Acts 29:1-8 was the First Reading that morning, recounting the story of Paul traveling from Corinth to Ephesus. There he found disciples who became believers through the baptism of repentance by John and were waiting for Jesus. They said, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they received the gifts of the Spirit. Paul “debated boldly with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God” in the synagogue for three months.
The meditation of the day proposed a more practical approach than traveling to find baptized people and then finishing the job someone else started. The narrator asked: “Can I sense the presence of God and Holy Spirit in me and in people around me? Paul spoke to them and led them to a greater faith. Who has brought me to a greater faith? Can I share my experience of faith, of God, with someone today? Bring before God today someone searching for a deeper faith in God.”
I thought of the spiritual mentors who brought me closer to God in my life. The list was long and brought beautiful memories of formal teachings and casual conversations with many men and women. I thank God for them.
How could I spiritually mentor someone today? I was already home from Mass and exercise class and getting ready for lunch.
That afternoon I went to get a haircut from Susan. We often laugh about our spiritual struggles and victories from our different experiences. Mine in Catholicism and hers in the world of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Before I even sat down in the chair, she said she had something to ask me. She held in her hand a Mass program, then thrust it out. “Can you explain this to me?”
I took the program from her. It was a funeral Mass of the mother of one of her clients. She pointed to the different parts of the Mass and said she had no idea what it was all about. The funeral was the first Mass she’d attended.
For the next 20 minutes she trimmed my hair, and I went over each element of the Mass, explaining the parts of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I told her about the consecration, how we take part in the sacrifice of Christ and how the Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ through the priest.
I explained how every Mass is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, so it has the same structure. Most of the elements listed are in every Mass, with special prayers and ceremonies for funerals, as well as weddings. So if she went to another Mass, the order of prayers would be the same, with different Scriptures, songs and homily for that day. “What’s a homily?” she asked.
“Sermon,” I said.
After listening intently to my clarification of the Mass, she sighed, happy that she could understand it a little better. It was no longer strange and scary to her.
Then she talked about a PBS program about the life and martyrdom of Blessed Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, martyr of the worst persecution, torture and killing of anyone for their faith in Poland. She vehemently asked how anyone could suffer like that. Why not just tell the torturers what they wanted? She could not imagine herself dying for others.
The martyrdom of Fr. Jerzy began a discussion on Saint John Paul II, his early life of persecution in Poland, his papacy and sainthood. She had heard of him and a little about his life. But not about St. Maximillan Kolbe. “How could he sacrifice his life for another man?” she asked, after hearing his story.
“He gave his life for a man with a family. He laid down his life for his friend,” was all I could say. I didn’t need to expound on why Catholics honor saints.
The conversation was as spontaneous and genuine as if we talked about our children or a friend who needed prayer. Yet what a holy event it was. God gave me an opportunity to fulfill the desire he placed within me a couple of hours earlier to share my experience of faith with someone today. Now I knew who to bring before God today who was searching for a deeper faith in him. All I did was show up. He gave me the words to explain to her just what she was ready to hear and appreciate about the Mass and the saints. He drew us closer to one another and to him. With no preaching required.
(© 2014 Nancy H C Ward)