Wordless Witness

“There is a spiritual solution to every problem.” That's what I was about to tell Kathy. But something told me the moment was not quite right for that sort of guidance.

A friend since childhood, Kathy was agitated over the slow pace of the extensive renovations being done to her home. In addition to the usual disruptions, the contractor was taking forever. What's more, the contractor was her brother.

I figured she would have found the favorite phrase of motivational speaker Wayne Dwyer about as welcome as I used to find the advice my mother used to offer as she turned off a big game with the score close or tied: “Offer it up.”

Still, both phrases are true, though “offer it up” is more Catholic because it makes an immediate connection to Christ and the cross; it admits the possibility that I may have to suffer without any earthly satisfaction — without the tidy “solution” promised by pop psychotherapist Dwyer.

A few weeks passed and, without any thought to the stalled renovation project, I invited Kathy's son to a popular payer event put on by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal for teens and young adults each month at St. John Baptist parish in Yonkers, N.Y. Because we would be coming from opposite directions, I proffered the invitation on the assumption that she would likely come along as chauffer for her 15-year-old. I had nothing further in mind.

The evening entails a big group of kids coming together for prayer before the Eucharist, exposed for adoration in a monstrance, and concludes with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and a kind of coffee house with lots of music. Almost all the participants also find time to go to confession.

The young — and anyone else who happens along — tend to have a new experience of the Blessed Sacrament. The friars erect not so much an altar as an embankment of candles with the exposed host atop.

At the time I offered the invitation, I was unaware that a second of Kathy's brothers had recently attempted to mediate some of the problems associated with the home renovation. This, I was to learn, had only led to new hostility in the family. The two brothers were not speaking. Kathy arrived at the church at her wits’ end, believing that she would likely have to fire her contractor-brother.

The holy hour proved tearful and cathartic for her, bringing her to the peaceful realization that she had to give her brother another chance — to let this purgatory play out in the confident hope that the project will eventually come together and family peace will some day be restored. She displayed a combination of resignation and joy.

So it was that my resisting the temptation to talk to her about the spiritual implications of her woes proved the best route to lead her to Christ.

“Preach,” St. Francis of Assisi once famously told his friars — but “only use words” when non-verbal means of presenting the Gospel have been exhausted.

To preach by means of our life, our prayer, our good example — and, as in the Yonkers trip, by means of a friendly invitation — can be more effective than words, which sometimes carry a whiff of judgment or superiority. For me, a guy who likes to talk, this was a pretty serious lesson.

As for Kathy, she found what I sensed God was trying to give her. Her problem had indeed found a “spiritual solution” — one in the shape of the host.

Joe Cullen writes from Floral Park, New York.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.