Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., was kind enough to take this photo with me and was humbled after I explained how many young adults I had met in the Diocese of Trenton who find his YouTube videos relatable. Jennifer Mauro photo
Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., was kind enough to take this photo with me and was humbled after I explained how many young adults I had met in the Diocese of Trenton who find his YouTube videos relatable. Jennifer Mauro photo

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Mauro is part of a 12-member delegation from the Diocese of Trenton attending the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America” evangelization event being held July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla. Called by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the historic convocation is bringing together roughly 3,500 Catholic leaders to focus on how the Pope's 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel), applies in the United States. The invitation-only convocation aims to equip attendees with strategies and best practices for preaching the Gospel in a way that reaches today's culture.

Following are Mauro’s reflections on the second day of the conference.

By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor

I’m a fan of muscle cars. I hope to one day take a mechanics class so I can learn how to work on engines because I couldn’t imagine owning something as sweet as a Dodge Charger without knowing how to work on one.

So when I ran into Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., and he started comparing enthusiasm for faith to a car engine, I knew he was going to say something I could relate to.

“There’s fun, there’s happiness and there’s joy,” Father Schmitz said, the genuine smile he’s well-known for in his YouTube videos quite contagious. “Fun and happiness fade, but what is Christ’s promise? Joy.”

Since arriving in Orlando as part of the Diocese of Trenton’s delegation for the historic Convocation of Catholic Leaders, I’ve been asking, “Why me?” Do I have enough joy to be a missionary disciple, or do I sometimes fall into acedia, or spiritual sloth — moroseness, weariness, disenchantment — what Benedictine Abbot Jean-Charles Nault calls “the Unnamed Evil of Our Times.”

In talking with Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, who has conversed with Pope Francis, I discovered two of the things that struck the Pope during his visit to America were the affectionate nature of American Catholics and how serious they take their faith.

“Too many disciples are real sourpusses,” Cardinal Tobin said in paraphrasing Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, the main document on which the convocation is based.

That enthusiasm Pope Francis witnesses in U.S. Catholics is what leads us to Christ’s joy, Father Schmitz said. “It’s like a muscle car – enthusiasm is what revs our engines. It sets us up to move.”

However, joy is the key, the “gigantic secret of the Christian,” he said, quoting writer G. K. Chesterton.

Enthusiasm, he explained, will take us up the hill of our lives and even sustain us on the peaks, but it will sputter out when we hit the valleys that will inevitably come. It’s the joy in knowing we are loved, that there is hope that drives us through the difficult times.

Father Schmitz continued, using the analogy of marriage: sometimes the enthusiasm wears off, but you make it through the valleys with joy in hope, and your marriage is stronger for it.

“Does that make sense?” he asked, his gaze direct despite the others waiting to speak with him.

I appreciated the question. During my time as an adjunct journalism professor, this was always the question I posed to my college students when I wanted to make sure they had understood a specific point.

Perhaps this is why I asked, honestly, “How do we keep our joy as disciples when we sometimes feel exhausted or overwhelmed?”

Prayer, Father Schmitz said, suggesting “The Soul of the Apostolate” as good reading material, which offers practical solutions to tie together the physical and contemplative life.

“We get preoccupied or tell ourselves we are too busy,” he said. “We don’t pray. If you’re not praying, you’re not tapped into the source.”

“The apostles were busy,” he added. “They still prayed. Mother Teresa prayed for hours a day.”

Between Confession and Mass, sponsor booths offering Bibles and Scripture literature, and the priests, bishops, cardinals, religious men and women and lay ministers, there are numerous opportunities for prayer, witness and open dialogue at the convocation. So many in fact, that it leaves me thinking: Who do we encounter in our day who could rev our engines? Who could we help give enthusiasm to in order to lead them to God?

This was something fellow Trenton Diocese delegate Deborah Gaudino said had struck her during the convocation as well. Gaudino, executive director of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the Diocese, said she heard one of the speakers talk about inviting others into one’s life even before inviting them to church.

“That felt doable. I can do that,” she said, adding that she was also moved by the message that everyone has a gift that someone else needs.

“We run all these events through Renewal, and sometimes you wonder, ‘Is anyone being touched?’ It was very encouraging to me to hear that someone out there is waiting for the gift I’ve been given.”

Acknowledging that she felt refreshed from the second day of the convocation, she admitted prayer will always be her energizing source. “When my prayer life has slipped, everything is hard. It’s like walking through mud.”

Feeling enthused myself, I texted my husband at the end of the day, reporting that I had talked with Father Schmitz and that the pastor’s joy and easy smile had reminded me of him. My husband wrote back, “That’s because we share the same Spirit.”

Indeed, don’t we all.