Welcome back to Lawn Chair Catechism! If you haven’t already read any of the previous discussions on the introduction or chapter 1 of Sherry Weddell’s terrific book, Forming Intentional Disciples, that’s okay! You can use the study guide that CatholicMom.com is providing, and if you’re in the mood to get deeper with it, you can order the book here and get free shipping. (Personally, I highly recommend the book. I used the study guide alone for the first 2 weeks, but received my copy in the mail just before vacation and have now caught up with the readings. If you can swing it, or even share a copy with a friend, it’s worth it!)
Okay, housekeeping out of the way. Now it’s time to get into Chapter 2: “We Don’t Know What Normal Is.” No, that’s not a description of my crazy family, you sillies. Not this time, anyway. Sherry spent chapter 1 (“God Has No Grandchildren”) outlining the problem we face as a Church: dwindling involvement in the Church, people leaving the Church in early adulthood and never really returning. The problem doesn’t lie in a lack of catechesis, necessarily, but the fact that so many Catholics don’t have a concept of a real, personal God who loves them. We aren’t helping people develop a personal relationship with God, and they don’t even know they can have one as a result. As Sherry says on p. 57, “One of our most surprising discoveries has been how many Catholics don’t even know that this personal, interior journey exists.” (Emphasis in original.)
There’s this Spiral of Silence that ensues when we sense that we are holding an opinion that is different than the majority of a group we’re in. Our brains literally and physiologically turn a switch that tells us we’re doing something wrong. We tend to stop ourselves from continuing to do something or speak about something when we realize that we are in the minority. Sherry talks about the idea of “normal” being different from what is “typical” in parishes around the country. Typically, we don’t talk about our faith with others very much; we don’t wear it on our sleeves. Typically, we see people who are “on fire for Jesus” as a little Protestant and get a bit freaked out by that sort of talk. But this is not what normal Christianity is supposed to look like.
Sherry and some friends started a support group of sorts to get together and discuss the Faith and to help each other grow in holiness. They outlined some definitions of what “normal” is really supposed to look like:
. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.
. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable of their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church.
. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.
. . . It is NORMAL for the local parish to function consciously as a house for formation for lay Catholics . . ..
So how do we get from the kind of Catholic culture that is resistant to talking about our relationship with God to one that is comfortable with being on fire for Christ and wanting to spread that kind of joy and zeal? After all, right now, we’re about here:
The discussion questions, which will help us move towards addressing these issues, are these:
In your own faith:
- Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?
- Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined above? Or are you a “typical” Catholic, ﬁghting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics?
In your parish:
- Do you personally have, within your parish, a group of Catholics you meet with regularly, to discuss the faith, study the faith, and encourage each other to greater virtue?
- At this time, does your parish have in place a working system for actively mentoring those who want to grow in their relationship with God?
Let’s start with me, shall we?
Am I comfortable talking with others about my relationship with God? Well, I think so. I didn’t used to be, for sure. But I think as I have become more and more engrossed in my faith, I have found that I am more apt to share my faith with others. It’s not quite the way Jim Gaffigan was joking about, but it’s more a matter of my faith and relationship with God becoming so ingrained in my life that I can’t help but have it come up. And, again, I have quite a ways to go before I’m really a good disciple, as far as I can tell.
I think I vacillate between “normal” and “typical,” to be honest. I would hope I’m leaning more towards normal than I used to be, but I know there are times when I fail to be the Christian I ought to be. That Spiral of Silence, that switch in my head … it goes off sometimes, and I swallow it. As someone who battles introversion, it’s still difficult to stand out and be different. But at the same time, I am no longer self-conscious in crossing myself in public when an ambulance goes by or even simply crossing myself before praying with a group (including when the group is mainly Protestant).
There was a really fascinating part of this chapter, where Sherry describes a frustrating experience when someone explained that spiritual growth happens when you wake up one day and suddenly, you’re different! The kind of growth we’re striving for here is not something that happens, as Sherry puts it, magically. One must make the intentional effort – a conscious decision – to follow Christ, just as Saint Peter and the rest of the apostles did. That decision will help move us from spiritual infancy into spiritual adulthood, though it’s not the end of that journey.
I think what does happen, though, is that as you grow closer to God and learn to love Jesus as a real Person (someone who really exists!), you start to change to be more like Him. It’s so gradual that you don’t see it happening to yourself until, one day, you look back at something from your past and wonder, “How did I get from there to here?”
Gosh, this happens to me all the time. I’ll see a TV show I used to watch, or a movie I once loved, and I think, “I filled my head with that garbage? It’s so awful!” and I realize that I’m no longer the same person I used to be.
Does our parish have a group that facilitates this kind of intentional decision to choose Christ? Well, I think there’s a serious effort through adult catechesis to help us know the Faith better. And I’ve always looked at these are important programs to offer. But I think what has really accelerated my own journey has been my involvement with the Lay Dominicans.
This group doesn’t meet at my parish, but 2 1/2 hours away. We gather monthly to pray and to learn and to move further along the road to holiness through a Dominican spirituality. Dominicans’ lives are based on four pillars: Prayer, Study, Community, and Apostolate (or Preaching). Trying to live a life under the shelter these four pillars give has greatly improved my ability to see God as Someone with whom I am in a relationship. I think about Him as Father, as Savior. And even when I’m feeling spiritually dry, when I persevere and pray anyway, I’m often rewarded with a beautiful insight that drives home this point ever more clearly.
For me, I can no longer imagine being able to move down the path to holiness without these pillars to support me, without the Dominicans to guide me. It’s worth getting up at 5 am each month to make the drive to our meetings. The direction and formation I’m receiving in my Chapter is invaluable, and so I can see Sherry’s point in this chapter so well: we need to be able to get together and share our experiences this way. We need to be in a group where we’re seen as normal, not strange, for being on fire for Jesus. And with the strength gained in that group, we can go spread the fire to others, helping them see the beauty of our faith and the wonder of a real, personal relationship with the loving God and Father who created us and loves us without measure.
That’s when we can get to this point:
What do you think? If feel like you have a real and personal relationship with Christ, how do you share that? What helps to keep your fire for Him burning? Leave your comments here or at the CatholicMom.com site.