We Don’t Know What Normal Is : Lawn Chair Catechism Week 3

Continuing my read along of Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus with CatholicMom.com’s summer book club

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 . . ..

Questions for Discussion:

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?

No, I am not comfortable talking about my relationship with God with others. To me it feels private, personal. Except clearly I’m comfortable blogging about it. So maybe it’s just that I’m more comfortable with talking about personal things either with someone I know well or in the faceless realm of my blog. Either way, I sort of see that it’s problematic. And yet…. it’s not just talking about God with people I don’t know well I’m uncomfortable with. I’m uncomfortable talking about a whole array of topics. But yes, God is one of them. Faith is hard for me to wear on my sleeve. I admire my sister so much precisely because she’s one of those people who can talk about faith to just anyone. My husband too. But for me, no. And I’m not sure it’s going to change any time soon. I’m not sure I’m capable of changing that. I wonder how much of this is personality and how much is excuse making? (This is probably why I really need to figure out how to start seeing my spiritual director again.)

Then again I think about Pentecost and the apostles going out like drunk people just standing there on the streets and glowing about God. When I receive the Eucharist I pray the Anima Christi: “Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me….” I read a gloss on that last phrase once that connected it to Pentecost and being drunk with the Holy Spirit, so full of Him that we get a little punch drunk and start babbling. We lose our inhibitions and proclaim the Good News.

I like to tell myself this blog and my adventures on social media are a sort of training ground. I’ll get more comfortable talking about faith here and maybe one day I’ll be more comfortable doing it in person too. Am I just fooling myself? Probably.

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So on to the NORMAL list. Yeah, I think on the whole I feel like Sherry’s NORMAL is where I find myself these days. I think the faith is for me, for everyone, not just for pious people and saints. And yet…. I lived the “typical” life for a long time and I probably still have a bit of baggage from that time in my life. I probably fall into patterns of thinking and talking that betray that I haven’t completely climbed on board….

I wouldn’t say I’m an excited Christian activist. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with the word activist. But I am excited about my faith. It’s just… yeah, when I get excited I only share that with a select few. With people I don’t know well I tend to be very reserved and quiet.

Yes, I would say that I am knowledgeable of their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church. And when I don’t know the answer to a question about the faith I get very excited to track down the information. I do like sharing that sort of stuff with others, it’s the teacher in me.

Do I have have fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to me, to encourage, nurture, and discern as I attempt to follow Jesus? Some. Not enough. I have my family, extended family and online friends. In real life… I’m in a tough season right now. I don’t have many friends or even acquaintances that I see very often. I take care of the kids, I occasionally do a homeschooling thing. I don’t have much of a social life…. But I would like more fellowship of committed lay Catholics… I have had it in the past, I know what I’m missing. I hope to have it in the future.

Going back to the book for the NORMAL topics the prompt skipped:

It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know what their charisms of service are and to be using them effectively in the fulfillment of their vocation or call in life.

This one has been bothering me since I first read the book. If you asked me what my charism of service is…. I’d draw a blank. But maybe it’s really lack of self confidence. Because I think if I dig a bit deeper I do know that I have natural gifts as a writer and as a teacher. But here’s the catch. I can see how I use my teaching charism as a mother. I can see how I use my writing charism to engage in evangelizing the digital continent. But I can’t see how I can put either at the disposal of my parish. I can see how I serve in my domestic church, my family, and how I serve in a wider church. But… How do I serve my local church? I’m still trying to figure that one out. And maybe the answer is that in this season of life I’m not called to do that. I’m merely meant to serve in these other areas until such time as the demands of my primary vocation will let me give more to my parish? I’m not satisfied with that answer, but I guess as long as I keep asking God to show me what he wants me to do, I don’t know what more I can do. Right?

It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know that they have a primary vocation/mission in life (primarily in the secular world) given to them by God. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be actively engaged in discerning and living this vocation.

Well, as I mentioned above. I know my primary vocation is to marriage. And a huge part of that mission is not only to be a wife but also to be a mother. I am the heart of our domestic church. I (along with my husband) am the primary educator of our children. And yes, I am actively engaged in discerning and living this vocation. And I recognize that any other mission I may undertake must be secondary to this primary mission. If serving my parish were to detract from my ability to serve my family then it would not be the right thing for me to do.

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This week I will answer the parish questions because they seem relevant and more about my place in the parish than asking me to comment on the parish as a whole.

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? No. There is a woman’s group. I’ve met with them once or twice for social events. Perhaps if I could go more frequently it could turn into something like that. And part, a large part, of what it getting in the way is simply the fact that I have five kids, the oldest of whom is seven. We’ve been in our parish four years now and in that time I’ve had three babies. So I’ve been a bit too busy to put much effort into becoming part of a group, making friends, etc. I think I can see places where those relationships could grow given a chance, but I’m not sure how much time and energy I have to devote to nurturing them….

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? Maybe? I think there are some bits and pieces of things in place, but not what I’d call a system. As an outsider coming into the parish I didn’t feel like it was at all easy to find a way in, to make those connections. There wasn’t a system designed to help me integrate into the parish. Four years on I’m still trying to bootstrap my way in. I think an ideal parish would be seeking out newcomers and helping them to find mentoring relationships, to find groups where they fit in. You know I’ve had three babies since we moved here and not once has someone from the parish brought us a meal or come to visit at our home. I don’t think all the burden should be on us to do the inviting, I think there should be some kind of system for reaching out to people and helping them.

 

 

 

2 Responses to We Don’t Know What Normal Is : Lawn Chair Catechism Week 3

  1. Enbrethiliel June 18, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    +JMJ+

    I love that the museum has a special activity room for children that makes the experience come alive through creation and imaginative play! No lesson is complete without these, although modern schools seem to miss the point by boiling these activities down to grades.

    Thanks for sharing this day in the life of your family, Melanie! It’s too bad that you had a rough start, but it seems to have been a positive experience in general!

  2. Melanie Bettinelli June 18, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    “No lesson is complete without these, although modern schools seem to miss the point by boiling these activities down to grades.”

    I so agree. It’s nice to see a museum that really gets it. I do hope that when the collection is transferred to the Worcester Art Museum they are able to keep the hands on imaginative play stuff.

    Bella’s primary reaction to her history lessons is to go make a game out of them. I figure my primary role is to get out of the way and let her have plenty of time to play and digest what we’ve read.

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