Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Becoming Catholic

Hi Everybody. Perhaps it's a mid-life thing (or late mid-life, as the case may be), but I often find myself wondering why I turned into the kind of Catholic I have become. I know it has a lot to do with my upbringing. I remember those Sundays where my parents would load us all into the Ford Country Squire Station Wagon—you know, the one with the fake wood on the sides—and bring us all to St. Charles Church in our home town of Woburn, Massachusetts. We would usually sit in the row by the third pole. My mother sometimes had a problem finding the right pew on the way back from receiving communion, so we would sit in a row with a pole so she could find it!

I also remember a couple of the religious sisters at St. Charles School who had a profound impact on my life. One was Sister Della William, who was my teacher in second and third grade. I've written a story about the day that Sister Della William brought us all on a field trip that changed my life. You can find it in the introduction to my book Apprenticed to Christ. 

I've also been thinking about the sister who taught me in fifth grade. Then she was Sister Leo Marie; now she is Sister Rita Raboin. Sister Rita lives on the Island of Marajó in Brazil, working with the poor. Here's a photo of Sister Rita I recently found:

Sister Rita was a missionary through and through, even when she taught us in a suburban school in Massachusetts. She often spoke about how we must care for the poor; that was at the heart of her life and that spirit was infectious. I remember Sister Rita taking several of us to an elderly housing complex in December one year. We were there to sing and to bring some cheer into the lives of many of the lonely elderly who lived there. Sister Rita taught us a prayer with which I end each decade of the rosary I pray during my morning "spin" classes at the gym. "Be pleased, O God, to deliver them; look down, O God, and help them. Turn back the evil men and make them ashamed for hurting your people. Your people are poor and cry to you. O God, protect them. Amen." Amazing what sticks after so many years. I thank God for people like Sister Della William and Sister Rita Raboin and for all the great Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who taught me.

You've heard me talk about my parish, St. James Church on Chicago's near south side. I don't live anywhere near the church, but somehow I feel that this is the place where God has summoned me to live out my baptismal call. We are small (only about 250 people in all) and our church building has been closed for several months now. The parish struggles to pay our bills. I never thought that I would turn into a tithing Catholic (ten percent of what comes into the house goes into my church envelope and into the basket at St. James). I believe I do this because of the formation I received from family and those wonderful Sisters of Notre Dame.

I read in this past Sunday's bulletin that 1,431 families were served in our food pantry in June; 3,411 bags of groceries were distributed; 20,000 canned goods were given out; the total value of distributed groceries was $46, 621. These are staggering numbers, given the fact that we are such a small community. We could never do this alone. We have several parishes that support our work in the Archdiocese of Chicago. As a matter of fact, the Chicago White Sox organization gave us a grant of $15,000 this year for our work with the poor. Here's a dated photo, taken a few years ago, showing our food pantry.

Many people ask me why I don't go to one of the bigger parishes that is closer to my home. There are places with beautiful buildings, wonderful liturgies, terrific preaching, and no financial woes. I guess I look at the work that St. James is doing and I realize that this is the place that is home for me. 

Not sure why I brought all of this to you today. Perhaps we need to take some time in our busy lives and recall where we've been and remember the people who have shaped us into who we have become. I am especially grateful for my parents today and for those religious women. God is good. Ah! qu'il est bon le bon Dieu. Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

1 comment:

jdonliturgy said...

Hi, Jerry - You have captured how wonderful it is to remember the really good catechists who have helped us on our journeys:their effects in our lives reverberate long afterwards - for sure. Obviously, something in your formation has led you to treasure a faith community with particular economic and logistical challenges.

I can empathize with you there - because I live right down the street from a well-to-do parish with a sign proclaiming its "campus" of many buildings... but I choose to drive to Joliet's inner city to be a part of an economically challenged bi-cultural (English and Spanish speaking) Franciscan community with a strong ministry of outreach to the poor and an active food pantry. Somehow, being part of that "challenged" community does indeed feel more right than being part of an affluent one.