Arts and Culture

Renewed by a Grace-Filled Friday Evening

by Father Robert Lauder

A few months ago I experienced what developed into a grace-filled Friday evening.

It was the first Friday of the spring semester at St. John’s University, Jamaica. During the day, I had spoken for almost three hours at the university. By evening, I was hoarse and tired and did not feel like attending a Renew Group meeting to which I had been invited. Renew is a program in which Catholic couples meet regularly, usually once a month, to share their faith, to discuss what is going on in their lives and to pray together. I resisted the temptation to stay home and went to the meeting. Thank God, I did! The Holy Spirit must have moved me. I found the meeting both very inspiring and deeply touching.

The group, consisting of 12 people, has been meeting for 15 years. I was invited to this particular meeting because it was held at the home of friends of mine. After having sandwiches and a delicious soup, we started the meeting by listening to a hymn on a CD. Then the couples began to share. There was no superficial chatter. People shared their greatest worries and deepest joys. I was surprised by how people confidently and honestly shared their concerns.

Nothing Fake or Forced

Very quickly, I sensed the love and support that permeated the group. Several times, someone mentioned how a member of the group and the member’s family were remembered in prayer. There was no embarrassment in sharing problems with the group, nor was there anything fake or forced about the conversation. These people deeply cared for one another and had great confidence in the power of prayer in their lives.

At one point, the conversation turned to Pope Francis. Everyone thought he was a terrific presence in the Church. Approval of his young pontificate was unanimous and enthusiastic. When the conversation turned toward questions about how much the Jesuit background of Francis was the reason why he was having such a strong impact on both Catholics and others, one man, whose son had just entered a Jesuit university, mentioned that he was reading Father Jim Martin’s book, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.”

Father Martin’s book is excellent, and I would recommend it to anyone. What impressed me was that the man who was reading it grasped the significance of the Jesuit goal to discover God in all things and saw that this goal probably influenced much of what Francis has spoken about so far in his pontificate.

Though I am not comparing myself in any way to Pope Francis, the remarks about his Jesuit background reminded me of how indebted I am to the Jesuit priests who taught me at Xavier H.S. in Manhattan.

At one point during the meeting, one man turned toward me and said, “I am so glad that Bob is here this evening. When I heard this afternoon that he was coming to the meeting, it made me feel good. You know, Bob, you are very important to us and your presence here is special.”

Stunned and Grateful

At first, I was stunned, then embarrassed and then grateful. I left that meeting rejoicing that I am a priest.

Reflecting back on the meeting, I thought that the group was like a mini-church or a mini-religious community. The bonds among the members of the group are very strong. I suspect that those bonds have been formed partly by sharing problems, partly through the open, affirming attitude that each member has toward the other members and partly through the presence of the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt that the Spirit was present at the meeting I attended.

As I think about the meeting, the words of St. Paul keep entering my mind. St. Paul wrote the following:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all. Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit. To one through the Spirit is given the utterance of wisdom; and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith in the same Spirit, to another the gift of healing in the same Spirit; …

“For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body many as they are, form one body, so also is it with Christ. …

“And if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with it, or if one member glories, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-26)

There were many talents and gifts at the Renew meeting – lawyers, social workers, a psychological counselor, two nurses and several sets of parents – but the greatest gift was the loving presence of each person.[divider] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

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