By Barb Arland-Fye
Until last week, the closest experience to a heart-to-heart conversation with my brother Brian about our Catholic faith happened in a lake where we were floating while other family members lounged in our rental boat. Brian’s eldest son, Tom, was planning to marry his girlfriend and I asked whether the ceremony might be in a church.
That question led to another one regarding whether Brian had thought about returning to Mass. We grew up in a Catholic family that attended Mass every Sunday and all four siblings attended our parish school. The question went unanswered because it was time to get back into the boat! Since then, our conversations have focused on family and work, although Brian has mentioned his interest in a popular priest on social media, Father Frankie Cicero of Mesa, Arizona.
The Synod on Synodality, which Pope Francis launched in October, provided the inspiration for another conversation with Brian about the Catholic faith that formed us. The Synod invites everyone, Catholic or not, to participate and share their experience of the Church.
Our diocese has come up with a two-pronged approach to the conversations, one of which is the 58,000 cups of coffee initiative. The idea is to encourage 58,000 separate, one-on-one conversations. The key question to ask: “As you think about your experience of the Catholic Church, what fills your heart and what breaks your heart?”
I called Brian at his home in Phoenix, Arizona, and asked him if we could have a conversation about the Catholic Church. We have a good relationship, but I worried that he might reject me.
Brian said yes, and the conversation that followed was a time of bonding and insight. He spoke fondly of growing up Catholic and feeling included in Nativity of our Lord Parish in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the parish school. He enjoyed participating as an altar server during Mass.
He did not feel included in the Catholic school where he completed eighth grade after the family’s move to Illinois, but after a move to Davenport, he did feel included at Assumption High School, his alma mater.
Brian later married Jacque, who also grew up in the Catholic Church. They were married at Nativity and later moved to Phoenix, where they hoped to enroll the first two of their four children in Catholic school. The tuition was prohibitive for them at the time and the parish seemed focused on families whose children attended the parish school, Brian told me.
Around the same time, the clergy sexual abuse scandal made national news and sent shock waves for years to come. Brian told me it was hard to acknowledge being Catholic because of the public ridicule and condemnation. He lost his sense of inclusion.
“I am still Catholic,” Brian tells me. “I still believe in the principles and the moral values.” However, he also believes the Church needs to consider today’s reality: people have shorter attention spans. He wants to hear powerful, succinct messages to inspire him to return to Mass. He wants priests to explain the rituals, even for people who should remember the explanations but do not.
Brian discovered Father Cicero, known as the “TikTok priest,” on his social media feed. “Maybe someone knows I’m Catholic,” my brother said jokingly. He appreciates the priest’s succinct messages, sense of humor, ability to sing, dance and laugh. Sometimes he teases out passages from Scripture in popular, secular artists’ songs, which resonates with Brian.
In a YouTube interview, Father Cicero, who serves a parish in Mesa, said his “Life Starts Here Ministry” gives TikTok viewers “a piece of bread” to lead them to longer videos on other social media platforms where he can draw them into the Gospel.
Mesa is one of the areas where Brian’s company is looking forward to doing business. “That will give you a reason to attend Mass there,” I said. “Yes it would,” he responded, and I could imagine the smile on his face.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)