Wow. WOW! WOW!
This was my first time. 25,000 Catholics. Perhaps 30,000. On fire! Man! Apart from the amazing shot in the arm such gatherings provide, it was just fantastic to adore the Lord with tens of thousands of others. I cannot emphasize just how powerful Adoration is, and how every time it hits me in the heart. (Sherry W has a great post up at the Siena Blog on the evangelical power of Adoration.)
And the phenomenal diversity of this Particular Church! I heard so many tongues! The roar when the Hispanics were first acknowledged! And even the Vietnamese!
And the entire place was steeped in personal, intentional, awakened faith as well, as well as the apostolate of the laity. Two examples:
After the morning Adoration and Benediction, and the opening address by Archbishop Gregory, three lay people came up to talk about the importance of the Congress. One in English, one in Spanish, one in Vietnamese. (The context: this free event, which costs some $650,000 is running a deficit of some $200,000. The talks were focused on a free-will offering). The gentleman speaking in English (I think he was wearing the robes of a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher), shared a powerful testimony, of how the Eucharistic Lord had changed his life at this very event in 2004: how his family was falling apart, and his son drowning in alcoholism, and how he came to this place broken, with his faith almost dead, and how he heard the voice of the Lord asking him to place his burden with him. And how his life has turned around, how his son has recovered. It was a true story, true, from the heart. The place erupted in a roar of applause and cheer when he finished.
The Lord is alive! Just let him, and he will change your life!
The first main talk was by Fr. Tim Hepburn, a priest of the Archdiocese, who's recently finished a degree in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. What an Spirit-filled priest! He said that one cannot assume that just by being Catholic one has faith. Faith is an intentional response. It doesn't just happened. So many Catholics have an unawakened faith. "You shouldn't even presume that just because I am a priest, I have faith!" "If a mouse were to jump up on the altar during Mass and eat the consecrated Species, would it receive the Real Body and Blood of Christ?" (Yes) "But would it receive the Eucharistic Lord?" (No!) "The Sacraments are Sacraments of faith. The power of the Eucharist only works if we are properly disposed. "So many Catholics have the faith of mice!"
He talked about growing up Catholic, how he lost his way as a teen and youth ("sex, drugs and rock n' roll!"), and how the Lord found him again.
(I was nodding vigorously. Obviously this is stuff I'm passionate about. And it ties in well with those good folk at the Catherine of Siena Institute as well)
Later I was reflecting on these three: Fr. Tim, Dr. Alvaré and the Knight of the Sepulchre, who shared so authentically their own journey with Christ. All three are cradle Catholics. It's unusual to hear cradle Catholics speak like this. But, all three had times of spiritual turmoil, suffering and distance from the Lord. And moments or times when, suddenly, Jesus became a real person, in a deep and powerful way.
Of course, converts, often (though not always), are full of such stories. Though, as I can testify, nothing moves in a straight line. :)
The CEO of Catholics Come Home, an amazing apostolate that has garnered much attention, spoke beautifully and powerfully of their work. Here is a lay Catholic who (his words) downsized from a lucrative career in advertising, to start up a new venture. And it is bearing abundant fruit. Check out a video!
Oh the power that the Spirit can unleash!
Other speakers included Bishop William Curlin (Bishop emeritus of Charlotte), through whom the mercy of God just exudes. He shared stories that I've heard before, of his work with the poor, with those with AIDS, and his friendship with Mother Teresa. What a holy man! And in his countless stories, each one shining like the scintillating facet of an infinitely sided diamond, the universal call to holiness, to be a saint, comes alive. (At the parish I worked at in SC, we had the privilege of Bishop Curling leading a Pastoral Council retreat.
Dr. Helen Alvaré, who serves on the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who talked about the relationship between the family and the Eucharist, and her own story of growing up a feminist and learning to trust the Church. (I'd heard her speak years ago in South Carolina, when she was working for the Bishops' Pro-Life office. It was that talk that finally got rid in me of the last vestiges of a pro-choice "safe, legal, rare" mentality.)
Wandering around the Vendors/Exhibitors area at events like these is also fun. I bumped into Father Roderick just as I walked in. (And yes, I'll be back at the New Media Celebration, at least part of it, tomorrow.) I learned how to make a rosary at the Rosary Army stand. And was sales-pitched into picking up a DVD of the first season of That Catholic Show. I bumped into a former colleague from SC (Kathy Schmugge, the Director of Family Life for the Diocese of Charleston). And checked out the great offerings of the folks at The Catholic Mass Revealed. And learned that there is a Communion and Liberation group that is meeting in the area (Of course, Amy had blogged on this three years back. The link doesn't work, but read the comments, which have a good description of C&L). And had three young girls come up to me, hand me a prayer card, and ask if I knew what "Spiritual Communion" was.
Apart from spending time in the Adoration Chapel, perhaps the most powerful thing was observing one of the parishioners I was with, a young fellow, on his way to college, confirmed a couple of years back. He was bowled over by this. And over the past several weeks, I've seen a hunger for learning about the faith, and growing closer to the Lord, deepen in him. It was such a gift to see that being stirred today.
His email to me yesterday confirming that he wanted to ride down to Atlanta today ended with a post-script: "Currently trying to become more and more saint like."