We can be a people of hope, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson writes in a reflection on Pope Francis exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" in this issue of the Review.
It's a welcome message today. We hear about killings in the streets, terrorism, politicians shouting at each other, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and unabashed consumerism. Even sports fails us sometimes when we read about out-of-control and "me-first" players, coaches, fans and parents.
This summer, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convened an unprecedented gathering of diverse leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations from across the country to assess the challenges and opportunities of our time. An ongoing initiative of the Bishops' Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" assembled Catholic leaders for a strategic conversation on forming missionary disciples to invigorate the Church and to engage the culture.
The effort involved looking at today's concerns, challenges and opportunities in the light of the Church's mission of evangelization and becoming equipped to go forth, ready to engage the world with the joy of the Gospel. Inspired by the pope's exhortation, the convocation sought to form, equip and re-energize leaders to share the Gospel as missionary disciples.
There's a lot of hope in that effort.
Archbishop Carlson points out that hope starts with us, through our personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Pope Francis, in his encyclical, writes that "whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of His love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades."
Take a risk to be joyful, the pope urges. Come back to the Lord, and you won't be disappointed. God never tires of forgiving us. "No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring joy, He makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew," Pope Francis writes.
How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost, he adds.
Placing our trust in God builds an evangelizing community that gets involved by word and deed in people's daily lives. It "bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others," Pope Francis explains.
That's joyful. And it brings hope.