In last month’s West River Catholic, I wrote about “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” which recently took place in Orlando, Florida. This convocation was in response to Pope Francis’ call for the church to embrace her mission to go out to the peripheries in answering the radical call to missionary discipleship. The Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) was used as the guide and platform for the convocation.
The heart of the convocation directed us to examine and reflect upon the current landscape and mission field that is awaiting us; our response that leads us to renew our call as missionary disciples and our commitment to form missionary disciples; where are the peripheries and margins of society that await us and who lives there; and finally, strategies for addressing the issues; and equipping Spirit-filled evangelizers.
The Diocese of Rapid City sent a delegation comprised of myself and fourteen men and women from across the diocese. Throughout the four days, we heard many inspiring talks from various leaders in the Catholic Church and from panelists across the country who led discussions in the daily breakout sessions on a range of diverse topics.
An important point in one of the talks was that the work of evangelization is the means to address poverty in the world — all poverty and all forms of it. As we know, poverty is everywhere, in many different forms. We can see it all around us and it can also easily be hidden. It is in every part of our society, culture and geographical area. And because it can be hidden, none of us are removed from experiencing it in our lives.
This is perhaps why Pope Francis has invited “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal
encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (EG #3).
Daily asking for this gift of a personal encounter with Jesus should be the beginning point of accepting our call to be missionary disciples, going to the peripheries across our diocese and across America. It begins with conversion in our own hearts which will not happen unless we seek this renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ unfailingly each day. If we are going to accept our baptismal call to radical missionary discipleship, it begins here for all of us. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight for the Knights Columbus, noted in his address that perhaps we ourselves are the first periphery.
This is at the heart of a life of faith. Many people express a desire for a deeper relationship with the Lord, but often neglect the means to facilitate this desire. Pope Benedict XVI shared these words with the people in St. Peter’s Square, “For every Christian, faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more” (Wednesday General Audience, October 21, 2009).
What is needed in our families, our parish communities, this diocese and our world is a new passion for holiness. If we are not seeking this, then we will not accept a radical call to missionary discipleship and a call to holiness. This was clearly one of the challenging messages of the convocation.
As a disciple of Jesus seeks to live out his or her call to holiness, first asking the Lord to accompany him or her, then it will be possible to practice the “art of accompaniment” as expressed by Pope Francis (EV #169). It is the Lord Jesus who will teach us as he accompanies us. This is precisely how Jesus began the early church — “accompaniment” with his disciples. Our response to this encounter with Christ also requires the accompaniment with others, leading us to become Spirit-filled evangelizers.
“To create a culture of encounter and witness, we must live explicit lives of discipleship. We are called not only to believe in the Gospel but to allow it to take deep root in us in a way that leaves us incapable of silence: we cannot help but to announce the Gospel in word and in deed. This missionary outreach is at the heart of disciple-ship” (USCCB, Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization, p. 14).
In the end, going to the peripheries requires us getting out of our comfort zones, leaving our all too familiar maintenance-mode mindsets, and becoming parish communities which are both creative and mission-driven to share the joy of the Gospel. This has been the encouragement given to us by Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel. “
“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (EV #20).
This was also the challenge given to the participants who attended The Convocation of Catholic Leaders. This is the challenge I offer all of us in the Diocese of Rapid City.
It is our mission: We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.