Letters from Seminary: Burmester

How to write a homily in six long, challenging steps

Published: October 15, 2016

By Deacon William Burmester
Diocesan Seminarian

“(Jesus) said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.’” (Mark 16:15)

Preaching. One of the most difficult and vulnerable things I have ever done. The common known statistic that more people have a fear of public speaking than they do of their own death comes to mind when I prepare to preach.

Why did God call me to a life of speaking publicly? Weekend homilies. Weekday homilies. Funerals. Retreats. Weddings. There will be ample opportunity to preach Christ’s love, mercy and justice to the people of God.

Preaching is difficult for me not so much because it is public speaking but more so because I am expressing my spirituality in a very public way. In preaching my prayer life, discernment and relationship with God are expressed in words.

It is deeply vulnerable because I preach to inspire and share Christ with others, but I am also left open to critique, criticism or boredom. And sometimes it is hard to hear critique or see boredom without feeling like it is a direct attack on my spiritual life.

Preaching is a unique experience for me (I am now on the “giving” side of the homily experience) and a humbling and powerful experience at that. Here is an insider look on the Sunday homily process according to a young transitional deacon.

The best way to describe my process is six-fold: read, pray, plan, write, preach and reflect.

Read — Preaching begins a week before giving a homily when I plan time to sit down with the Sunday readings. I must begin by the basic act of reading the Scriptures to be preached.

Pray — I spend time to let the readings become the center of my prayer. How does God speak to me through these readings? If I have not let the readings touch me personally, I will be ineffective in sharing Christ with others.

Plan — This means reading ideas and perspectives from Church Fathers and theologians about the weekend readings in order to see the readings in a new way. I am also in a special position in the seminary to brainstorm with fellow deacons on their approach to the readings. As I plan, I get an idea or image of God that will impact the people to whom I preach.

Write — For me, one of the most difficult steps in the process. My emotions range from excitement (How awesome is it that I preach God to others?) to doubt and fear (I can’t do this … I have writer’s block). Then, somehow by the grace of God I finish writing the homily.

Preach — Now I get to share my work and prayer with the community. I preach and talk to people after Mass and adjust a phrase or paragraph to enhance my homily.

Reflect — After the last homily and for a few days afterward, I reflect on the experience of giving a homily. How was the homily received? How did I feel giving the homily? Where was Jesus during the homily process? The process takes time and intentionality but also a reliance on God’s guidance.

This is my experience of giving a homily, and I know each priest and deacon has a unique process. It has been difficult at times, but I have seen much personal fruit in my ministry of preaching. I am excited to improve and mature in my homiletic process as a priest in the Diocese of Little Rock.

Deacon William Burmester, a member of St. Joseph Church in Conway, is a diocesan seminarian attending St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. He is scheduled to be ordained a priest on May 27, 2017. This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.