“Prayer: The Faith Prayed and Lived” was the theme of the 2017 Go! Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference Jan. 12-14 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
Formerly known as the Hofinger Conference after the Jesuit priest, missionary, teacher and evangelizer Johannes Hofinger, the conference offered priests, parish leaders, catechists and Catholic school teachers the keys to deepen their faith by hearing leaders in evangelization and catechetical ministry in workshops and presentations, networking and attending liturgical celebrations such as Mass with Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri.
The Gospel of Mark was the inspiration from which Archbishop Aymond drew his homily Jan. 13. He offered three keys to being effective as God’s faith-filled disciples and ministers in their vocation to serve and lead the people.
The first key – to be quiet and hear the Lord’s invitation; “to be able to stop the activity of our lives, as important as it is – in family, community and ministry – and to be able to enter in that sacred space, that sacred place of prayer.
“That silence of being with the Lord Jesus in the moments of prayer can be deafening, to be alone with him and be comfortable with ourselves, with silence and with God. It is in prayer that the Lord Jesus not only calls us, but speaks to us and feeds us. He tells us that we are indeed loved and gifted, and he reminds us that we belong to him and he tells us that as disciples, we are sent. Unless we come away with him to that deserted place where we are alone, we will not be able to hear him as he tries to speak to our hearts.”
The second key to ministry is letting Jesus teach us in that time of reflection.
“We need the Lord Jesus to teach us, to help us reflect; we need to ask Jesus to enter into our hearts where there are questions, doubts or maybe unbelief,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He comes into those darknesses and helps us understand as he brings light. … But he will not be able to do that unless you and I are humble enough and simple enough to be able to say, ‘Lord, there is much that I don’t understand about ministry, there is much I don’t understand about what I teach and what I live, so I need you to help me reflect.’”
Letting the Holy Spirit in and then going forth and witnessing is the third key.
“We must go and live that, in such a way, it makes Jesus present to others in our own day and time. … The commands of the Lord and his intimate love for us are already written on our hearts, but we must allow them to come to life. … St. John Paul II said, ‘Faith is never a private matter. It is always to be shared with others.’ Is that not what we do in our ministry as we witness? … In that sharing and witnessing, we live justly. We live and teach mercy, not our mercy but the mercy of God. We live and teach generosity and faith. We live and teach how to worship.”
The archbishop said the faith formation conference explores how to use these three keys to pray more and reflect on Jesus as a teacher who speaks to their hearts as faith-filled disciples and ministers to God’s people.
Rooted in prayer
With this year’s theme being prayer, keynote speaker Benedictine Sister Lynn McKenzie, a civil and canon lawyer who worked in the tribunal office in the Diocese of Birmingham, talked about “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – Discovering the Divine.”
Living in community at the Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama, Sister Lynn said everything overflows from her life of prayer with her Benedictine community.
“We pray together four times a day – morning prayer, Mass, midday prayer, evening prayer (vespers) and night prayer – in community. So, all of that – that round of prayer, singing the psalms every day – can’t help but shape you. Those words come to mind all the time – while at work, while talking to someone. It very much has informed and shaped who I am.”
Infusing stories of the children, juveniles and disabled individuals with whom she worked from 1986-2012 as a civil lawyer and partner in the firm of Knight, Griffith, McKenzie, Knight and McLeroy, Sister Lynn gave insight into lives of faith and prayer, using the three gifts that the Magi presented to Jesus.
Gold is a gift for a king, she said – Jesus as a merciful king.
“So, I am talking about our prayer life and to be willing to be open to God’s mercy for us, to be loved and received freely by God no matter what we have done. Jesus, like the prodigal father in the Gospel story, is always waiting for us to return.”
Frankincense. “When we use incense in church – we are always talking about our prayer rising to God,” our true king.
Taking cues from hearing Alabama lawyer and author of “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson speak, she told attendees that, “All of us are worth more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. It’s akin to what the pope talks about mercy in our relationships.”
She gave example of her former client, Amber, a 15-year-old girl accused of killing her mother who is now an adult out of prison and beginning to live with hope as she is being forgiven by her family.
“Amber’s process of forgiveness from her family has been an example to me; something I am trying to emulate that in my life.”
Myrrh was used in ancient times when burying the dead. “It’s a bittersweet gift to give a newborn mother and father of a baby. But, it’s Jesus, a baby who is going to grow up and die as our savior.”
Sister Lynn believes God places us where we can thrive.
“That need for the anointing of myrrh in so many circumstances in life. It’s that healing and anointing that can bring us forward,” Sister Lynn said. “We continue to trust God no matter what our circumstances in life. God will provide the grace when we need it … and that’s every day of our llfe.”
Many break-out sessions
Other words of wisdom were gained in keynotes by Dr. Brant Pitre “Reflect” and Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri on “Witness” and in breakout sessions from Dominican Father David Caron about “Spiritual Leadership and Evangelization”; Dr. Daniela Zsupan-Jerome about being “Connected Toward Communion: Thinking Theologically about Communion in a Digital Age”; how to teach youth and parents to be a positive example with their digital footprint in the talk by Paul Sanfrancesco “Cultivating a Faith-Based Digital Community: Transforming Digital Users to Digital Leaders”; and others on spirituality, catechesis for adolescents, youth and families, evangelization, forms of prayer, the raw power of mercy to transform family, Catholic identity, inclusion in the church for those with special needs, forming disciples.
The conference is hosted and sponsored by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in collaboration with dioceses in Region V, which includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. To learn more, visit www.Go4th.faith.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.