This week, the priests of the Diocese of Camden will gather together for the annual Convocation in Avalon. Back in 1980, I was a seminarian preparing for ordination to the diaconate when then Bishop George Guilfoyle brought the priests of the diocese together for the first convocation in Ocean City. The convocation then was called Emmaus. In attendance were several hundred priests, two bishops and some seminarians. Our job as seminarians during that first convocation was to carry luggage for the older priests and generally assist where needed. It really was a lot of fun. We were able to see who was who, and put faces to names.
The convocation also allowed the priests to form Emmaus prayer groups. These follow-up groups brought priests together in small groups to pray, share ideas, and of course eat! Believe it or not, there are some groups that have survived over three decades and still gather!
Most of us are familiar with the Emmaus Gospel. The Gospel places the story on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection. The two disciples have heard the tomb of Jesus was found empty earlier that day. They are discussing the events of the past few days when a stranger asks them what they are discussing. "Their eyes were kept from recognizing him." He soon rebukes them for their unbelief and gives them a Bible study on prophecies about the Messiah. On reaching Emmaus, they ask the stranger to join them for the evening meal. When he breaks the bread "their eyes were opened" and they recognize him as the resurrected Jesus. He is alive!
In the thirty-plus years since that first convocation, we gather as a much smaller group of priests in a much smaller location still striving to have our eyes opened to the presence of Jesus in one another. We gather with our Bishop Dennis Sullivan. Whether the gathering is at a convocation of priests, a synod of bishops, or a prayer meeting of lay people – everyone has something to offer on this journey.
Times change and new issues arise. The conversations and concerns that were raised between several hundred priests in 1980, early in the Papacy of Pope John Paul II, is different from the concerns of a hundred or so priests in 2014 – early in the Papacy of Pope Francis. The church is evolving and the journey continues.
Pray for us this Monday through Wednesday. Pray for the Holy Father and Bishops as they bring results from the Synod on the family to the world for continued dialogue. Pray for the many families and prayer groups that want Christ ever close. And pray for vocations – a lot has happened in thirty-four years.
God bless you,