On Sunday October 21, Aquinas Institute President Father Charles Bouchard, O.P., was the guest of honor at a gala celebrating his 18 years of leadership and service to the school. Father Bouchard will officially retire from the presidency of Aquinas Institute of Theology on December 31, 2007.
At the gala in Forest Park’s Trolley Room, members of the St. Louis community gathered with friends of Aquinas Institute, faculty and staff to recognize Father Bouchard’s accomplishments and vision.
Under Father Bouchard’s leadership Aquinas Institute has nearly tripled its degree programs, added 4 certificate programs, geometrically grown its student body, and established a permanent home in a new building.
A friend to all, Father Bouchard’s contributions and influence have extended well beyond the walls of Aquinas Institute of Theology. He has been an active participant in community discussions, an op-ed contributor, a willing interviewee and a sought-after resource for information on religion and ethics.
Father Bouchard’s contributions to the St. Louis community were also recognized by an Official Resolution of the Board of Alderman of the City of St. Louis.
In a tribute at the gala, Aquinas Board Trustee Dee Joyner expressed the sentiments of all when she ended her remarks with the following words, “… for all you have done for theological education in the Dominican Tradition; for all you have done for the Province, the Church, the clergy and those involved in lay ministry; for all you have don for the St. Louis community and for Aquinas Institute of Theology, we thank you. But most of all, we thank you for your spiritual guidance and friendship. Goodspeed!”
Father Bouchard’s Homily
Washington University Catholic Student Center
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 21, 2007
I’m going to relate a story that I’m sure many of you can identify with – at least those of you who are over 15 years of age. It involves a new television and a remote control.
We bought a new TV a while back, and because I knew more – or at least because my housemates knew even less than I did – about video electronics, I appointed myself to set this TV up. I took a wild guess at which diagram in the instructions might match our set of components. I hooked up the VCR to the TV, the DVD to the satellite box, and the satellite box to the TV. I turned it on and nothing happened.
I noticed that the cable I had did not look like the one in the book. I went to Radio Shack, and found out that this kind of TV needs a totally different kind of cable – one that happened to cost $26.95, thank you very much. I took it home and did the installation again. Nothing happened.
I tried to program the TV for the so-called “universal remote,” which had hundreds of codes in it, a code for every single TV remote control ever made – except the one I was holding in my hand. I changed the batteries in the remote. Still nothing happened.
There I was with everything set up, all the cables fitted tightly; the only problem was “How do you turn the damn thing on?” Nothing I could do would give life to that little blue eye.
It may seem implausible, but I’m going to suggest that this experience is a metaphor for prayer. The analogy is this. Something like the powerful collection of technology I had before me, God is a great and wonderful source of compassion, love and power. The problem of prayer is, how do you turn God on? What do you have to do to actualize all that divine good will?
This is no doubt why there are at least a thousand “how to” books on prayer. Even though most of them, thank God, are more helpful than the instruction manual for my TV, they are no less varied. They represent many different approaches to prayer.
There are the exotic varieties, for example. Moses, holding up his arms in prayer so they will prevail in victory, is one rather unusual style. Simon Stylites perfected his prayer life by sitting atop a pillar for extraordinarily long periods of time. For the real estate agents out there, or those of you who are trying to sell a home, there is the well-known ritual that involves burying a statue of St. Joseph.
Then there are the more ordinary kinds of prayer: the rosary, novenas and first Fridays (for those of us old enough to remember such things), litanies, daily mass, adoration, fasting and the other spiritual disciplines.
Finally, there are the artistic and elegant like the beautiful hymns and prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas or the poetry of Emily Dickenson or Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose gorgeous language most of us could never hope to emulate.
We could name many more, and even categorize them into “schools of spirituality” – all of them geared to “turning God on,” by finding the right switch that will get the divine current flowing in our direction.
These varied prayer styles are not bad, of course. The example of Moses, his fatigued arms outstretched, and the example of the widow whose persistence finally moved the unjust judge to action, both exhort us to pray unceasingly. There is no indication that variety is a bad thing.
Fred Craddock, the famous professor of homiletics, agrees when he says “The life of prayer is endless asking, seeking, knowing, waiting; sometimes growing weary, sometimes growing angry.”
But then he changes the perspective and suggests that prayer is not just about changing God, it’s about changing us: “Is the petitioner,” he asks, “being hammered through long days and nights of prayer into a vessel that will be able to hold the answer when it comes?”
Could it be that our prayer changes us, as much as we hope it might change God?
This has become a bigger question for me over the years. I’ve had my moments of doubt and discouragement, of course. But I rarely doubted God’s providence. All of you here tonight are ample proof of that. Without all of you, without the gifts of teaching and scholarship and hope that you brought to the mission of Aquinas, nothing would have happened. God’s providence is evident here.
My question, rather, has been “Have I myself been changed by prayer?” Have I become the type of person that is able to receive God’s grace? Have I been shaped into a person who is more hopeful, more faithful, more able to find grace where it is rather than where I want it to be? In a word, have I become more holy?
I had a friend who was notorious for taking a long time to prepare for anything. The shaving, showering, picking the right clothes, tending to hair and all the rest, took a very long time. Once, when I met him for an evening out, I asked him what he had been doing all day. “Getting ready,” he responded truthfully. I had no reason to doubt him.
And that’s really what the life of prayer is all about: getting ready. Preparing to receive God’s will, to participate in it, to love it and to be changed by it.
We are, all of us, the persistent widow who goes back again and again. We are, all of us, Moses, who cannot prevail without the assistance of Aaron and Hur holding up his arms when he grows tired. (I always love that image, which shows that none of us can really learn to pray without the help of others).
Neither of them thought that God was a celestial vending machine or a pay-per-view satellite who would down-load on demand, if only we can punch in the right code.
They knew, as all the saints did, that we are never quite ready, and that more than anything else, our prayer is for us.
We gather tonight to give thanks for my 18 years at Aquinas. As we do let us also give thanks for the ways in which God has been provident, for the ways God has changed us through prayer, and for the ways in which God has made us more hopeful, more resilient and more open to grace.
-Charles Bouchard OP