While acting as Retreat Coordinator and Program Director for my Catholic Campus Ministry in college, I was able to recognize and develop a charism of speaking/preaching. Though difficult and uncomfortable at first, many years of practice helped me to develop confidence, and eventually find great joy in each experience. I can’t say that I’m ready to stand up and give a sermon everyday in front of a church full of people, but given my experience so far, it’s definitely charism that I would like discern for the future. As a postulant, I’ve been given two great opportunities to do just that.
The first opportunity is a shared bible study that Dennis and I run each week at our ministry site, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Jeanne Jugan Residence. Usually attended by about 15-20 residents, Dennis and I spend an hour reading and preaching about a number of passages related to an overall theme, trying to engage the residents in a discussion about their own experiences. So far we’ve looked at women in the bible, images of God, parables related to the kingdom of heaven, forgiveness and humility, and Christ the King.
Because of the laid-back nature of the bible study, we’ve enjoyed the chance to preach in an almost pressure-free atmosphere to see what it might be like at a larger venue. The consistency of a weekly bible study helps to simulate a weekly homily and to get in the habit of preparing beforehand with well written thoughts. On the other hand, it also gives us the opportunity to speak a bit more extemporaneously, honing in our ability to come up with fruitful responses with little preparation.
The second opportunity occurred yesterday when Ramon and I traveled down to Rehoboth Beach, DE, to help with a parish mission. Speaking to some of the 7th, 8th, and 9th graders in religious education, we were given an hour to share about our experience of Church at that age in order to promote a more active involvement. Our tandem speech had three parts, each beginning with participation from the students: 1) what is Church? 2) What can a middle schooler do to be a part of Church? and 3) What does it mean to be an adult in the Church?
Not unlike the bible studies with Dennis, this opportunity allowed us to speek in front of a small group of people on topic of which we are very passionate, gauging the responsiveness of the listeners and adapting our styles based on their questions and responses. But unlike the bible study, the parish mission required us to prepare a bit more beforehand, and to coordinate our speeches so as to present a common message. Having never given a partner speech such as this, it was certainly a challenging but fruitful experience in teamwork.
If for nothing else, these two experiences have (and will continue) to help me discern the charism of preaching in my own life. I realize that I’ve been given at least a mustard seed worth of this charism, and through practice and prayer will have to wait and see if it grows into a full-sized vocation. As a supplement to my discernment, I’ve also been reading a lot about St. Anthony of Padua: besides being great at finding things, he is noted as being one of the greatest preachers the Church has ever known, and a truly inspirational figure. Hopefully through his intercession I will be able to discern this charism a bit more fully and maybe even have a little bit of his ability rub off on me!