Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Friends: A Catalyst forFaith and Learning

Sydney* and I have been 'friends' for about five years now. We met long before that but never really got to know each other. We had one friend in common and frankly, I had more in common with the friend than I did with Syndney. Through some odd chain of events that neither of us can ever clearly recall, we became friends and have been 'close' for as far back as I can remember knowing her. I recently stood in her wedding and we see each other at least four times a week (this might be helped by the fact that we practically work together - long story, I won't even try to explain).

Sydney has helped me in faith since the birth of our friendship. This is the meaning of friendship (I believe) but the way that Sydney has done this is not in the ordinary fashion. She has helped me without knowing it and I doubt she will ever really know the full impact she has had. You see, Sydney is Church of Christ. (Our friend in common went to church with her and sang in a city choir with me, in case you were wondering - and I know you were.) She was brought up in her little church and is faithful to its teaching. She may not be as conservative as the elders but she certainly does not stray from the core principles which have been handed down to her.

Sydney has always struggled with my faith. She does not reject me for it, obviously, but how can she? She doesn't understand it. It seems it is this way for the both of us. I do not understand many of the things that her church teaches and she does not understand... well, anything about my Church. I have to say it was and is probably easier for me to understand hers because it is a single church with its own rules and ways of doing things. Sure, they are united to all believers in the Church of Christ but they are not linked in the way that Catholic churches are linked. (Plus, let's admit it... there aren't any huge concepts to grasp or hard-to-pronounce terms or any serious complexity. There's Jesus and the people... and a sermon about living a good life.) They have class - which if I remember right is basically a bible study or CCD, service (music and preaching), and then another class/service later in the day. Having never known anyone of this faith and having never learned about it, it was easy for me to listen to her and to learn that way. However, Sydney did not have this advantage. She had already been taught about Catholics... if you know what I mean.

To this day she thinks we are weird and a little bit scary. She's certainly come a long way but it is still a challenge sometimes to get her to understand that we aren't some bunch of loonies. The thought of stepping foot inside of a Catholic church spooks her, I think. This past Sunday we had planned for her to come to Mass with me. We called her husband and left him a message telling him that he was coming too, though obviously we wouldn't force him if he didn't want to. (I always thought that, of the two, he would be the more accepting.) As it has been in the past, they didn't show. It always saddens me a little that they don't care to come and experience something that means so much to me. This is, frankly, who I am. I live my life as a faithful Catholic. They know this. So it is, sometimes, hard for me to understand why it scares them so much. They know me. They know I'm not insane. (Well, maybe a little...) Why don't they just come? Just once!

I've offered to go to services with them. I want to know what it is they believe and why. Being my friends, I want to know what it is that drives their lives and fuels their faith in God. (And I would have been to a service already if we could ever keep our plans.) I already know their families and friends and have experienced many different aspects of their lives. Heck, we go grocery shopping together for fun! We know each other pretty well and knowing about their faith would, I think, pretty much cap the understanding of them in general. ... But before I get carried away (too late, I know), let me get to my point...

For as long as I have known Sydney I have tried to show her the normalcy and practicality of the Catholic faith. I have tried to show her that we are generous, loving, and kind. I have tried to always answer her questions and correct her when she makes false assumptions. It has never been easy, especially given the things she was taught at her church, but it was good for me. I was forced to really learn all I could about every aspect of our faith. I couldn't have general responses (though those aren't bad). I had to have reasons, meanings, explanations. Most of all, I had to be ready to explain at all times. It wasn't common for her to ask questions so when she did, I couldn't shy away and I couldn't put it off. I had to answer her then and there. Occasionally I would tell her I would have to get back to her on it but she could see that I was trying and I like to think that that said something in and of itself.

Most recently I have noticed my close attention at Mass. I know that the majority of it is my frequent and regular participation but some of it, I think, has been fueled by my desire to share the beauty of it with my friend. I want her to come and experience it, even just once, and so I pay close attention to know what to tell her to expect. The more I try to explain to her how each part of the Mass is beautiful and awesome and holy and PRACTICAL, the more I realize it for myself. Every time I appreciate more and more each and every word that is said. I am gaining a deeper appreciation for this gift given us by God and I do credit at least a portion of it to her presence in my life. It was a combination of her presence and the presence of great mentors in my young life that inspired me to really dive into my faith and learn what being a Catholic is all about. I praise God for this catalyst, this friend, which has brought me closer to Himself.

I still do not know what it would take to help her understand or to be less afraid. I do not know if she will ever overcome the misconceptions she has when it comes to my faith. I do not know if she will ever understand my vocation (which is another story for another day). Whatever the outcome, I thank and praise God for allowing me the opportunity to be an instrument of Truth. I believe that on some level I have shared some part of Him with her in my faith. I pray that I never stop seeking answers and desiring to share Him with those whom I meet. I pray that no one, no Catholic, ever denies himself or herself a chance to be His hands and feet here on the earth. I pray that we, the Lord's people, embrace our faith and choose to share it with those around us daily. I pray that we are ever a race striving to imitate Him in all of His goodness. +Lord, bless your people and make us holy.

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