A Homily is Best Listened to in Silence

Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, was in Uganda to attend the SECAM Golden Jubilee celebrations and 18th Plenary Assembly that was held in Kampala from July 19-29, 2019. At the end of his visit he presided over the liturgy at Munyonyo where he commissioned the Martyrs Shrine as a Minor Basilica on Monday, July 29, 2019. A Minor Basilica is a Church granted with special ecclesiastical privileges by the Holy Father. The status is usually given to churches because of their antiquity, historical value, architectural worth and significance as centres of worship. According to the 1989 Vatican Document Domus Ecclesiae, a Basilica must stand out as a centre of active and pastoral liturgy.
Accordingly, the Cardinal expressed his hope and desire that the new Basilica would continue to be a favourite place of worship where the faithful’s encounter with God is made possible. He also added that “it should be a place where many Christians experience God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

Before delivering his homily, the Cardinal made some remarks of caution to the Congregation gathered. He said: “Don’t clap your hands, during and at the end of my homily. You must keep silent and listen attentively. Please remain silent and ponder on what God is saying to you.”
These instructional remarks by Cardinal Sarah were intended to cultivate a spirit of prayer and recollection during that solemn and rare ceremony of commissioning the Martyrs Shrine at Munyonyo as a Basilica, the third in Uganda; after the title of Basilica was first granted in 1961 to Blessed Virgin Mary Church Lodonga in the Diocese of Arua; and then the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, Namugongo by St. Pope John Paul II during his visit to Uganda in 1993.

Moreover, as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah wanted to officiate at a liturgical celebration consistent with the rubrics of the Catholic liturgy concerning the importance and dignity of the homily during the liturgy. In addition, silence appear to be a central theme in the life of Cardinal Sarah as exemplified by his recent book, which he titled: The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. In this work, he poses the question: Can those who do not know silence ever attain truth, beauty, love? The response is undeniable: all that is great and creative is formed by silence. God is silence. Cardinal Sarah then states, “Sounds and emotions detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life.” And he poses another pertinent question: “Why are men so noisy during the liturgies while Christ’s prayer was silent?” He chastises some scenarios where so many priests enter the Church triumphantly and walk up toward the altar, greeting people left and right, so as to appear sympathetic. He suggests that the words of the Son of God would come from the heart that is silent. He then wonders why do we not learn from Jesus, to speak to God with a silent heart?

At the beginning of the homily in Munyonyo, Cardinal Sarah called for silence because he wanted the homily to have its proper place as we read in Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini: “… the liturgy is the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in the midst of our lives; he speaks today to his people, who hear and respond. …. the liturgy is a privileged setting because it is there that we listen to God’s Word as part of the celebration that culminates in the sacrificial offering of Christ to the eternal Father” (Verbum Domini, 52).
According to the 2014 Homiletic Directory issued by The Congregation for Divine Worship and The Discipline of The Sacraments, the homily is an integral part of the liturgy which is not only an instruction, but also an act of worship. The homily is a hymn of gratitude for the magnalia Dei, which not only tells those assembled that God’s Word is fulfilled in their hearing, but praises God for this fulfillment. The homily possesses a sacramental significance: Christ is present in the assembly gathered to listen to his word and in the preaching of his minister, through whom the same Lord who spoke long ago in the synagogue at Nazareth now instructs his people.

Therefore, a homily is not a piece of entertainment. It is not a motivational speech or a comedy store. It is not a site for counselling. A homily is not intended to make the people laugh, clap, ululate and give a standing ovation at the end. A Homily is best listened to in Silence as God speaks to the depth of the hearts of the faithful leading them to conversion. The best example is drawn from King David who prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” AMEN.

By Fr. Dr Ambrose J. Bwangatto (Prefect of Studies, St. Mbaaga’s Major Seminary, Ggaba)