Intentional Disciples Week 8, Ch. 7: Openness


My experience with ‘openness’ dates back to my in-between period, when I’d left the Church during college, and then, surprise, found myself wanting a religion.  Not in the sense of, “I observe that I should want a religion.  I shall look about and find the proper one.”  I just kept doing things that, looking back, were all about spiritual restlessness.

So, for example, I took a course called “Islam and Revolution”, and between that and taking a year of Arabic*, I spent a short time “open” to Islam.  Which had been getting favorable press in the Utne reader, for those who remember that spell.  One evening at Barnes & Noble I stood over the bargain bin and read a short, photo-filled book of Muslim apologetics.  It all made perfect sense.  I was open to it.

(It didn’t take.)

Paganism did take for a while — nothing in my Catholic upbringing prevented it.  If it’s easy for pagans to become Catholics, turns out that road runs both ways.  I was open enough to anything spiritual, and paganism was the most convenient religion around, so easy to fall into.  [See: Utne Reader. There are a few liberal-sized holes in the Bible Belt, mostly around academia.]  Bhuddism, too.  Open open open.

Which makes this stage of faith so treacherous for the Catholic in the pew.  Because honestly, you can join the Church and sing in the choir for 40 years, and still really just be “open”.  It’s not that you’ve made this firm decision that being Catholic is the only way; it just happens to be where you are and what you’re doing, and if it’s enjoyable, you can fall into it out of pleasant habit.  Which is not all bad.

But that leaves you just as open to falling right back out the way you came in.


See, the Church is full of wretched sinners.  So much so that we have not just one but *four* sacraments that involve forgiveness of sins.  And three more that assist.

Which means there’s a decent chance someone is going to do something really horrible to you during your time in the Church.  And if you’re only ‘open’, you’ll be just as open to moving on when the friendships or the music or the you-name-it suddenly evaporates, and all you’re left with is your non-faith.  Why be Catholic when it sucks?  No real reason, unless maybe it’s true.

If I were to bet in some spiritual gambling hall where the dealer could report the state of all souls after the bets were placed, I’d hazard that the bulk of American Catholics are “open”.  I say that because everyone I know is real happy with the good stuff they experience at Church — not at all suspicious, no reservations about turning out.  But also, an awful lot of Catholics I know consider the faith up for comparison-shopping.

I’ve watched a nearby parish lose half it’s membership over the last several years, and that tells me two things: (1) Someone in administration there has done something really really bad (if I gather correctly, just all-star jerkiness, no particular crime), and (2) most parishioners were only temporarily Catholic.  (No fault of their own, I assume). But it turns out that a large percentage who left have taken up with Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians — and a few just decided sleep late on Sundays now.  They want something, and they’d rather it be Catholic, but frankly they’ll take the best gig they can get, and not worry so much about details.

That’s normal in the ‘open’ state.

What that tells me is that if my parish is privileged to have a regular attender in our pews, we need to be doing everything we can to help that person solidify their faith.

Discussion Question from the Study Guide: Over the next six months, what changes can you personally make to help your parish disciple those who are at the threshold of openness?

We have a couple things going on.  Over the summer, the SuperHusband and I have hosted a little real-life book club of _Forming Intentional Disciples_.  To my surprise, people keep coming back.  And have expressed a desire to work on their own personal relationship with Jesus.  So, yeah, I’ll totally vacuum for anyone who wants to come to my house and talk about God for a while. Or at least I can sweep select public areas.

Another thing that stunned me:  I asked a homeschooling friend to do a little teeny-tiny cooperative revolving around one small thing I wanted to add to our curriculum, and knew I’d never have the self-discipline to stick with if I did it on my own . . . and she said “maybe”.  Next thing I knew, we’d formed a parish ministry, and the local Catholic homeschool moms  got sucked in like ants to a shop-vac, and now I’ve just gone and submitted a whole roster of course plans to my pastor to get his green light on a regular Friday 10-3:30 event.  I had a mom ask for an apologetics class, and a pile more say they wanted in on that.  Mom who swore she could only do every other week, suddenly wants weekly classes. We built the schedule around Mass, adoration, and a chaplet of divine Mercy, and the thank-you e-mails flowed in.  I haven’t told my pastor yet, but there’s a little movement to see about a confession time once a month, if enough moms are interested.

Is it going to be huge? Nope.  (Don’t even know if it’s going to be at all – see “submitted to pastor” above.  We could end up meeting at the library, if we’ve made the poor man faint from this sudden burst of activity — as Simcha says, we aren’t the only people in the congregation.  One of a father’s jobs is saying No when it’s warranted.)  But I’m increasingly aware that if it is a go, it must become one of those ‘overlapping opportunities’ Sherry Weddell talks about — those places for parishioners to find their safe spot to discover the faith.

Not an enclave.  Not a ‘you have to be good enough for us’. A spot where anyone who feels comfortable among the Nerd Moms can hang out, maybe join in the preschool program, or provide us with a lone competent voice for our CD-directed “chorus”. (Bwahahaha . . . but we are DETERMINED to teach our children traditional English and Latin hymns, and no amount of musical incompetence is going to stop us.  Why no, I can’t sing.  When did that ever stop me before?)

And I think that’s the key.  A pile of Catholics in the parish, each being themselves and doing their thing, but always open to the open.  Come on in, and if you like us, stick around.  If not, the St. Vincent de Paul ladies are a lovely bunch, go say hello to Mrs. B, she’ll steer you right every time.  Real choir meets on Thursday.  Youth group on Sunday, they need adults to help with ice cream, why don’t you sit in on the Bible study since you’re here?

The thing about ‘openness’ is that you can end up in a parish just because you found a little group of friends who like you and share a common interest.  And the clincher is that the parish needs to respond with not just We’re a Club for People Who Scoop Ice Cream for Teens on Game Night, but with an invitation to the next step.

*Funny story about the Arabic: 99.9% of that knowledge is now lost in a fog deep in my brain.  Sometimes I get a surreal experience, when I happen on my old class notes, of seeing Arabic words I used to read and write comfortably, and now mean nothing to me.  I was not a particularly good student.  Also: It makes me smile as I remember back to those semesters, to opening a note book and looking at my mysterious scrawl, and wondering which alphabet the notes might be written in.  I suspect one reason I never became Muslim (the Grace of God being the other) is that I heard how much the Arab world values beautiful handwriting, and knew I’d never make the cut.

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