7/13/2017 8:45:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Spreading the joy of the Gospel is exhilarating
SPREADING THE JOY: left, Bishop Scharfenberger visits St. Joseph's parish in Troy; above, Robert Weitzman of the Knights of Columbus presents a check for $20,000 to the Bishop for the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville from the K of C's Capital District Conference, fulfilling the last portion of a pledge by the Knights of Columbus to donate more than $100,000 to the shrine. K of C members will make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine Sept. 16.
Read related stories on the convocation and the Auriesville shrine in The Evangelist's print edition. To subscribe, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (518) 453-6688.
'Whether or not it is correct to characterize the visible Church in business terms, we share many characteristics of any business. We may call our constituency "customers" or "parishioners," but we will have very few of them unless they feel they are valued, appreciated and fulfilled.'
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
It's summer. As the hot weather imposes itself upon us, even the most diehard workaholic (no offense intended) can usually find an excuse to make some fun out of down time.
Not that work can't be fun, too: "A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts," says Richard Branson.
He should know! As one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs, his experience has taught him time and time again that the only way any enterprise is going to flourish is if its participants are truly engaged in its mission, love doing what they are doing and feel themselves challenged by the passion to succeed.
How much the better off might our Church be were we to apply this wisdom to ourselves?
Returning to Albany after a weekend in steamy Orlando, Fla., seemed, by contrast, to be a cool break. Yet I, and our diocesan team of four who accompanied me, return fired up by an exhilaration of knowing what a joy spreading the Gospel -- evangelization -- can be.
Though the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" we attended was only four days, July 1-4, the insights, faith witness and experiences that we and thousands of Catholic leaders shared is sure to bear abundant fruit in all of our dioceses and parishes throughout the country.
Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the convocation had many bishops as featured speakers (including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, known for his Word on Fire ministries). We also heard powerful testimony and sound counsel from lay leaders such as best-selling author Patrick Lencioni ("The Amazing Parish") and grand knight Carl Anderson of the Knight of Columbus, who have vast experience in business, marketing and management.
Richard Branson was not on the roster, but I think he would have felt at home here. Whether or not it is correct to characterize the visible Church in business terms -- for its mystical, spiritual core defies labeling -- there is no denying that organizationally we share many characteristics of any business, both local and international in scope.
We may call our constituency "customers" or "parishioners," but we will have very few of them unless they feel they are valued, appreciated and fulfilled. People are hungering spiritually and need to be fed!
It is the mission of the Church to nourish the faithful with the joy of the Gospel, especially those on the peripheries of our communities who are not with us on Sunday mornings. Where are they and how do we reach them? This was a recurring theme during the convocation, in keynotes, panel discussions and the many breakout sessions.
Continuing with the business model, everyone has had the experience of walking into a store or being seated in a dining area only to be left waiting and wondering whether anyone is around to serve you. I suppose a comparable "church" experience is having no one greet you at the door and then having to crawl over someone who is hoarding the end of the pew.
Sometimes when shopping, one may just want to browse and be left alone. In church -- especially if there is a bathroom -- you might see a lot of wandering about, typically during the homily.
Fortunately for us, we might suppose, there are a good number of parishioners who seem contented to be left alone or who do not complain. But don't they deserve more? Will we ask them what we might do better? How many of our regular churchgoing folk would honestly say that they have been overwhelmed by good customer service?
If we dare ask them, is there a conviction that the primary concern of the Church is the well-being and happiness of the whole person -- every person -- spiritual and material, emotional and relational? If not, why not?
Jesus certainly showed Himself to be very focused on persons, especially the poor and most vulnerable, the neglected and marginalized, not just the "good" and "popular" people -- though He visited their homes, too, often earning criticism in the process.
Jesus was accused of dining with sinners. He spent a lot of time with people who had been excluded or judged by false notions of religion, hypocritical attitudes and prejudices -- not to mention the many He healed, fed and set free of the consequences of sin.
Is this what is happening in our churches? Are we, as Branson says of any good business, involving or (in the words of Pope Francis) encountering people? If not, why not? After all, isn't this the way Christ showed us?
The second "good business" quality Branson notes is "fun." Is church fun for you? Is it inappropriate to imagine that being involved in church might become "cool?"
That's how it felt for my colleagues and me to participate in the beautiful, moving liturgical celebrations during the convocation. Many have had experiences in church where we felt uplifted, transformed, enthused, purified, affirmed, enriched, gratified or simply connected with something greater than ourselves.
The more these kinds of things happen, the more likely we might say, "Yes, church is fun."
The last quality is engaging our creative instincts. Branson does not just mention strengths and talents -- we all have them -- but those spontaneous thoughts and passions that are more akin to grace, the surprise impulse of God's Spirit in us.
Another word for this would be "inventiveness." Do we encourage only the "same old, same old" because "we've always done it that way," or are we open to innovative and creative ways of advancing the mission of making Christ's presence felt?
During the convocation, we took good notes and, in our debriefing sessions, even brainstormed on our own how to reenergize the faithful with the joy of the Gospel, reach out to the "nones" (the growing number of people identifying as non-affiliated believers) and welcome even those who are just turned off by anything associated with "church."
We considered that maybe the word "evangelization" can itself be off-putting even to loyal parishioners because of negative associations with "Bible-thumping" and Elmer Gantry-like enthusiasts who come across as judgmental or "holier than though."
Maybe, just "spreading the joy of the Gospel" is the best way to describe the evangelizing role of each of us, as disciples in mission. It really doesn't matter what we call it, so long as we fulfill the "great commission" that Jesus asked us to: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).
Our salvation and that of the whole world depends on this!
Whether or not the Church should be like a good business is something we can debate for a long time. But it doesn't make much sense to think we will grow and thrive if we do what failing businesses do: discourage customers, kill joy and suppress creativity.
Ask anyone who loves a particular parish or faith community what they most like about it. You will also hear something like, "I feel welcome, happy and productive here;" or, "I am free here to become who I am called to be."