TOBET got a jolt of theological caffeine over the July 4th weekend! That is, we were invited to participate in the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, sponsored by the USCCB and totally exceeding all our expectations.
This event didn’t appear on CNN or 60 Minutes, but it was BIG. Whenever the whole conference of bishops gets together with the laity to talk about the Church… oh, wait! It’s never happened before!
This conference was the first of its kind, sponsored by the bishops of the United States, along with delegations of lay people and religious from nearly every diocese in the country. The goal was the re-animation of the Church… its ardor and fervor and joy.
Fresh back from the Convocation, I must say: I think it worked.
Though organized by the bishops, and attended by them in force, it was a forum for the laity, in association with their bishops. The bishops seem to recognize that the laity must be encouraged and empowered to fulfill their baptismal task: to bring the Good News to the world they live in.
We have unfortunately experienced a return to clericalism in the last few decades, as unprepared and agenda-driven laypeople have sometimes hijacked the true theology of the Church. In response, we’ve taken refuge in the authority of the clergy to preserve the Faith, but that is bad theology in itself. Our priests are not the Board of Directors of the Church, and they only become so when we laypeople neglect to carry our weight. Our job is to renew the temporal order in which we live.
At the Convocation, this order seemed to be restored.
“The laity are on the front lines and must have a clear consciousness of actually being the Church.”
(Pope Pius XII)
“Pastors have the duty to set forth clearly the principles concerning the purpose of creation and the use to be made of the world, and to provide moral and spiritual helps for the renewal of the temporal order in Christ. Laymen ought to take on themselves as their distinctive task this renewal of the temporal order.”
(Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem)
In other words, our pastors are responsible for our proper understanding of the Faith and our spiritual sustenance, and we are responsible for taking that out into the world. That is the last word of every Mass: we are sent out to renew the world. (In Latin, “Ite missa est” = GO!)
At the Convocation, there were more than fifty “breakout” sessions by topic, in addition to plenary sessions, which everyone attended. Just to give you a taste, some of the key presenters were Bishop Robert Barron, Helen Alvaré, Jason Evert, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of Columbus, Sister Agnes Mary Donovan, Superior General of the Sisters of Life, Curtis Martin of FOCUS, our own Dallas Bishop Edward Burns, and that TOB lady from Texas, Monica Ashour!
Do you notice the pattern? These are people who speak from the heart of the Church and are not engaged in advancing a political agenda. The bishops could easily have found all sorts of people more than happy to speak about “changing the Church” to conform to the spirit of the world. They were not invited.
On that most troublesome subject for the world, sexuality, the ancient, true, good and beautiful teachings of the Church were proclaimed with hope and joy. People who’ve been in the trenches spoke what they know from experience to be the truth: the Church’s teaching about human sexuality is the only real source of hope. For anyone and everyone, no matter how far someone has wandered or how deeply scarred, the Church has the only answer that can give genuine hope.
To put it bluntly, by the caliber of speakers engaged and the openness with which they invited conversation, the bishops have put out their shingle for all the world to see: “We are in the business of authentic Catholic teaching.”
Surely this is an occasion for joy.
During the Convocation, there were daily Masses and evening devotionals. There was no rock or rap music, no ladies in tutus dancing up the aisles, no banners or balloons. Instead, classical art adorned the ballroom walls, heavenly chant was sung by an extraordinarily well-prepared choir, and the Eucharist was reverenced. People knelt without kneelers. Dozens of priests heard confessions. Adoration was available all day, every day, in a most beautiful makeshift chapel.
One of my favorite experiences was the Eucharistic procession, out into the impressive Florida humidity with a huge complement of the faithful led by Archbishop Lori who bore the Eucharist with gravity and love (and not a single indication that he was perishing in the heat).
If the Convocation is an indication of the aesthetic and focus of those at the very top of our Church in the US, then we are blessed indeed. The Church in America seems to be making a wholehearted return to beauty and truth, after decades pocked by gaucheness and mediocrity.
After three days, we were “sent,” like all apostles and disciples are sent, out into the world bearing the Good News. As TOBET president Daniel Lehew concluded: “The Church can seem so big and disjointed at times. The Convocation of Catholic Leaders, as I experienced it, was a beautiful display of the Church as a unified, strong and joyful family unit of Christians.”
So let us have hope! The Church in America, at its highest levels of authority, is embracing and proclaiming with joy the genuine good news of Christ.
Sheryl Collmer works and writes for TOBET in Irving, Texas.