by Thom Hiatt
If you assume I attend Catholic Mass once a week, and if you subtract the time I was distracted in high school and college, then subtract a few cruise ship weekends here and there, and take away my years as a young child paying zero attention, then add the occasional wedding or funeral, I figure I’ve heard 1500 homilies.
Some were life-changing. Some were inspiring. Some were tear-jerkers. And some were downright hilarious. But if we are honest, probably most were not memorable; they can’t all be home-runs.
As someone who has been on countless stages and used microphones to communicate with many thousands of people during my lifetime, I can confirm that public speaking is tough. While some people thrive on it, for most people it is their greatest fear, right next to the fear of heights (acrophobia) and the fear of bugs (entomophobia).
It’s one thing to speak publicly, and yet another to preach with the intent to teach and offer meaningful reflection to help parishioners better understand and strengthen their relationship with God. No pressure, right?
My heart goes out to priests. Public speaking + the need to teach + desires for praise + the fear of rejection + the responsibility of shepherding people of all ages and backgrounds.
It makes sense why so many priests truly appreciate when a parishioners catches them after Mass to say, “Father, your words were so meaningful to me today. It was exactly what I have been needing in my life. Thank you!” One sincere comment like that can send a priest to Cloud Nine for the rest of the week. Or at least until the Finance Council meeting.
Suppose you had to write an impressive homily for Sunday Mass. It’s a lot of pressure, I imagine. Now do it every week. Or every single day. The sheer time, mental energy and creativity necessary is immeasurable.
This might be why many priests throughout the world rely on 3rd party or paid services to provide pre-written homilies and templates based on the relevant readings and Gospel of the day. If you think your pastor’s homily is homegrown, it very well could be, especially if you found the words to match his style, sense of humor, methods of reflection, and so on.
But it may also have come from Father Nick’s Internet Ministry, CatholicSermons.com. In 2016, the online Catholic newspaper CruxNow promoted the “homily packs” of ePriest.com via the article titled “Boring homilies putting you to sleep? Help is on the way.” And if that’s not good enough, try RomanCatholicHomilies.com where for just $179 per year subscribers receive Microsoft Word documents that they can edit to meet the needs of the parish.
Homily services like these have been available to priests for many years. And before that, pastors no doubt shared their favorite homilies with each other via email, facsimile, and Xerox copies. And I don’t fault them for it. Why reinvent the wheel, so long as you can at least customize it and make it sound local and personal? Plus, if the content is good, then the act of public speaking gets a lot easier, right?
Here come the robots.
You’ve likely heard in the mainstream media about ChatGPT, an online service that uses “artificial intelligence” to write text. It has taken off like a rocketship, and in just the past two months, people around the world have used it to cheat on exams, write school essays, develop entire books, create poetry, and so much more.
(The computer systems behind ChatGPT essentially scoured the entire internet and soaked up all the text/books/PDFs/scripts/resources it could find, with the intent to “know” everything, and more importantly, to understand how people talk.)
ChatGPT was such a good idea that Microsoft invested $1B to help develop it and host it, then another $10B to for legal rights that would allow it to incorporate AI text-writing services into it’s search engine, Bing, and into its Office and Outlook programs.
Whether you like the idea or not, it won’t be long before you will use ChatGPT and services like it to write entire emails and letters. Priests may even use it to “write” a homily or two. For example, we can use it to summarize a reading like GN 11:1-9…
ORIGINAL TEXT FROM GENESIS
The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.
While the people were migrating in the east,
they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
They said to one another,
“Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”
They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city
and a tower with its top in the sky,
and so make a name for ourselves;
otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”
The LORD came down to see the city and the tower
that they had built.
Then the LORD said: “If now, while they are one people,
all speaking the same language,
they have started to do this,
nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
Let us then go down and there confuse their language,
so that one will not understand what another says.”
Thus the LORD scattered them from there all over the earth,
and they stopped building the city.
That is why it was called Babel,
because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world.
It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.
SUMMARIZED and HOMILIZED — I told ChatGPT, “summarize the bible passage and use it to write a homily about how we can improve our relationships with our family members, especially those who are estranged.” It replied:
The original Bible passage in Genesis 11:1-9 describes how a group of people spoke the same language and decided to build a city and tower to make a name for themselves. However, the Lord decided to confuse their language, causing them to be scattered and abandoning the construction of the city and tower.
While the passage speaks to unchecked human ambition and the importance of humility, it also highlights the dangers of division and lack of communication. When the people were scattered, they could no longer work together and their plans fell apart.
To apply this to our relationships with family members, especially those who are estranged, we must recognize the importance of communication and seeking reconciliation. When we are divided and no longer communicate, our relationships suffer and we may miss out on the support, love, and connection that comes from being a part of a family.
Just as the Lord confused the language of the people in Genesis 11:1-9, misunderstandings and hurtful words can also confuse our ability to communicate with our family members. We must seek to understand each other’s perspectives and be willing to apologize for any hurt we have caused.
Forgiveness is also a critical component of improving relationships with estranged family members. It can be challenging to forgive someone who has hurt us, but it is necessary to move forward and heal the relationship. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting the past or excusing harmful behavior, but it does allow us to let go of bitterness and resentment.
In conclusion, the story in Genesis 11:1-9 reminds us of the dangers of division and lack of communication. To improve our relationships with estranged family members, we must prioritize communication, seek to understand each other’s perspectives, apologize for any hurt we have caused, and forgive one another. Through these efforts, we can work towards reconciliation and heal the broken relationships within our families.
The above text is 100% the way it was presented by ChatGPT. Is it a good start to a homily? Is it something worth customizing for the local congregation? Perhaps it is. While I would never encourage a pastor to use a robot to write his homily, I certainly understand that we’re not all great writers, and we all know that 3rd parties have been writing homilies for years. So is it wrong to use yet another 3rd party?
UPDATED FOR SCHOOL MASS — Since some parishes also have schools, I told ChatGPT, “rewrite it for second graders and make it 1000 words and make it relevant to getting along with our friends and having stronger family relationships.” (I intentionally wrote the command with poor grammar.) The robot replied:
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a group of people who all spoke the same language. They wanted to build a big city and a tall tower that reached all the way up to the sky. They thought it would make them famous and powerful. So, they worked together to gather materials to build the city and tower.
They made bricks and hardened them with fire, and they used bitumen for mortar. Then they started to build the city and tower. But the Lord saw what they were doing and decided to confuse their language so that they couldn’t understand each other. They couldn’t work together anymore, and the city and tower were never finished.
Now, you might be wondering what this story has to do with your own life. Well, just like the people in the story, we all need to learn how to get along with others if we want to build strong relationships.
One of the most important things you can do to get along with your friends and family is to communicate with them. This means talking to them, listening to what they have to say, and trying to understand their point of view. If you don’t communicate with your friends or family, you might have misunderstandings or miss out on important things that are going on in their lives.
Another important thing you can do is to be kind to others. This means treating your friends and family members the way you want to be treated. If you are kind, people are more likely to be kind back to you, and you’ll have stronger, more positive relationships.
It’s also important to apologize when you make a mistake. Just like the people in the story needed to apologize to each other for not working together, you need to say sorry when you do something wrong. This shows that you care about the other person’s feelings and are willing to make things right.
Finally, forgiveness is key to having strong relationships with others. When you forgive someone, it means that you are willing to let go of the hurt and anger that you feel towards them. This doesn’t mean that you forget what happened or that you excuse bad behavior, but it means that you are willing to move forward and give the person another chance.
In conclusion, the story in Genesis 11:1-9 teaches us the importance of communication, kindness, apologizing, and forgiveness in building strong relationships with others. By practicing these things in our friendships and family relationships, we can create a more positive and harmonious world around us.
For the record, I do not condone asking a robot to write a homily. I don’t even condone using 3rd party templates. But I certainly understand that these are modern “tools” that can be used to help us in various ways. Whether these tools are teaching us to be better writers, or inspiring us to see new angles on the subject matter, there are ways to take advantage of them without allowing them to erode our own God-given talents and the need to personally connect with one another.