By Donna M. Ottaviano-Britt
“I have come to set fire to the earth and how I wish it were already burning.” This line, spoken by Jesus (Lk 12:49) creates a sense of wistful sadness and a great desire to help Him stoke an amazing and holy blaze — just to make Him happy.
There is so much richness in this single line of the Gospel if we but pause to sit with it, and in it. What did Jesus mean? The fire is the fire of great Christian love and Christian justice to build a community in relationship with the Father.
And, so it is with Bishop Dennis Sullivan. Our shepherd has a mission — to see his entire flock answer its Baptismal call, become holy and get to heaven helping others do the same — no small task! Bishop gave his fiat to his vocation and works tirelessly in his priesthood to form other Christs. All clergy and laity are part of this great mission of the church.
In March, Bishop gave the Camden Diocese a great spiritual gift — the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in South Jersey. He knew the faithful needed a “shot in the arm,” and a real call to get moving for the kingdom. Therefore, his plan to do something no other diocese had done was born!
The sacrament of Baptism sets forth a unique mission for each of us. It washes away original sin, and it calls us to be disciples (followers of Jesus, our teacher). Baptism calls us also to live as missionary disciples. Each of us has been given a mission by God. We are unrepeatable, and therefore our mission is unique. No one else can complete the mission God has given us. No one.
The entire event — dedicated to Our Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit — ensured it would be transforming, inspiring and spark a holy fire across the diocese.
Bishop knows every Catholic is a leader — at home, at work, with friends and with strangers. He knows his people and they possess tremendous gifts. These gifts — harnessed, affirmed and unleashed — will renew the Catholic Church in South Jersey. Bishop also knows we cannot wait for the fallen away, the “nones” and all those who do not know Jesus to charge through the doors and into our churches. It is time to reach out, serve and transform lives — right where they are. This is the time to let everyone know there is a seat at Jesus’ table only for them. Bishop’s vision is large in scope and yet within reach of each and every one of us right where we are — in the places we live.
Many attendees have spoken and written to Bishop to thank him for the great gift — the gift of an encounter with the fire of the Holy Spirit. And, delegates continue to reference the profound impact the experience had on them. He asked everyone to take this fire back to the parish and be contagious.
He knows it will take each one of us engaging with another human being. Bishop delivered a powerful wake-up call to everyone. He knows each of us must proclaim (joyfully!) the Gospel and enable others to experience Jesus in us and through us. He knows we must pray, conform our wills to that of God. He also knows we must not rely on ourselves, but on the Holy Spirit.
Bishop also knows Convocation attendees are planting seeds, inviting others to join in this great work. The seeds we plant today will bear fruit at God’s chosen time. Our responsibility is to co-labor with Jesus in the vineyard. Let us proclaim the truth and bring others into friendship with Jesus — for He is closer to us than our own breath and our own heartbeats.
Donna M. Ottaviano-Britt is director of Missionary Discipleship, Diocese of Camden.