What is most important about the stories of Sacred Scripture is that they are expressions of people’s encounter with the Divine. Whether those encounters are couched in what we traditionally call a “story” or revealed through rituals, exhortations or legal prescriptions. They all tell a story.
The value these stories have for us is not that they are historical, though that often impacts the effect a particular story has on us, but rather they are often, upon reflection, a mirror of our own human experiences. Our own encounters with the Divine are clarified in and through our reflection of the encounters with the divine that others have experienced. As Christians we believe that these stories are inspired for just that reason: God willed that these encounters be passed on so that all could connect with them and see their life’s journey to the ultimate Divine Encounter more clearly.
It is therefore essential that we connect the Word of God to our own personal experiences. A few years ago, in a presentation to ordained and lay preachers in the Diocese of Cleveland, Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P., Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame made just that point. She asked when and how we began our homily preparation. The response indicated a common practice of reading and praying the assigned readings early in the week. Sister Mary Catherine opined that it would be truer to our homiletic enterprise to first read the newspaper. She felt that knowing the congregation’s “story” was the first step in homily preparation.
The same can be said of the readers of these homilies. This process should be the weekly practice of all the faithful in preparation for the breaking of the Word at each Sunday’s Eucharist. First, the assigned Scriptural passages should be read BEFORE reading (listening to) the homily. Next our task is to connect those Sacred Stories to our own human experience—past, present or future in a prayerful reflection.
Louis Evely’s beautiful book on Gospel reflections, That Man is You, reveals the power of this process. He proposes that all of the stories of the Sacred Scriptures are really stories about us. Our personal homiletic task is to allow the Sacred Stories to touch the very marrow of our lived experiences. Then and only then will the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through the Word and the reader/listener be felt.
After this personal encounter with the Word, the prepared homily is read/heard to deepen and expand our personal encounter. In this next to final stage we allow the particular application of the readings offered by the homilist to interact with our personal encounter, allowing the Holy Spirit to engage that connection. This then will empower us to a conversion—a change of heart—even if imperceptible. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Word transforms our lives and empowers us to transform the world.
It my hope that these homilies will facilitate such a Sabbath Reflection on the Sacred Stories of our faith. I further hope that these homilies will faithfully reflect the timelessness of the Word of God for each reader.