This reflection by Superintendent Dave Faber was originally published in the May 2018 edition of FAITH Grand Rapids magazine, and it is part of a series of columns by people from the Diocese of Grand Rapids who attended the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders.
What a privilege it is to serve the Lord at this time and in this place! Last summer, I attended the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” with Bishop David Walkowiak and 12 other diocesan leaders. It was the first time in more than 100 years that the U.S. bishops gathered Catholic leadership from around the country to discuss the implementation of a papal document – in this case, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (more commonly called The Joy of the Gospel). I have never participated in such an energizing, joy-filled and diverse event within the Church.
In the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium, the convocation was first and foremost a call to personal conversion, and that is exactly what the conference was for me – an opportunity for my own continued conversion. Surrounded by 3,300 clergy, sisters and lay leaders from Catholic organizations and movements in America, we all sought to grow in holiness and in our relationship with Christ. Wow, was I ever energized and motivated in a way that I haven’t experienced since my college days at Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was truly a little bit like what I imagine heaven will be like – surrounded by others, enjoying the presence of God together.
Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops are pleading with each of us as missionary disciples to go to the periphery, whatever that may mean for each of us. For me, the conversion was in realizing that when you go to the periphery, expect to find Christ already there. I had always thought that I would bring Jesus to those less fortunate than myself, but what I came to realize is that Christ is already present at the periphery, if we just have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is in the relationships that we develop that Christ transforms his Church.
During the conference, the bishops modeled this behavior by inviting one of the most diverse Catholic groups I have ever seen. For the first time, I saw adult Catholics of every age, color, state in life, ability, vocation and title. They intentionally invited each of us to this convocation to meet Jesus together. Yes, they gave many amazing reflections and led beautiful prayer and worship, but mostly they gathered with all of us to pray and to listen to us, and in this process, I believe they met Jesus in us. Bishops, archbishops and cardinals facilitated listening sessions, and they listened. These sessions were transformative and taught me that I need to do even more listening in my ministry, to those I work with and those I serve. I look forward to meeting Jesus in all of you.
On the last day, I experienced a powerful example of this when a gentleman asked me if there was anyone sitting next to me. I said, “No, please have a seat.” I noticed as he sat down that he did not have arms. He proceeded to tip the backpack off his shoulder and onto the floor in front of him. My immediate thought was, “Oh, this man is disabled.” Quickly, I learned how wrong I was as he proceeded to remove his shoes and, with his feet, take out his notebook and pen and begin to take very legible notes. I even found myself trying to copy from his notes that were opened on the floor in front of us when I missed one of the points the speaker was making. At the end of the session, I wondered if I should ask him if he needed my help to get the backpack onto his shoulder, and just then he picked it up with his left foot and put it over his right shoulder. At that point I introduced myself and told him how much he had inspired me. For the first time, I realized he was not “disabled,” but “differently abled.” He can do so many things that are truly impossible for me, and with eyes and ears open, I was helped by the person I thought was going to need help.
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About David Faber
Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Grand Rapids
Birthplace and residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Wife, Sarah. Daughters: Katherine, Elizabeth, Anna, Rebecca and Regina. Grandchildren – Martin, Thomas, Sophia, Charlotte and two on the way.
Community involvement: Parishioner, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, marriage preparation volunteer (with wife, Sarah) at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Grand Rapids. Board member, Michigan Association of Non-public Schools; chairman, Michigan Catholic Conference Education Committee; member, Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes education advisory committee.
On his call to ministry: I felt a strong call, just after graduating from high school, to minister to youth. God led me into the field of Catholic education, where I would be able to make a life and career of the call to minister to youth.