Convocation of Catholic Leaders
Today day I had the honor of being the principal celebrant and homilist at the opening Mass for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando. Here is my homily from the Mass.
Convocation of Catholic Leaders
July 1, 2017
Feast of St. Junipero Serra
Thanks be to God for this splendid gathering! Back home at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral we’d call this a “two collection” crowd.
These happy days of our long anticipated convocation of Catholic leaders gives us a cherished chance to welcome and come to know better:
bishops, priests, and deacons
consecrated women and men religious
diocesan leaders and pastoral ministers,
reps from Catholic organizations, schools, hospitals,
parishes and movements.
Most of all, these moments will provide us a ripe moment to acknowledge, welcome, and get to know even more… Jesus! For He is here! He gave us His word, a word from The Word, as we just heard, “Whenever two or three gather in my name, I am there in the midst of them!”
The Jesus here now in our midst calls us to discipleship, summons us to unity, imparts to us joy, and sends us on mission.
You get those four words? Discipleship, unity, joy, and mission. Get used to them! You’ll be sick of them come Tuesday! There’s a tattoo parlor not far from here with a sale on a special tattoo with those four words: Discipleship, unity, joy, and mission
At this opening Mass, on this first Saturday of the month when we traditionally honor our blessed Mother, Mary, reflect for a moment on the episode we call the Visitation recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel. She has just been told by the Archangel Gabriel that she is to be the mother of our Savior. She is thus the first disciple, attentive to God’s word, open to Jesus; she is eager for unity, closeness with her kin St. Elizabeth; she goes on a mission to tell another the glad tidings of the Lord’s imminent arrival; she and Elizabeth, as well as the two babies in their wombs, Jesus and St. John the Baptist, leap for joy. Mary, a model of discipleship, unity, joy, and mission.
“The Joy of the Gospel,” the title of the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, is the theme of this historic convocation. In that teaching, the Holy Father proposes that discipleship united for mission will be characterized by and effective only with joy.
In the opening years of last century, a young French graduate student sought room and board with a family. This student considered himself an atheist, an opponent of religion, convinced that life was in the end empty and meaningless. While living with this family, he sensed the stirrings of a faith, the beginnings of a search, an openness to the beyond. He had fallen in love with this family, moved by their tenderness, their love, their faith, and, especially, their joy. Before long, he embraced the Catholic faith, and became one of the most towering philosophers of the 20th century. His name was Jacques Maritain. When asked the reason for his conversion, he replied, “Because I was fortunate to live with a family who smiled and laughed.” The family was that of Leon Bloy, another monumental intellectual, the same writer who claimed, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.”
Joy is not pleasure, it is not giddiness; joy is not some syrupy, superficial feel-goodness, is it?
Joy, as St. Paul teaches, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God. St. Thomas Aquinas will add that joy flows from hope: if we trust that all is in God’s hands, that all works for the good of those who believe, then no trial, adversity, or setback – and God knows we got a bumper crop of those – can crush us.
Remember Malcom Muggeridge? Thirty-five years ago, that British agnostic followed Mother Teresa on her rounds in Calcutta, to produce a book and documentary that would be known as Something Beautiful for God.
“Mother, please help me understand,” he one day pleaded with Mother Teresa. “I watch you pick-up dying beggars abandoned in the gutter, covered with vermin, their own waste, dirt, blood. You embrace them, tenderly lift them into your wagons, take them back to bathe them, bandage them, feed them, place them in clean beds. I am near nausea watching you. But, you and your sisters are happy! You are smiling! How do I get some of this joy?”
“Mr. Muggeridge,” the now-saint replied. “Just look at the word: J-O-Y. These are your priorities if you want joy. J – Jesus; O—others; Y—last, yourself.”
A big part of the reason behind this promising convocation, folks, is that we, your pastors, believe with Pope Francis that a renewal of joy is essential for a deepening of Catholic vitality and confidence today. How we are tempted to concentrate on problems, worries, bad news, scandals, darkness in the Church. Lord knows we can’t ignore them, but neither can we be dominated by them. We cannot become, in the folksy term of Pope Francis, “a Church of sourpusses.”
We gather on the feast of our newest saint, Junipero Serra. His acclaimed string of missions, from San Diego to San Francisco, were renowned for their security, education, healthcare, and, of course, evangelization, But the Franciscan historian, Antonine Tibesar, notes that that the missions were also known for their play, the laughter of children, their songs, dances, games, the celebrations of feasts. They were known for their joy. And thus people came. Thus people stayed.
People may claim that they do not want faith, hope, or love. Rare is the person who does not crave joy.
“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There flows laughter and good red wine.
May it ever be so!
So pens Hilaire Belloc.
You know back home in New York, we are near completion of the repair and restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. One of the improvements we made as to install huge glass doors at the main entrance, so the hundreds of thousands who pass daily can at least gaze inside the Cathedral.
On Easter Sunday morning, at Mass from the main altar, I could see hundreds crowded outside looking in. As I exited in procession and the massive glass doors opened, I was able to greet some of the people, and one lady asked, “Father, can I go in?”
“Of course,” I replied. “That’s why we’re here. Welcome!”
“Thanks. I was looking in from outside.” She went on. “I could see people praying, listening, united in whatever was going on in there. And they seemed happy. There seemed to be joy in there. I want to go in!”
Come to think about it, that’s not a bad description at all of the mission of the Church.
“…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart…” pines St. Paul in this afternoon’s reading from God’s Word. An apt yearning for us as well as we commence our convocation.”