DENVER (CNS) — Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez had two questions about sharing the Catholic faith for participants in this year’s Fellowship of Catholic University Students conference: “Are we presenting in our message the true image of God? Are we delivering the good news of a God of love?”
He posed the questions in homily as the celebrant of one of the livestreamed Mass during the Feb. 4-7 SEEK21 conference, which offered virtual presentations and included thousands of small groups in various locations.
Many groups met in person and participants, following COVID-19 safety regulations, could attend Mass or eucharistic adoration together, go to confession or share a meal.
FOCUS, a Catholic outreach whose mission is to share “the hope and joy of the Gospel” with college and university students, counted over 27,000 participants from 20 countries and six continents by the time the conference wrapped up.
“My dear missionaries,” Bishop Rodriguez said in his homily, “when Jesus sent his disciples on a mission and asked them not to take anything — ‘no food, no sack, no money in their belts’ — and gave them power to teach, to drive out demons and to heal, he sends them with nothing else than the good news, Jesus.
“These disciples never went to CCD, never took a catechism class, never attended an RCIA class, never studied theology. … They only knew the person of Jesus Christ and what he taught them.”
“When you go on a mission, you don’t bring any decree in sacred theology, you don’t bring all kind of resources and technology, you don’t bring even your personal perfection,” the bishop said Feb. 4.
“You only bring the exciting experience of Jesus you live in, the experience of the joy in your heart when he is present, the experience of being loved by him, the experience of his stubborn forgiveness … and his message to share: God is love,” he continued.
“‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,'” he added. “And this is the most powerful and existential message everyone in this world needs to hear.”
The world’s need for this powerful message prompted his two questions, he said.
“Are we presenting in our message the true image of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, even if it is the image of a crucified man who died out of love for us to save us?” he asked. “Are we presenting the image of God in Jesus Christ, that of a man who forgives, loves, heals and embrace everyone? Or are we still stuck in a man-made image of an avenger, tyrant, punishing, condemning and hard-on-men type of God?”
“Second: Are we delivering the good news of a God of love?” he asked, noting that “one of the most successful companies especially in this time of pandemic is Amazon. The secret of Amazon is delivery: delivery at your door.”
Amazon is “fast, effective and reaching out even in the most remote places,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “I hope we too will be able to deliver our message, Jesus Christ, right away, in any occasion, to everyone, even reaching out to the peripheries of life.”
He called for “knocking at every door and delivering our message as soon as the door opens: God who is love and nothing else than love in all directions, who, in Jesus Christ, offered himself in sacrifice on our behalf to save us, and whose only intent regarding men is to have all them live in communion with him eternally.”
“This message is power and — be aware — every single man and woman longs to hear it. You have it in your heart. May you always have it also in your lips,” Bishop Rodriguez concluded.
Other bishops who celebrated Mass in their own locales for broadcasting during SEEK21 included Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Washington-based Archdiocese of the Military Services; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore; Archbishop Nelson J. Perez of Philadelphia; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas; Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska; Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island, Nebraska; Bishop Donald E. DeGrood of Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Boise, Idaho; Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington; and Bishop Steven J. Raica of Birmingham, Alabama.
Capuchin Franciscan Father John Lager, the lead FOCUS national chaplain, and Father Doug Grandon, one of the FOCUS national chaplains, also celebrated Masses Feb. 5 and Feb. 6, respectively.
In his homily, Father Lager talked about hospitality as the “secret weapon for Gospel advancement. And you can practice it anywhere and anytime in your apartment, dorm room, home or high rise,” he said.
The theme of hospitality is no stranger to Scripture, he noted, pointing to Hebrews 13:1, whose writers said, “Do not neglect hospitality.” In his Letter to the Romans 12:13, St. Paul says, “Practice hospitality.”
“Hospitality isn’t about entertaining, it is about engaging and encountering others,” Father Lager said, quoting the book “The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life.”
He also offered this insight from Father Henri Nouwen: “Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.”
Added, Father Lager: “Jesus is our greatest model of hospitality as he invites each us to this eucharistic banquet and offers his very self to meet us wherever we are.”
Father Grandon’s homily focused on persevering in the darkest of times and how God will give you the grace when you need it, like the worldwide pandemic everyone is suffering through. We’re not out of the woods yet, “but we’re hopeful,” he said.
He asked the faithful to commit themselves to what God is asking of them today to offer God “the sacrifice of praise — in all circumstances, to do good and share “what you have with others,” and “most important of all” to share the Gospel, “the good news of Jesus’ saving death,” with others “winsomely wisely and warmly.”
Other priests who celebrated Mass included Father Costance Swai, a member of Apostolic Life Community of Priests, who is the chaplain at the St. John’s Catholic Student Center at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
Presenters and experts on evangelization who spoke throughout SEEK21 included Chika Anyanwu, an international Catholic speaker and author based in Anaheim, California, whose in her talk “Sacred Tension” shared how to intentionally engage difficult conversations and situations.
Other speakers throughout the event presented bilingual talks or talks exclusively in Spanish.