Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Homily as performance art

This weekend, my parish had a guest celebrant, another Franciscan who is a friend of my pastor - who also happens to be a virtuoso preacher. Johnpaul Cafiero, well-known as a preacher of missions also happens to be a Wizard of Oz afficionado. He is also gifted with a dramatic flair for storytelling.  The homily, complete with an appropriate prop, did not fail to re-energize the assembly at both Masses I attended this weekend (one as a cantor, the other as a choir member) to Easter joy.

He stood in the center front of church and told a story, a bit long and a little complex, from memory, with little variation between the two homilies - about a disabled child with a terminal illness, a teacher, and an assignment to fill plastic Easter eggs with Easter symbols. Of course, the boy with disabilities shows up the next day with an empty egg, but, rather than indicating his lack of understanding of the assignment, he knows exactly why it is empty - because Jesus' tomb was empty too. 

Although I am sure I have heard this story in some form before, Father's delivery, complete with pulling a large blue plastic egg out of his habit sleeve pocket at the appropriate point, kept it fresh.  He told the story as if he had known its characters intimately.  His conclusion, the 19 empty plastic eggs on the boy's casket, was moving - and his tie-in to  the scripture on God's love and how we are called to share it made what could have been seen as trite relevant.

Now, I have heard other, less-gifted dramatically preachers re-tell a story of this caliber - often they get these off the internet.  However, the way this was packaged - with sympathy, pathos and humor - and delivered - by heart and from the heart, not read from a paper, made a difference. It seemed more real and genuine than when most homilists use a story to make a point in a more formal way, even when they are sincere.

What did I take away from this experience? That story is important. That all who preach are not equally gifted. That an entertaining homily can drive a message home.  That it is important to be in touch with and use one's God-given gifts.  When the preacher genuinely has the gift of drama, it does not seem inappropriate...  and 3 days later, other people who were at my parish Masses this weekend are probably also remembering or re-telling the story... and its message.

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