Last week, I attended the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America". This was an important moment in the history of the Church in America. This huge gathering in Orlando of Catholics from around the nation was attended by over 3,000 people, including over a hundred bishops and many priests, deacons and religious. It was years in the making and was a major accomplishment for the staff of the U.S. Bishops' Conference
I have to admit that I approached the event with considerably less than enthusiasm. I don't like conferences — I am not a networker and I am an introvert who finds crowds uncomfortable and exhausting. I have also attended too many church events that were disappointing
But this Convocation vastly exceeded my expectations. It was extremely well organized, the liturgies were beautiful (especially the music, which was exquisite), and it had a strong unifying theme that was very practical. In fact, I found the event to be virtually a mini-retreat, and I was very uplifted and actually experienced spiritual healing of some long-standing wounds
The event was organized around the themes presented by the Holy Father in the document The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). Boiled down to an "elevator pitch", it was all about how we can share the Gospel with people in our modern world, especially those who are excluded and marginalized (who are in what the Pope calls "the peripheries") so they can experience the saving and healing joy that comes from a personal loving relationship with Jesus Christ. To do this, we have to make sure that we have that kind of relationship, and we have to overcome the barriers in our own lives to sharing it with others and the stumbling blocks that that prevent them from accepting it. One of the primary ways that we are called to do this is by living a life of mercy and love, encountering and accompanying people in the difficulties of their lives
The decision to use The Joy of the Gospel as the heart of the Convocation was inspired. This document was unjustly ignored in America because, I believe, the Holy Father had the audacity to express doubts about the justice of the world's economic system. This is due to the extent of the materialism and consumerism that has infected American society, and the almost religious fervor that people have when it comes to "capitalism"
In fact, the document is a beautiful call to experience the Gospel. As the Holy Father says up front,

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey in years to come.

This "new chapter" has to begin with a revived relationship with Jesus. The Holy Father goes on to say:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since "no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord".

The Holy Father clearly identifies many obstacles to experiencing and sharing the Gospel, particularly a sense of complacency and self-orientation. He is particularly pointed in challenging pastoral workers not to fall into the temptations he calls "spiritual sloth", "sterile pessimism, "spiritual worldliness", all of which deaden our souls and dampen the desire to bring the Gospel to others
The Convocation was designed to blast us out of those dead-end attitudes, and, judging by what I felt and saw, it was a success. Coming out of it, I think the participants were renewed in our confidence in the Gospel and eager to bring it to the peripheries of our troubled world
I'll have more to say about the Convocation in following posts