Two priests who recognize that their homilies are among the most important moments they spend with a congregation each week are being honored for their preaching.
The 2019 Great Preacher Award honorees are Father Craig Holway, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, and Dominican Father Charles Bouchard, senior director of theology and sponsorship at the Catholic Health Association of the United States. The award is sponsored by Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.
For Father Holway, it’s the preacher’s job to make the Word of God accessible, meaningful and relevant.
The job of the preacher is to explain what the Word means 2,000 years after Jesus walked the earth, he said.
He quoted St. Teresa of Avila, who said the most fruitful thing a Christian can do is receive divine life. And one of the ways to do that is take in the Word, Father Holway said.
“And so it’s the preacher’s job to facilitate that act of reception and to make it relevant and make it meaningful so they can receive that gift,” he said.
Father Holway also points to St. Paul, who wrote in one of his letters that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. “So the Word has something to say to us in 2019 just as clearly as it had something to say to the early Christians who first heard Jesus speak and then who read the first words of Scripture.”
If deacons and priests work hard at preaching, receiving what God wants to give to the preacher who turns around and gives it to the people in the pew, “then we’ve done our job,” he said. “Sometimes it’s easier than others. Sometimes it can challenge us as much as it can challenge the people in the pew. As long as we put the work in, the Word will be fruitful for everyone.”
Father Holway asks people to “leave the doors open in our churches and make people feel welcome. The Gospel is relevant, the Gospel has something to say to everyone.”
If the preacher can give people something to remember throughout the week — something short, poignant and powerful — “we can carry (it) with us all week long until we come back next week and receive another. I call them points for prayer. A point that motivates my week, that informs my week.”
It’s nourishing, he added.
His first homily was as a deacon. He remembers feeling nervous, empowered and thinking that “this gift of preaching is from God, and I’m meant to exercise it and use it as much as I can.”
Shaping our lives
Father Bouchard said the notion of a homily as a story helps people bring the Scripture into their lives. People usually think of preaching affecting them on an individual level toward their conversion, growth and virtue. “That’s important to shape the narrative of our lives according to the Gospel,” he said.
But another important aspect, he said, is “public preaching,” helping people see a Gospel narrative “appropriate to public and civic life.” It raises issues and helps people think about social problems in connection with the Gospel.
For example, he said, in his work with the Catholic Health Association he holds workshops for clergy on how to preach about end-of-life care. It ties in with the threat of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Racism and economic inequality are among other areas of what he calls public preaching.
Many issues, such as genetic engineering, aren’t addressed specifically in Scripture, of course, but there’s a concept in the readings that does connect — perhaps human freedom, continuing God’s creation or control, he said.
Preachers, he said, “are never trying to replace people’s consciences, but we’re trying to form it, according to Scripture especially.”
At its best, preaching is a dialogue between the people and the Word of God, Father Bouchard said. “The preacher tries to facilitate that. Really good preaching involves active participation from the congregation as well, in terms of their preparation for the Eucharist, reading the Scriptures ahead of time and really being prepared to engage with the Word of God along with the preacher.”
Father Bouchard, who celebrates Mass at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in St. Louis about once a month and also helps at other churches when he’s available, said he’s happy Father Holway is being recognized as well because parish priests do the bulk of the Church’s preaching. “They deserve our support,” he said.
Priests such as Father Holway view preaching as the most important thing they do as a parish priest, and that’s commendable, Father Bouchard said.
Great Preacher Award
Aquinas Institute of Theology named Dominican Father Charles Bouchard and Father Craig Holway as the 2019 Great Preacher Award recipients.
Established in 1995, the Great Preacher Award is presented to individuals who embody the Dominican understanding of the holy preaching. It honors preachers who proclaim, in word and deed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Father Bouchard is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great. A former president of Aquinas Institute, he currently serves as senior director for theology and sponsorship at the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA). He assists the Catholic health ministry nationwide as an author, educator and consultant on the Church’s theological and ethical teaching. He is also executive editor of Health Care Ethics USA.
Father Holway, ordained in 2010, serves as pastor at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Louis. Additionally, he serves as a part-time chaplain at Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis.
Founded in 1926, Aquinas Institute of the Theology is a Catholic graduate school of theology. Sponsored by the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, it is a Center for Institutional Studies, designated by the Order of Preachers to form Dominican friars in order to carry out its mission of preaching the Gospel for the salvation of every person.
Aquinas serves two distinct, complimentary constituencies: Dominican student brothers preparing for ordination to the priesthood and pastoral ministry, as well as priests, religious sisters, and lay men and women preparing for careers in service to the Christian community or advanced academic studies.
The 25th annual Great Preacher Award celebration was to be held Nov. 7.