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Convocation reflection: Becoming a Church of the peripheries

​by Mark Mann

I had the distinct privilege of participating in the Convocation of Catholic Leaders last summer. As our diocesan delegation plans for the future, I continue to reflect on the experience – unpacking the conversations, times of prayer and spirit of joy that pervaded the gathering.

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, one of the featured speakers, reflected on the words of Pope Francis: We are not experiencing an “age of change,” but a “change of the age.” As a Church, we find ourselves – along with everyone on the planet – in the liminal space and time between the ages. It could be considered a moment of crisis. But Archbishop Gomez sees this as a moment of opportunity for the Church. He offered words of encouragement and hope: “Siempre adelante.” (Always forward.) We listen to the call of the Lord and respond – going out to the peripheries, to meet and walk with the people we find.
 
Becoming a Church that goes out to the peripheries was a major theme of the convocation. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark challenged us to expand our peripheral vision, to see those who are living on the periphery of society and on the fringes of the Church. Going forward to the peripheries, this moment is our opportunity to express compassion and practice solidarity with people who live there.
 
Who is on the peripheries? The gathering offered many breakout sessions as opportunities to listen and reflect on the reality of the many different groups of people here in the United States. Two groups I turned my attention to were those who are single in the Church and families experiencing hurt and trying to heal from wounds. Listening to personal stories, these sessions were the time to do exactly what Cardinal Tobin exhorted us to do – expand our peripheral vision and allow what we see on the periphery, who we see there, to melt our hearts. To change our hearts.
 
In the apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis urges all of us to cultivate missionary hearts. “A missionary heart never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. A [missionary heart] realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 45)
 
The great gift of participating in the convocation was to realize that this time in our Church’s history in the United States is a moment of grace, not crisis. The Lord Jesus, through the working of the Holy Spirit, continues to gather a people to himself.
 
He is gathering a Church that is dynamically responsive to the real needs of real people, especially those on the margins of society.
 
He is gathering a Church in which her members address questions and disagreements with discernment and courtesy.
 
He is gathering a Church that affirms and celebrates the diversity of its members, in which there is no division by age, economic class, gender, orientation or color of skin.
 
He is gathering a Church in which each disciple is both learner and teacher, sharing in the knowledge and skills of how to live the Gospel way of life, serving side by side, praying together, living in peace.
 
He is gathering a Church in which pastors are in partnership with their people, empowering the lay faithful to express their baptismal call fully in service to others; a Church in which there are no “unemployed baptized.”
 
He is gathering a Church whose liturgical life is bold, vibrant and elegant, inspiring those with doubts that there are possibilities of living a life of authentic, abundant joy.
 
Siempre adelante.
 
Mark Mann is the director of family, marriage, youth and young adult ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.