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by Matthew Kelly
Confessions of a Mega-Church Pastor
by Fr. Bob Sherry
I hope you had a fantastic summer and that God blesses you and your families as many of you prepare for your children and grandchildren to start their new school year.
Like most parents, I have massive hopes and dreams for the future of my children. When I have a quiet moment to watch them work on homework or practice the piano, I often find myself wondering about their future. What will Walter’s interests be? What will Isabel do professionally? What will the great challenges and passions of their lives be? How will my sons and daughter develop in to the men and woman they were born to become?
Before long, I often come to the most important question of all: How will I pass the faith on to my children?
My life has been remarkably blessed. God has given me the privilege to serve him in incredible ways. But in all my life I don’t think I have held such a lofty ambition as that of passing the faith on to my children. And that ambition is not unique to me. Every year millions of parents, grandparents, teachers, catechists, and pastors yearn to pass the faith on to the next generation of Catholics.
It’s because of this ambition that I am excited to announce that starting this month, preparation for First Communion and First Reconciliation will never be the same. As I write this, thousands of parishes across the country are receiving their first copy of Blessed, Dynamic Catholic’s new First Communion & First Reconciliation Experience.
Since we announced the release of Blessed this past March, the response has been breathtaking. I’m humbled to share we have received more than 30,000 pre-orders for the program. The hundreds of thousands of children who experience Blessed this year will be the first children in decades to encounter the Catholic faith in a way that is dynamic and engaging.
They will discover beautifully illustrated workbooks that meet them right where they are. We partnered with an Emmy Award-winning animation studio to create the Blessed animation series—the first-ever animated film series for sacramental preparation—which will captivate their hearts and minds and leave them thirsty for more.
The catechist-friendly leader guide is designed to maximize the effectiveness of busy volunteers who will finally have a program they will love to teach. And the parent component is an answer to what catechists, teachers, DREs, pastors, and bishops have been crying out for: a dynamic way to engage disengaged parents so they make faith a priority in their lives.
The Church has never seen anything like this before, and it is likely the most important work I will ever do in my lifetime. I invite you to request your free copy of the Blessed First Reconciliation Program Pack or pre-order the Blessed First Communion Program Pack.
May God bless us and our children with the gift of faith,
All in all, God showed me the treasures found only in the Catholic Church. He used them to paint a mosaic of truths and experiences in my spirit.
— From Confessions of a Mega-Church Pastor by Dr. Allen Hunt
...new treasures in all kinds of places.
“This house will take care of you.” Those words rang in Steven’s ears.
When he was just a little boy, Steven’s father, Henry, walked him through the family home one day and said, “This house will take care of you. Everything you need is in this house.”
Now, years later, Henry had died. Steven was now helping his mother pack up the family’s belongings in order to sell the house and move to Florida to be near her grown children. As they walked through the house one last time, taking one final glance at the home built by Henry’s own hands, memories flooded Steven’s mind. And then came the words again, “This house will take care of you.”
It was as if his father were standing right there to remind him. “Everything you need is in this house.”
Henry had been a WWII hero, a Flying Tiger. Henry had radiated Yankee know-how, independence, frugality, and self-sufficiency. He had loved time in the woods. He had raised his children well, and he had raised them in that house. But now he was gone. Fifty years of memories had accumulated in that old house.
As Steven took that one last walk-through, he reminisced on years gone by, including his entire childhood and adolescence. He also looked for any possessions that might have been missed in the packing. In his parents’ bedroom, Steven noticed an odd screw in the ceiling, an object that had never before captured his attention. Steven knew his dad’s meticulous nature and assumed that the screw surely had some purpose, so he stepped up on a stool to look more carefully at the ceiling. When he removed the screw, a hidden panel emerged from the ceiling. Behind the panel rested two Folger’s Coffee cans, each of which was filled with cash.
“This house will take care of you.”
Steven’s mind raced. If his father had hidden cash in one place, there might be other cans hidden as well. Steven soon discovered screws, hidden panels, and coffee cans all around that old house. Hidden treasures all around him, and he had never realized it.
By the end of the spontaneous scavenger hunt, Steven had found more than $5000, hidden years before in the old house by a Depression-era man who knew you cannot always trust forces outside your own house. In addition, Steven also found old report cards, children’s notes and drawings, and other family memories his father had stashed away in those coffee cans. Instead of using safe deposit boxes, Henry had carefully hidden his treasure in the ceilings and walls of his own home. “Everything you need is in this house.”
As you will soon learn, Steven played a crucial role in introducing me to Catholicism. Whether he intended to do so, I do not know. But it seems most fitting that his own father’s story provides the metaphor for my simultaneously joyful and painful journey into the Church.
You see, for the first thirty years of my life, the Catholic Church was just an old house to me. An old house that often looked like it needed some sprucing up. To be sure, the Catholic Church and her history have not been without blemishes, and like any old house, the Church has a few creaky windows, a few cracks in the walls, and an occasional leak. Sadly, as an American and as a Protestant, I knew more about the blemishes than about the house itself.
Having grown up as a Methodist, having descended from at least five generations of Methodist pastors in the South, the Catholic Church existed in my world simply as an old house. The Catholic Church was old and historic, but it was never something that attracted my attention in any real way. Catholic churches were often physically beautiful, but I never really noticed anything else about the old house at all.
During my nearly twenty years as a Methodist pastor, I neither liked nor disliked the old house of the Catholic Church. In each town where my family lived stood a Catholic church, which in my mind was just another church, one of the many varieties in the world. I really had no reason ever to notice its existence. I was not Catholic, nor was I particularly interested in those who were. It was just an old house, with some old rituals, old buildings, and old ideas. I paid it no attention.
Without my expecting and certainly without my invitation, God began to reveal to me irresistible treasures hidden in the walls of the old house known as the Catholic Church. In fact, as I moved through the old house, I discovered new treasures in all kinds of places. For example, in the dining room, I found the treasure of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It had always been there, but it lay hidden in the wall. In the basement, I discovered a foot locker full of saints. In the bedroom, my wife shared the Church’s mystery with me. Exploring the old house proved to be a thrilling and life-giving wonder in my life. In fact, the exploration proved life-changing. “This house will take care of you. Everything you need is in this house.”
All in all, God showed me the treasures found only in the Catholic Church. He used them to paint a mosaic of truths and experiences in my spirit. As a result, after having served as an effective Methodist pastor for almost two decades, including the final eight years of my ministry at one of the largest Methodist congregations in the world, I left it all behind to enter the Catholic Church in January 2008.
These treasures taught me that this old house is, in fact, my home. In these six treasures, I found life. A new home in an old house. A journey to the center of the heart of Jesus Christ and His intentions.
Most of us remember where we were the morning of 9/11 when we heard and witnessed the disaster exploding in New York City. Every anniversary since then, I shudder at the thought of renewing forgiveness. On the evening of 9/11, I experienced a standing-room-only church full of anguished worshippers. I spoke, the fire chief spoke, the police chief spoke. People cried and sang and worried—and cried some more.
As a gesture, we positioned an empty chair in front of the tabernacle. We invited the people to imagine one of the twenty-three terrorists sitting in that chair. (The number twenty-three was our best guess at the time.) We humbly asked these frightened and angry Christian parishioners to select a number from one to twenty-three, representing a specific terrorist, and pray deeply and sincerely for that person’s conversion.
Now, sixteen years later, I wonder if the suggestion we gave was prudent pastoral advice. There is nothing wrong with praying for a person’s conversion. But perhaps, as a Catholic pastor, I should have asked us to pray for our own ability to forgive those twenty-three terrorists.
What do you think? What do you wish you had done then?
I’m rereading Dr. Allen Hunt’s book Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody. On page 3, Dr. Hunt relates: “Forgiveness is hard. Perhaps that is why it is underrated. You and I find forgiveness hard because we are stubborn. Rather than stepping out to heal, we often prefer to sit and feed off our wounds because they are familiar and comfortable. It is easier to do nothing.” And on page 104 he states, “Know that the more you forgive, the more forgiveness you will receive.”
With all the unsettling turmoil in our world today, when will we realize that there is no future without forgiveness? The bloodiest century in human history turned the corner into these present years of ongoing conflict. We are challenged to become the-best-version-of-ourselves in times that need heroic examples for forgiveness and charity based in justice.
While the world teaches that whoever forgives first will lose, Jesus teaches that whoever forgives will enter the kingdom of God. Each day we want to take just one step closer to God. Seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and everything else will take care of itself.
Be Bold. Be Catholic.
As many others who have shared their stories, I am a “cradle Catholic.” I attended a Catholic elementary school through eighth grade, but my Catholic education ended at that point.
I considered myself to be a good Catholic—I attended church, contributed to the collection, and was involved in a few other church activities. My involvement in my parish did not go much beyond that.
Around eight years ago, I began traveling more for work. This travel meant that I would fly out of town on Sundays and return every week or every other week. When I was in town, I would try to make it to church on Saturday night, but I started to go less and less often. It got to the point where I was going to church when I was in town, but often missing Mass on the Sundays I was traveling.
About four years ago, I was given a copy of Rediscover Catholicism while attending Mass in Atlanta. My first thought was that it was the first time I had received anything when leaving church—I thought of church as a place where I was asked to give, rather than receive.
The next weekend I was going to see my niece. On the plane trip there, I read about three quarters of the book and was so moved by it that I insisted that she read it.
Although the book resonated with me immediately, I resisted making any changes to my life that the book asked me to address.
It was not until about two years later that I finished reading the book. At the time I was hospitalized with a serious illness and was ready to reflect on my life and where I was going:
The book helped me to be more of an involved Catholic—a dynamic Catholic—and I am happier for that. I feel like my life has more meaning and purpose than it did in the past. I have learned the beauty of the Mass and the miracle of the Eucharist, and I would not consider missing Sunday Mass. In addition, I often attend weekday Masses. I have begun saying the Rosary on a regular basis. I have started to study the Bible, the Magnificat, and other religious books. I have become more generous with my time, talent, and treasure. I try to get others more involved in the faith.
I pray that all of you will read or reread Rediscover Catholicism and are able to apply its lessons to your life. I hope you have the opportunity to reflect on your life like I did.
Want to share your story? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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