The Church must announce the “true story” of Christ to a secularized society, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore on Tuesday.
In his opening speech on the first day of public sessions at the USCCB’s fall assembly, the conference president told the bishops that American society was “losing its story” and the Church needs to offer the authentic narrative of the Gospel.
“Our neighbors do not need a new story,” the archbishop said. “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.”
Gomez used his speech to outline the challenges facing a culture hollowed out by secularism and struggling for existential meaning after the pandemic.
“I have been reading American Church history, looking to our past and trying to discern the word that God might be speaking to his Church in our moment,” Gomez told the bishops. “The challenge we have is to understand how the Church should carry out her mission in an America that is now highly secularized.”
“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.”
“What we see all around us now,” said Gomez, “are signs that this narrative may be breaking down. This is one of the consequences of living in a secular society. We all need God to help us to make sense of our lives, so when we try to live without God, we can become confused.”
Gomez told the bishops that, following the pandemic, and amid increasing social and political polarization, “people can now see very clearly that a world without God cannot bring them happiness and meaning.”
The result has been “a spiritual awakening” taking place among Americans, Gomez said, while stressing the urgency for the Church to rediscover its missionary identity.
“Our brothers and sisters are searching for God, and they are willing to let themselves be found by God,” he said. “The question is: what can we do about it? As a Church, how should we evangelize and go about the task of striving for justice and the renewal of our society?”
Gomez’s speech on secularism follows a speech he gave earlier this month in which he discussed the pseudo-religious character of new social justice movements. In that speech, Gomez said that the “reality” of “deeply embedded” racial and economic injustice in America had left people seeking justice and the Church needed to have a more active and explicitly evangelizing voice in the “essential discussion” about social justice in American society.
At the USCCB meeting on Tuesday, Gomez cited the teaching of Pope Francis in the encyclical Evangelii gaudium and the need for the Church to have its “missionary impulse” as its central driving force.
“The Church’s position in society has changed,” Gomez told the bishops. “We cannot count on numbers or our influence in society. None of that ever really mattered anyway. We are here to save souls.”
“From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been calling the Church to return to her original missionary identity,” he said. “Again and again, the Holy Father reminds us: the Church exists to evangelize. There is no other reason for the Church. To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple. There is no other definition.”
The U.S. bishops opened their annual fall assembly on Monday with a closed day of executive session and private liturgy. Much of the media focus in the run-up to the conference has focused on a much-debated teaching document on the Eucharist, and the extent to which it can or should restate the Church’s sacramental discipline in relation to pro-abortion Catholics in public life.
That document was the subject of strenuous debate when the bishops last met in June, and there has been a widespread desire among the bishops to strike a more visibly united tone in the current public sessions.
Gomez appeared to allude to that tension in his speech Tuesday morning, but emphasized that many of the disagreements in the Church were actually rooted in common concern for the Church to have the most effective missionary outreach possible.
“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,” said Gomez, while highlighting the importance of the bishops’ forthcoming two-year program for Eucharistic revival.
“The Eucharist is the gateway key to the civilization of love that we long to create,” he said. “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 revive this sacramental awareness.”
“In every human person we meet — from the infant in the womb to our elderly parents drawing their dying breaths — we must see the image of the living God.”