Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles / Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).
While the Catholic Church’s position in the world has altered, its evangelistic mission “does not change with the culture, or politics, or the spirit of the age,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles reminded his fellow bishops Nov. 16 at their fall assembly.
“Again and again, the Holy Father reminds us: The Church exists to evangelize. There is no other reason for the Church. To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple. There is no other definition,” said Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The Church’s position in society has changed. We cannot count on numbers or our influence in society. None of that ever really mattered anyway,” he said. “We are here to save souls. And Jesus promised us that if we seek his Kingdom first, everything we need will be given to us.”
Gomez’s reflections came as the U.S. bishops were poised to act Tuesday and Wednesday on an agenda that includes a vote on new document aimed at clarifying and reinvigorating the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.
Gomez only obliquely alluded to disagreements among the bishops surrounding that document, among other contentious issues, instead referring more generally to differing approaches of how best to engage a “highly secularized” American society.
“What is the best way to help our people to live and work and minister as Catholics in this moment? How can we help our people to raise their children and engage with their neighbors and the culture? As a Church, how should we evangelize and go about the task of striving for justice and the renewal of our society?” Gomez asked.
“Many of the differences that we see in the Church these days are rooted in the different points of view that we have over how the Church should answer these basic questions,” he said.
“There is a reason for this,” Gomez continued. “It is because we are living in a moment when American society seems to be losing its ‘story.’”
Gomez’s address touched on some of the the same themes he raised in a speech he delivered by video Nov. 4 to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Madrid, Spain. His remarks then sparked both praise and criticism for his critique of “wokeism” and other idealogical social justice movements that he said run counter to the Church’s understanding of humanity’s God-given dignity and freedom.
“For most of our history, the story that gave meaning to our lives was rooted in a biblical worldview and the values of our Judeo-Christian heritage. It was the story of the human person created in God’s image and invested with an earthly vocation to build a society where people could live in freedom, with equality and dignity,” Gomez said Tuesday.
“This story underwrote America’s founding documents. It shaped the assumptions of our laws and institutions, it gave substance to our everyday ideals and actions,” he said.
“What we see all around us now, are signs that this narrative may be breaking down. This is one of the consequences of living in a secular society. We all need God to help us to make sense of our lives, so when we try to live without God, we can become confused,” he said.
“Many of our neighbors are searching. They are looking for a new story to give meaning to their lives, to tell them what they are living for and why,” Gomez said.
“But my brothers, our neighbors do not need a new story. What they need is to hear the true story — the beautiful story of Christ’s love for us, his dying and rising from the dead for us, and the hope he brings to our lives.”
Setting the stage for the coming deliberations on the Eucharist document and other matters this week, Gomez began and ended his remarks by referring to an address given in 1889 by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minn. titled “The Mission of Catholics in America.”
“The next century of the life of the Church in America will be what we make it. … As we will it, so shall the story be. … There is so much at stake for God and souls, for Church and country!” said Ireland, who served as a chaplain with the Fifth Minnesota Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
“The duty of the moment is to understand our responsibility, and to do the full work that heaven has allotted to us,” Ireland said. “With us it will be done, without us it will not be done.”
“Brothers, two things strike me about this address,” Gomez observed.
“First, Archbishop Ireland teaches that every Catholic shares responsibility for the Church’s mission. Bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious and consecrated, lay men and lay women — we are all baptized to be missionaries,” Gomez said.
“Second, he understood that the Church’s purpose does not depend on forces outside the Church. It does not change with the culture, or politics, or the spirit of the age,” he said.
“The Church’s mission is the same in every time and place,” Gomez said. “It is to proclaim Jesus Christ and to help every person to find him and to walk with him.”