Lawn Chair Catechism: Week #3

Forming Intentional Disciples
This week I’m at the Theology of the Body Institute, taking their “Head and Heart Immersion Course” for the second time. (The first time the information didn’t make the whole trip, from head to heart. Just sort of stuck up in my head. This time I’m typing less and thinking more, and it seems to help.)

In between sessions, I’ve been perusing the next chapter of Forming Intentional Disciples along with Matthew Kelly’s book The Dynamic Catholic. In Kelly’s book, he says that approximately the same percentage of people (7%, give or take) contribute 80% of the volunteer hours and financial support of most parishes. What is more, there is an 84% overlap in the group: that is 84% of that 7% of Dynamic Catholics in every parish both give AND volunteer. Kelly identifies four qualities that characterize this 7% of “Dynamic Catholics”:

* They pray regularly (and can articulate their daily prayer routine)
* They are generous (in every area of life)
* They keep learning the faith (reading, taking classes, and Scripture study)
* They share that faith with other people as a natural part of life

The rest of Kelly’s book is dedicated to painting a scenario whereby pastors (and parish staff) can help to “expand” that 7% core, to create an even higher percentage of “Dynamic Catholics.” This week’s “Lawn Chair Catechism” touches upon some of these themes. Here are this week’s questions:

  • Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?  While in general I’d say I’m comfortable engaging others in conversation about God — in no small part thanks to my evangelical upbringing and Bible school training — I’d also have to say that I’m not as inclined to “push” (or to try to persuade) as I once was. If someone gets argumentative or confrontational, I may direct them to a resource such as a book or article to study it on his or her own. Some forms of “apologetics” do more harm than good: winning the battle (the argument), and losing the war (the relationship). From my own journey, I can point to people who have crossed my path and invited me to “come and see” — whetting my appetite for truth. It’s a model that I’ve tried to emulate, with varying degrees of success.
  • Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined in this article?  While I think that it’s becoming more common for Catholic men and women (many taking their cues from non-Catholic Christian friends and family) to pursue a deeper intellectual and spiritual connection to Christ, the fact is that the Church is hemorrhaging souls. No question, there is “gold in them there hills,” but many are drawn to the pyrite, not realizing the riches that are available in the sacraments. In many ways, the people in the pews next to us are in every bit as much in need of an “invitation” as those outside our doors. They need to be invited to experience the love of Christ for themselves. And that invitation needs to come from us, meeting them where they are.
  • Or are you a “typical” Catholic, fighting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics? Sadly, there are “pious eccentrics” that are not helping the cause of Christ. In the name of “reverence,” they criticize and nit-pick and judge everything from the priest’s homilies to the music minister’s choice of song to one another’s actions and appearance — and forget to extend themselves to the “hoi poloi” beside them. They don’t see how coldness and austerity is creating an environment that obscures the grace, obscures the mercy available for us all. By the same token, some water down the Faith — in all areas of parish life — until there is little “meat” left to feed upon, and people leave because they feel they are starving. What we need is men and women who, out of love for Jesus, are willing to lay down their lives for the good of the “little ones,” those who are simply going through the motions. We need an infusion of community, and an infusion of unabashed intercessory prayer. That is what is needed if we are to cooperate with the Spirit to bring about a revolution of faith.


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?