Saturday, February 28, 2009

A powerful witness

It's late and I'm exhausted, but I just need to say a few things about the general experience of being in Denver the past two days for the Living the Catholic Faith Conference. It was hour upon hour of inspiration. About 3,000 people attended the conference over two days -- old people, teen-agers, entire families with lots of kids in tow, moms and dads with infants cooing and smiling and, occasionally, crying. Today half of the participants were Spanish-speaking. I hadn't realized that 51 percent of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Denver is Hispanic. That's quite a figure, and one that should remind us of what our future Church will look like and how we might want to respond.

The Denver Convention Center was like a modern-day revival tent. There were so many people at Mass this morning that they ran out of Holy Communion. The lines for confession were several people deep and snaked through the hall and around the corner for the entire 90-minute lunch break. In fact, the second keynote address of the day ran a few minutes behind because there were still confessions to be heard in that conference room. Good problems to have, I think. We're constantly hearing about Catholics not going to Mass regularly and Catholics not going to confession at all, but this was a reminder that not all Catholics can be lumped into that disinterested group. There are many, many Catholics out there who are hungry for the faith and for the opportunity to receive the sacraments.

I was overwhelmed by the response of the people who attended my two workshops at the conference. Their kindness, their questions, their appreciation was beyond anything I had ever expected. I know I was there to pass something along to them, but they gave just as much back to me, probably much more. As I was leaving the convention center, a group of women called out to me to thank me one more time. I felt as though we were old friends, and, in a sense, we are because we are eternally connected by this faith of ours and our desire to share it.

I wrapped up my Denver trip with a great dinner at D'Corazon, a Mexican restaurant just a quick bus ride from my hotel. Best Mexican food I've had since leaving Texas eight years ago. I got a "knockout" margarita, chips and salsa, and huge platter or enchiladas verde and rice and beans for a whopping $12. I spent some time in the 16th Street Mall neighborhood before returning back to my hotel. The only negative of my trip is happening right now. The 20-somethings in the room next to me have decided to turn their no-smoking room into a smoking room and the smell is so bad my throat and eyes are hurting. So now at this late hour, I have to decide whether to ask to move my room. Not something I want to do. Other than that, Denver has been a real treat.


Lani said...

I'm glad it was a wonderful experience for you Mary - sounds just great. Congrats on your successful workshops!

PostPaganBaby said...

I was able to (tardily - sorry) attend your last talk Saturday afternoon and it seems to me that you are spot on concerning the indicators of spiritual apathy or religious indifference in American Catholic life. I especially agree with you concerning to problem of far too many parishes that offer nothing for adults or - worse - resent the implication that something (or something more) ought to be offered to adults. It is painful to see our Catholic parishes ignore or not even seen the evident need that people have for Christ.

Having said that, I think "the solution" (if one can speak of what concerns the human heart in such utilitarian terms) lies less in a program or through theological knowledge but can only be found in beginning with ourselves: namely, beginning with my own "I" and fathoming the depths of what I desire.

I belong to an ecclesial movement (Communion and Liberation) and we take the heart seriously. We don't conceive the heart in terms of "if it feels good do it," but as the seat or place of the need for truth, beauty, justice, friendship, freedom, etc.

If I take the risk of listening to these needs, I can then begin discerning what corresponds to this heart of mine.

There's an obvious danger here: confusing my heart with merely subjective desire: I may approach life superficially and think, "Ah, that girl over there in the red dress really corresponds to my heart" or "Gee, that 12-pack ought to satisfy me." The solution is not in denying anything but seeing the girl or beer in its depths: what are these elements of reality signs of?

Clearly this is not an individualistic task, but must take place with others.

When I follow the signs in reality, they lead me to ask the ultimate questions: Who am I? Where am I going? Or in the words of "Rainbow Randolph" in DEATH TO SMOOCHY, "Oh, God! What does it all mean?" I believe it was a Protestant theologian who pointed out that there is nothing more absurd than an answer to a question that has not been asked.

I think one of the failures of Catholics is to assume that non-Catholics or lapsed Catholics have already asked these fundamental questions.

For myself, this kind of asking led me back into the Church and eventually into a movement in which I find help for my daily life - not a kind of religiosity that is "added on" to life but a way of facing reality that helps me live fuller.

Given my experience with CL, I'm tempted to suggest that the experience of this movement is for everyone - but of course that would be sheer hubris. What I think is definitely true is that following Christ today is no different than it was 2,000 years ago: we follow Him through an exceptional humanity; a humanity communicated to us through the life of the Church.

At the end of your talk Saturday afternoon you asked about programs or resources that people found helpful. I wanted to say yesterday that programs and courses of study can be useful, but what may be even more useful for some people is following a charism that has been recognized in the Church. Sure, I'd give pride of place to CL because through this experience I have begun to live freely and not as a slave to my circumstances, but my broader point is that the ecclesial or lay movements are something akin to the flourishing of religious orders in the Middle Ages. The Spirit moves where he will, but within these movements there is more to be gained than an understanding of doctrine; there is the possibility of the experience of following.

It's tough for us Americans to follow because we confuse following with getting bullied or with a form of authoritarianism. (I would go so far as to say a sign of the usefulness or fruitfulness of a movement is whether one's freedom and happiness increase or not.)

The late great JPII indicated the importance of the movements in the Church today when he met with the Neo-Catechumenal Way, CL, Focolare, etc. as if to say, "Christ is working in you guys - be willing to accept correction, but keep up the good work."

I would encourage you and your readers to check out some of these movements (I recently came across this website and it looks to have a pretty thorough listing.)

Thank you, Mary, for coming to the conference and our fair city.