Those gathered were challenged to confront their own weaknesses, as well as, to know it is because of brokenness, sin, and pain that so many are away from God today. The antidote to that brokenness is the hope we have in the person of Jesus Christ.
''Why are we here today?" asked Deacon Joe Cooley. And with a crucifix in hand, he answered his own question, saying, "This -- the person of Jesus -- is our hope!" That is how 600 participants who were gathered began a day dedicated to learning about the "Reason for Our Hope." The conference, held on Sept. 30 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, featured praise and worship, confession, prayer, speakers, adoration, and Mass with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.
Emceed by Deacon Cooley and his wife Ceci, the conference was a good example of what then Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) in a 200 address called the "structure" of the new evangelization: the mustard seed and the tree. Throughout the conference, participants had opportunities for one-on-one encounters (mustard seed) with Jesus Christ and other disciples --evident through confession, private prayer, the call to pray with those near you, and simple conversations with other participants.
Those small encounters were then tied to a larger experience of the Church (the tree) through Mass, praise and worship, and keynote addresses. Cardinal O'Malley reminded the participants that "community is about helping people draw near to the Lord." And that is certainly what the community, who were gathered at the conference, strived to do for each other.
In that same 2000 address, Cardinal Ratzinger talked about the "method" of the new evangelization and emphasized that the reliance on personal prayer and teaching the art of prayer was necessary in helping others to fall in love with Jesus Christ. Any evangelization movement of the Church must be anchored in time -- significant time -- with Jesus Christ. All the speakers throughout the day reminded us of this necessary task of discipleship.
Father Volney DeRosia from the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. said that, through an encounter with Christ, "Jesus comes and touches us and moves in us, even in our littleness and brokenness." Father DeRosia then led the participants through a beautiful healing service that included small group prayer and the renewal of baptismal promises. After encountering Jesus in the Eucharist at the closing Mass and adoration, this was the high point of the entire day. There was a palpable sense of the Holy Spirit's presence and that those in attendance were emptying their minds, hearts, and souls so that they might be filled with grace.
Later in the day, Father Mark Nolte from the Diocese of Omaha stated, "People are hungry" and want to know God. "They -- we -- need to spend time with Him in silence." It is a credit to the speakers and organizers of this conference that there were many opportunities to encounter God in prayer. They provided an example of what bears lasting fruit and what heals and nourishes those throughout our world who are broken and weighed down by sin.
In that same 2000 address, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about evangelizing the poor and that the deepest poverty is the lack of joy and the inability to love. This poverty is what "devastates the life of individuals and of the world." The theme of how impoverished people are (in every way) in fact, was touched upon in every presentation. Those gathered were challenged to confront their own weaknesses, as well as, to know it is because of brokenness, sin, and pain that so many are away from God today. The antidote to that brokenness is the hope we have in the person of Jesus Christ. Disciples have an obligation to share that Good News. Jim Wahlberg, executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, hit this point by reminding us to not give up on anyone. "You are going to be on fire and you have to spread the Good News." In agreement, Father Nolte said, "We are in the business of saving souls" and we need to know that "most people have not had an encounter with the Risen Lord." Finally, on this point of proclaiming the Gospel, Cardinal O'Malley said, "In a world where there is so much pain and confusion we need to show them that Jesus is the reason for our hope. Announce the Gospel by your love and joy!"
The "Reason for Our Hope" conference was a mini-course in the New Evangelization. Through encountering other disciples in small and large ways; encountering Jesus Christ in prayer and the sacraments; and encountering other disciple makers who strive to share the Good News, all who participated left with a renewed fire to share with those they encounter the "reason for their hope" in Jesus Christ. And our world desperately needs to hear that message of hope.
MICHAEL LAVIGNE IS ASSISTANT CABINET SECRETARY FOR EVANGELIZATION AND DISCIPLESHIP FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.