We’ve all been there: sitting in a pew that gets more uncomfortable by the minute, trying to focus on the words the priest is uttering, checking the time every few seconds, wishing the priest would just wrap it up already. While some homilies inspire us to boldly live our faith, others are just plain boring, putting us to sleep rather than awakening us to the beautiful mystery of our faith. We must keep in mind though, that the power of the Mass is not dependent on a homily. The Mass is still transformative, even when a homily is less than engaging and inspiring; this is the beauty of the Mass.
If you think about it, we hear 52 homilies per year if we attend Mass every Sunday — that doesn’t include Holy Days of Obligation or days when we wake up early enough to attend daily Mass. The hope is that we gain new insight from each homily we hear, but that isn’t always the reality. So, here are some tips for what to do when you find yourself sitting through a homily that you just can’t seem to connect with.
Say a Quick Prayer
A good practice in general, this can come in handy when the priest’s homily is a bit lackluster. Either at the beginning of Mass or the start of the homily, take a moment to pray to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pay attention during Mass and listen more closely during the homily. You may even want to pray that the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to offer a message that you really need to hear right now — you’ll have to listen closely, though, to hear it.
Acknowledge (and Remove) Distractions
Sometimes, a random thought pops into our mind and then we go down a deep, deep rabbit hole: I’m really hungry. I should have eaten breakfast. Can anyone else hear my stomach growling? I wonder if they’ll have donuts after Mass. I didn’t bring my wallet… maybe my mom has $1 for the donut. When a distracting thought comes to you during a homily, acknowledge it and then refocus on the message the priest is offering. If you struggle with physical distractions, do your best to remove them. Put your phone on airplane mode, so it doesn’t send you notifications during Mass or choose a seat that is farther from a friend who you know you’ll be tempted to talk to. Distractions are likely to occur, but when we acknowledge them, we are able to regain our focus on the message the priest is delivering.
Listen for a Key Takeaway
No matter how boring the homily, there is bound to be at least one tidbit you can take away from it. So, actively listen for something you can apply to your life. Whether it be the moral of a story the priest shared or a new insight into the Gospel you hadn’t heard before, strive to walk away from each homily with a key takeaway.
While Mass is not school, note-taking is a great practice if you struggle to remain focused while someone is speaking. Pick up a journal just for Mass (a nice, leather journal is my personal fave for Mass) and begin jotting things down during the homily. Take note of the readings for the day, the priest who celebrated Mass, the main points of the homily, your prayer intentions, and anything else that stands out to you. You can even write down your random thoughts (this is one way to acknowledge them and then refocus) and the key takeaway you identified.
Re-read the Gospel
If all else fails and you just can’t remain focused during the homily, re-read the Gospel. As you read, practice lectio divina to really get the most out of the reading. The first time you read the passage, gather an understanding of who, what, when, where, and why. Then, re-read the passage and mark a word or phrase that stands out to you. Reflect on why this word or phrase stood out to you. Ask God what He is trying to teach you through this word or phrase. How can God help you apply the Scripture to your life? Finally, focus on God’s presence and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for how God spoke to you through this word or phrase. (This would be another great use for your Mass journal, BTW.)
Next time you are tempted to zone out during a boring homily, try one of these practices and you just might find that the “boring” homily gives you the bit of inspiration you need to be an authentic and fearless evangelist.