By Barb Arland-Fye
His father told him he could only drive the family car to go to Mass. So, the 16-year-old went to Mass, daily. “And look where that got me,” grinned Archbishop Jose Gomez, who today leads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop shared that “confession” during a talk at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America on July 3 in Orlando, Fla. I was among 12 individuals from the Davenport Diocese at the convocation.
Archbishop Gomez shared many insights during his talk about going out to the peripheries — geographical and sociological — to share the joy of the Gospel and to invite others to encounter Christ.
His personal story, however, echoes in my mind. Some other bishops and cardinals also shared personal stories that fostered a bond with the rest of us.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore began his July 3 homily with a humorous story about the break-down of the family TV. As a 10-year-old, he was bereft. He missed Saturday morning cartoons, “I Love Lucy,” and Bishop Fulton Sheen’s iconic “Life is Worth Living” series. He inadvertently called Bishop Sheen’s show “Life is not worth living.” The gathering broke out in laughter.
Not missing a beat, Archbishop Lori joked, “Well that’s what I felt like!” His parents later won a new TV in a parish raffle, but he didn’t believe them when they announced the good news. His doubting attitude laid the groundwork for a reflection on the Gospel reading about the doubting apostle Thomas who gained his faith only after touching the wounds of the Risen Christ. Thomas then moved beyond his comfort zone to evangelize others.
In his talk about effective evangelism, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles shared personal examples to illustrate a point about showing people the beauty of Catholicism, which is one means of evangelization. He distinguished the difference between what is merely subjectively satisfying and what is beautiful, or objectively valuable. The Sistine Chapel, the fourth movement of
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the work of St. Teresa of Kolkata and her sisters are examples of the objectively valuable, the bishop said.
On the other hand, his favorite food, a deep dish Chicago pizza, is subjectively satisfying. “It never occurred to me … to become an evangelist for pizza,” the bishop joked. His example resonated with me because I also enjoy Chicago deep dish pizza! The objectively valuable, however, “is something so intrinsically good and intrinsically beautiful that it seizes us. It stops us in our tracks,” he said. “And then it rearranges our subjectivity … and then sends us on mission.”
He recalled an article in Rolling Stone magazine that asked rock stars: What is the first song that rocked your world? Although he wasn’t a rock star, Bishop Barron had an answer: “Mine was Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ which I heard for the first time when I was about 17. “It was a song that made me different. It reached down inside of me and re-arranged me in a way.” The beautiful, by which I mean the objectively valuable, sends us on mission.”
There’s “grab-you-by-the shoulders quality about the New Testament, he noted. The evangelists were seized by something so powerful and so overwhelming that they wanted to grab the whole world by the shoulders and tell them about it,” the bishop said. “It’s the same way you become an evangelist of the truly beautiful. There’s nothing more beautiful than the dying and rising of Jesus Christ…. We today need to be filled with the same ‘shake you by the shoulders’ enthusiasm that the first evangelists had.”
Stories, woven into the talks of many of the speakers I listened to at the convocation, now inspire me in my journey as a missionary disciple.
(Barb Arland-Fye, editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)