We arrived in darkness, not knowing what to expect, who or what we would find. Upon awakening, it became clear that we were on the edge of something big, monumentally bigger than any one of us. As the dawn began to break, in all of its subtle and varied colors that paint the horizon with the glow of hope, it gave way to glorious splendor. Our eyes began to focus and then behold the vastness of the landscape that awaits us. It was as if we were seeing the Grand Canyon for the very first time and were not able to put into words it's indescribable beauty or far-reaching borders. Even with the greatest of peripheral vision, one could not take in the enormity of the frontier that lay before us.
I write this in all humility at having had the opportunity to attend the USCCB Convocation for Catholic Leaders. I know that I was not worthy, but went in response to the invitation issued by the Archdiocese of Washington, praying that I could bring my years of evangelistic outreach experience, devotion to God and His Holy Word, and my enthusiastic love for the Catholic Church to the table.
What took place at the four day convocation can only be described as more of a revival than a conference. (The Matt Maher concert pictured above with head-bobbing nuns and arm-swaying Bishops confirmed that idea.) It was not intended to be a professional trade show, networking session for those invited or experts-in-their-fields panelist discussions on the various issues that face the Church--although it was, at times, all of those. No, it was intended at its inception, to be a new page in Church history. It was to be a time where the Shepherds of the Church moved among their sheep and truly listened, perhaps in some ways for the very first time to particular groups or individual’s voices that now, are not just on the “peripheries” but compose the vast majority of the Church in America.
We heard sobering statistics, such as, for every one person that joins the Catholic Church, six are leaving. We learned that the majority of Catholics are no longer in the northeast, but in the south and southwest and encompass a rich diversity of cultures comprised of Hispanic, Asian and African American identities, but are we reaching them? We were informed that the largest religious group in America is now the "nones" and that 50% of Catholics under the age of thirty self identify as “nones” (not nuns!) that means those who have “left the Church” and report to have “no religion.” We were told that only about 3% of those who attend the Church regularly would consider themselves “mission ready”-- that is, that they feel that they have something to offer the Church in the form of spiritual giftedness to be used of service. (FYI--we are all given a spiritual gift or gifts at baptism and are all called to serve. Want to discover yours? Go here: http://sgi.churchdb.com/staustinsgi/StAustinIntro.asp)
The convocation was a wake-up call to all who attended and for anyone who will listen. It can no longer be “business as usual.” The Church must move from an attitude of “maintenance” to one of “mission.” If not, we will fail in our responsibility to steward what we have been given to pass on to the next generation.
We could have left feeling depressed and overwhelmed if it were not for the incredible joy that was the hallmark of the event. Pope Francis, in what I believe to be his greatest letter to the Church to date, Evangelii Gaudium (PLEASE read if you have not, download for free: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html )states the Good news: We have JOY on our side! We have an indescribable treasure-- the Holy Spirit, that can and will do what we cannot in our own strength. If we ourselves are renewed and refreshed in the Holy Spirit, the joy of the Gospel will be the ensuing result and that joy will be both undeniable and irresistible to others.
What he is calling for is nothing short of a full scale, not renovation of the Church, but revival in the Church. The difference? Renovation is man’s efforts. Revival can only come from God.
What is our part? Well, it took four days to unpack that bit, but the key: to bathe all in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to enflame and enliven, for without Him, we can do nothing. A spirit of true humility permeated the convocation, because as the Psalmists states in 124: “Had not the LORD been with us..._______” (fill in the blank).
In the plenary and breakout session we discussed:
What are the challenges and opportunities we face at this time in the culture and in the Church in the US?
What does it mean to be a “Church on Mission” a “Church of Missionary Disciples”?
What are the best practices, tools and resources available for advancing the Gospel now and into the future?
We saw the absolute beauty of the Church, as expressed in liturgy, art and music each day. And were reminded again and again of the rich treasury of the lives and writings of the saints in which our Church has flourished for over two thousand years. But above all Jesus was high and lifted up, in the Sacraments and in conversation and the Blessed Mother was honored in expressions of reverence and devotion.
It would be impossible to write all that took place, but you can log onto: (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/get-involved/meetings-and-events/usccb-convocation-2017.cfm) and read and see for yourself some of what was covered.
I highly recommend ordering or downloading Living as Missionary Disciples http://ccc.usccb.org/flipbooks/living-as-missionary-disciples/files/assets/basic-html/page-I.html#) the text that was used for much of our conversation at the Convocation.
And I would like to humbly request you pray. Ask the Lord to reveal in your own heart what needs to be healed, forgiven, restored, and renewed in order for the joy of the Gospel to be within. Go to confession and make a clean start, even today. Then, by God’s grace, humbly ask your parish priest, “How can I help? What can I do to serve?” Do you see a need in your neighborhood or Church? Pray. Perhaps you are being called to fill it.
It was made clear that we can no longer think, “Someone else will do it…” NOW is the TIME.
A NEW DAWN is upon us.
“Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you. Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples, Upon you the LORD will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen.” Isaiah 60:1-2