“ Directory on the Homily” interview with Fr Rafiq Khoury
ROME-JERUSALEM – Few days ago, on 10 February 2015, Cardinal Robert Sarah presented the “Directory on the Homily”, published in Rome by the Congregation on Divine Faith and Discipline of Sacraments. Some hundred pages of “recommendations on the art of preaching”, meant for the use of Catholic Church preachers. Interview with Mgr Rafiq Khoury, a renowned preacher, specialist in Pastoral Theology and Catechism within the Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem.
- Monsignor, what do you think of the publication of such a document? Is it necessary, or appropriate, that Roman authorities publish a “Directory” and come up with “objective guidelines” for the homily?
Since Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Roman Dicasteries endeavour to publish documents of this kind, on different aspects of the Council teachings, more particularly in the field of Liturgy. This helps faithful to put the Liturgical renewal of the Council back in its right place, in order to understand its reforms, to apply them and to put them at the service of their spiritual life. It is in this context that the document on the “homily” has just appeared, to shed light on its several aspects, its function in the liturgy and in its methodology. This document offers a general framework, and does not undermine the liberty of each priest to apply these recommendations in line with his own gifts and methods.
- The document talks a lot about the fundamental place which the Word of God should fill in the homily. Do you think that, in general, the Word of God fills this place for the Diocese priest?
The document reminds us of the basic place of the Word of God in the homily. The preacher’s role is to interpret these texts, in order to help the faithful to put them into practice, according to the facts of their individual life. Church in our country has undoubtedly exerted a major effort to renew the homily, both in terms of content and form. It is obvious today that the preacher emphasizes on the Word of God. Bringing forward the Word of God should start from a deeper study of this Word, and also from a minimal knowledge of the needs of the faithful. That’s necessary if we want for the homily to serve as a genuine food for the people of God. It is obvious that the homily has taken its place in the Liturgical act, of which it cannot be separated. It is obvious as well that the homily has found its links with the Word of God. Today we should proceed along the same path, so that the faithful could learn from the homily in their concrete life.
- Does it seem appropriate for you to insert “spiritual stories” in the homily? Would it not be better to seek “real stories” in the history of the Church and in lives of Saints and Fathers?
Personally, I am not in favor of using “spiritual stories”. Salvation is indeed a story of events and real figures, and is therefore a tremendous source wherefrom we can proceed and discover lots of treasures. That saves us from falling into smaller and superficial acts of piety, while calling on us to deepen the history of the Salvation which is a mirror for the life of Christian community and that of each Christian. True, that is not always easy. How to work up the link between the Word of God in its reality and the genuine life of faithful? Here indeed lies the role of the preacher.
- In his introduction of the document, Cardinal Sarah underscored the importance of preparing the homily. And in his own words that requires of deacons, priests and bishops “study and prayer, experience of God, knowledge of the community we are dealing with, love for the Holy Mysteries, love for the Living Body of Christ which is the Church.” Do you agree with these hard lines?
He is right, it is a call that touches the basic reality of the homily: the preacher’s role is crucial. The more the preacher is fed by the Word of God through his daily meditation, the more he strives to live this Word along his spiritual life, the more he succeeds to convey the Word of God to the faithful. The preacher is therefore the mediator of this Word. This mediator cannot possibly be neutral; he is part of the congregation of faithful, that’s why the Word of God goes to him more specifically. This fact reminds us of the words of St Augustin: “with you I am Christian, for you I am bishop”. The Word of God touches the priest before anybody else. From here stems the importance of a prior preparation, persevering and committed, of the homily. A preparation which is not only the fruit of an immediate effort, but the fruit of a strenuous path of the preacher’s formation and personal experience.
- What do you think, Monsignor, of the duration of the homily?
We are living in a world where there is a lot of noise and word everywhere. People just feel sturdy at the abundance of the word! They expect to see more witnesses of the Word than people who preach it. But when testimony converges with the Word, people feel it and are touched thereof. It is in this context that we refer to the duration of the homily. Personally, I believe that homily should not last less than seven minutes but not more than a quarter of an hour. This time is enough to convey to faithful the weekly message which God addresses to them through Sunday’s mass, without resorting to useless gossiping.
- We still recall the great enthusiasm for the word of God which has followed the Diocesan synod during the 90s. Do you still see this enthusiasm? In other words, do you think that the faithful in our diocese have grasped what St Jerome meant to say, in the IV th Century, that
“Ignoring the Scriptures means ignoring Christ himself”?
It is certain that faithful in our country recognize more and more the importance of the Word of God in the life of the Church and in their own personal life. It is certain as well that their approach to the Word of God is more serious and dynamic compared to previous generations. However, the road before us remains a tedious one. We should all the time meditate on this Word in order to get into its mysteries. That requires a serious effort from the faithful themselves, and a genuine pastoral effort from the side of the Church, without omitting the effort expected by specialists of Holy Scriptures who wish to present the Word of God in an understandable way and close to the life of the faithful, so that the letters may be able to taste the Word of God and to enjoy its perusal, its meditation and its implementation in their life. The Word of God is a Word of liberty and of life.
Fr Rafiq Khoury was born in the village of Taybeh (Ramallah district – Palestine) in 1943. He joined the Seminary of the Latin Patriarchate in Beit Jala in 1955. Ordained priest in 1967, he runs through different pastoral experiments before leaving to Rome to further his studies in Theology and Catechism. He filled many important positions within the Church of Jerusalem. He was appointed Rector of the Seminary. He has worked, and is still working, for the promotion of Pastoral Life and Catechism within the diocese, and is considered one of the prominent thinkers and theologians within the diocese, and more at the level of the Middle Eastern Church. He lives at present at the Latin Patriarchate in the Old City of Jerusalem, devoting his time to study, to prayer, to preaching and to spiritual accompaniment. He is author of several books and articles in Arabic. His last book was published in two volumes, between 2013 and 2014, under the title “For Open Borders, between Time and Eternity”. He worked jointly with other priests, nuns and laymen at the diocese for the spreading of a large series of booklets entitled “The Gate of Faith” which tackle different theological, biblical and religious themes.
Information gathered by Firas Abedrabbo