The following is an excerpt from “Make Disciples of This Nation,” a speech given by Bishop Conley Oct. 29, at a Catholic Answers conference in Omaha.
GK Chesterton says each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.
We are called to be disciples of all nations, to proclaim the Gospel and bring the world to Jesus Christ. The world sorely needs Christ. It’s clear, and becoming clearer every day, that our culture is characterized by relativistic consumer values and a profound crisis of real meaning. It’s become clear that we do not live in an era defined by Christian virtue, or a true sense of human dignity.
If we are going to make disciples in the stark, technocratic, lonely culture of American public life, we need to become signs of contradiction. In today’s world, that means that we are called embrace what the world rejects: friendship, beauty, goodness, truth, weakness, suffering, joy, and hope. If we are going to become the saints of this moment, it will be because we embrace the reality of human life, living fully and freely: because of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
Becoming a sign of contradiction is not the same as becoming contrarian. Evangelization is not a war with the world. Nor does becoming a sign of contradiction mean withdrawing from the world. The world is already mired in conflict, and fractured, and atomized. Becoming a sign of contradiction means witnessing to something more delightful, more profound, and more meaningful than what our world offers.
Evangelization is an invitation, expressed in love, to encounter, love, and serve the living God. Evangelization is a witness to the real peace, joy, and hope of life in Jesus Christ.
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a candlelit Eucharistic procession through the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska. More than 500 college students walked in the procession. We stopped at three outdoor altars for prayers and benediction, one in front of the student union, one in front of Memorial Stadium—right in front of the statue of Bob Devaney!—and one on the corner of “Fraternity and Sorority Row” on 16th Street. The students sang hymns as we walked. It was a powerful witness of public faith, and a powerful sign of contradiction.
The third altar was across from the Lutheran Student Center. As we passed by, Newman Center students signaled to students standing at the window to come and join us—and they did! Five Lutheran students joined in the procession back to the Newman Center, where we had the concluding benediction and the Divine Praises.
I met these students after the procession, and we talked, in a spirited and meaningful conversation, about the Eucharist. It was wonderful! Our sign of contradiction led to a moment of evangelization.
Every human heart is made for love. Every human wants to be free. Thirty years of priesthood have taught me that every single soul is seeking mercy.
God made us that way. And becoming signs of contradictions means witnessing to the love, and freedom, and mercy that we have experienced in Jesus Christ.
Becoming signs of contradiction means forming authentic friendships and authentic communities. Becoming signs of contradiction means witnessing to the freedom that comes from the sacrifice and self-denial of real love. Becoming signs of contradiction means promoting the true, the good, and in our culture, most especially the beautiful. Being signs of contradiction means sharing that Jesus Christ is a person, whom we know, and love, and whom we have experienced loving us.
This summer at World Youth Day in Poland, Pope Francis said something very profound at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, He said that “God saves us by making himself little, near and real.”
That’s true. Each one of us can know God, and love him, and follow him because we have the experience of his reality, through which we can say “Love looks like this. Truth speaks this way. Salvation has come, in this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is not a proposition or a conclusion, but a person.”
Becoming signs of contradiction means speaking, from one heart to another, of the love of Jesus Christ, who is small, near, real. God calls each one of us to that mission.
May we have the courage to become signs of contradiction—witnesses of love—and to proclaim that God, little, near, and real, calls every human heart to his eternal mercy.