I guess I have a small confession to make. I went to the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders held in Orlando, Florida, with very low expectations. I was unsure and somewhat skeptical about the intent and expected outcome of the event. I was pleasantly surprised, as was our local delegation.
The convocation brought together bishops, lay ecclesial leaders, religious, and various ecclesial movements and promoters of Catholic apostolates and initiatives. It turned out to be an overall wonderful gathering of the Church here in the United States aimed at the promotion of the new evangelization that we have been talking about for decades now. The local delegation from the Archdiocese of Portland consisted of nine of our local Catholic leaders.
The theme of the convocation was “The Joy of the Gospel,” taken from the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium.” And it was joy that we experienced as we reflected together on the challenge given for our time to bring the Gospel out to the world, which is our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.
We must recall that the final words of Jesus before he ascended back to the Father gave us the mission of the Church until Christ comes in glory. These words are our “marching orders” as the Body of Christ and the People of God: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)
It is our responsibility in this local Church in western Oregon to bring the saving truth of Jesus Christ to the people of our own time and in this place. To paraphrase a common expression: If not now, when? If not here, where? If not us, who?
I have three “takeaways” from the convocation that I would like to briefly share with all of you.
First of all, the Holy Father has called us to be “missionary disciples” of our Lord and our Catholic faith. It is not enough for us to be satisfied, happy and content with our own comfortable life in our parish communities. We are called to “go out” to the world with a new evangelization, sharing the Good News of our redemption in Christ. We must become aware that many outside the Church think of us as a closed, private, exclusive club. We certainly are not, but why this common perception? We need to change that.
Second, the Holy Father has called us to go out to the “peripheries” with this saving truth. We engage with people on the peripheries, not to leave them there where they are, but to work hard to bring them into the fullness of life in Christ in the heart of the Church. The peripheries can be social, economic and geographical for sure. But there are also the “existential peripheries” where we encounter people who are far from the life of the Church for a variety of reasons.
This can include fallen-away Catholics, or dare I say even some of the people who are sitting next to us in church on Sunday. It can include people who self-identify as Catholics, but who do not fully embrace the truth of our faith and may be on the edge of walking away. We need to help them come to fullness of life in Christ, setting their hearts on fire.
But we need to be set on fire first. This brings me to my third takeaway from the Convocation. We need confidence to know that we possess a saving message for the whole world. We have what every human being longs for in the depth of their soul, even if they do not yet fully realize it. They may even be somewhat hostile at the moment to us. With love, faith and a confidence born of the Holy Spirit, we must bring Christ to them and them to Christ in the Church.
Our delegation will continue to reflect on our experience of the convocation and strategize ways to be docile instruments of the Holy Spirit in this great work, the mission of the Church. Stay tuned.