It’s late and I’m exhausted, but I just need to say a few things about the general experience of being in Denver the past two days for the Living the Catholic Faith Conference. It was hour upon hour of inspiration. About 3,000 people attended the conference over two days — old people, teen-agers, entire families with lots of kids in tow, moms and dads with infants cooing and smiling and, occasionally, crying. Today half of the participants were Spanish-speaking. I hadn’t realized that 51 percent of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Denver is Hispanic. That’s quite a figure, and one that should remind us of what our future Church will look like and how we might want to respond.
The Denver Convention Center was like a modern-day revival tent. There were so many people at Mass this morning that they ran out of Holy Communion. The lines for confession were several people deep and snaked through the hall and around the corner for the entire 90-minute lunch break. In fact, the second keynote address of the day ran a few minutes behind because there were still confessions to be heard in that conference room. Good problems to have, I think. We’re constantly hearing about Catholics not going to Mass regularly and Catholics not going to confession at all, but this was a reminder that not all Catholics can be lumped into that disinterested group. There are many, many Catholics out there who are hungry for the faith and for the opportunity to receive the sacraments.
I was overwhelmed by the response of the people who attended my two workshops at the conference. Their kindness, their questions, their appreciation was beyond anything I had ever expected. I know I was there to pass something along to them, but they gave just as much back to me, probably much more. As I was leaving the convention center, a group of women called out to me to thank me one more time. I felt as though we were old friends, and, in a sense, we are because we are eternally connected by this faith of ours and our desire to share it.
I wrapped up my Denver trip with a great dinner at D’Corazon, a Mexican restaurant just a quick bus ride from my hotel. Best Mexican food I’ve had since leaving Texas eight years ago. I got a “knockout” margarita, chips and salsa, and huge platter or enchiladas verde and rice and beans for a whopping $12. I spent some time in the 16th Street Mall neighborhood before returning back to my hotel. The only negative of my trip is happening right now. The 20-somethings in the room next to me have decided to turn their no-smoking room into a smoking room and the smell is so bad my throat and eyes are hurting. So now at this late hour, I have to decide whether to ask to move my room. Not something I want to do. Other than that, Denver has been a real treat.
When I was wandering through the exhibitors’ tables at the Living the Catholic Faith Conference at the Denver Convention Center yesterday, I picked up a book called “Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children,” which just goes to show you how out of touch with reality I really am. I can’t get my children to sit quietly through grace before dinner. Why would I think I could get them to sit silently for six minutes (as the book recommends) thinking of nothing at all except maybe their “secret-sacred word”? I think I was just inspired by the moment. There I was with 1,500 Catholics, praying together, sharing stories, learning from one another. It was one of those days that just reminded me how great it is to be Catholic. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I always find it incredibly powerful when I’m transplanted to another city and yet feel completely at home because the Mass, the songs, the prayers are the same because we are united, universal, catholic.
While I was at the conference, I attended an amazing workshop on helping families live their faith in a secular culture by Jonathan Reyes, founding president of the Augustine Institute in Denver and soon-to-be director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Denver. His talk was everything a good talk should be: funny, inspirational, informational, personal, spiritual. He offered suggestions while using his own experience of raising six children to remind us Catholic parents that there are things we should be doing to foster virtue in our children, our families, and to keep them on the right path in a world that is constantly offering a wide selection of wrong paths.
He suggested families create a “rule,” in imitation of the way the Benedictines follow the Rule of St. Benedict, for example. Sit down with the kids and come up with a rule of life, and then, for the hardest part, stick to that rule, he said.
Reyes also emphasized the importance of daily family prayer, making time for leisure, serving others together as a family, creating a sacred space in the home, tithing, getting to daily Mass whenever possible, making catechesis part of the family conversation, building in some discipline — like abstaining from meat every Friday, not just in Lent, and my personal challenge: being joyful in service to your family. How many times a day do the little things that are just part of being a parent make you crazy? I’ve lost count. And yet, as Mother Teresa often said and as Reyes reminded us, it is in those little things that we can move closer to God, if we do them with joy instead of frustration.
So…when I saw that centering prayer book, I thought, “Aha! This is something I could do to help my children get closer to God.” I don’t know if that will happen, but we have to always be hopeful, right? Now that I look at this little book, I’m thinking that maybe it’s just the thing to help me make some quiet time for God. Far less intimidating than the grown-up books on centering prayer I’ve been struggling with.
On a related note, I would just like to welcome any of the folks who attended my workshop and asked for my blog address. Thank you for your kind words, your encouragement and your interest in reaching adult Catholics.
And finally, I have to offer prayers for my Cornerstone Retreat sisters. Had I not been in Denver this weekend, I would be on the retreat team leading another group of women through the amazing experience of Cornerstone right now.
It’s been a long but wonderful day at the “Living the Catholic Faith Conference” in Denver. I’ll be sharing details of this adventure some time soon, but for now you can check out my brief post on the first day of the jam-packed conference at OSV Daily Take by clicking HERE.
This is a great clip from the Colbert Report, featuring one of my favorites, Father James Martin, S.J., talking about faith and the economy. Take a few minutes to enjoy it and think of me sitting in the airport (which is where I am right now), waiting for my flight to Denver via Cleveland.
Ash Wednesday did not get off the best start this morning. For whatever reason, the bus never picked up Noah and Olivia for school, so I had to dash out to get them there in time and still get home and get ready for the school Mass less than 30 minutes later. Of course there was school bus traffic at that hour, and what should have taken a total of 10 minutes took much longer. I returned home with just enough time to finish getting ready and jump right back in the car. I was frazzled and frustrated and grumbling something along the lines of “great way to begin Lent.”
I’m easily frustrated, very impatient, and as I moaned and groaned this morning it occurred to me that the morning’s annoyances were really not that big of a deal. And yet I was willing to allow it to “ruin” my Ash Wednesday and cast a shadow over the Lenten season before it even had a chance to begin. How ridiculous is that? Thankfully, I realized in that moment that I needed to refocus my attention on the spiritual significance of the day and not worry so much about the minor details. That, for me, would be the greatest challenge this Lent — to let go of the whining and complaining about the “small stuff,” to remember how blessed I am even when the bus goes missing or the computer printer is holding one of my jobs hostage inside or the dinner is burning. That’s much bigger sacrifice for me than giving up sweets and snacking in between meals, which is my usual thing.
At Mass, as I approached the front of church for my ashes, I was hoping, as I always do, that I would receive mine with the traditional line: “Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I just love that reminder. But instead, as my pastor marked my forehead and said, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” I knew that that was precisely what I needed to hear this morning. My mortality is not really an issue for me, not something I fear or struggle with. Sin, however, is another story. And so, as I walked back to my seat and pondered those words, I wrestled with the idea that in addition to my usual Lenten sacrifices, I really do need to make a concerted effort to give up some of my mega-frustration with things that aren’t worth the angst and effort. I don’t have any illusions that I can shed myself of that bad habit even in 40 days, but being aware of it in the first place in a good starting point, I think.
I hope your Ash Wednesday is off to a good start, even if you hit traffic on your commute or the alarm didn’t go off or you spilled something on your shirt at breakfast. Because this day, this season, isn’t about everything going according to plan. It is about surrendering to God’s plan and giving up our desire to be in control.