A Call for Education Leaders: A Reflection from the Convocation of Catholic Leaders

Mr. Mulloy was chosen to represent the Diocese of Green Bay at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. Below is his reflection of the event:

A Call for Education Leaders: A Reflection from the Convocation of Catholic Leaders

The Church is standing at the precipice of a transforming society. This generation of leaders is necessarily called to respond in a faithful and energetic way. In the words of Pope Francis, “ours is not an age of change, but a change of age.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando from July 1-4, 2017, a gathering of Bishops and lay people which has not been equaled in size or enthusiasm since 1917. This historic gathering sought to bring leaders together to share strategies to serve the Church of now, to bring clarity to the importance of our call to evangelize and to seek unity within the Church. The inspiration for the event was Pope Francis’ document Joy of the Gospel. Nearly 150 bishops and 3,500 Church leaders prayed, learned, and discussed how today’s Church leaders will renew the beauty, intimacy, and community of the Church.

Moment of Truth

Our Church and our nation are witnessing the transformation of the dispositions of society while seeking to advance the same Gospel of the early Christians. Just as the Roman Empire rejected Christians and defied their moral message, so too do we increasingly find a similar rejection and counter-cultural resistance in the Westernized societies. Although the names of adversarial leaders no longer sound or look like Emperor Nero, the vehemence of resistance and the depths with which the peripheries go are no less staggering.

We are at a moment in the Church when her leaders and servants must embrace the message of the Gospel with the same zeal and radical commitment as her early apostles did if we are to spread Christ’s love with the same success.

Message for Leaders

Each arm and vehicle of the Church live out a different apostolate through its unique charism, yet all of these branches have a fundamental call to evangelize and form disciples.

In “Joy of the Gospel,” our Holy Father, Pope Francis, shows us that effective evangelization in today’s society begins with witnessing to joy. We are called to live our faith with a deep joy that leads others to want to know the reason for our joy. This echoes the same language of St. Pope John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Exhortation, Christifideles Laici, when he calls us to witness with our lives. This joy ultimately should allow us an avenue to bring Christ to others. Most simply, to evangelize is to bring Jesus Christ to others through the joy of our life.

“Forming disciples” has become part of our Diocesan vernacular, but many are forgetting the vigor and intentionality with which this task ought to be carried out. At the convocation, the community frequently commented that this task starts with “meeting people where they are at.” We are then called to intentionally and personally invest in people, walking with them and leading them closer to Christ. Discipleship is about accompaniment, and it is about leading someone to know and love Jesus Christ.

The challenge facing leaders is how we evangelize and form disciples in an intentional and systematic way. Here are the five key takeaways that I took from the convocation in response to this challenge.

1. Discipleship as an Organizational Mission.

For the last three decades, the business world has sought to be “mission-oriented.” An organization’s mission statement answers the question: why do we exist? The organizations of our Church must realize the same focus, and do so with haste.  Jesus Christ has already given us the Great Commission; our underlying mission could not be more clear.

Irrespective of our organization’s charism or product, we must keep evangelization at the forefront. Living a mission challenges us to align all of our decisions with this mission statement. Our Catholic businesses, our parishes, apostolates, and charisms must all align their missions to be focused on discipleship and evangelization. Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Amazing Parish, affirmed the crowd this way, “We have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to strive after excellence, and He can surprise us with how he will lead us.”

2. Personal Relationship with Christ

We cannot bring to others what we do not have. Leaders of all Catholic organizations must first start with themselves, focusing on their own personal relationship with Christ and then seeking to share that with others. Leaders must extrapolate this beyond themselves and seek to ensure that all fellow workers of the vineyard are committed to a living out a strong faith life. Sharing beauty, love, and joy, can only be done when we first have this encounter ourselves. This encounter with beauty necessarily compels us to share and focus on the mission.

3. Lead with Beauty

In the closing keynote address, Bishop Robert Barron challenged: “show people beauty, don’t tell them how to think.” The Church has a tremendous beauty, and beauty moves people. There is no need to dumb down or paint over the glory of our Church with beige. When our organizations share the words, traditions, and beauty of the Church it moves others, compelling them towards the Church, and it will advance the cause of our own movement. Bishop Barron concluded, “There is nothing more beautiful than the dying and rising of Jesus.”

4. Engage the Whole Family

In a remark at the close of a panel, Bishop Frank Caggiano proclaimed: “Remember the power of the table,” referring to the importance to sitting down and eating together both in our homes and in our active ministry. When we are ministering to young people, we can only bring them to a place where their family is comfortable. Walking with fathers and mothers necessarily pushes us to minister to their entire family. We know that when families pray together, they stay together. Forming the family has the capacity to impact every periphery of our Church, stabilizing our parishes and greater society.

At a session on education, the Dominican sister sitting next to me reminded: “the family passes on the faith, period.” Our parishes and youth movements must continue to work hard, but it is ultimately the witness of the family and faith in the home which forms the child.

5. Community-Oriented Programming

Our parishes, schools, and religious education programs have been doing a tremendous job teaching content, passing on apologetics and the tenets of our faith, but they have struggled to build a community of people walking together in Christ. The upcoming generations long to belong far more than they long to conform. The upcoming generations need to be welcomed into our communities and formed in the faith through relationship. We need more community building programming – we can then use our communities and intimate groups to grow in the faith and enter into spiritual formation. Sr. Miriam James Heidlan, SOLT noted, highlighting the importance of community, “We can never replace intimacy with ministry.”

Go Forth

Jesus Christ has called us to bring the Gospel to all nations, and Pope Francis has sought to re-enliven this message, calling us to go to the peripheries to bring the message and minister to Christ in others. These peripheries are the forgotten, the minority, and most challengingly, often found within our own parishes and our own hearts. Leaders of all Catholic organizations are challenged to refocus their missions on evangelization and discipleship. This requires that each of us seeks to grow in our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and re-envision how our organizations can intentionally focus their mission on evangelization and discipleship. In the closing session, Lucia Luzondo from the Diocese of San Antonio gave us perhaps the most important reminder, “When you trust that the Lord will do great things through you, He will.”