I’m going to plead dubious hotel internet, and skip last week and move straight to session 12, “Personally Encountering Jesus in His Church”.
The topic is . . . What are your spiritual gifts, and how can you make yourself useful for a change?
Here’s what I’m noticing lately: There are certain things that I do that cause me to completely forget myself. I become utterly unaware of Jennifer, and just go into this mode where I’m doing my thing, and it works, and I’m not conscious of any effort. It just happens. I forget to eat (not my ordinary state), I forget I haven’t had any coffee (not my ordinary state) . . . I forget everything. And just do that thing. I’m 100% present in the task.
If you come to my house you will quickly discover I do not have the Gift of Housekeeping. And I have to work very very hard to remember to offer you a drink. I’ll just forget. I enjoy having guests, but I’m no good at it. Not my gift. By way of contrast, I have some good friends at my parish, and they do have that gift. I walked into their little rental place, and in the first twenty minutes I knew that (a) this couple has the gift of hospitality and that (b) my one friend was going to have to drop dead before I’d ever let her off our ministry’s hospitality committee. (And then, only reluctantly.) It was a useful follow-up to reading the discipleship book.
–> This couple has such an overwhelming gift of hospitality that when they told me they’d purchased a large home in an expensive neighborhood, my immediate reaction was Benedictine, not Franciscan: Good call. Their home is essentially a public building, with a steady flow of guests to whom they minister. To only have one or two people visiting is a slow day for them. Truly a gifted couple.
It’s always nervous business, admitting to your own gifts. Because of course you open yourself up to the mocking laughter of people who will look at your results and deride your little efforts. But so what? At least once a quarter, I get into a rousing argument with my parish music director (whom I adore, in the non-theological, smoochie-huggy girl way). My whining does not negate her gift.
So that said, here’s the thing about effort and gifts: Longtime readers of this blog and its predecessor know that I am capable of perfectly bad writing. Still, words come out of me. It isn’t a question of whether I’m going to write something . . . it’s only a question of what I’m going to write, and how I’m going to write it. So the effort is a pleasure. I’d rather write than do anything else. I write in my head when I’m eating, when I’m sleeping, when I’m cleaning, when I’m driving, when I’m praying . . . all the time. Enough decades of that, combined with a few pointers from reliable instructors, and you end up sort of competent in your field.
It’s so steady a flow that I have a hard time getting my head around non-literate cultures. But thinking about such a world, where you have to use your mouth to explain things instead of your keyboard . . . might explain my teaching compulsion. I suspect the two go together — for me, at least.
So. Gifts in the parish. I like doing stuff and being useful. Turning out and offering my services comes pretty naturally to me. But that idea of multiplie over-lapping opportunities? Definitely.
As I’m putting together our little homeschool cooperative for the fall, something that’s come to my attention, repeatedly, is that our group is not for everybody. So much so that I asked if the local Catholic school could send a rep to our kick-off pot luck, because we get families who want a good Catholic education for their family, but really homeschooling is not their best solution. There needs to be a pile of different communities within the parish where each family can settle in and find their little spot to grow in the faith.
(The principal said she’d come! Pray for only friendly people to turn out, please? We don’t want to be *those* homeschoolers).
–> My experience is that parish conflict seems to be at its worst when:
(a) The parish offers only a few approved outlets for growth in the faith.
(b) Parishioners feel like they must be very bad people if they find this class boring, or that ministry not their cup of tea.
(c) Ministries are perceived as competing with each other.
(d) A preference for _____ is understood as a rejection of ________.
The funny thing about that instinct, and I’ll take the homeschooling example for one, is that preexisting conditions have such a powerful impact on our perceptions. Homeschooling is perceived as radical because we happen to live in a time when it’s uncommon. Parochial schools are perceived as wildly expensive because we live in a society where public K-12 schools are tax-funded with 100% scholarships across the board, and college degrees are considered a necessary part of preparing for middle-class life.
Compare, say, the experiences of the medieval urban middle class circa 1200, with the equivalent professional family today . . . you get a radically different notion of what a normal education is, and who ought to be teaching what, how, and at what price. Even though today’s engineer really is just the modern counterpart of yesterday’s blacksmith or carpenter (or engineer). One of the quirks of our own time is that we’re terrified of acknowledging that people have different gifts, and therefore need different types of education.
With all that said, here’s a round-up of my favorite resources for college-material Catholics needing a 101 on the faith. I’m pretty sure the reason we don’t see more good theology programs in our parishes is that everyone is embarrassed to admit that some of the people in the pews are smarter than others. Like it would be such an insult to Mrs. Nicely the casserole lady if she discovered that Dr.Thinky the professor was off reading a big heavy book about Jesus. But seriously? Get over it. I’ll quit plugging hefty text books the day everyone starts saying my cooking is as good as it gets. Until then, let’s all be sane and do our respective things.