Clearing the Heart to See the Truth
There are evident signs of the spring time for the Church. The most obvious is the growing number of laity being trained for the front lines of the new evangelism. The second obvious sign is the number of laity who take seriously their call to holiness. When there exists a program that combines these two realities, God is readying His troops for an offensive.
Scott rushed home from his last session of the Spiritual Mentorship Program because he received a frantic call from his wife regarding their plumbing. Water was gushing, things were soaking, and his wife was trying to contain her hysteria while handling a family of five kids. By the time Scott arrived home, the plumber was there vacuuming up the water and replacing the busted hot-water heater. Somehow, Scott recounted, their conversation turned to why Scott was rushing home on a Saturday night. “I told him that I was involved in a Catholic experience called the Spiritual Mentorship Program, where I was being trained to assist other lay people in their interior life.” “Interior Life?” He asked, “what is that?.” Scott explained to him that he was being trained to help other Catholics grow in their relationship with the Lord through prayer, study, and sacraments. The plumber raised his hand in the air and said, ‘Can I be your first guinea pig? “ He was a fallen-away Catholic on his way back into the Church and told Scott that he had been asking God in prayer for direction and help. Then he met Scott!
The new springtime in the Church is quietly growing underneath the ice that has settled on the moral and spiritual landscape of this country. Like green blades of grass barely visible beneath the blanket of snow but then seem to magically pop up at the first sign of warmth, the Holy Spirit is preparing for new growth in His Church.
In Kansas City, Kansas, a new program called “The Spiritual Mentorship Program” just graduated its first class of trained laity, religious, and deacons to assist the interior life of those who are beginning to experience a thaw from the long, post-Vatican II winter. This new program is being blessed by the Holy Spirit in so many ways. Stories like Scott’s filled the conversation areas during every break time. This program is a beautiful result of an apparent random conversation that had taken place a few years earlier in Italy, of all places.
In the sweltering June heat in Rome, on a bus crammed full of commuters, Sr. Susan Pieper, co-foundress of the Roman-based Apostles of the Interior Life Community, asked the visiting Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas what his hopes were regarding the recent establishment of an American Provincial House of her community in his archdiocese. Without batting an eye, the Archbishop exclaimed, “I want you, Sr. Susan, to train laity to do what your community does for the new evangelization. I want an army of trained spiritual mentors to address the needs of the Church.” So began the odyssey of putting together the Spiritual Mentorship Program, a collaborative effort between the Apostles of the Interior Life and the Holy Family School of Faith to forge a new army of spiritual mentors for Christ. This two-year program, a combination of on-location and distance education and formation, just graduated its first class Jan. 13, 2013. I was there.
People from 11 different diocese from across that nation participated in the program, sacrificing much time, effort, resources, and energy, in order to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the life of grace in the Holy Spirit, the fruits and virtues offered by Him in the moral life, and Prayer. Numerous hands-on practicum sessions prepared these mentors for the real life situations that so often come up in the confines of Spiritual Mentorship. They received training and formation in topics ranging from helping someone develop a prayer life to what you say to someone struggling with the Church’s teachings on the sinfulness of contraception or same-sex activity in the context of role-playing scenarios, with one person playing the mentor and the other the mentee. I witnessed the joy, peace, and even a little nervousness of these men and women, from their late twenties all of the way into their late sixties, share themselves and the formation they were receiving in order to learn how to lead another in the interior life.
For two full weeks a year, one each in May and then in the following January, participants took leave of their jobs and families to come to the Savior of the World Pastoral Center in the outskirts of KC Kansas, to receive formation from the sisters of the A.I.L. and the teachers of the School of Faith. The past two swiftly passing years were utterly incredible, and the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit filled the air with peace and power.
Miguel’s experience was so profound that he established a deeper prayer life (he now practices a half of an hour a day of meditation,) as well as an exercise routine. He lost over 40 lbs. from when he first started, exclaiming to friends at a break in the sessions, “People now ask me, ‘what has happened to you? What is your secret? I tell them my secret is God and my new found life with Him in prayer!”
I am humbled and deeply gratified to witness the transformations that occurred during this program. The new spring time of the Church has indeed begun. During times of distress and discord, we can’t forget that God never abandons His people, and, as the saying goes, sometimes it is darkest before the dawn!
The most encouraging aspect of the workings of the Holy Spirit in preparing the Church for the new evangelization is the combining of the quest for holiness with an eagerness for evangelization. This is the only combination that can renew the Church, and this twin-coupling has to be realized at every level: the Catholic individual, the Catholic program, and the Catholic institution. I am reminded of the words of Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers…and if he listens to teachers it is because they are witnesses.” (#41.)