trust in God's protection and instead, made alliances with pagan nations against the coming Babylonian onslaught. Jeremiah challenged the people for their disloyalty to God; and so they resisted him. He was locked up in stocks outside the temple, he was an object of mockery and scorn; how humiliating. That was not the price that he expected to pay when he said yes to God's call. Despite the opposition he met, he kept speaking out, predicting doom for the nation. God's word had touched his entire being, and he could not keep it to himself, despite his personal pain.
God's word was, he says, “burning in my heart.” And he says, “imprisoned in my bones.” It seems he just couldn't resist God's call. He looked into his deeper self, and found courage to pay whatever price to keep preaching the word of God. He didn't like it very much, he never suspected the price he would have to pay. And so, he complained to God: “You duped me, oh Lord, and I let myself be duped.” Have you ever had to take an unpopular position like Jeremiah, or Bill, because you knew it was the right thing to do, and then had to pay a price? Lost a friend or several friends? Been rejected by your colleagues, snubbed by your classmates for standing up for a student being bullied? Mocked for speaking out against racism, or prejudice against the LGBT community? Even when you've found those attitudes in your own Catholic community?
Jeremiah's a good example of what it means to be a bearer of God's word. It costs physically, it costs emotionally, it costs spiritually. But, as we hear in today's Gospel, prophecy didn't stop at the end of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus calls His disciples then, and now, to follow Him, to be prophets in His name; and as it cost Him, it will cost us. He says today that following Him will mean denying ourselves and accepting suffering in His name. It may not mean being martyred as He and many of His disciples after Him were, but it does mean being a witness to Him, so that people will recognize Christ in our words and actions. Is it any wonder that the word “witness” in the New Testament means “martyr?” Responding to Jesus in our daily lives will cost us. While realizing that, let us pray a verse, the verse from our Responsorial Psalm, which says, “My soul is thirsting for you, oh Lord.” Because with God, we will be able to answer the costly call Jesus issues us each day. “Come,” He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
“Preach” is made possible through the generous support of the Compelling Preaching Initiative, a project of Lilly Endowment Inc.