From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Catholic Conference 2002 nurtures discipleship in Spokane Diocese

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 14, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Paulist Father John Hurley hails from Washington, D.C., where he is the executive director for the Secretariat for Evangelization for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He came to “the other Washington” Oct. 19 to give the keynote address for the Spokane Diocese’s annual Catholic Conference.

The title for Father Hurley’s address was “Nurturing Discipleship + A Walk on Holy Ground.”

Father Hurley likened Moses’ encounter with the Lord in the burning bush to Christians’ experience in following the Lord today. “We, too, are called to walk on holy ground, just as Moses did,” he said.

He posed this question: “What is your encounter with God? We have to experience God in our own lives before we can witness to others. When Moses came down from seeing the Lord, his people could see it in his face. What do we look like when we come out of our tents of worship?”

Three of Jesus’ disciples had their own burning bush experience in Jesus’ transfiguration. “They were transformed,” said Father Hurley, “and were never the same afterward. Even though the Scriptures don’t say so, I would safely guess that the disciples who remained behind asked, ‘What happened up there?’”

He said the situation of the church in the United States today is comparable to the time of Jesus: “Priests and bishops are being challenged, and the division between right and left has hardened. The Scribes and the Pharisees are not dead.”

That makes a disciple’s call even more imperative. In the call to be good news, Father Hurley said “we must not be overcome by the bad news in our society and in our church. We must rise above it. The church needs us today more than ever.”

But discipleship comes with a price.

One cost of discipleship is allowing time to encounter God. “We find ourselves too busy to go on retreat, too busy to take time for recollection. An encounter with God (takes time) but it will change our hearts,” he said.

Disciples must also allow the power of suffering to work in their live, he said: “An encounter with the holy is formed in us by suffering.”

Father Hurley said there’s a difference between being “a follower of Jesus and a disciple of Jesus. To identify as a Catholic today shows what it means to be a disciple.”

The encounter with God is only the first step for a disciple. Each one has a mission and that is to tell the Good News of what God has done. “Our basic task is to proclaim and heal,” he said, and quoted St. Francis of Assisi: “‘Preach the Gospel everywhere. If necessary, use words.’”

Deacon Tom Gornick of Portland is the director for the Department of Evangelization and Office of Stewardship in the Archdiocese of Portland. He gave one of the morning workshops, titled “21st Century Parish ... Folger’s vs. Gourmet.” In the workshop he presented statistical information on the Church in the United showing that in many ways, it is vastly different than the church of the 20th century.

The United States went through several social upheavals in the last half of the 20th century, starting with the end of World War II. “The war expanded GIs’ world view,” he said. “Their savings and low-cost interest rates led to $25,000 suburban homes.” Their generation brought the people who came to be called the Baby Boomers.

From the perception of the Leave it to Beaver perfect family in the 1950s, American culture has given rise to “Bobos,” people who are “bohemian and bourgeois,” who hold a different world view. “They embraced the counter-culture ’60s and the achieving ’80s,” said Deacon Gornick. “To them work is personal, computing is social and knowledge is power. A typical Bobo statement is ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious.’ ”

Today’s society is what the deacon terms the “Millennial Generation,” today’s young people who do not remember the Cold War and are instantly connected to anybody in the world via e-mail, cell phones, and the Internet. To them, he said, “there’s no such thing as a busy signal.”

Social commentators are writing about the state of American culture. Deacon Gornick quoted from a book called Bowling Alone, which stated that “American social capital” is at an all-time low. “Fifty-eight percent fewer Americans are no longer willing to attend meetings; 33 percent less people have family dinners and 45 percent fewer people have friends over. We don’t interact with our neighbors.”

Nor do people talk with their families. From a second book, Affluenza, Deacon Gornick brought out another statistic: couples have only 12 minutes a day to talk to each other.

The composition of America’s population is changing, too, as 1.4 million people moved to the U.S. from abroad in the one-year period from March 1998-March 1999. “The Portland Archdiocese is the third largest Hispanic diocese in the U.S.,” he said. “At one Portland church, Mass is offered in five languages.”

The challenge, said Deacon Gornick, is “evangelizing the urban culture. The issues are cultural rootlessness, loss of family traditions and loss of a particular religious tradition in the United States.”

How does the average parish address that challenge? Deacon Gornick said that people who enter RCIA programs will attend a Catholic church unbeknownst for a while, “to check it out. Is your parish a welcoming parish?”

He gave some examples of other denominations which have strong hospitality programs. “Members of one non-denominational church greet you when you get out of your car, and even offer you an umbrella if its raining.”

Deacon Gornick asked this question: “How do we define family? The last U.S. census did not include a definition of family because they couldn’t figure out how to define it. People today are married, divorced, remarried, single, with or without children. How is your parish working with the new families?”

Deacon Gornick presented statistics showing that American women are very interested in religion, but, he asked, “Where are the men?” Taking that question further is to wonder about young adults, who, said Deacon Gornick, the Catholic Church is losing faster than any other American denomination.

Nevertheless people are interested in spirituality. American consumers spent over $1 billion on religious books in 2001. Further, about one-fourth of adult Internet users, about 28 million people, have gone online to get religious information. “That’s our stuff,” he said, commenting on the various websites. “We wrote it.”

“Catholics have been on a journey,” Deacon Gornick said, “and they’ve learned new songs. How is your parish reaching out to share faith and Catholic community in these days of changing religious tradition?”

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