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June 11, 2017

Crafting, telling our stories of grace

Misty Menis-Kyler with her host mother, Elizabeth, in Xela, Guatemala. (Photo provided)

Lenny DeLorenzo speaks to youth and young adult ministers from across the Lafayette diocese at their recent gathering at St. Joseph Retreat & Conference Center in Tipton. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

By Caroline B. Mooney

TIPTON — Just as Jesus taught his disciples through his preaching, Christians practice the art of storytelling to bring others to faith.

“Learning how to craft and tell stories of grace is a rehabilitative practice that trains our eyes to see the presence of God. Not as we expect it, but as God is. Grace is the gift of a way of seeing that comes to us from God,” Lenny DeLorenzo said.

A theology professor and director of Notre Dame Vision at the University of Notre Dame, DeLorenzo spoke about crafting witness stories to approximately 50 young adult and youth ministers attending the 2017 Summit for Youth and Young Adult Ministers, held recently at the St. Joseph Retreat & Conference Center.

The day was organized by Paul Sifuentes, associate director for youth and young adult formation in the diocesan Office of Catechesis.

“I am happy and excited to have Lenny talk about witness and that role in our ministry and our own lives,” Sifuentes said. “I think it is something that is very important. We often talk about the need for better evangelization. Often, that is outside our walls, but I think there is a need in our ministries to do a better job of witnessing within our walls. It’s really important to work on helping each other see grace in our lives and to share our stories about how God has been working in our lives.”

“To understand grace, we need to find where it originates. It’s the gift of being seen in God’s mercy,” DeLorenzo said. “It is important to help our children reflect on their daily lives well, to speak to each other and to us about things that matter, especially when things that are important seem mundane and are pretty easy to just pass by.

“Grace is what we learn to see and what heals our vision. It is almost never what we expect it to be,” he said. “God is unrelentingly particular.”

The current digital age of technology has desensitized people to grace, DeLorenzo said. “Our eyes are trained to see in a digital context, and we find it difficult to avoid talking about social media.”

For instance, with 1.8 billion monthly users, if Facebook were a country, it would be the largest country in the world. The average user is on Facebook 50 minutes each day.

Recent studies show that the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds. Amazingly, the attention span of human beings has dropped to eight seconds. When people receive a new e-mail, the average time to check it is six seconds.

“We live in an ecosystem of interrupting technologies,” DeLorenzo said. “Things grab our attention and we are losing the ability to focus and stay with something. Our eyes are trained to scan; look quickly and take in information quickly. We get anxious if we aren’t plugged in and constantly doing something.

“Intrusions of grace are announcements of what’s real. If our eyes are constantly scanning, we can’t really see,” he said. “Storytelling is the medicine for scanning.”

Lorenzo offered guiding principles to relate moments of grace.

Tell it as a story — not crafting a lecture. Allow someone else to see what you have seen in the way you have seen it. Give good prompts, suggesting how you might recognize grace — a time when you have had an experience of being known and cherished, loved.

Begin with what happened; express it in style; modify it for your audience; ensure there is sufficient closure; embrace natural emotions, and pray and practice. 

“I enjoyed taking a day away from the normal routine to do some personal faith formation that not only benefited my walk with Christ, but also will help me share that walk with the teens we minister to,” said Sue Bayley, youth minister at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Lafayette. “Lenny’s points regarding our stories reaffirmed the day of personal formation in that your story is a gift to be given away. It was a day to think about my story.  

“In particular, I was struck by many of his points surrounding how to help someone craft a good story,” she said. “My husband and I are the adult leaders for the Greater Lafayette Antioch Retreat, where kids sharing their stories is a major component. We both came away from the summit with ideas of how to help the kids craft their stories in order to enhance the encounter with Christ the retreat weekend provides. We are excited to implement many of Lenny’s points. 

“Having the summit at the St. Joseph Retreat Center and having the opportunity to see the potential this place offers our diocese was an added bonus,” Bayley said. “I cannot wait to see all the ways our parishes utilize this facility to do God’s work.”

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