A homily is a non-fiction talk. It is essentially an exposition. That is to say, it is setting forth a claim or claims you are making regarding truths to be believed or good actions to be taken.
Did you know that when it comes to any kind of exposition—and every homily is exposition—there are only three things you can be doing? Knowing what they are and choosing among them are keys to a clear and coherent homily.
Here they are:
Making a claim. We are children of God is a truth claim. We should offer our difficulties up to God is a claim about how we should live. Claims are abstract.
Explaining the claim. These are sentences which explain the words we used to make our claim. It is helpful to signal to our listeners when we are explaining. Examples of signal words are: to explain, that is to say, and in other words. When an explanation requires multiple steps or parts, it is good to signal them as well. Examples of these kinds of signal words are, first, second, third; and to begin, to continue, finally. Explanations are also abstract.
Illustrating the claim. Illustrations give us concrete pictures or images of our abstract claims. Illustrations can be examples, analogies, anecdotes, and stories. It is often good to signal you are illustrating with words like, for example, ____________ is like _______________, to illustrate, and let me tell you a story.
The logical order of exposition is first claim, then explanation, and finally illustration. However, it is up to you to decide what claims need to be explained and illustrated, how much elaboration is required, and what order to use. For example, you might decide it is best to begin with an example or story and then move on to the more abstract claim and explanations.
Let me go out on a limb and make the claim that a good homily makes only one important point (which may include subordinate points), explains it very well, and provides plenty of examples. Stories are easy to listen to and remember. Abstract claims are often hard to understand and hard to remember.