Are We Doing The Right Things?

How the Convocation of Catholic Leaders is helping us move forward

By Father Matthew Wertin
“To form leaders who will be equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, while offering fresh insights informed by new research, communications strategies, and successful models.”

This was this stated goal of the recent first-of-its-kind event sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Orlando, Florida at the beginning of July. It was a work in the making for the past five years, which allowed the host, Bishop John Noonan to tease Timothy Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, “When you called and said you were going to be coming, you didn’t say how many people you invited!”

Well over 3,000 people from across the nation, including hundreds of bishops, priests and religious, with 80 percent of dioceses and numerous other essential organizations, were present for this turning-point in the history of the Catholic Church on these shores.

“A new Catholic moment in the USA” where we are beginning to come together better than ever, in order to essentially, “Go and make disciples”(Mt. 28:19; The Great Commission). This is the great unifying theme, whether one uses titles such as “Intentional Disciples” or “Dynamic Catholics,” by-in-large we are finding that so many of us are eager for the same thing, to carry the torch of the Light of Christ forward into the dark places, for new healing and happiness. It was electrifying that Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln likened the event to a “World Youth Day for adults.”

Bishop Stephen Berg travelled with his delegation, comprised of members of his senior staff from the Catholic Pastoral Center. With The Joy of the Gospel (EG) as our beacon and compass, we are accepting the challenge of Pope Francis to be missionary disciples, under the protection and through the tender care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea (Maris Stella). As Archbishop Garcia-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio reminded us, “Con Ella, todo. Sin Ella, nada.”

PARTICIPANTS CHALLENGED WITH ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS

Using the “See – Judge – Act” method, the participants engaged in wonderful conversations surrounding the essential questions: “What’s missing? What’s working? and What are our next steps?” Furthermore, we were asked to consider such things as, “If you started from scratch, how you would structure the parish or diocese (personnel, programs, resources, communications, etc.) for the sake of mission priorities,” reminding us that something as common as a budget is actually a theological statement, reflecting the old idiom, “put your money where your mouth is.”

People are our greatest asset, which means one of the greatest needs is identifying, calling, equipping and networking them with a plan and a purpose. To that end, one of the most important questions we should be asking those we serve is: “What do you need, and how can we help?” The true difference, however, is making sure we answer the more fundamental and pressing question: “Are we doing the right things?” To get the results we’re looking for, it is well-formed followers of Jesus rooted in prayer and active in their particular role or vocation! To get there, it is good to have on our lips, “Tu vales mucho,” and “siempre adelante.” Our value to God makes us ready to persevere. We are worth it, so the mission is worth it.

YOUTH AS A FOCUS

We were reminded that instead of focusing on others in our parish boundaries as “objects or targets” of our ministry, we might instead consider them as agents of ministry, ready to be incorporated in a meaningful way, especially when it comes to youth. It is for that reason why our Holy Father has called for the upcoming synod on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. “What is my place in the Church, and why does it matter?” If we can help them answer those two questions, the result will be more powerful than dynamite, bringing them from, “Nobodies with no place,” to a real experience of belonging and purpose.

Further, mapping out the way with paths of discipleship at the parish level includes the encounter – such as through a retreat experience, introduction to spiritual basics, ongoing formation, discerning charisms, activating gifts, leadership development, then discipling or accompanying. Others help people find out where to plug in and what are the next steps to take. And it all begins with this: “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; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (EG, 3). That life-changing experience convinces us of the first proclamation: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (EG, 164).

If the diocese is “a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop…called to missionary conversion,” (EG, 30) and a parish is “a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach,” then this is the new standard with which we evaluate our current state of affairs and make decisions.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR DIOCESE

One of the greatest things that happened for us at the Convocation was coming to the exciting realization that what we are doing with our Strategic Plan and other initiatives has us on track for authentic renewal along these lines. Therefore, please stay tuned for the next phases of our development, which will include the unveiling of our completed plan in the December print issue of Today’s Catholic. Then, all pastors and administrators are invited to begin thinking about who are the best candidates for a delegation from their own communities, since this upcoming May 2018 Study Days will be our very own Convocation, taking our initiatives to the next level by focusing on leadership development and implementation of best practices. This will allow us to continue connecting the dots with all our events and offerings through an effective scope and sequence. These delegations could include clergy and laity, staff and volunteers, professionals and young people – whoever is identified through experience, consultation and prayerful discernment as someone who can help the parish take these steps together. Ideally, this would end up being a group of approximately five to seven people, who give their consent after being invited to participate, followed by prayerful preparation, plus disposing themselves for the upcoming event.

Ultimately, our goal will be simple: helping our priests feel more confident and equipped in their ability to lead their parishes and people well, and helping our parishioners feel more excited and valued as a meaningful part of the mission. More information about the Study Days 2018 Convocation, and how to work with the delegations leading up to it, will be outlined in the same December diocesan newspaper, plus other publications, such as the email blast, as needed.

GET INVOLVED

For those eager to get started, besides The Joy of the Gospel, the U.S. Bishops have published, Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization. Finally, please enjoy the actual footage from the Florida gathering, especially the plenary sessions. They can be viewed here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/get-involved/meetings-and-events/convocation-2017/convocation-2017-live-stream.cfm.

From this footage, my particular recommendation, since it was by far the biggest highlight, would be to go to “Day 4,” click the icon in the upper-left corner of the player to view the playlist, then select videos 4 and 5, parts 1 and 2 of the final plenary session, which feature Bishop Robert Barron and Patrick Lencioni. God bless you, thank you for all you do and take courage in accepting the call to be great for Jesus!