President Timothy Cardinal Dolan began his address saying that we need to
attend to “First things first: we are first believers in Christ: the way, the
truth and the life…We need to recall that the Lord said, “Seek first the
Kingdom of God”: it is God who first engages us…”
Quoting Fulton Sheen, the Cardinal said, “The first word of Jesus in the gospel was ‘come’; the last word of Jesus was ‘go’.”
Recalling what Pope Benedict told the US bishops on the first ad limina visit in 2011, Dolan quoted,
Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.
Saint Bernard said it well: “You cannot be a channel if you are not first a reservoir.”
Further Dolan said, “we bishops need to convert ourselves first to the power of Jesus Christ.”
The Conference President asked about the advisability of restoring the Friday abstinence from meat all year could be a deep sign of ongoing conversion. The point here, I believe the Cardinal is making, and he’s echoing the indications of the Pope, that we all need to be converted before we do the work of evangelization. In fact, it seems, that no evangelization project is going to be effective if we do attend to our own spiritual life first.
Examining our own life, we need to ask:
- Do I seek the grace of repentance?
- Do I receive the sacrament of Penance?
- How do I observe Friday as a day of penance?
- Do I work at being a person seeking conversion, a repentant sinner?
- Do I have a personal desire for interior conversion?
Ending his address to the bishops, the Cardinal said he was aware that his remarks will draw criticism from some corners because of other weighty issues. But that he feels that one’s own conversion is a matter of salvation first before other things.
I don’t capture the whole sense of what was said, but you can read the text of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s talk here.