The national Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando has come and gone and what a convocation it was! 3,300 diocesan delegates from all corners of our country showed up to pray, reflect and dialogue about our life as the Catholic Church in the United States. We came to reflect, pray and converse about how, as God’s people in this country, we might best implement the vision for the Catholic Church put forth by Pope Francis in the Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium,)”. Our days were mainly spent listening to great speakers, engaging in dialogue in the many breakout sessions offered and in praying together in both Eucharistic and devotional prayer.
Some of the speakers reviewed recent research on the Catholic Church in the United States as a means for us to see “the lay of the land.” Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College, for example, said that we are in an “in-between moment”. The rapid changes in our culture have affected the Church: society has reconfigured family life; communal life in society has eroded; we live amid what the media calls “cultural wars”; individualism, relativism, and secularism are all around. Fewer Catholics attend Mass regularly. Twenty-five percent of all people in the United States self-identify as “nones,” that is having no religious affiliation. The call of Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium” is to see this moment in-between the present and the future as a moment of opportunity. We are to see this moment as Kairos, as an opportunity to bring the joy of the Gospel to those who are waiting to hear it. The call is not for all of us to be disciples and some of us disciples to be missionaries. The call is for all of us to be missionary disciples.
I would say this is one of the main challenges covered at the convocation. We, the Catholic Church in the United States, need to embrace in a renewed way that we are all missionary disciples. As Pope Francis puts it in “Evangelii Gaudium”: “Indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples.’”
In a society where marriage and family have been reconfigured, Catholic couples evangelize through their marriage and family. Where communal life has eroded, Catholic faithful evangelize by joining together to praise God, assist one another, and reach out in charity to all. Where so called “cultural wars” divide and polarize, Catholics evangelize by speaking the truth in the public arena and working for the true common good in a loving way. “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn. 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved.” (Evangelii Gaudium 24)
Of course, the life of one who is truly a missionary disciple flows from his or her relationship with Jesus. Jesus calls us, equips us, and sends us out to bring the joy of the Good News to all in our world. One person I always like to listen to is Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. He spoke to the delegates about five characteristics of a true missionary disciple: boldness or courage, commitment and connection to the Church, a sense of urgency or haste (like Mary hastening to visit Elizabeth), compassion and mercy, and joy. The vision of Pope Francis of a world full of Catholic faithful missionary disciples bringing the joy of the Gospel to all, especially those on the peripheries, is a call to each of us to a real conversion.
In “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis is inviting “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” The more we fall in love with God, the more we are moved to bring the joy of the Gospel to all. He says we are challenged in this moment “to abandon the complacent attitude that ‘We have always done it this way” and to be “bold and creative” in living the life of a missionary disciple. I am grateful for the eight Catholic leaders from the Diocese of Crookston who took part in the Orlando Convocation of Catholic Leaders. We look forward to the work ahead of us here in this local Church as we seek to live out the call to be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to all.
To watch presentations from the convocation, visit: www.usccb.org/convocation