As part of the continuing Lawn Chair Catechism series on "Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus" by Sherry Weddell over at CatholicMom.com, I am joining the discussion here on "The Backs of People's Heads and Baby Faces". Take a look over at CatholicMom.com to see what we're talking about this week and feel free to drop in with your thoughts here or at CatholicMom, or even on your own blog.
"There is no normal. There is only your life and everyone else's life."
"Everyone is flying their own freak flag. The reality is that everyone has their own "crazy" and everyone has their own "normal".
"Everyone is on their own journey. Everyone has their own reality, so I can't tell them what to think and what to believe. We just have to leave it to the Holy Spirit."
"There is no absolute truth. What's true for you may not be true for someone else."
Chances are good that you've heard at least one of these statements. It's what therapists tell you. It's what politicians tell you. It's even the message I received from many of my religion teachers through the years.
While some of these statements can help you to deal with the idea that the crosses you carry are no easier or harder than someone else's, these statements can also be used to keep us bound and gagged where our faith is concerned. Because, if you really believe that there is no normal and there is no absolute truth, then you have no solid ground on which to plant the flag of your life as a Catholic, much less your efforts to share your faith.
The creeping relativism that we experience as American Catholics - a mish-mash of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Emily Post's Etiquette - has overwhelmed us under the guise of loving everybody, being polite to everyone and not giving offense to the exclusion of speaking the Truth. Even I will shrink from some discussions in public or on my Facebook wall for fear of offending friends who don't share my worldview.
We tend to want to see things in black and white, but we are a Grayscale People. One size doesn't fit all. One rule is not appropriate for all situations. Not even the "non-rules" listed above fit every situation.
The problem in being Grayscale Catholics is that we risk becoming so light gray in our discussions of faith and morals that we disappear altogether. When we discuss being Intentional Disciples, this is the challenge we face. The answer is grace, education and practice.
In this chapter, Weddell defines "Normal" for us:
- 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.
Gee, that's the first time in my life that anyone has ever called me "normal".
Wait a second. I have to soak this in. . . Okay, all done.
My husband and I are famous for our dinnertime conversations. Sometimes, they stretch on into the late evening and they always include anyone who is sitting at our table. Our kids friends will sometimes be subjected to lessons in history, theology and philosophy at the dinner table. For us, it is completely normal to talk about the world and how it relates to God through the lens of our Catholic Faith.
It never occurred to either one of us that this was not normal. That's how our dinner tables were when we were kids. Our parents would ask us what we were learning in school and then expand on those topics. I think that's one of the reasons that my husband was so strong in his faith and why I was able to find my way home. Nothing was ever a closed topic.
As a married couple, that's also how our friends' families worked. Even if they had been raised in "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell-Me-About-Your-Faith" homes, dinner discussions, coffee klatsches and doughnut hour after Mass were hotbeds of religious discussion. When we moved from our neighborhood and out to my mom and dad's little town, Mom introduced me to new people who became my new spiritual life line. We surrounded ourselves with people who were just as passionate about God as we were. And it was normal.
When thinking about how I approached my own faith formation and how my husband I and set about building a Catholic culture for our family, I compare it to the story of the "Three Little Pigs":
You have to know you need to build a house.
Nothing in the action of formation happens without Grace. Everything begins with the Sacraments. Without them, nothing else makes sense. Just like the Three Little Pigs had to know they needed shelter, we need to have Divine Guidance on our journey. The only place to get it is through the grace of the Sacraments.
Building faith with no formation and no catechesis is like building our houses of straw.
When we give our children the gifts of sacramental grace without any further education or discussion, we build their houses of straw. Without some weight and strength, the first stiff breeze will blow the house down.
I am always stunned by people who go to the trouble of making sure their child makes it to PSR class, gets baptized, receives First Holy Communion and gets Confirmed, only to leave them home on Sunday morning. It happens more often that you would think. What lesson does that teach them?
Building their faith with all catechesis and no formation, or all formation and no catechesis, is like building a house of sticks.
It takes practice in the faith to learn what the catechism means in 'real-time". Faith has to be put into practice and you have to talk about it. Otherwise it has no meaning. It's just a bunch of rules with no point. Formation, the everyday application and discussion of the faith, is essential to bolster the catechism.
Similarly, if you don't know why you are doing what you are doing, it doesn't take too long for your resolve to blow away under the prevailing wind of a good argument. If all you have are the good works and good Christian attitudes as practiced from day-to-day, yet have no idea why you believe what you believe, you are vulnerable.
I can't tell you how many of my friends were sucked away from their faith by groups that attacked the "mindless ritualism" of the Catholic Church. My friends believed that they didn't need those "mindless rituals." All they needed was a personal relationship with Jesus. Far from being mindless, in the ritual of the Eucharist, Jesus was calling them to an even deeper, even more intimate relationship, ultimately to become one with God. Good catechesis would have been the key to that knowledge.
Building our faith with the brick of catechesis and the mortar of formation ensures a lasting dwelling place for the Holy Spirit in our lives.
No matter how many wolves blow and howl at the door, it will be much harder to break in and steal our faith if our house is made of brick.
But here's the trick: As adults, we still need to maintain that brick and mortar, tuck pointing and sealing our houses with constant attention to our prayer lives, reception of the Sacraments, and interaction with like-minded, passionate people.
When we are surrounded be people who don't believe as we do, it erodes our faith. The mortar gives way and the bricks begin to crumble. If you can't get the tools you need in your parish, search for a good confessor. Search for a group of like-minded bloggers or even a retreat group like Cursillo or Cum Cristo. But most importantly: Keep talking. Keep studying. Keep seeking. Keep receiving the sacraments.
Wolves sometimes present themselves in sheep's clothing.
As parents, we trust Catholic school educators, PSR teachers, and others to back us up on our goal to raise our children in the faith. Sometimes people let us down. Ask questions and make corrections if needed.
Another wolf to watch out for is the "Be-Nice Wolf." As I mentioned above, this wolf wants you to be quiet and just be nice. It sounds like a plausible idea, until you realize that you have to gloss over the parts that are morally questionable. Think, pray, and discern: Is this a time to speak, or a time to hold my thoughts until there is a better time to speak?
These wolves sneak in through the chimneys of the media, the side door of the workplace and classroom and burst through the door of social media. Study and good company are not enough. That's where the Sacraments come in.
There is a Spanish Christmas Carol that I love to sing at Christmas called "Riu, Riu Chiu"
The translation for part of the first verse is:
- The river bank protects it, (a reference to baptism)
- As God kept the wolf from our lamb
- The rabid wolf tried to bite her
- But God Almighty knew how to defend her
- He wished to create her impervious to sin
- Nor was this maid to embody original sin
The reference is, of course, to the Blessed Mother, but like she always does, Mary shows us just what to do. We must also fly to God's protection, through the personal encounter with Jesus in the Sacraments to stay strong and be protected against the wolves that find their way to our door.
The goal is to still be here after the wolf passes by.