I do keep track of the truly great homilies I have heard through the years, ones whose message resonates across the decades. Unfortunately it is not a long list. At the daily noontime Mass at the beautiful Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street in Manhattan, a visiting priest named Father George used to routinely deliver top-flight sermons.
In three sentences or less he would explain the meaning of the first reading, generally from the Old Testament. Next in three sentences or less he would explain the Gospel, tying it back to the lesson promulgated in the first reading. Then reminding us that the Catholic Church has a rich heritage that we are in danger of losing, he would pithily speak of the saint whose feast day it was, often relating the saint’s experience to the readings. Thought provoking, attention inducing, profound, and at best three minutes short.
As to that latter part, about Father George’s brevity, homilists generally would do well to recall the story of the noted speaker who orated for two hours, only to be followed by the next speaker, whose address lasted 238 words. History does not romanticize the first man, but will long remember the indelible words of Abraham Lincoln in dedicating the Gettysburg battlefield. Sermons are not the time to act out the part of the Glory Be to the Father that mentions “world without end.”