I am writing these words from Rome, where I am part of a delegation of American bishops who are planning for V Encuentro. We are on a weeklong pilgrimage that includes meetings with Vatican officials.
The Encuentro is a process of engagement and encounter, being organized by my brother bishops in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. There will be a series of local “encuentros” taking place around the country next year and the process will culminate in a National Encuentro gathering to be held September 2018 in Texas.
The goal is to form leaders and to inspire Hispanics, and indeed the whole Church, with a new sense of our “continental mission” to spread the Gospel and to build the kingdom of God in the Americas.
As I have been praying this past week in Rome, my thoughts have been with the elections we are preparing for back home in the United States.
My friend Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix last week released the newest edition of his “Catholics in the Public Square.” I had the privilege of writing the introduction and I recommend it as a solid guide for thinking about the challenges we face in witnessing to the Church’s vision for human life and human society.
Giving joyful witness and remaining faithful to the Lord — these will always be our challenges. The stakes are higher and the issues more complicated as our world moves further away from God.
During this election season, I have noticed that a lot of people seem discouraged. It is a temptation that I understand. But we must overcome it. We can look at our society and think it can never change — that we have started down a path and it is too late to turn around; that there is too much entrenched money and self-interest; too many “false idols” and false ideas about freedom and happiness.
I am sure the Roman Empire looked that way to the first Christians. I am sure the struggle looks impossible right now for our Christian brothers and sisters suffering persecution in the Middle East and Africa.
But it is worth remembering that the Church is the oldest surviving institution in human history. Empires have crumbled, nations and political movements have risen and fallen. What remains and what continues to be alive — in every corner of the world — is the Church that Jesus established on the rock of St. Peter.
I was also thinking this week as we saw Pope Francis — that it was exactly a year ago that the successor of St. Peter made his pilgrimage to the United States.
And during this visit, again and again, our Holy Father called us to remember our great mission as disciples of Jesus, as the Church.
He said: “The Church … treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites clinging to their own security.”
Maybe this election, maybe these times we are living in — maybe they are meant to shake us up, to wake us up from our routine habits, from the half-measures we have accepted in our Christian life? Maybe God is calling us to recognize that we cannot remain comfortable, that we no longer have the security of living in a society that reaffirms and supports our values?
Our country needs renewal. Not only political renewal. We need a renewal that is moral, spiritual and cultural. That kind of renewal takes a longer time. Because it is not about elections or candidates or about policies. That kind of renewal is personal, it’s about us.
The renewal our nation needs begins in your heart and mine. It begins in our families and our parishes. It means knowing who we are, where we came from and why we are here. It means knowing — and living — the beautiful plan of God for our lives.
A year ago Pope Francis gave the American Church a new national saint, St. Junípero Serra. He told us to follow his example — and his words are good advice for us in the weeks and years ahead:
“Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all a reality which shaped the way he lived: ¬°Siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. … Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you.
And let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us to keep moving always forward on our mission, to lead us to a new encounter with our brothers and sisters.