Homiletics assistance

An organization of lay persons helping to optimize preaching

           SOHcatho, « Service d'Optimisation des Homélies - Catholique » offers consulting services to all ministers charged with preaching - priests, deacons, seminarians and appointed lay persons. This organization aims to reach the largest audience especially the young and those searching for faith by optimizing oral communication and public speaking.

           As Sunday homilies offer the principal and sometimes the only opportunity to hear about the Word of God and the Church, they are vital to meet the huge expectations from regular church-members as well as from occasional visitors.

           Yet the art is a difficult one… Too many homilies fail to reach their objective, sometimes merely because of form. While form without content is useless, content with no form is like “a lamp kept under a basket instead of on a stand” (Matt 5:15).

           Next to the content, the form requires adequate preparation. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis exhorts ministers to spend a significant amount of time weekly getting ready for this task, alone and within their communities, even at the expense of other assignments.  “The homily can actually be an intense experience of the Spirit, a constant source of renewal and growth”. (EG 135). And the obvious importance of the content of evangelization must not overshadow the importance of its ways and means” (EG156).

 

            SOHcatho has been operating under the approval of the local Church hierarchy since 2007 in France and since 2012 in Belgium. In France, over 1000 preachers have been trained by SOHCatho, and it has received support from the French Conference of Catholic Bishops

Two types of training are offered

       - Workshops for groups of three preachers

       - One-on-one coaching in parishes.

           Both feature a combination of videotaped practical exercises and tips exclusively focusing on form. The workshops benefit from peer interaction while individual coaching permits flexibility in time management. All these courses are free of charge, excluding the travel expenses incurred by the consultants.

 

 • The workshops consist of 4 half-day sessions for groups of three applicants. Those may enroll within their continuing ministerial development programs, or upon recommendation of  their pastors. The workshops may also be a part of a seminary curriculum.

• The one-on-one coaching sessions are available by appointment only. They start with a live audit which is followed by several individual two-hour meetings.

 

        The preachers gradually discover that what matters is not so much what they would like to say as what their listeners will remember. More than the practice of good public reading, they learn to raise questionings then pregnant silence in the audience. They are taught to use a number of tags, known as the ACCMA tools: how to catch instant Attention, the Comprehension process, how to Catch the hearts, how to help listeners Memorize and how to turn theory into daily Actions.

        They discover the importance of choosing a topical thread for their homilies by establishing a connection between the readings of the Bible and the needs of the audience.

        They work at their oral expressions (general attitude, looks, voice changes, gestures and facial expressions) so as to convey their faith.

        Finally they will leave convinced of the need to prepare their homilies in five successive steps of preparation: meditate on the text, choose an objective, determine the structure, review the construction with the ACCMA tools, and last, work on the delivery of the message.

 

How does SOHcatho work ?

         The members of “SOHcatho” are volunteers with an experience in public speaking: they may be teachers, doctors, actors, executives, business leaders or other. All are convinced that proclaiming the Good News in its varied forms deserves an effort in communication.

         All are filled with respect for their ministers and act in the church in a spirit of love, humility and efficiency. They are aware of the efforts that are required of them. They go by a charter approved by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

        These members are divided into diocesan sections with a representative designated by its peers. All sections work under a coordinating committee composed of the spokespersons as well as representatives of the Catholic hierarchy.

 

English speaking expansion

          Mediocre or boring homilies are a sufficient subject of concern for Pope Francis to call for " serious consideration by pastors... since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them” (EG 135).

           At the Synod on the Word of God, SOHcatho caught the attention of the Secretary Archbishop who reported that "since 2007, SOH has implemented four-step sessions for priests and deacons in the archdiocese of Paris. These are intended to teach preachers to better communicate the Good News by touching the hearts and minds of the faithful (...). Adapting SOHcatho's recommendations  to the realities of other cultures would be a plus”.

 

            We are ready to share our know-how with pastors and lay persons that would be interested in implementing such trainings in their own countries.

 

Contacting SOHcatho

           You can contact SOH’s general coordinator Eric Lerebours <elmsa@bbox.fr> or ecclesiastical adviser Michel Aupetit, Bishop of Nanterre's diocese : ma92@catholique-nanterre.cef.fr     

     

            Three documents are available in French. If interested, please specify the reason for your request and/or the nature of your involvement with your Catholic community. These are:

 

- The "Results of a survey on homilies" published in French Catholic magazine "Pèlerin”, on Feb 18, 2009:  3,400 participants voiced their praises but also a lot of criticism, suggestions and true concerns. Such observations are not intended to dispirit one, but spur creative reactions.

- The "SOH handbook ", designed for preachers enrolled in SOH sessions, which describes the ACCMA tools, the choice of the objective, oral expression, the 5-stepped composition of homilies. It also includes an attachment stating the different types of objectives, the trapped words, an evaluation grid and miscellaneous topics like stage fright, help …

- The "Create and animate a SOH" manual, exclusively designed for SOH’s consultants, for the use of emerging local sections.