As you probably saw in the bulletin or maybe heard me say in passing, last week, the priests of our Diocese gathered for our annual Priestly Convocation (which is a big word that we use to just mean “gathering”—“convocation” makes it sound a whole lot fancier, though, so we like to use that!). In order for all of the priests to be together, daily Mass was suspended for a couple of days. It’s a bit of an inconvenience if you’re used to going to daily Mass, because usually it means that Masses are suspended in all the parishes! But, while a priest may opt out of convocation if he has good reason (a funeral, for example), it is an expectation that all of the priests be present; so what exactly is this “convocation,” and what happens that all of the priests need to be there?
Well, in actuality, there are really only two times a year that we as priests of the Diocese have the opportunity to gather together for an extended time of formation and fellowship: once in the spring for an overnight and once in the fall for convocation. Besides that, sometimes the only other opportunities that we have to see each other are at a few incidental gatherings that happen throughout the course of the year: most priests would see each other when they attend the Chrism Mass during Holy Week (the Mass at which we renew our priestly promises), if they go to our Diocesan-organized priest retreat in early June, or if they were to attend our Diocesan ordinations or the funeral of a brother priest. Our diocese is fairly large geographically, so unless a priest is very intentional about meeting up with his brother priests, it might take these “required” gatherings for a priest stationed in Robinson to encounter a priest who may be four hours away in Quincy!
So the convocation is first and foremost a time for us just to spend in the presence of each other. It’s really marvelous to see, actually: older and more experienced priests sharing stories with their younger, greener counterparts; a mix of active and retired priests, externs from other dioceses and countries, religious priests ministering in our twenty-eight counties, all discussing life and ministry together. I often think of what it must be like for others to see us descending upon the conference center where we gather: they must think the hotel is being overrun with us, all dressed in our clerical attire!
During the few days that we are gathered, we eat meals in common and offer the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours together. One of our Masses, always concelebrated with the Bishop, is usually offered for the repose of the soul of the priests who have died in the last calendar year. Our youngest ordained priests usually offer the homilies—our first (and maybe only) opportunity to preach before the whole presbyterate.
On one of the evenings, we always have a Diocesan “Corporate Board Meeting,” the best comparison for which is probably the State of the Union address. During that meeting, all pastors are required to be present as the Bishop addresses various Diocesan business and happenings, curial changes, strategies for ministry, news and particular missions for the upcoming year.
Convocation also acts as a sort of continuing formation for our Diocesan priests, which means that every year, we also invite someone to present to us on a particular theological or Church-related topic, whether it be ministerial, Scriptural, theological, or spiritual. Our presenter usually spends about eight hours (spread over three days) lecturing us, usually on a topic in which they have spent their lifetime doing research. The sessions are usually quite interesting!
Free time is usually built into the schedule, with an afternoon or evening free so that priests might find a little time for socializing, golfing, or running to St. Louis to visit the Catholic Supply store. Inevitably, you’ll see priests spread out over the whole lobby and gathering space conducting side-meetings and/or fraternal gatherings. And each evening usually concludes with a social, which may or may not include a well-stocked bar. We’re not teetotalers, after all!
For better or worse, our convocation this year runs up against another of my retreat weeks for the spiritual direction training program that I am in. So while I will be back for a few days between, I will be out on an eight-day silent retreat (September 25-October 3). I hate to be gone for one thing after another, but I have little control over when either of these appear on my schedule. Regardless—I’ll be praying for you while I am at these wonder gatherings of priests. Please pray for us, as well: we could all use it, no doubt!
Keep spreading joy!