Listening to people’s stories is my passion. I want to know what motivates people, the experiences that shape them. That is one reason why the Synod process we are beginning in our diocese and the Catholic Church around the world excites me. We have the privilege of listening to people’s stories and discovering how those stories will shape the future of our beloved Church.
Listening opportunities in my work as editor of our weekly diocesan newspaper multiply like the loaves and fishes in all four Gospels. I have to resist the temptation to take on too many listening opportunities to avoid stressing out, which does not enhance my listening skills.
Last week’s schedule seemed like Exhibit A in taking on too much, but the evidence didn’t hold up, by the grace of God. I entered a sacred space with each listening opportunity. The first sacred space was a conference room at St. Joseph’s School and Parish Center in DeWitt. Twelve teachers and Principal Sharon Roling set aside time during their in-service meeting to share with me stories of how their school community coped with the unexpected death of a longtime teacher, Loretta Pennock. They conveyed the warmth of a faith family bonded in prayer, the liturgy, their love for their students and one another. Their voices quavered as they spoke and their eyes watered, but they are on the journey together, trusting in God’s plan.
The next sacred space I entered was a banquet hall at the Highlander Hotel in Iowa City. I joined 200 youths and adults and listened with rapt attention to speakers whose stories stirred our hearts with love and compassion. All worries about the work that remained at the office in Davenport evaporated. The virtual version of the National Catholic Youth Conference — NCYC 2.0 — changed my attitude.
Teenagers shared aloud where they saw God’s presence in the speakers’ stories and in their own lives. They cited Scripture passages that were meaningful to them. One youth quoted Isaiah 40:10 because it helped him when his grandfather died. The passage reads, “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Another quoted her mother’s favorite verse, Philippians 4:6, which reads: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” The teen said her mother told her, “You can’t worry and pray at the same time.” I think that was a God-sent message to me.
Sacred spaces can include food, fun, games and laughter, too, and I witnessed some of that during all of my visits to sacred spaces last week. For a moment, I thought about cancelling other plans for Friday night to join NCYC 2.0 participants for eucharistic adoration and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
However, my husband Steve was waiting for me to join him for Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Saint Serra Club Annual Vocations Gala at the Outing Club in Davenport. The cathedral, of course, is a sacred space where we come to share the story of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. I had forgotten that at the gala we would hear the story of Keith Nester, a former Protestant pastor/youth pastor who became a Catholic. His talk combined his conversion story with a sermon about hope, anchored in Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Keith shared how he found comfort, peace and hope in eucharistic adoration in Sacred Heart Cathedral’s chapel.
I entered sacred spaces last week where I listened to stories of faith from companions on the journey, and that’s where I find hope.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)