The Diocese of Superior’s 2021 Fall Conference led off with a message from Bishop James P. Powers on the mission of evangelization and the role of Catholics in bringing Jesus to their communities and to the young.
Now in its second year as a virtual event, the in-person gathering of Catholic school employees, catechetical leaders and parish staff was canceled due to varying COVID-19 infection rates across the 16-county diocese, including the highest rates in the state in Barron County back when the conference was being organized.
In lieu of the scheduled diocesan-wide meeting on Oct. 29 at St. Joseph in Rice Lake, attendees were asked to gather in their parishes for a retreat with Mass, Youtube talks by Bishop Powers and keynote speaker Ryan O’Hara and time for small-group discussion in the morning, followed by an afternoon in-service.
After an introduction by Peggy Schoenfuss, superintendent of schools and director of the Office of Catholic Formation, Bishop Powers opened his presentation by welcoming listeners, blessing them in their ministries, thanking them for their dedication and sharing his gratefulness for the technology that facilitated a virtual gathering. His talk can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYoOhZG2xLA.
Wading through the wake of the pandemic, Bishop Powers said he hopes everyone can see the need for all Catholics to be evangelists. He referenced popes past and present, including St. John Paul II and Pope Francis, who have called on Catholics to commit to a new evangelization, a new era in the life of the church.
Admitting the prospect of sharing one’s faith is “scary” for some people, the bishop said it should be “that most natural thing we do as Christians, as Catholics, our desire to share the love of the Lord with others.”
Bishop Powers observed that sadly, many Catholics were not raised to publicly share their relationship with Jesus. They may have been raised with the facts and taught to pray all the Catholic prayers, but “How many of us were ever taught to just simply sit in silent prayer with our Lord, how many of us have been taught to reflect on those prayers that we rattle off, what they truly do mean for us in our lives, how important that just being quiet in prayer is, that listening for what our Lord wants to tell us or show us of who he is and his love for each one of us.”
If we can’t verbalize that impact in our own lives, he pondered, how can we reach a generation that is no longer willing to accept the status quo of practicing their faith, just because that’s the way it’s always been?
The bishop spoke of the need to first be evangelized ourselves, and encouraged meditative prayer, Scripture studies, the traditional monastic practice of lectio divina (“divine reading” of Scripture) and other means of growing in faith and helping one another grow more comfortable giving witness.
He also asked listeners to commit to the “never-ending journey” of being evangelized and being evangelists. It’s not a linear journey, he added. “Like the seasons of nature and of the church year, it’s cyclical. It’s a journey where our lives intertwine and the events and interactions have an effect on who we are, because God is ever present in it all.”
Referencing the “deep sorrow” in the day’s readings, he reviewed how in Romans 9:1-5, St. Paul is lamenting that so many children of Israel are missing out on God’s gifts, and in the Gospel of Luke 14:1-6, there’s an “inherent sadness” in Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees, who despite watching him so carefully miss out on the heart of his message and the healing gift the Sabbath is meant to be.
For Bishop Powers, the readings called to mind current social trends. He spoke of his fear that many children no longer see the need, the value or the gifts of God, and “they need you to help them find their way back home.”
In calling on catechists, educators and staff members to be evangelists, the bishop clarified that he’s not calling them to go on foreign missions or even to reach out to strangers – he’s asking them to bring their witness to people in the community who are struggling with their faith or those who have never developed an appreciation for the gifts the church can offer.
The bishop then quoted Mathew 9, verses 37-38: “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few,” so ask the master to send more laborers. Saying he doesn’t believe the passage refers solely to ordained laborers, Bishop Powers said all are called and commissioned to be evangelists, to do as Jesus did – to show love and mercy to all.
In closing, he prayed listeners’ hearts would be open to the continuing call to discipleship and assured them the Lord would be with them, giving them the grace, wisdom, fortitude and strength to respond to the call. He encouraged them to ask God how best to be his presence, his evangelist, “so that never again will anyone miss out on the gifts Jesus has for them, because there was no one to evangelize them, no one to show them Jesus. May God bless you, this day and every day.”