After a bad homily, this is what I told my kids

Navigating negative experiences in church is tricky business—and an opportunity—for parents.
Our Faith

Indignation is not an emotion I expect to experience during a homily. Inspiration, interest, contemplation, and even occasionally boredom, sure. But the urge to stand up and walk out in a huff, not so much. Yet last December, while sitting in the pews of a nearby parish, that is exactly where I found myself.

This particular homily was an ill-prepared response to the document Fiducia Supplicans, in which the Vatican outlined specific circumstance where blessings may be given to couples in situations outside of the sacrament of marriage. The priest giving the homily was attempting to explain why the parish would not be giving such blessings. It was easy to tell that he was speaking off the cuff, as he made statements that were confusing to me (someone who had actually read the document) and could be easily perceived as demeaning to anyone whose life does not reflect the church’s ideal sexual ethic. The document had only been released a few days earlier, and there had not been much time to process all of its recommendations and nuances. From a pastoral perspective, I questioned the wisdom of taking up this particular topic on the fourth Sunday of Advent, just two days before Christmas, with many visitors in the pews.

My heart ached for the people in the congregation who might identify as LGBTQ+ or those who remarried outside of the church. Even as a woman living in a sacramental marriage, I felt uncomfortable. But the final nail in the coffin for me was his open criticism of Pope Francis from the pulpit. In expressing his own confusion around the document, the priest said the pope was “wrong” and “misguided” and “creating scandal.” It didn’t feel very much like what Evangelii Gaudium (On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World) calls the “supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion” as much as a monologue on the spiritual dangers of modern culture that happened to take place during Mass.

Had I been alone at Mass, I might have left. I would have found another Mass to attend that weekend to fulfill my Sunday obligation and prayed for the grace to overcome my anger and frustration with this particular minister of Christ’s church. But my four children were sitting beside me in the pew, with looks of confusion on their faces, whispering questions like “Is Father mad at the pope?” and “Does he not like gay people?” Getting up to leave, while tempting, would not help answer their questions, nor help them understand the complicated reality of being a member of the body of Christ, which is both holy and broken at the same time.


After Mass, as we piled into our minivan, my oldest again brought up the homily. I said a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit before responding. Simply dismissing the priest as out of touch or ignorant would not help my children develop the critical thinking they will need to weigh and discern truth in the future. It would also undercut the authority of the priest, which—given my stated dissatisfaction with his public criticism of the pope—would be quite hypocritical, too. As an adult, I had to model what it means to show grace to the other members of the body of Christ when their humanness seems to overshadow their holiness.

So I spoke very honestly with my son about my concerns. I talked about how I struggled to find the balance between how the church’s teaching provided meaning and joy in my own life and how it has been used as a weapon to humiliate others. I shared about moments in my own life when priests, teachers, or volunteers had hurt me and how I coped with them. And we talked about how the people who make up the church, myself included, have failed God and one another. In that moment, I was able to share my own love for Jesus and the ways I have seen God transform lives around me out to bring healing of things like addiction, mental illness, and victimization. And I shared how the church itself has been a source of strength and support in some of my own most difficult moments.

As I told some of these stories, my children began to still. Their faces reflected curiosity and a sense of awe. They have heard me talk a lot about the importance of Jesus, but they had not really heard me share about how Jesus has changed lives. A moment that could have been fraught with tension became a moment of profound connection for our family.

At the heart of what we discussed was the truth that the institutional church, while important and necessary, is simply a structure through which we try to live as the mystical body of Christ. Our roles, rules, and rituals are beautiful when they lead us to Jesus, but they are not magic formulas to guarantee holiness. As a parent, I am working to help my children understand that it is OK to wrestle with the imperfection they find in the church.


Later that week, I found out from a friend that the priest who gave the homily that made me so upset was approached after Mass about the negative impact of his words. Rather than getting defensive, he sat with the woman who spoke with him and listened to her concerns, taking notes and engaging in a fruitful dialogue together. He even reworked his homily with her suggestions. I was astounded by his humility and willingness to put his parishioners first.

Not every story ends so positively. And for every story like mine, there are likely dozens more in which hurt and confusion remain. But it was a story I was delighted to be able to share with my children to illustrate the importance of staying engaged with the church even when we feel like we want to leave. It shows us that the Holy Spirit does work through our actions so Christ’s presence can be felt in our world. It is also a testament to the profound impact that each member of the body of Christ can have on the others when we are focused on sharing the love of Jesus with one another.

More personally, that priest became a witness to me of how to engage with the struggle of hurt within the church as a parent. He demonstrated his spiritual parenthood by putting his parishioners before himself. He recognized and admitted his mistake. He cared, as Jesus himself did, that not one sheep be lost. And while that homily will likely remain one of my least favorite of all time, I am now grateful that, in spite of the vexation, frustration, and indignation, I did not walk out of that pew. 

This article also appears in the July 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 7, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.


Image: Shutterstock/M-Production

About the author

Shannon Wimp Schmidt

Shannon Wimp Schmidt is the content director for TENx10 Youth Ministry Collaboration, cohost of Plaid Skirts and Basic Black Podcast, and author of the book Fat Luther, Slim Pickin’s (Ave Maria Press). She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, Eric, and their four children. Follow her on Instagram, TikTok and Threads: @teamquarterblack.

Add comment