Joy of the Gospel in America
Convocation - Day 3
The process for the Convocation is see, judge, act. Yesterday we tried to "see" the landscape of the church in America. Today we moved to "judge" and "act."
We tried to "judge" what we "saw" from the perspective of the periphery. Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said it so well - we need to be at the periphery because Jesus is already there. We are all caught up in a much larger process of globalization which, strangely, is actually making us, at times, more isolated and makes reaching out to our neighbor more difficult.
Mr. Anderson went on to stress the importance of witness, the thirst for authenticity. As a church, we need to take the Gospel into the streets, filled with joy, and in fraternity. Anderson's use of term fraternity - which he pulled from scripture and is reflective of one of the core purposes of the Knights - did not come across to me as exclusionary. Rather, it pointed to a universal brotherhood and sisterhood - to communio - where we are all in this together.
Mr. Anderson ended his talk quoting the famous football coach Vince Lombardo, "We chase perfection relentlessly. We will never catch it. But we may catch excellence along the way."
The morning breakout session focused on the periphery. Bishop Dewane (Venice), Bishop Danylo (St. Josephat - Parma), Marilyn Santos (Pontifical Mission Society), Kim Lamberty (Catholic Relief Services) and I were on the panel.
Kim emphasized Pope Francis' call to go beyond ourselves - especially to the world's most vulnerable and marginalized people. We have to move beyond a "welfare" mentality, build lasting friendships and mutual accompaniment, and work collaboratively to find real solutions to the serious issues of poverty and violence in our world.
Marilyn stressed that the call to mission is not new at all with Pope Francis; indeed, the call to mission began at Pentecost. What is new is the importance of encounter, accompaniment, solidarity, and praxis. Highlighting accompaniment, Marilyn shared the Spanish word "convivencia" which is a social gathering literally meaning to "be alive together, to coexist, with life."
I stressed that the best way to form missionary disciples is to send disciples on mission. I noted that "mission" has moved to the periphery of the church and we need to bring it back - closer to the center. How are we going to animate new generations of missionaries. When does a missionary disciple become a missionary? I stressed the incredible explosion of missionary experiences - short-term trips, medical missions, parish twinning - just to name a few. We need to cultivate the deep human desire to go beyond ourselves, to move outside our comfort zone, to cross some type of border, and risk a personal encounter with the "other" on the periphery.
The conversation was lively. There were over twenty people making comments and raising questions. The question of money came up - "is the best thing for us to do is to simply raise money for mission?" Bishop Dewane said no - while money is important, mission organizations need to continually remember that Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end of mission and that people - in spiritual solidarity with one another in mission - are the most precious gift to mission.
The afternoon sessions began the "act" process - where people began to explore strategies for continuing the evangelical mission of the church. These conversations will really bear fruit tomorrow when these "action steps" come together.
Bishop Lori (Baltimore), in the closing Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom, drew from the story of St. Thomas, the doubter, the freedom that Jesus gives to his people. Thomas knew Jesus, heard him preached, saw miracles, but he was so disillusioned by the crucifixion of Jesus, that he thought all of the other apostles delusional when they proclaimed him risen. Jesus came to Thomas the next week and freed him - freed him for mission.
"Yes, we must take all the steps necessary to protect our freedom, advocate for those whose freedom has been denied, we must litigate, engage political leaders and one another. But in the end, nothing will ever be more important than evangelizing, bearing witness, teaching and fulfilling our mission to love."
The day ended with praise and worship. Cardinal Tobin (Newark) did a remarkable job weaving the Holy Father's visit to Lampedusa to the cup of blessing that we share. Matt Maher - and his amazing team of musicians - gathered the community together in song and witness. God's love IS enough for me - for us - because in the end, it is everything that I have, it is all that I need, and I can never exhaust all that has been given to me. Bishop Dewane (Venice) concluded the evening with prayer focusing on the inexhaustible richness of the love of God given to us in Jesus.
An amazing day. For me, seeing with new eyes all the organizations, movements, religious communities, and, of course, the local church are doing for mission is overwhelming and deeply hope filled. I was particularly moved by the Knights of Columbus. I was freed from my preconceived notions - forged fifty years ago - of a bunch of beer drinking men who hung out together. These are men for faith, family, freedom, and fraternity.
As I begin to see more, one of my first "judgements" needs to be about my own assumptions about the "other."
Together in Mission,
Dr. Donald R. McCrabb