MAGNOLIA – We all come to God in our own way.
About 170 catechists gathered at St. Thomas More Academy for fellowship and spiritual strengthening. Dozens were honored for their decades of work, including Sister Catherine Charles SND of St. Margaret of Scotland with 62 years of service.
They also came to hear Father Christopher Walsh speak about being a witness. Father Walsh said that we each have an individual journey to come to Jesus and that catechists need to accompany their charges, but to realize that they move at their own pace and in their own time.
The priest from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia works with young people and one young man from the city came to him after losing a third friend to gun violence. “Why is God doing this to me?” he asked.
“It’s messy,” he said of the challenges we face. “It’s always been messy.”
He said his own personal path involved working with emotionally troubled teenagers as a young man, teenagers who had killed, robbed and raped others. One child had been so horrifically abused that it caused him to turn away and become sick to his stomach.
He turned to his co-worker, a Protestant minister, and asked “How could your God allow this?”
He said the minister worked with him, despite his anger and arrogance, for weeks. “He was so patient and I was such a jerk,” he said.
The result was a closer walk with God and the beginning, in a way, of his own journey, he said.
He gave examples of many of the saints and how they came to Jesus in so many different ways. Katherine Drexel was a child of wealth and privilege who found God among the poor African-Americans and Native-Americans. She visited the Pope and told him he had to do something. “You seem healthy. Why don’t you go?” she was reportedly told.
Jeanne Jugan, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, also found God among the poor and suffering. But Father Walsh said that someone else took credit for her accomplishments, relegating her to little more than the old eccentric in the corner of the convent.
Although finally vindicated, Walsh said she found Christ a second time in that rejection and scorn, in a sense finding it upon the cross.
“God respects us that much. He knows our uniqueness,” he said.
He said that some grow in the faith through service. Others are nourished by retreats. For many others, neither of those approaches will do more than fill time. “Our church can’t be one size fits all,” he said.
He suggested that you offer to pray with people when they ask you to pray for someone. Instead of remembering as you fall asleep that someone asked you to pray for someone, just say, can we pray now?
While some may be surprised, others may well welcome the chance. He suggested you put your hand on the person’s shoulder since it’s a nice safe spot. “Don’t take their arm. People move their arm and then you touch something else. Don’t rub their back. That can be a little creepy,” he said.
Just simply give praise to God, acknowledge what he has done for you and ask him to help the person which you are praying for, he suggested.
He urged people to know the faith and have a reason for their faith. He said it is also important to be willing to say I don’t know. “Don’t make stuff up,” he urged.
Many people have turned away from church and from Mass because they stopped going and they did not miss it, he said. They did not miss the music. They did not miss the companionship. They did not miss the message.
If Sunday Mass is not as rewarding and special as you hope, then find a way to make it more special. “Be a part of the solution,” he suggested.
Father Walsh also said it’s important to keep trying. He told the story of a man he met in Uganda who had been a polygamist with five wives. A missionary converted one wife and eventually all five became Catholic. He said the man told him that he knew he should convert, but that would mean he was financially responsible for all five wives, but could only sleep with one. “He said that there was a lot to lose,” he remembered.
The local priest kept asking him to convert and he finally decided that “he wouldn’t keep asking me unless he thought it was something I was capable of doing.”
“Keep asking,” Walsh urged.
Among the many recognized on Saturday were: Terry Carlini, Catherine Ciesielski, David Gargula, Anne Harris, Charlie Lane, Ellen Losse, Jean McGee, Cathy Reese, Theresa Sommer and Susan Walker for 20 years of service, Michael Robinson and Sheila Meara for 25 years of service, Michael Alvares, Karen Yasik, Deacon John Molitor and Stacey Mattia for 30 years of service and Carroll Snyder (35 years), Michele Harris (40 years), Peter Kowalski (41 years), Pat Walker (45 years), Mary Body (46 years) and Sister Catherine Charles (62 years).
“It usually doesn’t even feel like work,” said Pat Walker of St. Ann Parish near Trolley Square in Wilmington. “I want to encourage young people to consider it as a career because it is rewarding not just as a career path, but for your own spiritual growth. We need young blood.”