Father Tony Oelrich is currently part of a delegation of 11 from the Diocese of St. Cloud who are attending the U.S. Bishop’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, July 1-4.
I have the privilege of attending with other St. Cloud diocesan leaders the Catholic Convocation of Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel. This convocation was called by the United States bishops and brought together leaders from throughout the nation to gather and reflect on what it means to share the Gospel in today’s culture. It has been a time of wonderful encouragement and inspiration.
Certainly, an aspect of the inspiration throughout the convocation is Pope Francis’ invitation:
“I invite 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” (The Joy of the Gospel, 3).
Many of the talks, much of the reflection and dialogue revolved around how the Church in the U.S. might extend this same invitation of encounter with Jesus to people everywhere.
What makes this encounter so crucial was expressed for me in the witness talk given by Damon and Melanie Owens who shared beautifully, “We will do for love what we would never do for the law!” Indeed, the invitation to encounter and fall in love with Jesus Christ is the heart of the Church’s mission to the world. We are hard pressed to convince people of the truth of Christ by eloquent arguments or authoritative doctrines, but to see the beauty of the face of Jesus who heals, transforms, and frees us enkindles a love that truly inspires the gift of love in return.
One of the presenters in a breakout session helped me to see poignantly how we as Church might best extend this invitation to folks today. What we need, she said, was “An army of missionary disciples trained in the art of relationship and accompaniment.” Those of us who cherish our Catholic faith must be willing to extend the friendship and care of Jesus to the people we encounter—in our homes, work places, schools, places of leisure. Like Jesus meeting up and walking with the two dejected fellows on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, so too must we be willing to hear the hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments of our contemporaries in order to point out the always present love and companionship of Jesus in the midst of it all.
In a plenary address by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, we were reminded of the urgency of this need to extend Christ’s saving love to our neighbors. We have been gifted with the friendship and love of Jesus in our lives. “It is,” Cardinal Wuerl insisted, “our turn now!” It is for us to share the gift of friendship with Jesus with others. Now it is our turn to extend the gospel message of God’s always present mercy and grace to this generation, to our contemporaries.
It is hoped that the blessings of this convocation might extend widely throughout the Church in the U.S. and foster a new growth in all the baptized to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ the Lord!