Philippa Martyr: John and Alice, Fr Jim and lay preaching

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If you feel you have a call to lay preaching, maybe join the millions who already do it on YouTube. There’s nothing stopping you. Photo: Unsplash
If you feel you have a call to lay preaching, maybe join the millions who already do it on YouTube. There’s nothing stopping you. Photo: Unsplash

Certain loud voices (no pun intended) have worked hard to get a proposal for lay preaching incorporated into the Plenary Council’s motions. So I asked around Facebook to see who had experienced it in a Catholic church, and what they thought of it.

Around 15 people responded, most of whom had lame to bad experiences. Most people found it gimmicky: something from the embarrassing days of try-hard school Masses or bored radical parish priests.

This made me think. Why do people think we need lay preaching in our churches? Exactly what problem are they trying to solve?

If the problem is that a parish priest gives lousy homilies, there are already solutions to this. The first step is to tell him (in a nice way).

Then he can do some upskilling, either online or in person. Or he can use one of the many online homiletics resources and just print something out and read it.

Maybe you could help him if you’ve got some skill in this area. Read a draft or sit with him while he works on his delivery.

“Perhaps it’s time to overcome the racism of some Boomer Catholics who have been trying to use overseas clergy as an excuse for lay-led parishes, women’s ordination, and other abuses for years now.”

Is the problem that the parish priest hates preaching? Not a problem for weekday Masses – he doesn’t have to preach then. But he does need to preach on Sundays and holy days of obligation.

I’d suggest a kindly reminder that preaching is part of his job description. Then he can try the steps outlined above, which require minimal effort and won’t interrupt his golf game too much.

Is Father from a part of the world that doesn’t speak English as a first language? Then why not help him to improve his English?

Perhaps it’s time to overcome the racism of some Boomer Catholics who have been trying to use overseas clergy as an excuse for lay-led parishes, women’s ordination, and other abuses for years now.

I’ve read about one parish where the priest – who is still learning English – puts the text of the homily up on the projector screen as he gives it. And why not? This helps the hard of hearing as well.

I know several local parish priests who write their homilies and read them out, and it’s really improved their English. Or Father can find an online print sermon, print it, and read it out.

Perhaps it would have been wiser for the Plenary Council to suggest gauging the local Church’s appetite for lay preaching outside of certain tiny enclaves. Photo: Unsplash
Perhaps it would have been wiser for the Plenary Council to suggest gauging the local Church’s appetite for lay preaching outside of certain tiny enclaves. Photo: Unsplash

Maybe you could make him aware of these resources and help him to choose something appropriate. If he needs to practice first, I’m certain someone from your inclusive and welcoming parish can help him out.

So really, what is the problem that lay preaching will solve? And – more interesting still – what are the problems that it will cause?

Perhaps it would have been wiser for the Plenary Council to suggest gauging the local Church’s appetite for lay preaching outside of certain tiny enclaves.

If you feel you have a call to lay preaching, maybe join the millions who already do it on YouTube. There’s nothing stopping you.

Perhaps you feel that your talents merit a captive audience every Sunday. But that would be making it all about you, instead of about the Gospel.

I’ll end with the funniest story I was told about lay preaching, heavily disguised to protect the innocent.

“It’s very bad for the community to foist such lousy content on us, from a lay person talking about whatever they felt like and thought might be relevant.”

Once upon a time in the parish of St Covid’s, there was a bored parish priest with a weak bishop. When Fr Jim wanted to try lay preaching, parish stalwarts John and Alice explained that canon law prohibited this.

“I don’t care about canon law,” replied Fr Jim with his customary roguish twinkle.
John and Alice registered an effective protest by leaving the church every time a lay person preached. Once the sermon was over, they came back inside. Fr Jim didn’t like this. “John, it’s not good for our parish community for you to leave the church like that during Mass,” he said.

Alice (noting Fr Jim’s casual sexism) replied, “It’s very bad for the community to foist such lousy content on us, from a lay person talking about whatever they felt like and thought might be relevant.”

John and Alice still go to St Covid – but they have a different parish priest, and no more lay preaching. Their bishop was replaced by someone rather more robust who (unlike Fr Jim) believes in canon law.

Fr Jim found this climate change a bit too bracing, so he moved to another diocese. He continues to do whatever he wants in his parish, enabled by a clique of adoring elderly fans.

I think there’s something in this story for all of us, don’t you?