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Posts tagged ‘evangelization’

A Word: Catholic Women’s Conferences; Catholic Men’s Conferences

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Finally, dioceses/archdioceses across the nation are stepping up and answering the call to evangelize by putting money and effort into establishing conferences for women and for men.

We each have unique needs. Women aren’t men. Men aren’t women. We need each other, but we also need a day set aside to minister to us – a day that affirms our gender and dignity as a woman made in the image of God, as a man made in the image of God.

And that is unique. It is not the same. I am so far and completely and hilariously different from my husband. I am not my father. Not my son. Not like any man.

I am a woman. The evangelizing of my soul looks different from the evangelizing of my husband’s soul.

In part, we need a break from our duties at home and work to gather with other women, with other men to be nurtured and filled.

And yet…

I noticed something Saturday that is essential. When the teams gather in the quiet of a diocesan room and plan our conferences, there is one aspect that is often forgotten.

It was not forgotten at the women’s conference here in St. Louis last Saturday.

In between the two female speakers, for a space of time following the female MC’s introduction, gracing the stage beside the Blessed Mother, to stand before the thousand-plus Catholic women, was Monsignor Eugene Morris.

He was the highlight of the day.

His mother watched from one balcony window. She looked down upon her son. He honored her, praised her, and then talked of Our Lady and Confession and Our Faith.

We laughed. We felt his mother’s gaze. We saw the love. We entered for a few minutes into their connection.

And I thought about the importance of seeing a man in the midst of this women’s conference. A son. A brother. A priest.

He belongs to us as women in a unique way. We need him. He needed us.

It is true that we needed a day away from our homes, a day just for us. But that day was made better – the best – because one man had been permitted to break up the day with all the female voices with a call to remember who we are as “woman.” A reminder that only a man, only a priest can deliver.

It’s like our children when they hear our voice all day long, and then daddy comes home.

He can say the same thing we have said, repeatedly. Now, they hear it. Now, they respond.

It made me think.

What if men’s and women’s conferences began adding one segment where a priest (for the women) or a woman religious (for the men) or a grandfather (for the women) or a grandmother (for the men) had a space of time to speak.

I’m going to sound like goldilocks…

not too young

not too attractive

not too distracting in that way.

But a voice with a cadence and timbre we would otherwise miss.

Telling us the same things in another way.

As the conference ended, we quieted our spirits and made a space for the Lord to come to us in the Mass.

The deacons and priests and Archbishop processed.

The Knights of Columbus raised their swords.

The women felt something. The renewal was coming full-circle. These are our men, our sons, our brothers, our fathers and priests. They are here because of us. We are here because of them. We are uniquely made. Knit together male or female in our mother’s wombs for distinct roles, then knit together in the fabric of the Church for distinct roles. We need a day filled with voices of women. But nothing can take away our need to hear a man’s voice calling us to the Confessional. A man’s sword raised as the Archbishop enters. A young man enters with eyes on the cross he carries as his alb flows and the belt swings at his side.

Gather in your little rooms. Eat your finger sandwiches. Jot your notes down for next year’s conference. Assign the action-items. Send the emails to the prospective speaker.

But in a deliberate and lovely way, preserve a space for us to see and hear from the one not like us.

They are flesh from our flesh. Flesh of our flesh. And male and female He created us.

The perfect women’s conference comes full-circle.

We are created in the image of God.

I came back home and saw my husband. My grandsons.

Thought of my priest.

Saw my deacon with new eyes Sunday morning.

Wondered if my husband had a calling to be a deacon (probably not). Or my son. Or my sons-in-law.

I wondered if my grandsons had a vocation to the priesthood. I imagined them as altar servers.

I felt my feminine genius acutely. And it made me see all of us more clearly.

I imagined talking to a Catholic men’s conference. Oh, there are many things I would say. But mostly, it would be this:

She needs you to be the man God created you to be. She.

Your wife.

Your daughter.

Your sister.

Your mother.

They need you to be firmly planted in Christ Jesus.

So listen to these male speakers. And go from this place changed. And ready.

You Have ONE Job

We tell our daughter this often.

You have one job. It’s college. Give it your best.

In today’s Gospel Reading, we are told as clearly as possible, you have one job. While the Lord delays His return, Engage in trade with these until I return.

We usually hear fishing metaphors from our Lord.

Or agricultural metaphors.

But today, it is a business metaphor.

It is still the same message – for those of us who are a bit dense and need to hear it again and again and in different ways.

Grow my Church.

Convert hearts.

To this we say, we try. We are muddling. We are afraid we might stick our foot in our mouth. Perhaps make things worse. So we bite our tongue sometimes, Lord. Surely, you understand. Being bold in this environment is more hassle than it’s worth.

Magdala, Israel Below the Church The stone floor is the ORIGINAL road in the hometown of Mary Magdalene

Magdala, Israel
Below the Church
The stone floor is the ORIGINAL road in the hometown of Mary Magdalene

Enough! You who are weak and afraid to engage in trade.

Take what I gave him to do, and give it to another.

Imagine that you are the one who didn’t engage in trade. You tap danced around the teachings of the Church. You were afraid to share boldly the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You kept your joy a secret. Received the Eucharist on Sunday and nothing during your week showed that you have a King.

You buried your gold.

But now, you stand before that King.

With nothing.



While there is still time, engage in trade.

A World Waiting To Be Offended. A Society Waiting To Judge. But Hiding Is Not An Option.

I met a high school friend for lunch a week ago. I was passing through town on one of my multi-tasking trips: A visit to Minnesota to meet my new granddaughter. A speaking engagement in nearby New Brighton. A domestic pilgrimage to a shrine and a grotto.

We caught up on things and chatted about old friends, where there are, what they are doing. In the course of conversation, we talked about two friends in particular and how they both seem to suffer from agoraphobia. They keep to themselves. Nobody knows what they’re up to these days. While we might have guessed it about one of the two back in high school, neither of us could have predicted a reclusive personality when it came to the second friend. She had been homecoming queen. She was a cheerleader, back in the day.

I think I surprised Sheryl when I admitted that I have some of those same tendencies. I get it. I have to override it.

And I fell somewhere in the middle back in high school. Social, yes. But no homecoming queen.

Life happened, I explained. I got married. Put all my trust in someone. And that person stopped loving me. If anyone was supposed to be successful at marriage, it was a pastor and his wife. But we had issues.

I learned to deal with them privately. When you are the pastor’s wife, you don’t share. Your parents might know, and maybe one friend. But the congregation has to stay clueless. There’s the ministry to consider.

That’s what the-man-who-was-supposed-to-love-forever said when he told me it was time for me to take the kids and move in with my parents.

I left. And I took the life lessons with me. Like keeping all things private. Living life behind closed doors. And from that point forward, always being aware that someone you love may walk away. He may say he loves you, and then go on to marry four or five other women and have babies with two them. What you thought you know, what you thought was solid ground, was nothing of the sort.

I married again (a marriage that was blessed by the Church after I converted to the Catholic faith).

But this time, it was my family that reinforced the lessons on keeping it private.

My husband was in his late twenties (I was 32). He had never been married. Had no children of his own. He had to get up to speed with all of that overnight – under the watchful eye of a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, and a sister-in-law who lived five minutes away and a larger extended family that was all curious about how things were going for Denise and her new husband. I became more private. I created space around us.

I wanted to create a family out of the ashes, and I knew that couldn’t happen if my family sat in the seat of judgment.

As the children grew and began to leave home, I realized that I had issues.

My favorite place was home. I didn’t go out of my way to socialize. I let the answering machine get the calls. I begged my husband to set up the repairman visits and meet them at the door while I hung out in the bedroom with our dog.

The world is full of people who are waiting to be offended. It was better to not give them a reason to be offended.

The world is full of people who judge. It was better to not give them information that generated judgment.

And then, I became Catholic.

There is something about being Catholic that absolutely will not permit you to stay comfortably reclusive like a Jesus-and-me-only faith. This faith has Mass – seven days a week. This faith has communion of all sorts. This faith has the confessional.

And it was the confessional where change first began.

I won’t go into the details, and really, I’m not sure I could explain how it happened. I began to see the problem – and want to change it. I began giving talks to parishes and doing radio spots. The Catholic writer was leaving her comfort zone. People look at me and probably think that I am extroverted. Maybe once. Maybe in high school. But this is my mission. This is my gift to God. I don’t go out and meet the crowds because I like the attention. Maybe some people do it for that reason. Not me.

I do it because I am called to do it. Freely, I was given this faith. Freely, I will share it. And I will do it with joy and with a smile. And I will wrestle this fear to the ground every time I bear witness, if necessary.

Last May, I traveled abroad for the first time in twenty-five years. That trip stripped the final vestiges of a reclusive spirit from me.

And I wanted to open my arms and embrace the world around me.

I had been buttoned-up for too long.

When we become adults, we are used to doing things when we want and how we want. There is no parent to tell us to be more this or more that. Nobody corrects us when things get out of whack. Nobody is standing behind us saying, get out there and meet some people, make some friends.

And the years pass. Life happens. Old friends grow distant.

New friendships don’t come along.

We button ourselves up, and we like it that way.

I don’t think Jesus thinks much of that kind of life, though. Fear and distrust and bitterness – He comes to break those walls. Then, He sends us out to be His hands and feet and beating heart to another. He gives us talents. We are to share them. He weaves a story with our lives. We are to bear witness to it.

This Son of God could have stayed in Heaven and let us all just muddle through on our own, but He entered our world. He went into the highways and byways. He encountered the very ones who would nail Him to a cross – and still, he let them into His world. He wasn’t an attention seeker. He wasn’t trying to gain a stage.

He wanted to love them.

No buttoned-up life for the Son of God. And no matter how hard it is to break out of our comfort zone, there should be no buttoned-up life for us either.

The world awaits.

And I will not hide.

 Let us go out to meet that world. You come, too.


Jealous of Catholics

I was jealous of Catholics.

I saw the nuns across the road at the Catholic school when I was in fourth grade. Recess at Lincoln Elementary coincided with recess at St. Patricks. I wanted to go to that school. I wanted to have a nun for a teacher.

When we used to shop in Rochester, Minnesota, I would see the nuns with the flying-nun-habit. I wanted to be a nun and wear that. When I had the tonsillectomy at the age of eleven, there was a very young and very kind nun-nurse. She also made me want to be a nun – though we never talked about faith or God or anything spiritual. She smiled a lot and talked softly when my throat hurt like crazy. Her hands felt like they might heal you. And when she called me sunshine, I was sure she was one of God’s favorites.

Catholics had big families. Something in the way they were as a family appealed to me. The older brothers and sisters got to be mini-moms and mini-dads to their little brothers and sisters. And the younger ones had built-in champions on the playground and the school bus.

In high school, the good-looking boys were all Catholic. So there was that.

But their theology didn’t appeal to me. It didn’t make sense.

They worshipped Mary. (I thought.)

They worshipped Saints. (I also thought.)

They tried to earn salvation. (I was told.)

They made stuff up that wasn’t biblical at all. (I was also told.)

And they had a guy in Rome who was a little like Simon Says. (And I believed they did whatever he told them to do.)

And then, I discovered the Eucharist. I think they called what happened to me . . . infused grace. I read John 6 and I knew it was true. If Jesus Christ was making an appearance at Mass, I had to get there. I had to be there. I had to let His Presence wash over me.

There is no more compelling motivation for becoming Catholic and digging in to find out what Catholics really believe than the truth of the Real Presence.

So they had nuns. That’s nice. What mattered was they had Jesus’ Body and Blood.

So they had big families. Kind of neat. What mattered was they had the Real Presence.

So they had cute boys. I’d long gotten over all those crushes. What mattered now was Jesus and only Jesus.

And when you fall in love with Him, He sets all the misconceptions about His Church in order.

One-by-one the perceived red flags disappeared. They didn’t worship Mary. They didn’t worship the Saints. They believed they were saved by grace which led to faith and good works. They didn’t make up stuff. And the man in Rome – well, I had seen enough Christian division to know that God might want a Vicar on Earth to shepherd the flock. The entire faith was organic. It fit together like the parts of one body.

The Body of Christ.

I’m not jealous anymore. I’m thankful.

I’m Catholic.

Let My Love Open the Door

He just keeps doing it – loving them into listening, loving them into looking, loving them into letting-the-wall-fall.

Who is he? He is Pope Francis. And he keeps reminding us that we must not trip over the things that have always come between us as Christians. My friends, we have certainly learned by now that we cannot make progress in this quest for unity if we keep going about it as we always have. We must focus our first gaze on that which has the power to bind us – love of Christ.

There is something healing and totally freeing about Pope Francis. He permits us to pick up old conversations, but let them find new paths. The old paths are dead ends. Read more

Lost Dogs and Lost Sheep

This morning, I let our labradoodle (Max) out of our daughter’s bedroom and walked behind him down the hall. He paused at the guest room door and sniffed. He never does that. This morning, something was different.

My grandson, little Omry Dennis, was asleep in there. And Max knew it.

It reminded me of something I saw posted on Facebook a couple of days ago – a post about how to find a lost dog and then the list of tricks – leave clothing with your scent on it where you last saw him, set out a bowl of water beside the clothing(do not leave dog food because it will attract other animals), and add a note telling others not to move the items.

The guy who posted this said his dog was waiting for him the next day – even though more than a week had elapsed since the dog went missing. His dog really did pick up the scent and come back, planting himself right beside the familiar things until the master showed up.

Waiting for someone to come back home to Mother Church can be difficult, too. I think it might be easier for cradle Catholics to come back than for other people to stumble along and find Mother Church. There are so many things that remind them of home.

Water fonts.

Rosary beads.


A picture of the Holy Family.

Stained-glass windows.

Grandma’s lace veil.

First Communion dresses.

A casket.

A crucifix.

A responsorial Psalm.

A prayer card.

The name of a saint.

A snippet of an old Catholic hymn.

A clerical collar.

A bell.

Mother Mary.


These are the things that point them home. Even if they have wandered far, they will remember. Even if you have gone home for the night and have doubts that they will ever show up again, they just might find their way to the things that remind them of home. Even though you barely dare to hope, they may be waiting for you – right beside the mementos the Master left for them. And maybe they are waiting for you to show up and invite them to go with you, to climb in your car and head back home – where it is safe. And warm.

And oh so familiar.

The Boomer Esiason Story

I don’t know very much about Boomer Esiason because I’m not a big football fan. I know, one shouldn’t admit that in the final days before Super Bowl Sunday. But I saw an interview on Real Sports the other day about Boomer Esiason, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Boomer Esiason played for the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals. Today, he is a NFL commentator and analyst. In the late 1980s, he attended a meeting of the Quarter Back Club of Washington DC to receive an award. The featured speaker that night was Frank Deford, chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. When Deford spoke, Boomer realized that this was not just an awards ceremony. The evening was actually a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

Boomer listened as Deford recounted the story of his daughter Alex who died at the age of 8. Boomer describes the talk as the most moving talk he has ever heard. Frank Deford described one father-daughter moment that had Alex and her daddy (Deford) laughing, and as Alex walked away, she said wouldn’t this have been great, Daddy.

Frank knew what she meant. She was saying that it would have been so wonderful to have a full life as daddy and daughter – all of it – all the years and laughs and special moments. Soon after, Alex became very ill and passed away.

Boomer listened to Deford that night and was so moved by the speech that Boomer asked Deford, “How can I get involved? How can I help?”

Deford told Boomer that he could help by leveraging his celebrity for CF patients. Boomer began helping with fundraisers and often visited the sick children who were hospitalized with CF.

And then, four years later, in 1991, Boomer and his wife had their first child, a son they named Gunnar. One day, Boomer was called to the phone in the middle of practice. He had to get home. It was an emergency. Boomer was on a respirator in Children’s Hospital.

When Esiason arrived at the hospital and was met by the doctor, a nurse was there. Boomer saw the CF on her name tag. He knew instantly that his little boy had the same illness that had taken Deford’s daughter and was claiming the lives of the children he visited in hospitals.

What was the chance of that?

Devastated, Boomer called his father first. And then he called Deford.

The call set the stage for everything that came next. Boomer was all in. This was about his son. From that moment on, every contract he signed had a clause in it that included a donation to the foundation. He worked all hours, didn’t turn down any invitation, lived on five hours’ sleep every night. This was for his son. And Boomer’s fame, his name, his everything was for this son.

I cannot help but see a spiritual reality in this story.

We have a Lord who understands our weakness, who became like us, experiencing everything we experience. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son. He bore our infirmities. Like Gunnar.

His Heavenly Father looks at the Son and pours out everything for that Son. He holds back nothing. Like Boomer.

We are the little ones, languishing in hospitals, scooped up by Boomer and Gunnar and benefiting by so great a love – the love between father and son.

There is another lesson here as well.

Like Boomer Esiason, we have been asked to make this personal. Faith is not just knowledge and hours of volunteerism. It must become real, everything, as powerful as love itself. Everyone who encounters us must walk away, having caught a glimpse of the faith we hold dear – just as anyone who meets Boomer Esiason walks away having had an encounter with the mission of CF. We must throw everything we are – our name, our work, our life – behind the Kingdom of God. When people think of us, they must also immediately think of our story. Our story of life in Christ, that is.

We must have the same kind of zeal for the Kingdom that Boomer has for his son. We are both in this for one reason – there are so many waiting to be saved.

We aren’t just dabbling at this work, like it is something we do. It is who we are – because we love the Son that much.

Playing Church

Audrey and I were good friends when we were young. In high school, our paths didn’t cross very often as we simply didn’t have many classes together.

But in middle school, things were different. On one occasion, she came to my house, and we ended up at the church. That wasn’t so odd, because my brother and sister and I were in the church quite often after hours. It was almost a second home (since our dad was pastor there). And it was just a block away.

When you’re twelve or thirteen, you begin to think of church differently. You notice that people don’t worship the same. And you talk about the differences.

It’s not like when you are young – and oblivious.

It’s not like when you are older – and you are sure your way is the right way.

When you are young, you are malleable. You are eager to learn how you are different from your friends – and how you are the same. You have a great desire to open your world up and make new friends. Try new things. Experience new places.

Audrey and I found ourselves in the church sanctuary (a very small country Presbyterian parish). At first, we just played church. But then, we realized that we were drawing on different worship experiences. Soon, we were taking turns, explaining to each other what worship looks like at our church. How we do it. What the preacher does. What the priest does. What the people do.

We didn’t quite grasp the finer points of each other’s faith, but we were having fun. We were talking. We were showing, explaining, experiencing something very important.

Even at that young age, we felt the great desire to participate in ecumenism. To discover what we each believed – and to find common ground.

And like all good ecumenism, it was grounded in friendship and goodwill. There was no desire to win. We simply wanted to share.

I forget these things – now that I’m all grown up. I forget the friendship part and want to go right to the explaining part. I forget the desire to find common ground and find myself wanting, instead, to win.

I can still see Audrey in my mind, standing on the platform where my father stood every Sunday, explaining to me what the priest does in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And I realize that I would love to go back to that childhood home and visit the parish where many of my friends received the Sacraments. What we were yearning for all those years ago, we’ve actually discovered.

True ecumenism leads to unity.

While we have grown up and gone different ways, in the most important way, we have come together. We are both part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Christ bestowed unity on His Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives His Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her…. The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit” (n. 820).

A Twelfth Night Christmas Party

Last night, before the snow began falling, my husband and I went to a Twelfth Night Christmas party. The night was something from a dream. We revisited a home we had not seen in seventeen years and talked with professors we knew in graduate school. And I had the thought before the party began, before we even left our home – what if we stepped across the threshold and suddenly were transformed into the people who met and married seventeen years ago – like some kind of plot in a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story. What would happen if people who knew each other a lifetime ago suddenly changed and re-entered the prime of life?

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment all over again.

John and I don’t socialize very much. We’ve had company for two weeks, but they were all family members. Our idea of socializing is going out to eat with our parish priest (which we enjoy immensely). So last night was the kind of night that will stick with me; it’ll come up again in a dream. My subconscious mind will gnaw on this experience months from now.

My husband and I stepped into old patterns. We were the same two people last night that we were seventeen years ago – like the time travel-thing really did happen. John carried the conversations. I listened. Nodded. Smiled. Pondered it all. Because that’s what writers do.

I take the people with me, and they don’t even know it. Each room has a unique feel to it. The crowded dining room. The lovely sitting room. The large kitchen with its team of caterers in their crisp, white uniforms, offering roasted lamb and crab cakes. The sweeping staircase. And my favorite – the three-story library with its own spiral stair.

The people are as unique as the rooms. People from the Order of Malta and the Eugene Field House. Editors. Professors. Book designers. Architects. A priest.

The quieter ones, like me, gravitate to the library. This is where literature keeps its own time capsule. One can sit and read and discover that time travel is possible.

And we did step back in time.

My husband and I stood in the middle level of that three-story library, where just a few others had migrated, and John pulled a book from the shelf and read the poem he quoted to me more than seventeen years ago.

And we remembered our story.

We remembered each other and this vocation that has been so full of grace and love.

It was Twelfth Night.

We had just been to Mass and celebrated the Epiphany – where Mary and Joseph’s quiet little life with Jesus was interrupted. The whole world came to them in the form of Magi. Joseph probably did most of the talking – like my husband. Mary probably quietly took it all in – like me. Perhaps this is where they realized that their life would not be their own. It was meant for others. It was meant for everyone. Perhaps their vocation was felt most acutely in that moment.

Christ is not meant to be kept a secret. He is Lord of the nations. We must let Him be who He is. We cannot remain closed off. We must not keep Him to ourselves.

It was like someone had taken the book off the shelf and laid it open before them – for us. The old scroll contained it all. And they found themselves stepping into those words – finding themselves there.

“Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” Isaiah 60:6

Epiphany 2014