The first adult day of the LA Congress began with a short opening ceremony in the arena for the 6,000 Catholic RE teachers attending the conference. After prayer, the head of RE in the LA Diocese Fr. Christopher Bazyouros welcomed us and introduced the theme of the 2018 congress Rise Up! To be free from our tombs, as Jesus freed Lazarus in the Gospel reading from the Sunday liturgy reminded us. Fr Christopher reminded us of the time Jesus also spent in the tomb, something we sometimes forget, but that he rose up and through Him, so shall we.
You can watch the opening ceremony below.
My first workshop session of the day was with rockstar priest Fr Mike Schmitz who is a university minister and speaker and most known for the Youtube videos he makes for Ascension Press.
This was a terrific presentation on how we should be praying the Mass. We often lap into general apathy and passivity in the Mass, where we go through the motions without much thought as to our participation as Kingdom Priests. He reminded us that worship doesn’t need to be entertaining or personally fulfilling, as the worship is about God, not about our own personal gratification. At the heart of worship is sacrifice and we need to come to the Mass to offer to God our own sacrifices. But what does this mean? It means we need to offer up the best of us… and the worst of us… This was a great reminder of the purpose of the Mass and our role as members of the Body of Christ in participating in the Mass. We managed to meet Fr Mike briefly after his session. He was very generous with his time and a very humble man.
My next session was with international speaker Sherry Weddell from the Catherine of Siena Institute, an organisation designed to form lay missionary disciples in parishes. She is probably best known for her books Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.
She spoke of the importance of moving through the stages of discipleship from being a Seeker to a Disciple and then finally becoming an Apostle who knows his or her vocation and is sent out into the world to fulfill the Church’s mission.
Most of our parishioners are very much still seekers, and very few members of our parishes are apostles. Sherry reminded us that this is a process and a journey and that our focus cannot rest solely on building a Catholic Identity as this is not the same as discipleship.
She also spoke of the fact that the fruit of our work will bear more fruit, which in turn will bear more fruit. The other big takeaway from this session was that rather than focusing on our institutions, we need to focus on leading more to discipleship. If we have more disciples, the institutions will take care of themselves. This made me think that we need to work even more to evangelise the parents of our students, through the children.
My final session was from Dr Leonard De Lorenzo, a theologian from Notre Dame on how Mary shows us the way to be Missionary Disciples.
This was a dense lecture but incredibly rich! Dr Leonard reminded us if the importance of encounter and accompaniment as in the story of the Road to Emmaus. But what does accompaniment look like? He reminded us of the nature of the men in this story. They were disoriented – they were leaving the city. They were confused about the events that had occured. They were chatty – they were talking together. They were scared – they were not sure where they can find hope. Does this not sound like our young people today?
Dr Lorenzo reminded us that we need to both Hear and to Act. He aligned the Emmaus narrative to that of Mary’s story in the Annunciation. He compared Mary’s Fiat with the response of Zechariah. Mary’s Yes was conforming herself to God’s plan, while Zechariah wants to form God’s plan around his context. We also see the importance of deep listening in the other infancy narratives in the Gospels in the story of the Presentation in the Temple and Finding Jesus in the Temple.
Our day ended with an African American cultural Mass. This was a very rich display or colour, movement and call-and-response. The music was bright and the pastor was incredibly energetic. It was a very special liturgy!