Father Gallaugher and I are just back from our annual One Day Convocation, an event for priests that Cardinal Wuerl encourages us to attend every year. We joined about 150 priests from around the Archdiocese of Washington for a five-hour get-together down at Catholic University, where they have room for such things since classes are ended. Every year, they present a range of topics chosen to enhance our performance as priests, individually and together. Invariably at least one of them is dry and dreadful, usually administrative, but the others are at least okay.
This year the keynote was outstanding: the topic was preaching, the speaker Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., editor of Magnificat. What made this year stand out in my mind is that it is the first of the eight or so Convocations we have had in which every priest there really wanted to hear what he had to say. As evidence, two questioners after the presentation stand out in my mind: one was Fr. Alec Scott, who has been ordained not yet two years; and the other was Abbot James Wiseman, O.S.B., from St. Anselm’s Abbey, who has been a priest for decades longer.
After his formal presentation, Fr. Peter joined Monsignor Charles Pope and Father Bill Byrne in a “panel” on the subject of homiletics. Those two are both priests known and respected across the Archdiocese for their preaching abilities. The two have styles that are wildly different, but all the guys listened as if their lives depended on it to the particular practices and general admonitions the offered.
And in a way, our lives do depend upon it. As priests, our lives are in Christ, and we must give Him voice if we hope to live, because every human life depends upon hearing Christ, and having the opportunity to respond to Him. We are His chosen instruments, the ones He has called, and sent to all the word, that the world might be saved through Him.
Now, this might not seem as exciting to you as it was to us. But let me tell you: I do not remember any other instruction that received the level of attention and engagement that this one did. I share this with you not so that you think that Father Peter is the Indispensable Man, but so that you can know what I saw: that all these priests truly desire to do what it takes to make their preaching better.
Every priest wants to preach well; every priest wants to preach better.
It was a moment of brotherhood, genuine and deep. It made me rejoice in what I share with all of those men, however long or brief our association. We are united in the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, and we are united in our desire to serve it faithfully, to serve Him faithfully, and to serve YOU faithfully.
One of the points Father Peter made was that the people who come all want to be preached to, and for it to be done well. This is a universal hunger, a universal openness. It leaves room for a universe of styles and voices and emphases, but calls for one thing, or really, one person: Jesus Christ.
So if you are one of the people to show up hungry here at Saint Bernadette, know that we are willing and trying to bring you the Word made flesh, the Bread of Life. It’s the project of a lifetime, but along with every priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, we truly are working for you.