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On being a witness: Pray for me and I’ll pray for you

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Steve Trosley

The late Dennis Dible, an editor of considerable ability and a fine Catholic gentleman, used to tell a story about how a reporter ran into a newsroom from covering a fire.

Flushed and fueled with excitement and adrenaline – covering a fire can do that to you – the reporter breathlessly described “mountains of flames, pillars of smoke, distraught homeowners, terrified pets, valiant firefighters” and so on.

When he finished jabbering and sat down to write, the staccato clacking of the keyboard and primitive grunts coming from the reporter’s desk led the editor to believe he would soon be editing an epic in the annals of daily newspaper journalism.

What he got instead was:

“A one-story frame home in the 500 block of West Main Street was severely damaged by fire Wednesday afternoon. There were no injuries according to Fire Chief Alan Jones.”

Dible, an accomplished story teller, then asked his rapt audience, “What happened to the mountains of flame, pillars of smoke, distraught homeowners, terrified pets and valiant firefighters?”

Before anyone could answer, he would reply. “Me. That’s how I had trained him.”

The reporter, Dible would say, gave his editor what he had been trained to give his editor: a straight-from-the-shoulder, inverted pyramid devoid of drama, emotion or excitement.

This story came to mind when I watched Sean Ater, our youthful director of the New Evangelization Office present his strategy for the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council June 14.

I had already heard the presentation, but in a much more condensed and rapid fire form over the phone, after Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr had approved Ater’s strategy. Ater was full of excitement and witness that day.

Ater has a passion for his work and a passion for sharing his faith with others, including me. One of the great rewards of working in the archdiocesan central office after decades of labor in the secular world is the inspiration and energy that comes from being around people of great faith and true Christ-centered fervor.

His presentation at the pastoral council meeting was engaging and many of the council members asked questions or contributed helpful comments. He had charts and slides and handouts.

But even with all of the so-called bells and whistles, it did not have the fire and advocacy of his five-minute phone call with me after his plan was approved.

Part of his presentation was based on a quote from St. John Paul II about the New Evangelization where he called for a “new ardor.” That word “ardor” comes from a Latin verb meaning “to burn.”

Our Catholic tradition in America is to be temperate rather than to show passion and witness when we talk about our faith. Immigration could punch that up in the future just as Latin American flavors have added spice to our cuisine.

But Ater and St. John Paul II have captured the essence of what’s needed to revitalize each of us in our faith.

I was coming out of a laundromat in North Carolina more than 20 years ago and held a door open for a man carrying a large basket of blankets.

He said, “God bless you with good health, sir” and I responded “Good Lord willing.”

He broke into a huge smile and asked, “Do you know Him?”

I knew what he meant right away and responded, “We’ve been on a first-name basis for as long as I can remember.”

We shared a good laugh and he invited me to his church. I did not invite him to mine. Like the reporter who let his training get the better of his talent, I tempered my witness.

It’s not going to be easy but that has to stop. We need to resolve to prayerfully and enthusiastically witness the Catholic faith at every opportunity. You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.

This Editor’s Note column by Editor in Chief Steve Trosley originally appeared in the July 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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