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Classroom Homiletics
by MJ Heggeness
This idea was born when our speaker for RCIA could not come to class one evening. Because we break open the word each week, I decided that we would attempt to reflect on the word and draft mind-blowing "homilies."
This idea was born when our speaker for RCIA could not come to class one evening.  Because we break open the word each week, I decided that we would attempt to reflect on the word and draft mind-blowing “homilies.” 

I gathered props that might support that week’s Gospel and placed them—as well as crayons, construction paper, hymnals, and reflections from children’s text about the Gospel—on tables where small groups would gather. Then, after reading the Gospel as our opening prayer, I asked the catechumens and candidates to recall the last mind-blowing homily they heard and what characteristics made it so memorable. In that discussion, we created a list of characteristics: humor, relevance, brevity, interactive, personal stories and experiences. 

Then we divided into groups and I asked each group to prepare a “homily” on the Gospel we just proclaimed. They could use any props or materials available, but they had only 30 minutes to create a mind-blowing “homily” using the characteristics they had identified. I wish you could have heard the gasps.

The groups presented their “homilies” in different ways. Some elected a designated speaker to deliver it; some arranged their presentation to be sure everyone in the small group had a part. It was a fun and exciting evening. 

For Younger Learners

Using this basic plan, I expanded this idea into a three-week unit for younger learners.

The first week, the students listed ten characteristics they think make a homily interesting. I then arranged the students in small groups and each group created a recipe for mind-blowing homilies using those ten characteristics. (I shared these recipes with our pastor.)
The next week, I offered pointers about preparation: length of presentation (no more than seven minutes); the importance of eye contact; use of the pronoun “we” (rather than “you”); props (should be large enough for everyone to see); expression and movement (the importance of facial expressions and the advantage of moving around—perhaps into the group of listeners to make a point or ask a question); relax (before you begin, ask the Holy Spirit to bless you and your listeners); the importance of personal enthusiasm for the topic; the importance of offering personal stories that make the message relevant.

I invited our pastor to come to one of our sessions and share his experience in preparing homilies. He told about his seminary days and how fearful he was to get in front of a group; how sick he became; and how his teacher cured him of his fear. He shared how he prepares his Sunday homily as well as his homilies for daily Mass. He helped students appreciate the challenge of addressing a message to a diverse group of people varying in age, culture, socio-economic background, awareness of Scripture, etc.

Student Presentations 
I made a schedule of dates and Gospels and, over the next several weeks, groups of students presented their “homilies” based on that week’s Gospel. For the presentations, we used a room that used to be our parish convent chapel.

The Gospel was proclaimed by a student and then small groups delivered their reflections on the Gospel (their “homilies”). I had no more than three groups present each week. After each reflection was complete, students in the “assembly” would offer feedback—in beautiful and age-appropriate ways. I also invited our pastor and associate pastor to participate in these sessions, as well as our youth minister and young adult minister. They would take notes and were often amazed at the poise and delivery of these meaningful reflections! There were a few times when the pastor actually took notes about what the students said, or invited the students to share their reflections at a school liturgy. 

With adaptations according to the size of your group and the age of your learners, this kind of experience can work for RCIA, religious education classes, Bible study groups, staff meetings, small faith-sharing groups, youth gatherings, etc. 

MJ Heggeness is a Director of Catechetical Ministry at St. Michael’s Parish in Poway, CA. 

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