Priests call Word on Fire conference a consoling encounter with scripture

Bishop Robert Barron speaks at the Word on Fire Conference Aug 2018 CNA

Orange, Calif., Aug 23, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Returning from Bishop Robert Barron's conference held this week on preaching, several priests said the experience was a grace-filled time to focus on one of the most important roles with which they are tasked.

The inaugural Word on Fire National Conference for Priests was held Aug. 20-22 in Huntington Beach, Calif., fewer than 20 miles southwest of Orange. Sponsored by the Napa Institute and led by Bishop Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, the gathering of more than 300 priests focused on homiletics.

“It was very helpful,” Fr. Matthew Magee of the Archdiocese of Denver said, to hear Bishop Barron “talk about [how] the first office, the primary office we have as priests, is to preach.”

Fr. Magee told CNA it was wonderful to have re-instilled the “importance of the gift of preaching … and to open up our hearts to experience what that is from a different perspective, and then to be able to collaborate with other priests about what that means for our ministry.”

The conference was meant to help priests guide parishioners through the Bible, to preach Christ-centered homilies, to present the gospel as a yes to life and to love, and to use beauty in preaching.

Along with Bishop Barron, another presenter was Dana Gioia, the California Poet Laureate and a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Fr. Joe McLagan, also of the Denver archdiocese, said Gioia “gave a talk on beauty which was quite good … he used several, about five, different pieces of literature to coalesce into the fact that beauty needs to be brought back into the world,” and how the words of preaching can do that.”

Bishop Barron's talks focused on theory of preaching, as well as philosophy, theology, and scripture, and finally practicalities. He also shared insights from the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, whom he served as a priest for nearly 20 years.

“It's putting preaching back to a level of importance that some people can relegate it from,” Fr. McLagan said.

Fr. Eric Zegeer, a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami who will be teaching homiletics this autumn, is studying for a doctorate in preaching.

“I found it still very informative and helpful,” he said, “so at any level of study in homiletics, or experience, there's a lot to get out of it.”

Fr. Zegeer also described the conference as a consoling time of priestly fraternity.

“The fraternity and fellowship … was a great source of consolation, a wonderful experience of fraternity. It was a grace-filled, restful, and prayerful few days.”

Fr. Jason Keas of the Diocese of Colorado Springs called it “a God-anointed time … to gather as brother priests to focus on the word of God and our mission, to kind of get back to the basics of the teachings of the Church.”

“It was great to gather as priests, to build each other up, to encounter the Word, to be a support to one another.”

He said it was wonderful to consider the gift of the intellectual life and the importance of studying scripture to find Christ.

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