‘The Joy of the Gospel in America’

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., was one of several distinguished speakers at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America.” According to Catholic News Service, Cardinal Wuerl urged the participants who were present to take a look at each other and realize that they, as lay leaders in the church, are responsible for spreading the Gospel message and they shouldn’t waste the moment.

By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

From July 1 to 4, Catholic leaders from dioceses throughout the United States gathered in Orlando, Florida, for a National Convocation to reflect on our call to be missionary disciples in the United States today. It was an energizing experience for me and our diocesan delegation to be with our brothers and sisters from throughout the country to pray together and to share experiences and insights on what it means to be a Church of missionary disciples.

3,500 bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders participated in the National Convocation on the theme: “The Joy of the Gospel in America.” It was an inspiring event as we experienced beautiful liturgies, listened to many excellent speakers, participated in interesting break-out sessions and engaged in informal conversations with other Catholic leaders from throughout our country. The atmosphere was one of joy and hope, even in the face of serious challenges in the task of evangelization today.

The Convocation looked at the cultural and spiritual landscape of the Church in our country and how Christ is calling us to be missionary disciples in the mission field of our country today. We considered the increasing secularization of our society, in which nearly 25 percent of Americans, including many former Catholics, now identify as religiously unaffiliated (the “nones”). We reflected on the increasing diversity of the Catholic Church in our country, the huge Hispanic presence, the growth of the Church in the South and West, and the declining Catholic population in the Northeast and Midwest. We also looked at the challenges we face in the context of what Pope Francis calls a “throw-away culture,” including problems such as the erosion of marriage and family life and threats to religious freedom.

As we reflected on the difficult challenges, it was not all “doom and gloom.” The Christian attitude of hope in God and the joy of discipleship permeated the Convocation as we recognized that challenges needed to be faced with renewed faith and trust in the power of God’s grace. We looked at opportunities as well as challenges. We need to be a Church that goes forth and does not retreat from the challenges we face. We cannot be complacent.

Many speakers emphasized that in going out as missionary disciples, we must also “go in,” that is, we must encounter Christ ourselves and commit ourselves to ongoing conversion and holiness of life. The saints show us the way. This communion with Christ in His Church fills us with joy for witness and mission and prevents discouragement.

One of the main themes of the Convocation was the call to go out “to the peripheries.” As Pope Francis says, “all of us are asked to obey the Lord’s call to go forth from our comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel.” We discussed these peripheries in the mission field of the Church in the United States, not just social and geographical peripheries, but also the existential peripheries. It means going out to people who are hurting and wounded, who suffer from material or spiritual poverty, to those with addictions, to those who are exploited, to all in need of the love and mercy of Christ. In the words of Pope Francis, the Church is to be like a “field hospital,” where people can receive the healing gifts of Our Lord’s mercy and peace. This discussion of going out to the peripheries stirred us all to think about our own dioceses and parishes and what we are doing or not doing to bring the Gospel of joy to those who are struggling in life.

The beautiful liturgies and our prayers together at the Convocation reminded us that our missionary discipleship must be nourished by our own union with Christ and openness to the Holy Spirit. We are called to be “Spirit-filled evangelizers.” We cannot give to others what we ourselves do not have. In other words, we cannot neglect our own personal encounter with Jesus Christ if we hope to bring others to encounter Jesus. The best evangelizers are those who live holy lives. We must allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten, guide and direct us in all that we do.

At the end of the Convocation, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, said that he would tell Pope Francis about the Convocation and “how the Spirit is alive in the Church in the United States.” He said that he will tell the Holy Father “of the commitment of the many missionary disciples and their love for Jesus.” This commitment and love was evident to me at the National Convocation. It is a commitment and love that I see in our diocese, but a commitment that, I pray, will grow. Every Catholic is called to be a joyful missionary disciple. Imagine the fruits for evangelization if every Catholic would embrace this calling!

Devotion to our Blessed Mother was also evident at the Convocation. Mary is the “Star of the New Evangelization.” She is a beautiful model of missionary discipleship. May Our Lady help us with her prayers to experience the love of her Son and to bring the joy of the Gospel to all whom we meet!

Posted on July 12, 2017, to: