When the late and greatly beloved Monsignor John Sammon would occasionally fill in for a vacationing priest at my parish, he would remove his watch before stepping up to the ambo to deliver his homily. He’d set the watch on the edge of the ambo and explain that it was a reminder to hold his homily to eight minutes. That remark always got a laugh, but the trick worked. He’d wrap up neatly at eight minutes, almost to the tick.
I knew Monsignor Sammon’s polar opposite in my adolescence when I served Mass for a priest named Father Doyle. Ireland-born, elderly and somewhat spindly, Father Doyle was kind and solicitous, but he spoke in a plodding monotone that made his lengthy homilies much longer. He was well-liked, but not for his oratorical skills.
During the 1963 World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees, one of the games was played on Sunday. All the altar servers were desperate to get home in time to see the first pitch. Those of us who were scheduled to serve the noon Mass knew this would only happen if the celebrant was someone other than Father Doyle. But at the appointed time, into the sacristy he walked. Our hearts sank.
During the Liturgy of the Word, however, something was different. Father Doyle was moving and speaking with verve, style and, amazingly, increasing momentum. The congregation was leaning forward, actually hanging on his words.
Homily time arrived. Father Doyle ascended the curving steps to the raised pulpit with what appeared to be a sprightly bounce, cleared his throat and announced that he was aware that the World Series was being broadcast soon. We held our breaths. Then, this man who didn’t know a baseball from a kumquat told the church full of people that he would “postpone” his usual homily until the following week.
“For today,” he creaked, “I will simply tell you to do good and avoid evil.” He blessed the congregation and tottered back down the steps.
It was a miracle.
We were properly grateful and reverential during the next 25 minutes and, after a frantic bike ride, we made it home in time for Vin Scully’s first words.
I used to imagine preaching a homily that would fall somewhere between Father Doyle’s masterpiece of brevity and Monsignor Sammon’s eight minutes of fame. As a seminarian, I imagined it would be my very first homily, the one to put on record before basing the rest of my talks on the day’s Scripture readings. It began something like this: “To be happy and serene for the rest of our lives, we need only answer two questions: 1) Is there a God? and 2) Does this God love us? If you can say a solid yes to both, then relax and don’t worry about a thing. You’re covered.”
I thought of stopping there, but, according to Monsignor Sammon, I’d have another seven minutes and 48 seconds left.
Still, if any priests are interested, it’s not formally copyrighted. And it’s available for the Stanley Cup finals.