Last April Archbishop William Lori called on lay people serving in leadership and formative roles in our parishes and schools to save the date for what he hopes to be the First Annual Convocation of Lay Ecclesial Ministers. Yesterday we gathered at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, men and women from across the Archdiocese in many different ministerial areas to pray, share, learn, and be inspired to move forward in making and “re-making” disciples in our school and parish communities.
Feast of the Guardian Angels:
Archbishop Lori presided over Morning Prayer for the feast day of the Guardian Angels which he called one of ” the most endearing celebrations of the liturgical calendar.” He gave a brief reflection on the angels as protectors, messengers, and worshippers in spirit and in truth: “Angels protect us as God writes straight with the crooked lines of our lives.”
Gratitude and the Challenge Ahead:
After the prayer service had ended, Archbishop Lori addressed the assembly, expressing gratitude for all that our lay ecclesial ministers do in the service of the Gospel, and offering “insight into the grace and challenge of handing on the faith.” He spoke in depth about Pope Francis and the tone he has set this year of “simplicity, directness, and pastoral availability,” earning him the nickname of the world’s parish priest: “He’s winning a new hearing for the Gospel.”
Speaking of the two recently published interviews, the Archbishop reflected that the Holy Father is telling us and the world to “put first things first.” He emphasized that what should come first and give meaning to how we live is “falling in love with God.” In seeking to place our lives under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who draws us ever closer to our Redeemer, we are led more deeply into the Father’s love. Thus we begin to crowd out sin from our lives with grace. Once we fall in love with God our lives change completely. The teachings of the Church no longer seem unreasonable or harsh, but a beautiful consequence of the faith which transforms our lives in body, mind, and spirit.
As Saint Augustine said, “Without God, I can’t; Without me, God won’t.”
Pope Francis is offering a fresh reading of the Gospel, reaching out to all, including those living in the post-modern world. The challenge in the New Evangelization is threefold: reaching out to reopen the doors to those who have fallen away from our Church, to open the door more widely to those who are in need physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and thirdly, to make evangelization a continual, lifelong process for all the engaged faithful.
Reflecting on the encyclical “Lumen Fidei,” Archbishop Lori said we are called to engage the Church in the New Evangelization by going out to those who no longer come to us. So many people today speak of being spiritual and not religious, often believing that what is good and right is a matter of opinion. The task before us is to reach out in this era when only 20-25% of Catholics actually attend Mass regularly and with sacramental practice declining.
In yesteryear not only was the spiritual and academic lives of families at the heart of the parish and school, but much of their social lives revolved around parish activities. Archbishop Lori reinforced that the Church’s mission of evangelization urges us today to bring the Gospel outward, beyond the walls of the Church, relying on each other. As the number of priests declines, deacons and lay ministers are called to bring forth “a multiplicity and diversity of gifts” as we seek to form disciples.
“Forming Intentional Disciples:”
The Archbishop spoke of the book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus” by Sherry A. Weddell which calls us to be more than cultural Catholics, rather to be radically converted Christians who are God’s instruments in raising up other intentional disciples. When we put ourselves “in the path of the Holy Spirit, God’s mercy will work through us.” As we respond to God’s grace to foster and renew the Church through intentional discipleship, we will see the fruit in vocations to the priesthood, religious life, with more deacons, lay ecclesial ministers, and strong, committed Catholic families.
Workshops: The Challenge of the Secularized Society:
The afternoon schedule offered four workshops. I was particularly interested in “Witnessing to the Gospel in the Secularized Society” with Deacon Curtis Turner, principal of St. Francis Academy, and Ximena DeBroeck, Archdiocesan Coordinator of Adult and Sacramental Formation in the Division of Catechetical and Pastoral Formation.
Their presentation focused on the challenges of extending the Christian witness to Gospel values in a world where many turn on and off their religious values for the sake of convenience. We should model our Catholic values in all aspects of our lives. There should be “no vacation from being Catholic.”
In a culture where many people prefer to communicate digitally rather than face to face, where text messages number in the hundreds, even the thousands for some people each month, we are often challenged to witness the Gospel to people who do not trust institutions, including the Church, and who again claim to be spiritual, not religious.
Deacon Turner said that we have to understand the secular world in order to minister to it, to meet the people where they are, so to speak. We must BE intentional disciples before we can witness to the faith. Preaching with our lives must be part of our witness.
In preparation for today’s Convocation, Deacon Turner asked his students at St. Francis Academy who belong to “The Kingdom Gents” to offer some advice for those attending this workshop today.
Here are their four tips for those serving young people in parishes and schools:
1. Continue to pray visibly and often where we can see you, not ashamed of your faith.
2. Be very aware of the world in which you minister. Be familiar with our songs and their lyrics, and our TV shows; Know our slang, but don’t use it.
3. Continue to tell us about how God helped shape and form your decisions as adults.
4. Keep giving us directions using positive wording. Tell us what to do, instead of what not to do. (The example used was to tell young people to “wait for marriage” to have sex, rather than telling them not to have premarital sex.)
Renewed and Invigorated:
I am grateful for the time and effort that went into planning for this Convocation. The Archbishop fired us up and inspired us to renew our commitment to the mission of our schools and parishes, which is the mission of the Church to the New Evangelization. He certainly gave me much to think about in the days and months ahead. I look forward to making this day a part of my calendar each year.
God is good!! All the time!!
For More Insight into Intentional Discipleship:
Enjoy this 28-minute video: http://vimeo.com/66741857
Sherry Weddell talks about the Catherine of Siena Institute & her book “Forming Intentional Disciples” with Ralph Martin on “The Choices We Face.”