“The Church — I repeat once again — is not a relief organization, an enterprise or an NGO, but a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, who have lived and are living the wonder of the encounter with Jesus Christ and want to share this experience of deep joy, the message of salvation that the Lord gave us.”
– Pope Francis
Several years ago, my archbishop asked if I would be willing to serve on the National Advisory Council (NAC) for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Often described as “the Church in miniature,” the council was established to provide the US bishops and the staff of the conference with perspective and input in a confidential and thoughtful manner from people in the pews. My archbishop was upfront in his request. It was a minimum of eight days a year for four years and more travel for someone with a young family who is already on the road a lot. He also was savvy, telling me how important he thought my voice would be around the table. It’s a fairly open secret that with me, flattery will get you everywhere. After consultation with my patient wife, I accepted the nomination to join more than 40 women and men from around the country. Inflated by my archbishop’s sales job, I had all sorts of visions of grandeur of how I might change the Church in this new capacity. I imagined passionate orations in which I would imbue the vast Church wisdom I’ve collected, novel ideas that I would be proposing of which no one ever dreamed.
Four years later, I think it’s safe to say my impact was far less grand. Hopefully, I made a few good points here and there and perhaps suggested an idea or two. At the final meeting of my term last week, I was grateful to reflect with my fellow NAC members who started with me. While all of us were elated to get an extra eight days back in our year, there was a bittersweet nature to moving on. For everyone, the work of the council was helpful and necessary, but it was the people that were incredible. The varied perspectives, the depth of knowledge in certain areas, the shared passion for the Church - we always left those meetings feeling exhausted and at the same time energized by knowing that in every corner of the Church there were people through whom the Holy Spirit was undoubtedly working. As I listened to a fellow graduating NAC’er share a beautiful farewell with tears in his eyes, I was surprised to feel a tear run down my own cheek.
Driving home, I couldn’t help but think about how often in my involvement in the Church, I go into a role or an effort with my own agenda and come to realize that the Lord’s was different. With all the well-intentioned ways I may want to change the Church, am I open to how the Church needs to change me? Regardless of my years of experience or miles traveled, am I still committed to learning? When I examine my conscience, where do I tip the scales of who needs greater conversion – the Church universal or the earthen vessel named Dan Cellucci?
I came to the resolution that perhaps I could take a few of those eight days I have back and make sure my next commitment is to changing myself for the sake of His Church. Prayers that you too help change the Church by starting with yourself this week.
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