Two weeks ago my friend Sarah and I loaded our four kids into the van and drove twelve hours to Atlanta to attend the Catholic New Media Celebration… and to meet an extraordinary group of writers face-to-face for the first time, strangers who felt like old friends because of the connections we had made in cyberspace. The trip down was not without its challenges. My six-year-old and Sarah’s three-year-old alternately adored and irritated each other. They were also firmly united in vexing Christopher, my eight-year-old. His scrappy sister and her sidekick quickly reduced him to whining and wheedling, or playing with the baby and pointedly ignoring the girls. Deprived of the uniting force of their common “enemy,” the girls usually started picking at each other.
At one point on the trip, Sarah gave me a brilliant tip from Dr. Ray Guarendi. When the bickering became insufferable, she made my son and daughter join hands and simply look at each other. For five minutes. When they started squirming or talking, she made them start over. Five more minutes. It took twenty minutes, but in the end it worked. My kids needed to be reminded that they loved one another… that they needed to be kind to one another. From that point on, I had only to threaten them with handholding, and the bickering evaporated like a puddle on a sunny day.
Saturday evening we rushed to rendezvous with a group of CE and Canticle writers at an Italian restaurant near the convention center. We managed to snag a group of tables in a side room, and let the girls squeal and frolic with greater abandon than the other patrons might have preferred… but it was a small price to pay for dinner with friends.
A few tables over, another group of conference participants were discussing a recent message from the Holy Father, who urged Catholics to work together in our common work of evangelization. “Why don’t more Catholic groups do that?” one person exclaimed. “We do… all the time!” another pointed out. She was right, of course. Catholic Exchange, for example, regularly promotes a variety of ministries and apostolates as partners in evangelization. I recently encountered another great example of this kind of spiritual partnership when Faith and Family ran an article about Women of Grace®, which produces Canticle magazine. At a time when many magazine publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat, I was touched by their generosity in running even a short piece about the “competition.”
Similarly, both Canticle magazine and Women of Grace/LHLA® regularly provide opportunities for other ministries and apostolates to share their message. Recent examples include Michaelene Fredenburg, founder of Abortion Changes You and Lynn Cassella-Kapusinski, founder of Faith Journeys Foundation.
Unfortunately, this kind of “co-laboring” is not always practiced. Consumer resources, both in terms of time and money, are limited, and many worthwhile ministries are struggling just to survive. With the constant barrage of media, old and new – blogs and podcasts and e-zines, radio and television programming and publishing in all its forms – people must often make hard decisions about how to spend their discretionary time and income. In a virtual world where “content is king,” orthodoxy alone is not a high enough standard of communication. The message must also be engaging and personally relevant in order to attract and grow an audience. Consequently, those who are first and/or best at filling a particular niche do well… while others may go by the wayside.
Happily, a solution does exist: While the “pool” of articulate, technologically savvy Catholics has been somewhat saturated, other audiences exist if we are willing to do what is necessary to reach outside the existing “market.” We need to bring the message of the love and mercy of God to those who have forgotten it… and to those who never heard it in the first place.
How? Like the two girls in the back seat, we first need to stop picking on our brothers and unite against a common enemy. Instead of endlessly debating fine points of the liturgy — extraordinary vs. ordinary rite, receiving on the hand vs. tongue, covered vs. uncovered heads — we need to receive the Eucharistic graces with a humble, reverent hearts and share them with the world that is starving and blind, in a language they can understand.
My brothers and sisters, the enemy is real… and he is only too happy to see us turn on each another, knowing that this is the best way to distract ourselves from the real work at hand. But how great is the joy of our Father when He sees us working and playing side by side, forgiving and loving each other. After all, this is how Our Lord said that the world would know we belong to Him: “If you have love one for another” (John 13:35).
Now, I’m not suggesting that all of us join a big, happy handholding circle (especially since hand-holding can be such a loaded issue in some camps…). What I’m suggesting is that we need to practice approaching each other with grace rather than suspicion, mercy instead of criticism. Whenever correction is needed, we must first pray for humility, and the ability to approach the other person as a brother, instead of the enemy.
This is easier said than done. I confess that there are one or two individuals I struggle not to judge, not to begrudge their success. Like most people, these individuals have certain weaknesses and chinks in their armor… and yet, the last time I checked, the Lord does not choose only perfect specimens to do His bidding. Thank God.
So, I’d like to invite you to do something with me. This week, pick one person you find impossible to like. The neighbor whose dog keeps messing your lawn. The brother-in-law who keeps messing up your family dinners. The brother or sister who is far less likeable in real life than the public persona he or she projects. If you can’t narrow it down to one, pick two.
Now comes the hard part. Tape that person’s name to your bathroom mirror, computer screen, kitchen sink, or some other place you will see regularly. And every time your eyes fall on that piece of paper, ask God to bless that person. If you need reinforcements, ask Mary to pray for you, too. Then, at the end of the week, go to confession and hand that slip of paper to your priest when you make your confession.
Every time you find yourself getting riled up by something this person says, does, or is, stop. Remember how it felt to look into that priest’s eyes, and to give him that paper. Remember how many other things you confessed that day, and how often you need forgiveness extended to you. Then say another prayer of blessing. So that one day when you get to heaven, you’ll be able to hold that person’s hand with nothing but gratitude.