Session 3 of Lawn ChairCatechism hosted by CatholicMom.com is titled “We Don’t Know What Normal Is”. The summary for this week is at the end of this post. The questions for this week are:
In your 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 in the summary? 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?
Years ago, I was listening to an interview on Dr. James Dobson’s radio show. Two girls had been on a mission when they were kidnapped and held hostage. They were explaining how they had made up their own psalms and would sing them loudly, a bit like St. Paul when he was in prison. Dr. Dobson made a comment that was something like, “When you say Jesus’ name, I hear the love you have for Him in your voice.” That struck me. I thought, I want to say Jesus’ name that way. I want people to hear it when I speak of Him. But, I was still shy about openly speaking of Jesus.
Some time later I was listening to another speaker and what I remember is him saying, “I want to be a fool. A fool for Christ.”  I thought to myself, “Now that man is living as a witness to Christ. Am I a fool for Christ? Am I willing to let people think of me as foolish?” No, not yet.
As I studied Scripture these words of Jesus struck a nerve,
“So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Now, I did not actively deny Jesus. If anyone had asked me if I was a Christian I would, of course, say yes. But I would not bring up the topic myself and I wondered if people knew I was a Christian. It was not so much that I denied Jesus, but I did omit talking about Him at times when it would have been appropriate. I was very good at hiding behind the thought that I was just being humble.
Then, later, I read this:
“I bore no hostility, and don’t wish to be harsh now, but the Bible became my authority and in the Catholic Church I didn’t hear what I thought of as ‘biblical’ preaching. Catholics I met seemed tentative and timid about their faith. The Bible spoke of Christians who were willing to risk martyrdom for their belief in Christ. The Catholics I met didn’t even seem willing to risk embarrassment for their beliefs.
It was written by Al Kresta and published in a collection of conversion stories called Surprised byTruth. He was explaining why, in his spiritual journey, he did not immediately return to the Catholic faith.
There were years between each of these events, but I use them to show that it’s not always a sudden conversion. I think for most of us, conversion, in any area of our life, is on going.
At each point I became a little more convicted that I needed to live my life as a Christian in a more meaningful way. At each point, my will became more conformed to God’s will for me. It’s been gentle and continual. Sometimes I back slide, but God’s mercy is always there.
Now, I volunteer more at my parish to facilitate different studies. I love doing it partly because it forces me to continually grow in holiness as I work and pray that my heart is in the right place before I open my mouth. It also seems that knowledge and teaching are two of my charisms, and living out of those charisms brings me great peace and joy. I pray often for the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent, and then for the courage to speak when needed. I may feel that I put my foot in my mouth more often than St. Peter, but people often tell me that they learn a lot from me. What I hear from others and what I think about the event are often different, so it’s very clear that the Holy Spirit is who leads the way.
Now, I enjoy talking to people about the faith—Christianity in general, and Catholic Christianity in particular. I force myself to step outside my comfort zone. Still, there are times when I think, “You should have spoken up.” I reflect on those times, repent when needed, and continue to move forward.
Now, I’m beginning the St.Paul Street Evangelization ministry in my area (God willing). This is very much outside my comfort zone, but I’ll trust in God to make it happen or not.
In my parish it seems to be the same people who show up for the things we offer through the Adult Faith Formation Commission. We’re working towards the type of things Sherry has been describing in her book, and I look forward to getting more ideas as I continue reading.
We are trying to draw more people into studies. We’ve been using ideas proposed by Matthew Kelly in his two books Rediscover Catholicism and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. One thing we’re trying to do is offer studies that cover those four signs—prayer, study, generosity, and evangelization.
We’re setting our goal on small, but consistent growth in what Sherry calls “Intentional Discipleship” and Matthew Kelly calls “Being a Dynamic Catholic”. I think these two ideas are similar and a sign from the Holy Spirit to move in this direction. Both of them speak of the need to be intentional in drawing people into the practice of their faith and living their faith in today’s society.
In her extensive research, Sherry Weddell learned that most Catholics consider their relationship with God a forbidden topic – too private to discuss with others. What we don’t hear about, we don’t know is possible:
One of our most surprising discoveries has been how many Catholics don’t even know that this personal, interior journey exists. A high-level, cradle-Catholic leader on the West Coast acknowledged to me recently that the very idea of a personal relationship with God was still new to him. The possibility had only dawned upon him for the first time a few years ago, when his parish started offering evangelizing retreats.
Our idea of “normal” Christian life is skewed. We consider an interest in the spiritual life to be an exception, and not the norm. To combat this mistake, the first Catholic discipleship group Sherry belonged to wrote a series of resolutions as part of their mission statement (here are a few excerpts from their longer list):
. . . 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 . . ..
 Dr. James Dobson is a well known Christian author and radio host who speaks often about marriage, raising children, and living the Christian life. This was years ago and I’m not sure if he is still in active ministry.
 Acts 16: 16 ff
 2 Cor 11:17-18—not sure when or where I heard this or even what the topic was about. It just stayed with me.
 Math 10:32-33
 Edited by Patrick Madrid, Basilica Press, 2006, p.256—Al Kresta is a radio host on Ave Maria Radio Network and discusses news and events of the day in the light of faith.