During July 1-4, I had the honor to be part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis delegation to the national Convocation of Catholic Leaders. It was four days of praying for and thinking about the Church in the 21st century.
We reflected on what missionary discipleship looks like in light of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"). There were many excellent presentations, panels and breakout sessions. While difficult to summarize in a single column, I want to share key takeaways from the convocation.
In considering the current landscape, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles pointed out that "this is not just an age of change, but a change of age" requiring new thinking and fresh approaches. According to Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, missionary discipleship "requires that we go beyond our comfort zone not to do more, but to be more."
Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles delivered a powerful address outlining three cultural obstacles to evangelization; the tendency to see science as the only way of true understanding; the belief that truth is subjective; and the notion that people can define and determine the meaning of their own life in isolation. But he also discussed three opportunities for evangelizing this culture: Missionary disciples should share the good, the true and the beautiful.
First, the most powerful force of evangelization was how the early Christians reflected the goodness of God through love of friend and stranger. The radical love of Christians caught the world's attention in Roman times, and St. Teresa of Kolkata showed that the good still captivates us today.
Second, Catholicism is a smart religion. For two millennia, bright and inspired minds have wrestled with truth, especially the existence and nature of God. Bishop Barron challenged us to live up to this deep intellectual tradition today. Once people choose discipleship and have a conversion of heart, they also need a depth of intellectual understanding to nourish and sustain them in this culture.
Lastly, Bishop Barron noted that no one looks at the Sistine Chapel or listens to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and says, "I don't care for that." Some things are so objectively beautiful that they stop us in our tracks. Yet even our magnificent cathedrals and artistic masterpieces are an imperfect attempt to reflect the most beautiful thing that ever happened — the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our lives should reflect the Gospel so that our lives lead others to the most beautiful love story of all time, between God and His people.
In the closing Mass, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston reminded participants that when Jesus asked the disciples to feed the multitude, they responded with whining that they didn't have enough. In a similar way, we might be tempted to focus on barriers before us. But Jesus works miracles despite our limitations. His response to the disciples is the same He would give to the Church today, "just give me what you have."
Nelson is superintendent of Catholic education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. RELATED ARTICLE(S):BRIMMING WITH HOPE | Following Pope Francis in learning and love