There's no doubt that my life is steeped in Catholicism, that my faith is embedded in my heart and I could never imagine practicing any other form of Christianity. Each day of my life I become more deeply involved with others in my community of Catholics and am drawn into a life of faith which shapes and defines me.
This weekend I had the great joy of participating in an evening with 13 other women who are all mothers of seminarians or high school and college students who are discerning a call to the priesthood through St. Francis de Sales Seminary. It was a beautiful occasion which was hosted by my friend Christi who prepared a lovely dinner for us. We had the opportunity to share our common love for the Church and for our sons and to brainstorm ideas about how we can keep the momentum going, to keep the fires burning brightly in the hearts of our children and to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life for our Archdiocese.
I was equally blessed to spend a quiet afternoon with an elderly gentleman who had been instrumental in forming Roses for Our Lady thirty one years ago. Tony was grateful for the opportunity to share his memories of the early days of the organization and I was greatly impressed to learn about all of the work and great love that went in to building this lay apostolate that has withstood the test of time and has now become a major part of my life.
From the genteel ladies dinner and the quiet, reflective afternoon I then entered into an experience that was quite large scale and inspiring, but clearly out of my normal comfort zone of Catholicism. My children had been quite eager to attend a free event at Milwaukee's lakefront called Rock the Lakes. The program was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. I've watched Billy Graham's television crusades in the past, but to actually have the opportunity to experience it first hand under the guidance of his son, Franklin, was really something special.
We estimated that there were about 5000 people in attendance at the event along Milwaukee's beautiful shores of Lake Michigan and the crowd was definitely young. I couldn't help but compare this evangelical Christian event to Catholicism's World Youth Day, only on a much smaller and local scale. God is clearly calling the youth of our society and it's interesting to see it done in a massive way complete with bright lights, loud music and large crowds.
What enticed my children to want to attend the event were the Christian bands that were highlighted throughout the day. We listened to the bands The Afters, Lecrae, The Almost and the headliner, Skillet. I had never heard of any of these bands before but in my children's lives they are quite popular and by the end of the night, after listening to Skillet rock out complete with black outfits, dark make-up, loud screaming music and a light show that included fireworks on stage, I could see why my children were drawn to this event. It was a fun time and the music was great! But the purpose of the event held a deeper meaning than just having a good time, and the lyrics of the songs and the words of the artists were all meant to inspire a life of holiness and a love of God through the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross.
In between each of the musical acts, Franklin Graham came on stage and his message was always the same...
"If God is speaking to your heart right now, I want you to come. You come. You come right up here and talk with one of our counselors. You may say, God knows I'm a sinner, I don't have to tell Him that; but God wants to hear you say it. You won't really be speaking with the counselor, you'll be speaking with God. It's called confession. You tell God that you are a sinner and that you are sorry for your sins. It's called repentance. God will forgive you. You come."
And the people came. Grace was overflowing as hundreds lined up to shake the cloud of sin that weighed heavy on their souls and to receive the knowledge that God loves them and forgives them. It really was a beautiful and moving thing to see. (The picture here is from this year's World Youth Day in Madrid.)
As we began the long walk back to our car at the end of the night, my children were discussing how much they enjoyed the event. Mary said, "I don't understand why they were confessing their sins to a counselor. It should have been a priest." My heart burned for joy at the wisdom of her words. She quickly caught on to the similarity of what was happening at Rock the Lakes to what happens in the quiet of the confessional within Catholic churches throughout the world each and every day. Yet there is a huge difference between the confession of sins that occurs at a public evangelical Christian event and the Sacrament of Reconciliation that is part of the life of Catholics. Without making satisfaction for our sins through penance our forgiveness can't be complete and so I feel more blessed than ever to be Catholic, to have the opportunity to confess my sins frequently and to hear the priest who acts "in persona Christi" utter those magnificent words of absolution:
"God the father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of our sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
We are all being called, whether Catholic or not, to a deeper union with God, to turn our backs on sin, to repent and live a life of freedom in the shadow of the now empty cross which stands in the light of the Resurrected Christ. We are called to lives of prayer and service within the Church and within our communities, and it was only two simple yet powerful words spoken by Franklin Graham that brought hundreds of people to want to commit their lives to that call. You come.