January 14, 2016



A helping hand for homilistsAfter 30 years, Hilarion says it’s time for a change.PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLI


Years ago, when he first began preaching, “A couple times my mind went blank,” says 86-year-old Fr. Hilarion Kistner. “No kidding, I was scared to death. I didn’t know where I was.”

At one time or another, most homilists experience an “Oh-my-God” moment and pray that a hole will open and swallow them up. But thanks to Hilarion, preachers are able to make points that make sense and leave congregations uplifted and informed.

Since 1986 he has edited Sunday Homily Helps, the weekly resource from Franciscan Media that provides a foundation upon which to build a sermon. Started in 1970 by St. Anthony Messenger Press and initially managed by Fr. Leonard Foley, this little publication has impacted homilists and listeners around the world.

Now, after producing 50-plus issues a year, Hilarion is turning it over to someone else. At this point, “I’ve commented 30 times on all these Scriptures.” And he thinks it’s time for a new perspective.

A guiding hand

Tuesday, Franciscan Media threw a retirement party for Hilarion, one of its most popular employees. “He has a very pastoral sense, and that brought him many friends here,” says Fr. Pat McCloskey, Franciscan Editor for St. Anthony Messenger and Editor of Weekday Homily Helps.

Besides that, Hilarion is good at his job, “very knowledgeable about Scripture, sensitive to the exact wording to avoid misunderstanding, very patient with exegates and writers” who contribute to the Sunday mix, says Pat. Homily Helps is about explaining the readings in a way that’s relatable to audiences. As Leonard told Hilarion, “You want to make sure Aunt Maisie knows what you’re talking about.”

At the retirement party, Dan Kroger cites Hilarion’s contributions.PHOTO BY RAYMOND TAYLOR/ FRANCISCAN MEDIAEach issue leads with Exegesis, the critical interpretation of the text from the Old and New testaments. An outline offers a Purpose, a Summary, including a proposed Attention-Getter to pull people in, and an Application with a suggested homily. At Epiphany, for example, the Purpose was “To learn from each character in the Epiphany story.” The Attention-Getter involved a hippopotamus from a 1953 Christmas song. Who wouldn’t respond to that? And the Application: “Each person in the Epiphany story has something to teach us – even if it’s how not to be.”

It sounds simple. But consider the number of issues produced through the years and you wonder how anyone could give it a fresh spin. Think of Hilarion as the arranger and conductor of Sunday Homily Helps – choosing the players (the writers and exegates), setting the tone, adding his own take – and you understand how it all came together.

Making connections

“The idea was to put something new out for every occasion,” says Hilarion,

asked how he dealt with repetition of readings. “Each year when you did this you had new insight, new experiences to spark a different idea.” Examine the letters of St. Paul, for example, “and each time you’re looking for something else” about the sender or the receiver. In doing research, “I wonder if that’s the best interpretation. I’ll start looking at other translations. And I’ll start thinking about it myself,” trying to keep an open mind, always considering “doctrinal and exegetical propriety.”

Also important is “helping people connect the Gospel to what is going on in the Mass,” helping them understand the “here” and “now” of the Bible’s message. Like the lepers known to Jesus, “We come with our flaws. Jesus was curing lepers back then and he’s coming into my life now, curing lepers. What the Gospel is, is happening now.”

The question Hilarion wrestled with weekly was, what makes a good homily? Pat McCloskey says Hilarion always went “over and beyond what was required.”

“The most important thing first is deciding the text you’re going to use.” When he finds an idea he likes, “I spend some time on it, pray over it and see what emerges.” Next, “Find a story if you can that will help people connect with you, and try to know your audience well enough so you can make a point that makes some sense.” If it feels right, tell a joke. “We [friars] have people like Jim Bok who do that well.”

That’s the key: knowing your audience. “I always tried to think in terms of who was going to receive the final product,” Hilarion says. “I’m careful not to write or compose anything that would mess people up.”

Thinking and praying

With weekly deadlines behind him, he’s looking ahead. “I don’t want to call it retirement. I won’t be doing Homily Helps, but I’ll still be over there [at the Franciscan Media building] sometimes”, probably working with St. Francis Seraph Ministries.

As a regular Sunday celebrant at St. Stephen’s, a laity-led parish with a canonical pastor, he faces the same pressures as other homilists. “I try toward the beginning of the week to be aware of Sunday readings. I try to let that sink in. I do a lot of thinking about the Gospel when I’m praying the rosary. Maybe every day at prayer I think about what those readings are going to be. I let that swirl around.” In the end, sometimes “you don’t know what’s going to finally click.”

Case in point: When Hilarion was ordained, “My first real sermon was given at our high school seminary” in Cincinnati. “I worked and worked and worked. I was halfway through preparing the sermon” when it was time to preach. Quaking with fear, “I got up [and spoke] without having a second section.” So he had to wing it.

Afterwards, “One of the kids told me the first part of my sermon was a little stiff.” That was the part he so carefully prepared. “Since then I have not tried to memorize a sermon.” Which goes to show that even with practice, even with help, the best homilies are divinely inspired.

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The stage takes shape in the new fine arts center.

Above, Algirdas Malakauskis, OFM; right, reunited: Bert tells the tale of the wandering walker.

Above, The novitiate in Uganda is also a working farm; right, here’s an idea: You can ride a bike to

the Monastery.


  • The blessing and dedication of Roger Bacon High School’s new Carol Dauwe Fine Arts Center is 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27, according to Advancement Specialist Br. Gene Mayer, who issued this invitation: “All Franciscan friars, particularly those who have ever ministered at Roger Bacon, are asked to please join Jeffrey Scheeler, OFM, Maureen Irvin, OSF (Congregational Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg), and several sisters who taught at OLA/RB, and the students, faculty and staff of Roger Bacon High School.” An Open House – still in the works – is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6, the same day the Sound Body Jazz Orchestra is planning its first concert in the new facility. The Drama Guild will present The Wiz in April. Stay tuned for details.
  • In a list of the “50 Best College Newman Centers” compiled by Best College Reviews, the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois, Chicago was No. 8. “We friars, starting with Joshua van Cleef, then me, then Colin King and then Roger Lopez (and various friars joining in) have been heavily involved there over the last few years,” says Fr. Richard Goodin, who shared the news. The article says of the center: “There are many events, activities, and opportunities for spiritual, academic, and social engagement and improvement. Dedicated and named to honor the Polish philosopher Pope John Paul II, it is fitting that the Center is focused on ‘well-rounded students.’” Read more at: bestcollegereviews.org
  • Feb. 5-6, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago will present a symposium on “Community Life and Mission: Toward a Future Full of Hope” to conclude the year of Consecrated Life and launch the Year of Mercy. Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Consecrated Life, it will feature conversations with and keynote presentations by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, Director of the Las Casas Institute, Blackfriars, Oxford, Consultor for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. The cost of $25 includes Saturday lunch. Read more at: Register
  • “The ESC has another new Provincial, following the election of David Gaa in St. Barbara,” says Fr. Tom Washburn, ESC Executive Secretary. “This time it’s the Province of St. Casimir, Lithuania, where Algirdas Malakauskis was elected this morning. Algirdas was the Vicar Provincial until now.”
  • Fr. Bert Heise spent Christmas in Washington, D.C., with his sister and other relatives – but that was just part of the adventure. When he returned to Cincinnati, “I was taking back with me a nice walker my niece Beckie had given me. I asked, and they said I could take it on the plane. [Before the evening flight], I put it right outside the plane where they said to leave it. And when the walker didn’t show up in Cincinnati, they had a big ground crew looking for it. No luck. I had wheelchairs for both flights.” A check of airport lost and found produced no results. “I did not think they would be able to find the walker as I did not even have my name on it.” Two days later Bert walked into his room [at St. Margaret Hall] “and there it was! Moreover, there was a ticket hanging on it that showed the airport it had gone to” – DFW, Dallas Fort Worth.
  • In a blog post today from Kakoba, Uganda, missionary Br. Tim Lamb describes his new home base, the province novitiate, as a working farm. “They grow maize (corn), beans, okra and a variety of fruits (mangoes, papaya, avocado, bananas). We have three goats, two cows and six pigs and 10 piglets (soon to be sold). Life here is simple and centered around prayer, work and study.” Read more at omnesdonumest.blogspot.com
  • This month’s cover story for St. Anthony Messenger magazine was contributed by Fr. Jim Van Vurst. In “Mary’s Loneliness”, Jim explains how “she suffered great isolation, from confusion about her unique call to the deaths of those closest to her. Yet her trust in God was rewarded.”
  • It’s only a bike ride away! The Franciscan Monastery in the Brookland neighborhood is hoping that tourists will be inspired to visit after they see
    the new advertisements on Capital Bike Share stands throughout
    Washington, D.C.
  • Trinitarians (Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity) are moving their post-novitiate program to CTU, school President Mark R. Francis, CSV, announced earlier this week. Bro. Paul Michalenko, ST, will be their formation director. Thanks to Henry Beck for sharing the news.

SJB is happy to welcome Korean friar Stephen Cho, who will be spending several Email To a FriendStephen Cho tries Graeter’s ice cream. PHOTO BY JEFF SCHEELER, OFMmonths living at St. Francis Seraph while working at Franciscan Media, learning about religious publishing. Welcome, Stephen!  This past summer FM welcomed two Conventual Franciscans from Zambia,

Anthony Salangeta and Francis Kasenga, who lived at St. Anthony Friary while interning at Franciscan Media.  We are grateful for these opportunities to welcome friars from other countries and other parts of the Franciscan family.  Franciscan Media has much experience and expertise to share and we are proud that it is so respected locally and internationally.

After the Pope’s visit, Franciscan Media collaborated with the Vatican Publishing House, the USCCB, and the Catholic News Service in publishing the official memorial book on the papal visit.  Did you get your copy?  It’s beautiful!  As we welcome Stephen this week, FM also celebrated Hilarion Kistner, who is stepping down from his role as theological consultant and editor of Sunday Homily Helps after 30 years.  What a great treasure we have!  Thanks to all those who have contributed over the years!


— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM