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Conversion leads to joy of Lenten fish fries

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Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.17.46 AMThis past Lent, I was part of a book discussion on, of all things, The Joy of the Gospel, popularly described as Pope Francis’ “blueprint” for the church.

One of the participants was basking in the glow of her recent conversion to Catholicism. She movingly shared with us one night her and her husband’s search for the truth. As a classic daughter of John Calvin, she never felt the love of Jesus as she now did as a Catholic. Additionally, she had a real sense for and appreciation of the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ. She knew the lure of sin but also the power of forgiveness through her recent celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. She was, literally, exuding the joy of the Gospel. The other people around her were drawn in by her energy and enthusiasm for the faith. As cradle Catholics,  we all were reminded of truths that we so often take for granted. 

Sensing she had a sense of humor, I risked it though. I said, “Give it a couple of months. It’ll change.” I was quick to add, however, “Now you can enjoy Lenten Fish Fries.” Having recently worked one at our parish, I can tell you first hand, that I saw the joy of the Gospel realized. Though it may have been helped by Mad Tree, I saw many colleagues and neighbors gathered together sharing stories, eating food, and enjoying community and, in a more informal way, expressing the joy of the Gospel.

At the heart of Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel is the invitation for Christians “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (#3).

The Saturday morning following the fish fry, Jasper and I were seated in our chair when he saw a car pull up. I smiled as soon as I saw them. Jasper barked. Jehovah Witnesses. They had been to the door a few weeks before and were following up. For those of you who don’t know Jasper, he’s my shadow. This comes in handy with people at the door. As I have done in the past, with Jasper dutifully creating a safe zone, I thanked them for coming and told them, honestly, that I had a dentist appointment that I had to leave for. In our brief porch talk I said I appreciated their witness but that I was Catholic and planned on staying one. As they left, as they always do, I was handed a copy of their magazine, The Watchtower. En route to the dentist, it struck me, I wish I had had something to give to them…perhaps The Joy of the Gospel.

Why do I say that? In answering let me quote from a recent article on Pope Francis and The Joy of the Gospel. A Jesuit colleague of his writes: “In only two years, Pope Francis has changed the face of Catholicism by radically reimagining how it presents itself to the world. From the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s, he has presented a different style of being pope and a new set of priorities for the church.

Whether it’s a book or, more importantly, a way of life, Pope Francis reminds us that in the person of Jesus: “We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.”

What keeps me Catholic? The Joy of the Gospel — a book, a way of life, and, most importantly, a person — Jesus.

Daley is a freelance writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School.

This What Keeps Me Catholic column by Michael Daley originally appeared in the May 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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