As I mentioned last week, I am doing a series of examples of stories of faith in our own lives. I mentioned that Archbishop Lucas is launching a multiple year project in the archdiocese to try to encourage people to become stronger disciples. The phrase he uses is “missionary disciple”.
While I do not disagree with this project in any way, I think there are easier ways to describe what we need to become. It all begins, in my opinion, with looking at our own faith experience. As I have said these past couple of weeks, each of us needs to be ready to tell our faith story to everyone who will listen.
If we have our stories, our testimonies, to use another word for it, ready to tell others, we can be on the lookout for locations for ourselves to be not just disciples, but apostles. Let me remind you what those two words mean. Disciple comes from the word for “student”; Apostle comes from the word “to be sent.”
All of us – all of us – should be both disciple and apostle. I think one of the reasons why the church is in such problems now is because we have not been both.
Last weekend, I mentioned that this weekend I was going to talk about stories of faith from my mom and dad. Let me start with my mom’s story.
When my mom was in grade school, she nearly died because of what was called “the sleeping sickness”. When she recovered, she went to church and offered a Thanksgiving to God through Mary. This is how my mom related the story. As she was in the church, at St. Mary’s, she looked up at the statue of Mary in the front of the church and she prayed this way:
She thanked Mary for her intercession in getting her past that deadly sickness. And she specifically remembers saying that she was willing to offer her life to God through Mary and wanted to die when she was 33 years old, just like Jesus. Now, remember, she was still in grade school, and it was a child’s response. But then, as she was looking at the statue of Mary, she was convinced that the statue of Mary winked at her.
Now, as my mom continued to tell the story, when she reached the age of 33, she had a very nervous year because she had five little children and she was concerned that Mary was going to hold to the promise she had made. But, as that year ended, my mom realized that, if she had seen Mary wink, it meant something different than she thought it did.
My mom came to believe that the wink she claims she saw was really Mary giving a knowing little wink acknowledging her desire, telling her – in effect – that was not what was asked of her. Did my mom have some sort of a mystical experience when she was in grade school? I have no reason to doubt that. It was a turning point in her faith and led to her trust in God and the intercession of Mary. It defined her faith.
My dad’s story is very different and happened later in his life. The most moving event spiritually in his life happened right after his dad’s death. My dad was praying in the church and was asking the question why he was given so much. At the time he had five children, his wife, our home, his mom and her home, his grandmother and her home, and three jobs including being a firefighter.
He had to have faith to ask what he did in this time. As he was praying this simple question of “why”, he looked up at the crucifix above the tabernacle and was convinced that he saw the hands of Jesus moving from being nailed to the cross to being stretched out beckoning my dad to come to him. My dad saw in this that all the things that he was facing contained Jesus’ call to my dad to embrace the cross.
From that point he never saw what he had to do for his family as anything but a blessing, and an encouragement to be the example of faith that he became to everyone who knew him. Not just in our family, but everywhere, with everyone. He did not mention this experience of prayer very often, but in our family, we knew dad was a man of faith. In part, because of this event.
I would imagine that if I had the chance to talk to my parents about their experience, they would not count these as big events. Certainly not as big as they came to be for me in remembering them. But, I think these events were very formative for their faith life. They were so formative that they told the stories to their children. Now, it sounds almost incredible that both should have had what they saw as a vision.
I do not believe this is a mystery, or that unusual for those who are people of faith! I think it happens far more often than we realize. And it is not, or should not, be thought of as something unusual. Nor should these events be hidden away in our memory. If the Holy Spirit is with us, we should expect these kinds of events to be a normal part of our Christian life. I am not saying they should happen every time we turn around, but we should expect God to respond in a way that would lead us a sure sense of his presence in our lives.
These are the types of stories that form our faith lives and inform us of God’s action in our lives. Next weekend I will start to tell you my story. I have a number of parts to the story. I will cover my life before coming a priest and after. But what I want you to take away from all of the stories is that you have a story to tell also. And I want you to begin thinking about how you would tell your story of how God has touched your life.
Having that story ready is the best way that we can become the kinds disciples and apostles that our world needs today.