A Reflection on the Convocation of Catholic Leaders


By David Spesia, the diocesan director of the Newman Institute for Lay Formation 

An opening riddle: What might Orlando in July and a breath of fresh air have in common?

Acceptable answers: The 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders–or–the Holy Spirit blowing through the battered–but not broken–body of the Church 🙂

The experience seemed like: one part national “world youth day,” with a powerful presence of young adults, and many others exhibiting a renewed young-at-heart status; one part pilgrimage, with 3500 amazing companions from across the country; one part incredible retreat, with heavenly liturgies and dynamic nightly devotions; and one part “killer” conference, with star-studded keynote addresses, witness talks and panel discussions.

Of course, the preferred terminology was “convocation”–as in, “a coming together.” It was an assembly led by scores of Bishops and their respective delegations. It was a gathering of people who represented the entire body of the Church, whose authentic unity in diversity was on full display.

The operative word throughout the event was “conversation,” and the intention was clearly to engage as many diverse voices as possible–and to spark ongoing conversations at the dioceses and parishes throughout the U.S.  The call to ongoing personal and ecclesial conversion was clear throughout. Even though the preparation materials described all of the participants as “protagonists,” it seemed that the delegates were even more like actors on the stage of a divinely inspired drama–with the promised Advocate leading the way.

In addition to calling forth delegations from around the country, the Bishops led by contributing reflections, facilitating the panel discussions, and listening to the joys and concerns of all present. Four great themes from Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel framed the conversation in the plenary sessions:

  1. Charting the Landscape and Mission Field: As the Greek root of the word indicates, this current time of “crisis” is a transition between what is passing away and what is coming next; it is, therefore, a kairos moment–an opportune time for the Lord’s ongoing activity to unfold (H. Ospino). It is time for the Church to again be poor and be for the poor, per the charge of Holy Father Francis.
  2. The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship: Rooted in evangelical discernment of the signs of the times, we must declare ourselves to be in a permanent state of mission (Pope Francis). In addition, we must understand that the goal or end of evangelization is to address poverty in all its forms, by fostering the habits of divine intimacy, authentic friendship and spiritual multiplication (C. Martin).
  3. Going to the Peripheries: Where there is great suffering, Jesus is already there; the only question is whether or not we will be there with Him (C. Anderson). We must see and go outto meet all those on margins–whether these be economic, cultural, geographic, generational, or existential peripheries.
  4. Spirit-filled Evangelizers Equipped for Excellence: Poured out upon all the baptized, the Holy Spirit both dwells within and inspires all those who evangelize (Bishop Malone). Boldness and fearlessness must mark this new age of missionary outreach, and bearing fruit will require a commitment to accountability (P. Lencioni). Bishop Barron’s capstone address address spoke to not only three great threats (a mythological divide between faith and reason which he called “scientism”; a culture of indifference or a “whatever” mentality; and a culture of self-invention), but also three great opportunities (linked to the True and the Good and the Beautiful).

Although the phrase “new Pentecost” might seem either too dramatic or too trite for such an event, this intentional re-framing of the Church in the U.S. in terms of missionary discipleship was clearly essential for this moment in history. Outreach to suffering souls must be a primary focus in this post-Christian transition of culture, if a more fully human culture is going to have the chance to emerge.

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders seemed to be a moment when the bruised body of the Church, after having endured an extended coronary attack, received the supernatural defibrillator it needed.  Along with these words from Pope Francis, let’s pray for the ongoing pastoral and missionary conversion which must follow:

“I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort
to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion
which cannot leave things as they presently are.
‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough.
Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission’.” 
(EG, n. 25)

Come, Holy Spirit!

P.S. For a short sample of the Convocation, check out Discipleship at the Center of Convocation: 3-minute video clip from CNS.
P.P.S. For a full sampling of plenary sessions, Masses and devotions, follow this link to the USCCB’s Convocation 2017 Video on Demand.