The 3,500 delegates — including 12 representatives from the Diocese of Davenport — have returned from last week’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America. Now the real labor begins; the effort to transform inspiration and information into action.
“This Jesus here now in our midst calls us to discipleship, summons us to unity, imparts to us joy and sends us on mission,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the gathering at the opening Mass in Orlando, Fla. What the delegates learned is that the mission begins from within. No missionary disciple — which includes all of us — can go to the peripheries (geographical, sociological or spiritual) to spread the joy of the Gospel without addressing the question: who does Jesus say I am? We begin with prayer, Scripture, participation in the sacraments and the liturgy. Pray, and be attuned to the presence of God, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles advised during the convocation.
Going to the peripheries does not have to involve traveling. It includes addressing the needs of today’s families. Some include parents working full time while raising children and/or caring for ailing grandparents. Others include stay-at-home moms or dads. What about the single-parent families whose breadwinners must work Saturdays and Sundays? How about blended families dealing with parenting arrangements? Do we offer a couple of hours of respite to a parent caring for a child with a disability or a grandparent with dementia?
Erosion of community life requires immediate attention as well. If community life is not a priority, it loses meaning. Caring for the vulnerable becomes “someone else’s problem,” pointed out Hosffman Ospino, a convocation keynote speaker. We must develop a sense of solidarity, of communion, a willingness to break bread at the kitchen table and the table of the Lord.
During a panel discussion on polarization, John Carr shared a story about a challenging time when his sons were teenagers. Carr consulted with his father for advice. Kids won’t listen, his father said. They learn by example. Spreading the joy of the Gospel requires setting an example that invites others to encounter Christ — including our kids! Conversely, we need to listen to our youths and young adults. What are their hopes and desires for the church?
We cannot move forward without extinguishing cultural wars. The Gospel is not an ideology to be co-opted. It is a message of life and communion, Ospino said. Read the Gospel, and the rest of the New Testament. This passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is apropos for today: “… Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:29-32).
Accompaniment is essential in spreading the joy of the Gospel. A delegate who described herself as a divorced Catholic got choked up as she described the sense of alienation she has felt in her parish. What can we do in our parishes to help ensure that parishioners don’t feel abandoned after a divorce? What about offering to sit next to that person during Mass and going out for lunch afterwards?
Practice openness, invitation and action, as convocation panelist Kerry Weber advised. Embody mercy to one another. Mercy should disrupt our lives in a way that changes how we live. She joked about exchanging 10 minutes of Netflix for a visit with someone in need of company. Not a bad idea!
Cardinal Joseph Tobin shared a compelling story during the convocation about how Pope Francis decided to visit Lampedusa early in his papacy. The Italian island is a major entry point to refugees trying to enter Europe. Cardinal Tobin said the Holy Father’s election to the papacy had improved his peripheral vision. He saw the globalization of indifference. Like Pope Francis, the cardinal said, we as missionary disciples might ask ourselves these questions:
What do we see as we look around? How good is our peripheral vision? Where is God opening a door, beckoning us to enter? What pierces our hearts and leads us to reach out?
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor