Archbishop Gomez delivered his second presidential address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, on Nov. 16.
In 1889, Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota, said, “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! … The duty of the moment is to understand our responsibility, and to do the full work that heaven has allotted to us. … With us it will be done, without us it will not be done.”
As bishops, each of us feels the urgency that Archbishop Ireland felt more than a century ago. We realize that God is calling us to bring souls to Christ and build his kingdom, and to infuse our culture and society with the values of the gospel.
Our challenge is to understand how the Church can best carry out her mission in an America that is now highly secularized.
There is a spiritual awakening going on in America, underneath all the clouds of the pandemic, all the uncertainty about where our country is heading. People are starting to examine what they truly believe and what they value most deeply in their lives. New opportunities are opening up for the gospel!
That is because we are living in a moment when American society seems to be losing its “story.”
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.
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.
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. Without God we cannot make sense of our lives. As a result, many of our neighbors are searching, looking for a new story to give them meaning, to tell them what they are living for and why.
But 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.
Archbishop Ireland talked about “the duty of the moment.” I believe the duty of our moment is the responsibility that we have to tell the Christian story once again to the people of our times.
This is why I think that the initiatives we are undertaking as a conference of bishops are absolutely essential. Especially our document on the eucharistic mystery, and our pastoral plan for a eucharistic revival.
We are all aware that salvation does not come through another Church document or program. We are only saved through the personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
But the eucharistic revival is a missionary project. It aims to draw our people deeper into the heart of the mystery of faith, to awaken what St. Pope John Paul II called “eucharistic amazement.”
The Eucharist is deeply personal, our intimate encounter with the living God who comes to be our food and our strength in the journey of life. The Eucharist is also the key to the civilization of love that we long to create.
Jesus promised that he would be truly present in the sacrament of the altar, but also in the flesh and blood of our neighbors, especially those who are poor and suffering.
If we ever hope to end human indifference and social injustice, then we need to see the image of the living God in every human person we meet — from the infant in the womb to our elderly parents drawing their dying breaths.
Our beautiful task is to continue to tell the Catholic story, to reveal Jesus to our people — to place their hands in his hand so they can walk by his light and follow him on the path to eternity, to the love that never ends.
As Archbishop Ireland said more than a century ago, there is so much at stake in our mission, for God and souls, for Church and country. “As we will it, so shall the story be.”
In just a few weeks, we will celebrate the 490th anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s apparition to St. Juan Diego, which is the true founding of America.
So let us look to Our Lady of Guadalupe in this moment and entrust all our challenges to her maternal heart.