“So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” 2 Cor 5:20
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
St. Paul calls us ambassadors for Christ. Think of God appealing through us! As we are in the season of Lent, it is a good time to reflect upon how our thoughts, words, and deeds may or may not truly expose the goodness of God for all people. God brings us together as one people, a people who acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.
God wishes to spread His kingdom also by means of the laity, namely, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. “In this kingdom creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. Clearly then a great promise and a great trust is committed to the disciples: “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (Lumen Gentium, 36). Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his or her own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.
The state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. “If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle” (Christifideles Laici, 3).
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB). The FCCB is comprised of the bishops of Florida, who with the laity, engage the three arms of government through review of public policy by analyzing its moral dimensions and, as ambassadors for Christ, advocate for the common good through the teachings of the Catholic Church. God appeals through the FCCB on matters of social concerns, education and healthcare. This is a big task as Florida is the third most populous state, with its diversity in generations, language and culture.
Most of the staff time of FCCB is spent working with Florida legislators, to lead them to just solutions through legislation. This is accomplished through the good work and research and insights of clergy, religious and laity within the local Church. Michael Sheedy, Executive Director of the FCCB said, “One of the things we like to do is provide opportunities for Catholics to live out their call to faithful citizenship, to be responsible Catholic Christians in the public square.”
Through the years, some of the public policy successes have been in the area of human life and dignity. For example, the FCCB has been successful in establishing good laws in Florida, such as prohibition of public funding for abortion; parental permission, and establishment of the Florida Pregnancy Care Network. Through our efforts, we have achieved the opportunity with choice in education and work to eradicate human trafficking. Most recently, the FCCB is focused on efforts to stem the opioid crisis.
State Catholic conferences emerged after Vatican II to promote collegiality among bishops in a region and involve lay people in the mission of the church that we might give that charity the Church owes to the world honoring respect for human life and dignity and promoting the common good.
Each year, the bishops of Florida travel to Tallahassee, accompanied by many laity from throughout the state, for Catholic Days at the Capital. It is an opportunity to meet with the governor and legislators to discuss the dignity of the human person and legislative matters. The Red Mass is also celebrated drawing us together as one body in Christ, reminding us of His ultimate sacrifice to bring forth His love among all people. I thank those who joined us on March 26-27 that God might appeal through us and I ask others to consider participating at next year’s gathering.
Pope Francis said, “God’s holiness is an expanding force, and we ask that the barriers in our world be quickly broken down.” The FCCB was formed to respond to the call to holiness. May we join as ambassadors for Christ that God appeals through us.
Bishop John Noonan
Diocese of Orlando