Why Good Homilies Matter, Especially for LGBT Issues


Pope Francis preaching

Attending Mass on Sundays, and listening to the priest’s homily, are primary ways by which Catholics practice their faith. These experiences can, therefore, impact the faithful’s lives and the lives of loved ones quite deeply, even determining whether Catholics join or remain in a parish.

Therefore, good homilies matter–especially when they touch on LGBT issues.

This is the argument of Brian Harper of the National Catholic Reporter, who takes up this question in his recent column, “What we say and how we say it.” Harper opens by describing an experience he and a gay loved one had at Mass, which they attended on the Feast of the Holy Family, which is the Sunday after Christmas. He wrote:

“[T]he priest saw fit to treat the congregation to a litany of what he perceived to be the most serious threats to the family unit. Homosexuality and bestiality topped the list.

“Even Catholics with orthodox views on sexuality should have found the homily brash and insensitive in its delivery. I was embarrassed, angry, and, perhaps most of all, disappointed by the missed opportunity. A great deal of modern society sees the Catholic church as judgmental and repressive, a reputation that moments like these make hard to refute.”

Harper said his gay loved one was unsurprised by the priest’s words, as this prejudiced homily was “what he had come to expect from the church.” This experience returned to Harper after the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past June. Prejudice was so openly displayed as in both instances.

The incidents provoked deeper reflection for Harper, reflection that he suggested would be good for the church as it grapples, slowly, to be more inclusive:

“But how many of us know how LGBTQIA Catholics and non-Catholics alike feel? Not just about hot button issues, but how they feel as they go about their days, enduring slights at work, during their free time, or, God forbid, at church? . . .

“I think all Catholics would do well to accept the notion that unflattering assumptions about our religion are not solely the result of others misunderstanding or rebelling against it. The fact that Catholicism has been a source of comfort for many does not mean it has been for all. We ought to consider the implications of this realization.”

Harper’s column, which you can find by clicking here, ended by suggesting that Catholics should respond to the LGBT question by listening, as it is “one of those instances that calls not for others’ conversion so much as our own.”

This ecclesial conversion may be particularly important given a new study from the Pew Research Center, reported on by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, in the National Catholic Reporter. The study surveyed U.S. Christians on what matters when they look to join a new congregation. Reese commented on the survey findings:

“[W]hat matters to people looking for a new congregation is good preaching, feeling welcomed, and the style of worship of the congregation.”

While Protestants generally rated these factors higher, 71% of Catholics said feeling welcomed by religious leaders was important and 67% said preaching was important. Reese wrote that “these are numbers pastors can ignore only at their peril,” and these factors will likely rise as generational demographics progress.

Too many LGBT Catholics and their families have experienced damaging homilies and insensitive pastoral care, like the homily described by Brian Harper. It is sad to consider just many Catholics have been excluded by condemnatory language or uneducated clerics. If church leaders are really interested in evangelization, ensuring that parishes are welcoming and safe spaces for every person is a necessary step.  They could begin by simply ending bad homilies against LGBT people and their loving relationships.

And for those church ministers who might be preaching during next year’s Feast of the Holy Family, or just anyone interested in reading moving words about LGBT families, check out Deacon Ray Dever’s reflection on the Holy Family by clicking here, or Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on the feast by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Edward Poliandro
    Edward Poliandro says:

    Excellent article! I already distributed to my priest friends and others. Peace to you all, Ed

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    Until there is radical change, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of the negative and discriminatory teaching on homosexuality, this kind of near-hate preaching will continue. And it IS preaching which, at times, comes across not just as ignorant, but as borderline hatred (homophobia).

    Francis has been pope for over three years now. What has he done, really done, to change hearts, minds and doctrine on this matter? Little, if anything.

    Some Catholics are deeply enamoured of this pope, who has filled their heads with expectations of greater inclusivity in the Church for LGBT Catholics; but I am not one of these Catholics.

    Francis is good at apparent off-the-cuff soundbites, but nothing, officially, comes of them. Like his call for the Church to apologise to LGBT Catholics for its manifest moral offences against them. Has this been followed through at an official and senior level?Predictably, no.

    As an LGBT Catholic, I am tired of hints of jam tomorrow by this pope.

  3. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    I’d like to make two points in response to both the NRC article referenced (unfortunately I don’t see a way to “comment” there, otherwise I would post this there, too), as well as to this Bonding’s post.

    First, where did this occur? Who was the priest and why does Mr. Harper not name him and the parish where this happened? I ask this not for the purpose of shaming or “calling out” the homilist. I ask because we are all accountable for our words, especially those which are offered publicly. This was a public, liturgical celebration in a Catholic parish. How can we expect to have honest, open conversations about these issues if we only open the closet door half-way?

    Second, what response did Mr. Harper offer to the homilist? Did he speak with him after Mass, or perhaps follow up with an email to let him know how offensive his words were? I understand this can be tricky, and we must not pursue such engagement with hate in our own hearts, communicating in a way that elicits defensiveness rather than openness. We ourselves must first acknowledge and challenge our own judgmental words and attitudes if we wish to have any standing in naming and gently challenging the judgmentalism of others. Yet, without such acts of engagement, what hope of progress do we have? Perhaps that’s what this priest needed — actually to meet a real, live “homosexual” person, himself part of a faithful Catholic family and not the threat the priest imagined.

    • Wilhelm Wonka
      Wilhelm Wonka says:

      Given the degree of hostility in this priest’s homily (reportedly his linking it with ‘bestiality’), I suggest that he has already met a ‘real, live “homosexual” person’, but a severely repressed one…himself.

    • Wilhelm Wonka
      Wilhelm Wonka says:

      I should have mentioned this, but NCR comments have been switched off for the weekend.

      NCR staff do this periodically, for one reason or another, e.g. Easter Weekend.

      You should be able to post a comment on Monday.

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    I broadly agree with virtually all of the comments made above. And I think we’re now at a crucial juncture: will the next generation of Catholic priests reflect the broadly progressive consensus of their millennial generational peers? Or will they reflect the socially retrograde “throw-back” attitudes of the aging presiding bishops and archbishops who are constantly nailed for their anti-GLBT posturings? Personally, I think the future of the RCC — at least in Western countries — is contingent upon a new generation of younger priests “getting it”, and becoming friends and allies for their own generation of Catholics. Indeed, in our sibling Episcopal, Anglican and Lutheran churches, this is already happening. NO major Christian denomination — except for the Roman Catholic Church — considers rational medical birth control to be sinful under any aspect. And yet the RCC still classifies it as “mortally sinful”! Like…WHAT PLANET are these aging priests and bishops living on?

  5. freecatholic808
    freecatholic808 says:

    Sadly, the Catholic church patronizes its congregations, mistaking polite silence for acceptance. It is possible to attend Mass and not hear one word said about the intersection of faith and politics. https://dawnmorais.com/2016/08/25/the-pindrop-silence-from-church-leaders-is-deafening/

    Often, driven beyond endurance, the only option left to thinking Catholics is to stop attending. I find my Episcopalian priest friends a welcome alternative for their willingness to take the Gospel to the public square and challenge the politics of the day.https://dawnmorais.com/2016/08/14/guest-post-peace/


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