Friday, June 19, 2015

Walking and chewing gum at the same time

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When I was a junior in high school I began the application process for a U.S. Marine Corps NROTC scholarship.  Along the way I encountered a recruiter for enlistment with the Marines.  His basic selling point was, why go through your first exposure to military training while you’re also becoming accustomed to undergraduate studies?  Join the Marines as an enlisted man and then if you get accepted to the NROTC program you’ll be a step up on everyone.  The unmentioned part of the plan though was that if I didn’t get accepted to NROTC then I’d be a Marine, not a college student, for at least four years and he’d be one step closer to his monthly quota of recruits.  He summarized his sales pitch to me by posing the question, “do you want to have to learn to walk and chew gum all at the same time?”  I must confess, at the time it was a persuasive rhetorical question because of my eagerness to do “tough guy” stuff as soon as possible.  Looking back on the whole brief exchange (my application did not make it past the first wave of scrutiny) I periodically and whimsically call to mind that rather bizarre phrase, “learning to walk and chew gum at the same time”.
"Gum Ball Machine" by Ganesha Balunsat is licensed under C.C by 2.0

            I bring it up here because of two very much non-trivial tasks in which all baptized Christians are called to participate, but most of us don’t have a real good grasp of either of them on their own, and certainly not when paired up!  The two tasks: forming intentional disciples from people within our sphere of influence (walking), and living fully our own Christian state of life (chewing gum).  Expecting that most Christians fulfill these responsibilities currently (or even know how to begin them) is like expecting that Marine boot camp wouldn’t be a culture shock to a pampered city boy.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples yet, I highly recommend them.  The books equip and motivate the reader to fruitfully respond to the Gospel imperative to share freely what we have freely received (Mt 10:8).  For if we don’t do this, our own faith will atrophy and our friendship with the Lord and our neighbor will deteriorate, perhaps even to the point where we don’t believe it’s possible to have a loving relationship with God himself or care about the condition of our neighbor’s body and soul.  As St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “It is not enough for me to love God, if my neighbor doesn’t love Him.” 

            So if sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and purposefully helping others to transition from trusting Christians, to being open, to learning more, to being outright curious about Jesus, to seeking him so as to eventually become his disciple, who can lead others through the same predictable stages of conversion is indispensable to following Jesus (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15, 1 Cor 9:16), how do you actually do so while (or better yet—because of) simultaneously being a good husband/father or wife/mother?  While it is awesome to have convert (or revert), to the faith as a college student living in bachelor/bachelorette mode and bring your roommate to bible studies/Mass/Adoration/etc., it is not at all the same as being in the thick of sleep-interrupted, diaper-changing, dinner-with-toddler(s)-on-your-lap stage of life and spiritually accompanying (c.f. Evangelii gaudium 169-173) a peer or someone from a different stage of life in your own vocation or a different vocation altogether. 

So how does one bring the orbits together of forming disciples and living marriage well?

Here is a list of items to get the conversation started, please share yours too:
·                     Marry someone decidedly in love with Jesus.  Aristotle and Fr. Barron recommend it!  This way when your baptism, confirmation, marriage and Eucharistic graces kick in, then you can share the love and joy of the Gospel to the fullest.         
o   Tithing 10% of your gross income versus net. This won’t be a source of conflict, it’ll be a source of trusting in God’s providence together which will lead to overall marital joy even in the midst of less cash flow!

·                     Don’t allow people to view your children as a burden preventing you from participating in the life of the community or your parish. 
o   If you sense that the RCIA team leader does not want to impose on your weeknight routine by having you share your testimony with the candidates and catechumens, say explicitly and perhaps repeatedly, “it would be a pleasure and honor to share my faith story with others.  My spouse will support me in this by tucking the kids into bed that night.”

·                     Don’t fall for the mental trap that “we’ll have more time later . . .”
o   There’s no guarantee that tomorrow will be given to us; each of our ends will always be surprising to us (Mt 24:36, 42-44).  Show your children today what it looks like to be a gracious host to God in our neighbors (Heb 13:2) so that when they are older it will be a natural manifestation of their Christian life.

·                     Strike a balance with your time in favor of Jesus and Christian community.
o   What if you only watched TV one night a week for 30 min?  Or what if you didn’t watch TV at all?  What if you visited Jesus in the tabernacle or exposition of the Eucharist once a week?  What if you stopped by an elderly and lonely neighbor’s house each time you were out for a walk?  What if your kids only did one sport per year and you joined teams that your fellow parishioners were on too so that while on the sidelines and during practices you could share your faith journey and struggles with your peers?  What if you read the lives of the saints with your kids each night?  Or said “goodnight” to their patron saint’s icon on their bedroom wall?

·                     What if you prayed obscure Catholic prayers and invited others to learn them with you?

o   You could pray Angelus at noon with coworkers or to St. Michael the Archangel after Mass with your spouse, kids and pew neighbor, or the Memorare at the start of car journeys, or the Glory Be upon hearing emergency vehicle’s sirens wherever you may be, or even simply make the Sign of the Cross before grace at meals at restaurants. 

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