Practicing Catholic VII: Spreading the Good News

We learn to love by being loved well. Last week I encouraged you to think of the people who loved you into who you are right now. Let me tell you a story.

About a month ago I was listening to the radio while working at my desk. It was a call-in show, and the previous day’s installment (which I hadn’t heard) had featured Justice Sonia Sotomayor, talking about her new book. I garnered that in the book she had mentioned a high-school teacher, a “Ms. Katz,” who had affected her greatly, “opened [her] eyes to a new way of thinking.” (Catholic factoid: It was at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx.) So the radio host’s question to his listeners for the day I tuned in was, “Who was your ‘Ms. Katz’?” I heard wonderful stories from callers whose lives had been enriched, shaped, and changed by teachers, bosses, parents, coaches, uncles and “Dutch uncles,” and even — to me, unbelievably — media-figures. So I got to thinking: Who was “Ms. Katz” in my life? And then I decided that the right thing to do was to write him a letter about it.

It took some time on Google to find him, but I did. Still working as a priest (now some fifty years after he taught me) though far from this area, he called me a few days after the letter went into the mail. I won’t say any more to protect his privacy and mine, but I can tell you the whole thing was a wonderful experience.

And it brought me to thinking: With all the “bad news” in the world every day, it’s hardly surprising that we’re assaulted regularly by fear, suspicion, greed, envy, and the other vices. Yet a simple question — “Who was your ‘Ms. Katz’?” — had opened a flood of good news on that radio show in just a half-hour’s time. This was good news that was always out there — people were living those changed lives every day, benefiting their spouses, children, neighborhoods, workplaces, and the rest by the people they had become — yet it was invisible until there was a forum, a carefully-shaped opportunity, that let that good news emerge for the benefit of the listening audience. It had hardly taken me two hours myself to write the letter and find my “Ms. Katz’s” address; but I remain moved, encouraged, and (I hope) changed for the better by the investment of doing it. And I trust it encouraged and affirmed him too.

Another story: Back in February I took over responsibility for our liturgical ministers — lectors, ushers, and EMHCs. So as a start in understanding them, I invited them to tell me three things about their experience of their ministry. Two of them were nuts-and-bolts, but my first question was about their service as a source of spiritual nourishment and growth for themselves. I received dozens of responses, and they’ve been my Lenten reading. Lots of different voices and accents, but amazing stories. Wonderful things are happening under our noses — but too often we don’t get the chance to notice it because there’s no invitation or opportunity for it to come out.

Finding and shaping opportunities for the “good news” to be spoken and heard is part of the work of teaching and learning how to love skillfully. A climate of sharing good news is perhaps the best way to communicate our faith to young people. I’ve often warned that gossip and criticism are toxic to a parish (and to a household), because a “bad news” climate is the last place healthy, growing people want to be. But this is an invitation to go further: What if we dedicated ourselves to creating places for good news to be shared — first, around the table at home? When putting the kids to bed? When getting home from work? What if we resolved to tell the stories not only about one “Ms. Katz” in our lives, but about the many people who have opened our eyes along the way — even about the simple acts of generosity or kindness that we experience daily? Might we not learn to love better (and have a motivation to love more) from that?

In the Gospel for today that’s read at the Scrutiny for those to be initiated at Easter (the “Woman at the Well”), we hear about a simple conversation. In the end, the woman’s life is changed. This week why not tell someone about a time somebody did that for you? After all, spreading good news is a key part of being a “practicing Catholic.” Until next week, peace.

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