My name is John Vismara, my wife Lisa and I joined St Clare earlier this year. I am a life long catholic and have “done the Catholic thing”… attended CCD, raised 3 kids catholic, participated in CYO, regularly attended church and went to the fairs and fundraisers, but notably have not ever won a 50/50 raffle.
Like many people, I tended to pray more when things were not going well, less so when things were well. Admittedly, I struggle with my faith, I’ve struggled at times with the institution of the Church and don’t like to be told what I’m supposed to believe and do. I find myself putting up walls when I hear official dictates. I’ve done some research on church history, read the bible, taken classes, etc., however, I go through some ups and downs with my faith. We’ve also had some difficulties with family health issues and that makes you wonder about your faith and question God’s motivations.
So, why am I up here and what has changed for me? What’s changed isn’t some miracle or revelation, but finding a community and having a chance to explore my faith. Though I was raised in a Catholic house, we don’t talk much about it. Most of my friends are catholic, but we don’t talk much about it (yes, an occasional evaluation of a homily, but not much more). The result was that I had a lot more doubts than conviction.
As our kids became older, we found ourselves as “free agents” and started going different churches and masses (we really liked the 5 pm Sunday option). We heard about something called Alpha and considered attending, but didn’t quite get around to it and weren’t sure we were allowed to since we weren’t parishioners. Then came an opportunity to participate in ChristLife and this time we decided to give it a try (actually my wife decided “we” were going to give it a try).
We were still concerned since we were not parishioners, and thought we would be “outsiders”. Instead we have been blown away by the sense of welcoming and community we’ve experienced. From the greeting we received at the door to being introduced to a number of strangers who became friends. The first couple weeks we were nervous, but each time we received a warm welcome and quickly became very comfortable. It’s not just our experience, others have commented similarly. We have met many wonderful people – I’ve not been to a program that was so welcoming.
That welcoming was just the beginning. I’ve now been through the first two sessions of ChristLife and am looking forward to the third. My experience has made me realize that I had become very robotic in my faith (go to church, pray the same prayers, stand up, sit down, kneel, etc). It was routine, not real.
ChristLife is not threatening, not a lecture. It’s a program that prompts some discussion and exploration of what your faith means to you. The program starts with a social dinner, and then you listen to a video, which is followed by a small group discussion. You don’t have to speak and what is said at the table stays at the table. But what happens at the table is a very open and honest discussion. You don’t have to attend every session and you don’t fall behind if you miss one of the sessions – go if you can and see what you can get from it.
I was a little apprehensive of the group discussion – I didn’t know these people and what do I have to say that anyone else will care about? I think I had this picture in my head that I was going to run into a bunch of uber Catholics who were going to tell me that if I just did everything like them it would fix everything. The reality is that we are more alike than not and we’ve all faced different struggles in our lives and we can really learn from each other. It is interesting, but there were several times when I thought, I have nothing to say about this, but then the conversation gets started and you find yourself drawn into the conversation in unexpected ways.
I haven’t gotten answers to all my questions, but I have really enjoyed tapping into the wisdom of some of the more “experienced” members of the parish. One suggestion that has really hit home with me was a very simple thing to do, but has had a surprisingly significant impact on me. I was on a bit of a roll asking questions and there weren’t many answers. Someone then shared that they set an alarm on their phone with the message “I trust in you Jesus”. This helped them with unanswerable questions. I didn’t see much value, but my wife encouraged me to try it. Every day at the same time, my phone goes off with that message. This is going to sound corny to say, but it is amazing what that has done for me. I now find that simple little phrase creeping into my prayers, thoughts, and when I face a difficult situation or crisis. It doesn’t make everything better, but it puts things in perspective quickly and reminds me what’s out of my control. It’s very comforting.
My experience isn’t one of a transformative moment, nor do I have all the answers. I still have a lot of questions for the big guy if I am fortunate to make it to heaven. But I feel that the opportunity we’ve had at St Clare with ChristLife has allowed me to make a big step forward in my journey with Jesus and am no longer a “robot” Catholic.