Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Testimonies

I had been angry with God, not going to church, my life was pretty messed up. My wife and I decided to be in different groups. While we respected confidentiality, we did compare what we experienced in our respective groups. It was beyond my expectations. Our conversations and sharing as a couple changed our marriage. I can hardly wait for Season Two.

Our group was so open and it was obvious that this was the work of the Spirit. Initially the sharing was a stretch for some but as the weeks went on they opened up beautifully. At every session each person brought a contribution for our food pantry. I was inspired to read the Gospel more.

In our group everyone was a minority. We were two men, only one person was born in the parish, one was a convert, two were from Cameroon, one from Ghana and two from Nigeria. We were so aware that Jesus was alive in our lives in all these places throughout our journeys. I was shocked at the sharing. We named our group Zaccheus because all Zaccheus had before he met Jesus was his curiosity…Jesus did the rest.

I met a man who shared with me about his great experience in Season One. Thursday, his WC? meeting day, always seemed to be the worst day of his week: the kids' schedules were crazy, work was stressful, life in general was tough. So even thinking about going to the small community was added stress but he made the decision to go anyway. He said that not only was the experience in the group wonderful but he began to notice that the following day after the meeting always was a really good day and he began to make the connections. Time spent in seeking God gave him a deeper sense of peace and purpose.

Our group was diverse in age; we had 20 year olds and 70 year olds. As we shared our images and knowledge of Jesus we learned that the elders in the group as children knew God, not necessarily Jesus. They are now coming to know Jesus. The opposite is true for the younger folks, at least in our group. One of the actions we did was to get the names of our seminarians. We wrote to them, told them what we were doing and promised to pray for them. They are writing back and sharing who and what they are about. It has been wonderful for all.

In the third session of Season One we were encouraged to read the Cardinal’s letter on Jewish-Catholic Dialogue. I read it and found it wonderful. It is a tremendous reminder of how the Roman Catholic Church is reaching out to its closest relative - the Jewish community. As a result of reading this letter, I reached out to our local rabbi. I met with him and was shocked with how much he knows about Jesus! I thought I’d know more than he. As a result, we have met on more than one occasion and we extended an invitation to the rabbi to come and speak on discipleship at our parish this Lent. He has graciously accepted and looks forward to meeting our parishioners in order to continue this outreach.

In our group we learned we had very common experiences of Jesus but that Jesus was also uniquely a part of each one’s life.

We learned so much about the divinity and humanity of Jesus and the challenge of discipleship. We came to understand how difficult it is to change one’s heart. We saw how Jesus in the midst of activity always took time for silence and prayer and we realized how important it is for us to do the same. Moving to action was simple for our group; things just fell into our laps. It was so obvious that this was the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning the sharing was difficult; our group was very diverse. As the weeks progressed it got easier. The mutual support and learning came easier all the time.

Our group shared easily on the Scripture and we learned a lot. Most of the group was reluctant to lead prayer. We didn’t do any action as a group but relied on the individuals who are fairly involved already.

For me what was so good was that I realized Jesus is happy for me. I never knew this before.

I learned that Jesus is not only my Savior but my friend; “you have to love the guy!”

All the people in our group have a special relationship with Jesus Christ and that was really great to see and hear about.

Our group got increasingly more comfortable with sharing about Jesus and who he is.

One of the women in our group shared how she believes that God answers her prayers - always! At one of our ARISE Together in Christ sessions she stated how she was feeling she should spend more time with her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and resides in a local nursing home. That week the woman fell and broke her hip. She ended up in the same nursing home as her mother. At first she felt sorry for herself but then she realized - there was God answering her prayer. Now she gets to have breakfast with her Mom, plays bingo and meets her for tea in the afternoon.

Our group came into contact with a family in our town that has a four-year old child with cancer. We took the whole family under our care for Christmas, purchased gifts and even arranged for a baby-sitter so the parents could get out.

As a facilitator I was so concerned with listening and including everyone that I don’t think I internalized as much as I could have. This will be my goal for Season 2.

I didn’t participate in Season One (even though I was on the ARISE Together in Christ Parish Team and responsible for bringing it to the parish). We had more people sign up the two weeks after Sign-up Sunday than on Sign-Up Sunday which is not a bad thing but it drove us crazy. In spite of it all the preparation and working with the team profoundly impacted my personal relationship with Jesus.

I came to look at Jesus Christ as a friend rather than Lord. Thank you, Jesus, for being my friend today.

I am a soccer mom who wrote to a friend who lives down the block because we hadn’t been in touch for a long time. I know her address as well as I know my own but the card came back in the mail, “undeliverable”. Duh! It was clear to me, go in person to say hello and re-kindle the relationship.

We pray for students in our Confirmation classes and many of us in my group worked at the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence over the Christmas weekend. We prepared and served dinner. We brought our spouses and children with us. It was an awesome experience and many people are asking to go back.

In our group we became aware that many of us, even those who are cradle Catholics, do not know a lot about our faith. Out of this awareness we spoke with our pastor who has scheduled a “teaching Mass” for Feb 21st. As he celebrates the Eucharist, he will stop and tell us what he is doing and why. We will learn about the gestures, the ritual, the prayer and the sacrament.

In our group we had a woman who was estranged from her Mom and Dad. Her birth mother had died when she was young and her father re-married. There was never a good relationship between her and her step-mother. As a result of one of our sessions she decided to reach out to her step-mother in a gesture of reconciliation. She asked the group to support her with prayer which we did willingly and God was with her.

We had someone in our small community who was from Ghana. This person has a friend who is a doctor there and who works with children afflicted with diabetes. This doctor was having a difficult time acquiring needed medications. Another woman in the group has a son who is a doctor at Mass General Hospital. She asked her son for help. The two doctors were put in communication and now pediatric medications for diabetic children are arriving in Ghana from Boston.

One of our groups took the names of the sick and the deceased from Sunday’s Mass and read them into our prayer each week. Another group is actively advocating for a larger and more visible chapel at our local hospital which is in the midst of renovations. A third group heard about the Cor Unum Meal program in Lawrence and have begun a commitment of service there.

As part of the ARISE Together in Christ Team, I responsible for assigning people to their groups. I prayed a lot about doing this. After the first week a woman, a woman came and said that she was not comfortable in her group and asked if she could come to my group. I knew she had had a son who committed suicide and she is still pretty fragile. She fit in well with our group and as we progressed through the sessions, another woman shared for the first time about her son’s suicide. It was so clear that these two women were meant to be together. The mutual support was wonderful and our group became a strong community. For me, Jesus was certainly present in this situation.

We had a group of twelve men, sound familiar? We always started with music. It was the fastest hour and a half any of us experienced. We had a 91 year old who explained how he felt he had grown so much closer to Jesus as a result of our sharing. We were humbled.

I want to speak to the absolute importance of confidentiality within the group. I was inspired by the depth of sharing that was done, especially by the men in our group. Honoring the experience of others is a huge responsibility.

I so enjoyed the aspect that everyone in our group had a stake in the process. No one was teaching; the sharing on the gospel was deep and everyone got something out of it.

As a leader, I felt inspired by the sharing in my group and they challenged me to “elevate my game.”

I felt challenged by the questions that were raised in my group and I want to add more members – more people need to hear this.

My experience is that we all came from different places on the faith journey but with the sharing, we found we are all going to the same place and we are richer for it. We are just beginning with one group of twelve. Our hope is to have twelve groups come the next season.

Our group had a brand new Catholic in it. We were all so happy to be involved in this adult faith formation for we have seen the lack of it for so long.

I am a member of our Pastoral Staff and we decided to do ARISE together. The blessings of our working together are great but now to be praying together is even better!

As the DRE using the ARISE children’s materials, we asked the first graders to bring in from home their activity page and they did. We displayed them all on a huge bulleting board in the foyer of the church. Many parents came by to take a look.

We found the children’s materials worked well at our Family Mass, where we had both Religious Education and Catholic school children present.

We were able to use the children’s materials in conjunction with the Sadlier program and highlight the gospel story. We were able to get the buy-in of the teachers this way.

We were happy to have some parents call in to inquire were the children doing ARISE? Apparently, their first grader came home talking about how Jesus cured the man who came through the roof! (1st session of Season 1)

We are using the ARISE Youth materials for 9th and 10th graders preparing for Confirmation. The teachers love it! We ask the youth to journal some of their reflections.

There is a great comfort in knowing that 30,000 people are sharing on the same topics in all the groups around the Archdiocese. Isn’t it great that so many are coming to know Jesus in a more intimate way? Jesus really came alive for me in my group.

My group was all middle-age Moms but so diverse in their experiences. What a blessing to see Jesus come alive for us in our messy, chaotic worlds!

I had a few converts in my group and what came to us was how simple the message of Jesus is. Making eye contact and smiling at someone on the street, greeting one another – you would be surprised at the reaction one gets!

A young adult shared that her group (all young adults) mostly all have work experiences that involve people who don’t understand or accept their value systems and whom they find it difficult to engage. They decided to practice tolerance and patience with these co-workers and they saw a change happen, not right away but eventually, the working rapport became much more pleasant.

Our group was mostly elderly and we had a 95 year old (he just passed away this month) who was legally blind and somewhat deaf. He decided that for his action one week, he would memorize the Sermon on the Mount. When he came back the next week, he performed the sermon as he thought Jesus would have preached it. He did a great job and we honor his life by sharing this story. Another action our group did was to gather the names of all the sick in the parish and send them get well cards.

I led a group after the 9 am Mass each week. There were mostly widows in the group. One week we focused on how Jesus “touched” people. I realized that many of these women had no physical contact with anyone in the course of the week so we decided to be more conscious of the gentle touch, pat on the back or hug and be freer in offering what was appropriate to one another and others in the course of our day. There was one woman who was challenging and I thought she must be very lonely- so she became for me the one I focused on in this way – giving her a hug at the end of each session. As the weeks went on, she became more patient and less apt to monopolize the conversation.

Two things happened in our group that was very inspiring. One was that, the participants found they were reading the bible much more and enjoying it. The other is that they decided to reach out in these difficult economic times by buying gift cards to supermarkets, Target, etc. to leave at the rectory in order to respond to people who came by asking for help.

My group expressed having difficulty in dealing with certain people in their lives. This was especially true when it came to exhibiting patience. We made a pact to stop and pray a decade of the Rosary for patience when we were feeling stressed in this way. People came back to share that it actually worked! Praise God!

As the leader of the group I felt compelled to articulate what action I would do each week. One of my actions involved a phone call that needed to be made to initiate reconciliation. Initially, I felt resistance because I had, in the past, reached out and it didn’t go anywhere. I felt it was the other person’s turn to reach out to me. At one of our sessions, I experienced a heart-felt desire to be the one to extend a hand. I did and my call was received positively and we were reconciled. It was not nearly as difficult as I had envisioned it.

In our group we were so aware that Jesus is different for each person and yet the same for all. As the Season progressed, people shared more deeply. The “silver birds” in our group were pleasantly shocked when they heard the twenty-six year old share about his relationship with Jesus. I became aware that living in Jesus can often happen in very little things as well as big ones. For example, I was on line at the supermarket, thinking about the sharing we had done the night before. The lady in front of me was paying her bill and was short three cents. She searched and fumbled through her bag and pockets for the pennies. I realized that I had change in my pocket and put the needed three pennies on the counter. I saw a burden be lifted from her shoulders and she displayed surprise and gratitude. It was really nothing but it was a big deal for her.

I always saw Jesus as God and I related him as God the Father, somewhat distanced from me and my life. As Season One progressed, I realized that my understanding of Jesus was changing. I now see him as my best friend, walking with me, never abandoning me, always there.

We became aware of how easily Jesus forgives us and how hard it is for us to forgive ourselves. We seem to torture ourselves. We struggled with moving our faith to action because everyone is so busy.

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