As I write, I am preparing to leave for Orlando, Florida, to attend a historic gathering — “Convocation of Catholic Leaders,” organized by my brothers in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishops and more than two dozen pastoral leaders from Los Angeles will be joining me for the convocation — which will bring together almost all of the nation’s bishops and several thousand local Church leaders from around the country.
The theme of the meeting is “The Joy of the Gospel in America” and we will be considering the meaning of Pope Francis’ vision for our mission of the new evangelization here in the United States and throughout the American continents.
I am really looking forward to this chance to pray, worship and build our friendships and strategize.
And I think all of us in the Church share a sense of urgency about the rapid process of de-Christianization that we see — not only in our society, but also throughout the Western Hemisphere.
For most of the past 2,000 years, the Church has found herself in a culture that she helped to build — a culture shaped by the vision and values of the Gospel. This is no longer the case.
Our society is now very deliberately trying to “un-remember” its Christian roots and deconstruct all that was built on top of these roots.
This is why the struggle for religious freedom is so important. There are powerful forces at work in our society that would force the Church, and all those who believe in Christ, to reject our beliefs as a condition for living and working in our society.
There is legislation in Sacramento right now, Assembly Bill 569, that would force religious employers, including schools, to hire people who do not agree with the core values of the religion. It would also dictate what kind of health care services we provide to our employees.
We face legislation of that type almost every year here in California. Last year it was a bill to require religious colleges to accept practices that violate their consciences.
So we need to continue working and praying until our country once more recognizes that the most fundamental human right after the right to life is the right to believe in God and the right to order our lives according to our beliefs.
The broader point for the Church is this: We now live in a cultural moment in which there are many “competing Gospels” — many different possibilities for how to live our lives, all of which promise us happiness and fulfillment. This presents challenges to our work of evangelization.
So it is good that we are gathering this week in Orlando. All of us in the Church — not just bishops and priests and “professional Catholics” — need to work together to find pastoral strategies that “fit” our cultural moment. We need to find new ways of going out to reach our neighbors.
Getting ready for this convocation, I have been rereading “The Joy of the Gospel,” which sets out Pope Francis’ thrilling vision for evangelization.
And again I am struck by his call for all of us to live as apostles, as missionary disciples.
As the pope reminds us, we do not need to wait until we are perfect or holy. We do not need to be “trained” Church professionals.
All of us, whoever we are, are called to proclaim God’s love with joy and confidence — by our words and actions, by the witness of our lives.
We face challenges in this culture, we face difficulties and adversity. Despite these realities, this is a great time — and an exciting time to be Catholic! And our joy at knowing Jesus pushes us “always forward,” as the great missionary of America’s first evangelization, St. Junípero Serra, used to say.
Our Lord sends us out today — just as he sent out the saints and missionaries before us. He sends us out for the same purpose — to proclaim his love to those who are lost and confused about the meaning of life; to proclaim his freedom to those who are oppressed by injustice and poverty and the burdens of living.
We have found Jesus! We know he is risen and he is living with us — that he goes with us now as a friend, to enlighten us and strengthen us. What a beautiful surprise to meet Jesus and to know his love! This is the reason we are Christians. And this is always the motive for the Church’s mission of evangelization.
Our mission is born from our discovery of God. We have seen how he loves us, saves us and changes the meaning and direction of our lives. And we cannot keep such a gift to ourselves! We feel such urgency to share this love with our neighbors.
So pray for me this week and know that I will be praying for you.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help all of us to know and to share the joy of the Gospel.