FID Week 3: We Don’t Know What Normal Is

For those just joining us, find the start of the conversation over at’s Lawn Chair Catechism series.

This week I’m answering these questions:

  • Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?
  • Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined above? (See post here.)
  • Or are you a “typical” Catholic, fighting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics?
  • Do you personally have, within your parish, a group of Catholics you meet with regularly, to discuss the faith, study the faith, and encourage each other to greater virtue?

#1. Here’s the funny thing about this: No, not really comfortable.  I’m very comfortable talking theology or sacraments or apologetics, or you-name-it academic topic that has to do with God.  And I’m pretty good at general principles of the Christian life  — anything I’ve thoroughly digested and can step back from.  But if it gets personal . . . it’s personal.  My relationship with God is the #1 most important thing in my life, ever, and it’s also the most intimate and honest relationship I’ve got (at least from His end — I’m working on it from my end).  So: Not something I want to just throw out there for the whole world.  Hence my pure unadulterated hatred of “sharing questions”.  Don’t wanna answer them.  Just.  No.

But of course I’m in this line of business where we talk about God-n-stuff, and so sure, I’m getting better and better at sharing the not-so-private bits.  And of taking the private parts and sharing only the public dimension.  And then I’ve basically mastered the part about if you share any detail about your life in practical terms, people are going to either think you’re pathetic, or think you’re Amazing!, or think you’re _insert demeaning label here  , and still you just have to toss out the necessary info, and let folks think what they’re going to think.

And then there’s the part about my Educated American up-bringing.  In which God is a topic reserved for the quaint and the elderly, and folks of sound mind and breeding know not to bring up the R-word.  If you’ve read the writings St. Thomas More closely, you have a picture of what it’s like to be an earnest Christian caught up in the prejudices of his own era, and largely unaware of it.  American prejudices run the exact opposite way.  We aren’t inclined towards persecuting heretics much, except if it’s the one American heresy of suggesting that someone, somewhere, might be wrong about a matter of faith and morals.

So no, I’m not so inclined to just ask people about their religion or their faith in God.  I’m strongly trained against it.  But I’m always happy to chat if someone brings up the topic and appears interested in a straight answer.

# 2 & 3.  Normal in the abnormal fashion.  You knew that about me.

And yes I do fight the ‘you must be a freak’ feeling.  Fortunately I cut my teeth in evangelical world, so I’ve been inoculated against the worst of it.

#4.  I’ve really lucked into a good group — not at my parish in particular, but in my city.  We have a ladies’ Bible study once a month, and a monthly family-to-family get together, where the men and boys play outside, and the girls do a story and craft (Little Flowers Lite) then play outside safely away from the testerone-wing, and the moms chat and watch the babies.

I’m a graduate of the evangelical small-group world, and I still have a few families (we’re the only Catholics) that get together for a pot-luck meal once a month or so, though we ditched the formal approach a year or two ago, and just chat about life and catch up with each other.  Lots of thoughts on what makes a group click, and why some groups are better as a short-lived thing, and others seem to last decades.

–> I’m totally committed to the concept of many overlapping opportunities for parishioners to find their happy place to grow in the faith.  I’m not persuaded a formal “small groups” program is so much the solution, as letting naturally-occurring subgroups do their thing, watered and mulched with a good balanced dose of pastoral leadership.


4 thoughts on “FID Week 3: We Don’t Know What Normal Is

  1. I’d love to hear more on your thoughts about the hows and whys of short-lived groups vs decade-long groups. My mom had a group that got together for parties and whatnot for decades and I still don’t know what made it work for them. My lame attempts to form a similar group has not fit exactly.

  2. Entropy – It’s a lot of trial and error. You have to click with the other folks both spiritually and personally, and have something that keeps you getting back together again when things get busy and it falls apart. I’ve belonged to probably a half-dozen or a dozen groups that were nice for what they did, but were definitely temporary. The two groups that have endured (thus far) were:

    -Us and a couple friends from our very first evangelical small group. We totally hit it off from the beginning, went camping together and other fun stuff just because, and the one couple has kids of similar ages to ours, and the other had kids of babysitting-age when we needed babysitters, and we live near enough to each other that it’s easy to get together. It’s held together over the years because it’s a genuine friendship, and because we’re comfortable enough with each other to call it a ‘pot luck dinner’ even if it involves combining half-opened packages of this-n-that and just praying the food works out when everyone shows up with their pantry leavings. (It always does.)

    -A homeschooling group we belong to, but it wasn’t the first iteration that really succeeded. It took a lot of years of running into the same faces, and kind of gutting it out when we didn’t quite click, and after enough different events with different combinations of people, and a few newcomers showing up and oldcomers re-emerging, we ended up with a little group of moms who really hit it off and were motivated to keep stuff going. Having the constant need to do a homeschooling group despite some obstacles is what kept us keeping at it until the group emerged that really had a life of its own. One thing that really made everything click was a whole-hearted focus on the faith — until that we were just a bunch of moms in the same room. Throwing in the intentional discipleship (in a group on the same page spiritually) gave the group real fire.

    But temporary groups are not bad. Most initiatives will be a “for now” thing. Very few will go on indefinitely. There’s a proverb about this, somewhere in Sirach, maybe? I dunno, I could be remembering wrong.

  3. About small groups. I have seen those reluctant to share their lives overcome this when invited or assigned to a small group in a parish ministry. It helps them feel like they belong even if the group doesn’t last for years. We were in a new parish and they began Renew in small groups. Randomly (by Holy Spirit) assigned to a group where the leader was a long-time parishioner, we discovered that every one else was new in the parish and was glad to get to know each other. Although the group ended after the Renew program ended, we made some close friends that we keep in touch with because we explored scripture and shared our struggles together.
    Other small groups I have been placed in worked because of the leadership of the facilitator who make sure that everyone was heard and served. Every experience is valuable in learning about ourselves, our spirituality and relationship building. The longest running group is a Marriage Enrichment group we were assigned to some 20 years ago. After ten years it evolved into a Bible Study when a some of the spouses died so the couple thing no longer applied. We adjust to the needs of the group and keep a spiritual focus of some kind. We are into the Catechism now. These people are our prayer partners and because they open up to us, we can share intimately with them. We trust one another with our lives. We know that what happens in share group, stays in share group.

  4. “Naturally-occurring subgroups” well-describes my sense of what works in my parish. I belong to both formal and informal structures, and the latter strike me as more effective. BTW, a great Catholic time was had at Fr. West’s ordination last Friday.

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