Joy of the Gospel – July 2017

God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” 
Solomon answered:
“O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant,
king to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

1 Kings 3:5-9

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

What humility is within Solomon’s response to God’s question!  His answer is rich with selflessness and subservience.  His reply is not to receive greatness, but to give greatness.  He speaks with gratitude to God for all that God has given to him and asks for his return to God.  His words are the words of faith.

What would your reply to God be, should He ask? Pope Francis reminds us that we are called to keep our hearts open to God and ask that the Lord give us the hope and grace that we “can be saints”.  Pope Francis says that “this is the great gift that each of us can make to the world.” We are called to transfigure the world through our faith, to become God’s very image in this world.

Each year the Diocese of Orlando is host to a number of conferences, convocations, or celebrations, all in the name of the Catholic faith. Those who attend these gatherings come from throughout the country or the world. In a word, the goal of most gatherings is to inspire participants to enkindle a deeper faith in the heart of others; lead others to God; or harmonize the work of ministry to the mission of the Church. By their attendance, these individuals leave to transfigure the world through their renewed faith, to share the joy of the Gospel.

Recently the Diocese of Orlando hosted about 3500 clergy, religious sisters, and lay people who came together for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. I and 60 delegates from the Diocese of Orlando were among the participants. Approximately 300 volunteers of our diocese also extended the joy of the Gospel to participants through hospitality and service.  I admit that as the planning of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders was taking place through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for a number of years, I had my doubts about its organization and purpose. You might say that I was missing an ‘understanding heart.’

As I walked the corridors of the convention space meeting people and participated in the plenary sessions and small group gatherings, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the attendees. Their joy of the Gospel was shared through their selfless contribution, their searching questions and wise remarks, and their stories of faith.  Unity, Mercy, and Witness were on the lips and hearts of the participants.  On the last day, I had the honor to meet with the Diocese of Orlando delegates and converse about journeying to the existential peripheries. The responses from the delegates were like Solomon’s response to God. Theirs was not one of knowing, but one of asking God for guidance to lead, to receive an understanding heart.

Sometimes when we study Scripture, hear a papal discourse, read a bishop’s column, or participate in ministry, we may feel that we are unprepared for what is being asked of us. We may think the “ask” is greater than our ability or knowledge. The “ask” is always God’s invitation of love to invite us to consider the possibility of transfiguring our world through, with and in Him. Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium, “If we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”

Pope Francis also said in this Exhortation (#23), “The Church’s closeness to Jesus is part of a common journey”; “communion and mission are profoundly interconnected.” In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angel proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Lk 2:10). The Book of Revelation speaks of “an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tongue and tribe and people” (Rev 14:6).

May God give us an understanding heart. May this heart of God bring forth the joy of the Gospel and transfigure our world toward the Source of all life.

Bishop Noonan
Diocese of Orlando