"The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who
encounter Jesus ... With Christ, joy is constantly born anew."
(Pope Francis, "Evangelii Gaudium")
I believe this. I know it to be true. I hope you do, too.
Do you sometimes wonder, though, why so many people, maybe even beloved relatives or friends, can't seem to find that joy that comes from knowing Jesus?
Do you worry that they may perhaps have never truly encountered Him?
Does it trouble you that 78 percent of the U.S. adult population - the "nones" - say they were raised in a particular religious faith and then left it behind, now having "none"? Are you shocked to learn that 48 percent of Catholics, now unaffiliated with the Church, ceased practicing the faith before they were 18 years of age? (Pew Research Center Report)
Facts like these cause me to pray at every Confirmation celebration that the teens I am confirming will be at Mass the following weekend, and every weekend after that. Sadly, I know that will not be the case, despite the hard work of catechists and youth ministers, and often (but not always) the good example of faithful Catholic parents.
Why is it that our evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters are so zealous in inviting people (including plenty of Catholics) to encounter Jesus anew and even to join their congregations, while so many of us Catholics would never think of encouraging anyone to join the Church - or return to it?
Is it hard for you to understand why all too many Catholics, including some Catholic politicians, find it so apparently easy to turn their backs on church teachings like the inviolable sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, or the human rights of migrants and refugees?
Questions and concerns like these are only a few of the reasons why a delegation from our diocese will join more than 3,000 U.S. Catholics (and 160 bishops, myself included) in Orlando July 1-4 for a gathering unique in U.S. Catholic history - the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.
This exciting event was called for by the United States bishops several years ago to assist us in living the vision of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" in the United States. During the four-day meeting, 160 bishops, delegations from 200 Catholic organizations, and experts from various fields will join our heads, hearts and prayer together to assess the challenges and opportunities or our time and culture in light of the insistent call of recent popes that we - every Catholic - would embrace our baptismal call to be and to live as missionary disciples.
A unique dimension of this convocation is that every plenary event, panel, liturgy and breakout event is bishop-led. Participants will represent laity, clergy and consecrated women and men. Delegates will reflect the cultural diversity of our Church with leaders present from our Hispanic/Latino, Asian-American, Native American and Eskimo, and African-American communities to name a few. In addition, the convocation will include emerging young adult leaders aged 18-30, people with disabilities, and folks from our home mission and extension dioceses.
There are two key outcomes for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. First, that leaders will be equipped and reenergized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, and, second, that they take away fresh insights from participation in a strategic conversation about current challenges and opportunities informed by new research, communications strategies, and successful models.
The hope is that the convocation can assist participants in bringing back - to their dioceses, parishes, movements, organizations, work and ministries - tools, resources and renewed inspiration to apply and advance "Evangelii Gaudium" and Pope Francis' dream of a "missionary option" for all pastoral activities and ministries. The Holy Father has called all in the Church to a "missionary conversion": "'Mere administration' - can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be 'permanently in a state of mission.'" Thus, our convocation is framed around these principles from the Holy Father.
Please keep our diocesan Convocation delegates and me in your prayers as we participate in this unique and important gathering. It is my sincere hope that this meeting will generate a strategic and ongoing conversation that will lead to a reanimation of the Church in our own diocese and across the United States as we seek to engage our culture and bring the joy of the Gospel to all we encounter. Please consider praying the following prayer, which was written for the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders:
O Holy Spirit, you who first enkindled in our hearts the joy of the Gospel, renew that same joy in those who are preparing for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. Enflame the hearts of our bishops and their diocesan delegations; leaders of national organizations and movements; clergy, religious and laity; all who make this event possible; and Catholic leaders across the United States. Move us to welcome the word of life in the depths of our hearts and respond to the call of missionary discipleship. O Holy Spirit, transform our hearts and enable us to enter into the perfect communion that you share with the Father and the Son. Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us. Amen.
Thank you for your prayers. Know that I keep our diocesan family in my daily prayers. I particularly pray that each of you will have a restful and enjoyable summer season!