By Rhina Guidos | Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez completed his three years as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 15 with images of conflict, changes and challenges during his term.
He spoke of the pandemic, “a long season of unrest in our cities,” a contentious presidential election as well as “deepening political, economic and cultural divisions,” war in Europe, a refugee crisis and “the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
“We’ve been through a lot of changes together,” Archbishop Gomez told U.S. bishops gathered for their annual fall meeting in Baltimore during his departing address.
He raised alarm over what he saw as a U.S. society moving “hard and fast toward an uncompromising secularism,” adding that “traditional norms and values are being tested like never before.”
He said he has heard concerns from “young mothers and fathers who are trying to raise their children to know Jesus in a difficult culture.”
The challenge for those ministering in this moment, he said, “is how to maintain some kind of perspective” in a “noisy, distracted media culture.”
He spoke of how U.S. bishops united with the pope during the pandemic. However, some U.S. bishops notably also have taken to the internet to criticize the pope, gaining attention from abroad for their public sentiments against him.
He said the interventions of Pope Francis during the pandemic, and in his writings, “helped us to see clearly, that what’s going on in the world today is much deeper than some global reset or realignment,” adding that “the trials of this age are spiritual. There’s a struggle going on for the human heart.”
But the changes, he said, also signal “a new opening for the Gospel,” a calling “to step up and to open every door for Jesus Christ, to shine his light into every area of our culture and society; to bring every heart to a new encounter with the living God.”
He praised efforts for the three-year long National Eucharistic Revival, which focuses on the Catholic teaching that Christ is present in the Eucharist, as well as the process of listening and discernment among church members for the world Synod of Bishops on synodality, as called for by Pope Francis.
Once again calling attention to secularism, he said the role of bishops was crucial.
“It is not inevitable that our country will fall into secularism. The vast majority of our neighbors still believe in God,” he said. “Tens upon tens of millions of Catholics still serve God every day, and we are making a beautiful difference in the life of this country. Our Catholic people are teachers and healers, seekers of justice and peace.
“We are serving the poor and vulnerable, raising up men and women of virtue, building strong communities and families.”
Recalling Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a candidate for sainthood, he read from her retreat notes, saying: “There is room for greater saints now than ever before. Never has the world been so organized — press, radio, education, recreation — to turn minds away from Christ.”
That was before the technological changes of the present age, he said.
“So, we understand: the challenges we face today are nothing new. Now more than ever, the church needs a bold pastoral strategy to communicate the Gospel, to use every media platform to turn hearts and minds toward Christ, to call our people to be great saints,” he said.
“But what also strikes me about her words is her confidence,” Archbishop Gomez continued. “Dorothy Day was convinced that only saints can change the world. And she’s right. Holiness has always been the hidden force in human history.”
He said what holds everything together, “what makes us one, is the Eucharist. Which is why our Eucharistic Revival is so important.”
He asked all to share that gift with others.
“The Eucharist is the mystery of our Creator’s love, the mystery of his desire to share his divine life in tender friendship with each of us,” he said. “So, let’s open the doors in all our churches, and let’s invite our people back, to come and see how much Jesus loves them.”