By Barb Arland-Fye
MOUNT PLEASANT — Ideas for Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday homilies sometimes wake Father Joseph Phung from his sleep. Other times, ideas arise during prayer, or while he’s reflecting on Scripture or lectionaries, or when he’s in the car or preparing for bed. He welcomes the ideas as part of his Lenten practice, and with the hope of preparing inspiring homilies for all who attend the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass.
“Sometimes in the middle of the night an idea comes to my mind, and I get up and write it down so I don’t forget it,” said Fr. Phung, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant. “Before Holy Week, and especially during Holy Week is the time for me to think intensively about (the homily) and get it on paper and polish it.”
Knowing that his audience will include a number of individuals who rarely attend Mass, he strives to convey a message that expresses the faith, hope and Christian life of the Church made possible through the death and resurrection of Our Lord.
“The thing I try to do is to encourage people to consider their faith more seriously and to come to the church more often and to celebrate with us and to celebrate their faith as well. It’s very important for us to come together to pray,” Fr. Phung says.
He has found that an eight- to 10-minute homily works best to keep people’s attention. The message needs to be made clear and focus on one central idea with several supporting ideas, he said.
Throughout Lent he makes a point to read the Scriptures for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses and take a look at homiletic guides and lectionaries. “I’ll say to myself, ‘I want to focus on this sentence, this idea’ … from that I develop the homily. The supporting ideas go along with that.”
One of his resources is a lectionary guide from a Louisiana priest that offers very good stories to make a point. “I usually pick one of them, a short one, to get the attention of the people. I usually get a story from him to support the one I want to say.”
Fr. Phung enjoys writing homilies. “It’s kind of interesting when you have an idea and work on it and see how it fits into the message you want to convey to the people. When you make it clear you feel a lot of joy in this.”
On occasion, he’ll run his homily by others in the parish office to gauge the clarity of his message.
This year’s homily, which he’ll preach at the Easter Vigil and with slight variation on Easter Sunday, “focuses on the idea that Jesus is the Lord of life; Jesus gives us life. That’s the main idea I want to talk about this year.”
His inspiration comes from the U.S. bishops talking about religious freedom and also from Pope Benedict XVI’s message to American bishops this year. During the bishops’ ad limina visits to Rome, the Holy Father said the Church’s key focus is on “the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships.”
Fr. Phung said priests are blessed in their calling to have the “opportunity to encourage and share with people our faith and actually walk with them on our faith journey.”
Because a number of people attend Mass only for Easter or Christmas, they need to feel welcome and to be treated in a special way. That message is conveyed “by the way we celebrate liturgy,” said Father Joseph Phung, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant.
His parish sends out invitations during Lent to people “we don’t have a lot of contact with,” hoping they’ll choose to attend during Holy Week and return afterwards.