Lawn Chair Catechism, “God Has No Grandchildren”

Forming Intentional DisciplesJoining the discussion a bit late (week 2) … is discussing Sherry Weddell’s new book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (OSV). You can read more about the “Lawn Chair Catechism” series here.

This week, there are two questions in the discussion guide:

(1) Have you always been Catholic? How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God?

I didn’t become Catholic until I was 30, although the process began nearly ten years before, when I was an evangelical Protestant missionary-in-training. I had been raised to believe that Catholics aren’t “really” Christians, and yet looking back God put faithful Catholics in my path to challenge that idea from my earliest years: my Catholic cousins, who taught me the sign of the cross (and whose First Communion celebrations I coveted); my childhood next-door neighbors, the Bells, who were unfailingly kind even when I commented bluntly on the statuary in their home; my Catholic boyfriend who, when I was pressured to end the relationship, forced me to consider seriously for the first time “what’s so bad about being Catholic?” And finally, a Baptist minister friend whose own conversion (and resignation from his church post) made me seriously consider the teachings of the Catholic Faith.

Long story short, I was going to become among the 53% of the “American adults who have left the faith of their childhood” (p.19). And yet, even then I didn’t see it as a “leaving” so much as an embracing of something more. Like Robin (p.23), I stammered and grappled my way through those first Masses — going up to receive Eucharist, not knowing it was for Catholics only.  The story of me sneaking into my first Catholic Mass is here.

Ironically, when I started the RCIA process, my first sponsor quit after two weeks; she told Dawn (who took up the challenge) that I asked too many questions. Now, from the beginning Dawn and I did not see eye-to-eye on certain theological issues (she believed women should be priests, for example). And she gave me the one thing I needed most: an unabashed, enthusiastic welcome, and a safe place to ponder all God was doing in my life. About a month into the classes, the pastor, Monsignor Connelly, invited me to lunch and listened to me pour out my story. When I was finished, he gently placed his hand on mine and intoned, “Heidi, you are a gift to us.”

I knew I was home. Not because I had resolved every theological reservation (that came later), but because at a time in my life when I most needed to experience the presence of Jesus in my life, I received it in the last place I ever expected to find it.

(2) If you were raised in a Catholic home, are your family members all still Catholic? What events among your friends and family seem to explain why some are Catholic, and others are not? 

I’m the only Catholic in my family of origin. Frankly, my faith irritates and confuses them more often than not. I’ve had more than one family member object strenuously to the idea that Mary is my mother — no matter how often I explain that one can have more than one mother figure. As an adoptive mother, I know this reality firsthand.

On page 42, Weddell points out, “All the evidence is that people feel dissatisfied and consider leaving for a couple of years before actually taking the first step, and that the majority pass through two or three religious changes before settling into a new spiritual home. Most people have mixed feelings about leaving the faith of their childhood … Changes of faith are, for most people, a journey and a search, not an instant, simple, and painless abandonment of belief.

And here, I think, is a flicker of hope for those of us who want to embrace the call to the “New Evangelization.” If we learn to recognize the signs of “searching” and “journeying” in order to become guides and mentors, like our evangelical brothers and sisters, there is reason to believe that it IS possible to draw those we care about back into the fold. However, it will not be an instantaneous or impulsive action, but the sum total of all the consistent, patient, loving actions done in the context of genuine relationship.

When was the last time you invited a former Catholic (or seeking “unaffiliated”) to a church event, or shared a book or CD that you found helpful?