OCEAN CITY, Md. – We are all about a purpose and a mission, no matter what we do in life. Our call to be “missionary disciples” was the message from Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Baltimore who delivered the keynote address at Convocation 150 on Nov. 3 in Ocean City, Md.
Msgr. Hilgartner, former executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. bishops’ conference, addressed more than 700 people at the Roland Powell Convention Center, telling them that being disciples can be difficult when we are bombarded with negative news, political unrest and polarization. We find spiritual apathy in many of the people we encounter.
“It challenges that call to be missionary disciples because there are people who don’t hear that call, who are apathetic to it. We see the struggle with relativism, secularism, individualism that also hinder people’s receptiveness to that call,” he said.
The Beatitudes, he explained, remind us of the call to transformation, “moving from struggle to the fulfillment of God’s promise. Our ministry … is a call to lead others into that experience to know the love and mercy of God. It’s about transformative experience.”
The road to Emmaus is the quintessential path to transformation, he said. The apostles were giving up on Jesus, leaving Jerusalem downcast after his death. But that was when the Lord met them, and they went about the task of spreading his message. Their story ended with a change of direction.
Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et exsultate,” or “Rejoice and Be Glad,” reminds us that what we’re called to do to bring the presence of Jesus to others and embrace a path of holiness, Msgr. Hilgartner said. The pope describes holiness as experiencing the mysteries of the life of Jesus and acting on them. Ultimately, the monsignor said, we are drawn into the gift that is Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
That is all included in the Beatitudes, he continued. They all include a promise of the fruits of Jesus. He calls us to be meek and humble, to know how to mourn, accept sadness and have compassion. We are called to be peacemakers, through which we enter the difficulties of the world so that we can bring about transformation.
“Whenever we are experiencing trouble, we know that there is a path through that struggle,” he said.
The pope also reminds us that we are called to boldness. Msgr. Hilgartner used the word “parrhesia,” a passion. When we step beyond ourselves, he said, parrhesia is the impulse to evangelize. Catholics know all too well the impulse not to evangelize, he said, asking how many people in the audience tend to hide when their pastor approaches them with a task.
If one is at peace with those requests, he said, maybe it is a sign of that parrhesia.
“When we are called to face struggle in the life of the church – which is pretty much all the time – we need this prompting of the spirit, lest we be paralyzed with this fear,” he said.
Modern times have not cornered the market on difficult times for the church. It’s all in the Acts of the Apostles, Msgr. Hilgartner said. “It’s the story of the church in every age.”
So what does this all mean for us, he asked? What does mission look like?
“Missionary discipleship in some ways looks like whatever we’ve already been doing because it’s the basic preaching of the Gospel,” he said.
It isn’t anything new. It’s our celebration of the liturgy, reaching out to those on the margins, drawing people to Jesus and teaching the young, he explained. There are all kinds of success stories and resources for those who want to be missionary disciples, but there is no simple recipe for success.
Msgr. Hilgartner encouraged the audience to listen to the words of Simon Sinek, author of the book “Start with Why.” He played a clip from a TED talk Sinek delivered on why some businesses and business leaders are able to inspire others.
Most people, Sinek said, know what their business does. Some know how that gets done, but very few know why they do it. Profits, he said, are a result, but “why” is the purpose.
“Why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should anyone care?” Sinek asks his audience. “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
That approach, Msgr. Hilgartner said, is one the church’s missionary disciples would be smart to adopt. Think about any parish activity, including Sunday Mass, from the inside out.
“It would force us to think radically differently about how we’re doing what we’re doing and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said.
“Getting to the why is about discerning what our core mission is. It’s about who we are as church. This is about making a case for the faith.”
As an example, he cited his parish, St. Joseph in Cockeysville, Md. It is in the midst of a major fundraising campaign, and the firm the parish hired to assist wanted to know about the unique purpose of the parish. What would happen if St. Joseph’s ceased to exist? That forced the parish to look at its vision and discover why people wanted to attend their church instead of joining the next parish down the road, which probably offers many of the same programs.
We are not accustomed to thinking like that as a church, Msgr. Hilgartner said. It forced his parish to get a sense of where its people are with respect to its mission.
The apostles, he said, had a sense of purpose.
“It’s about the encounter with Christ along the way. It’s the journey itself.”
“The road to Emmaus is a transforming experience in and of itself. It calls us to then go out on this mission.”
The mission, he concluded, is bringing others to that place, that locus, where they can encounter that transforming love.”