Faith Formation Conference: ‘Come, Follow Me!’

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By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

Jason and Elise Angelette, codirectors of the Faith and Marriage Apostolate of the Willwoods Community, had just been given the sobering diagnosis by their obstetrician: Ten weeks pregnant with twins, Elise was in the process of miscarriage.

For weeks, the Angelettes had excitedly told their eldest child, then 5-year-old Bella, that she and her sister Sophia were going to be “big sisters” once again.

“She knew what it meant to be a big sister,” Jason Angelette told the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference in Kenner last week, adding that Bella’s excitement grew day by day as she told her friends.

“We went home after the appointment with the doctor and then had to tell Bella,” Angelette said. “I remember gathering our kids together and telling them, ‘We’ve got some good news, and we’ve got bad news. We found out we were expecting not just one but two babies. The bad news is that they’re not strong enough to play with us here on earth, so they’re with Jesus.’

“Bella just started crying. I was sitting there trying to find a way to say something to her, and all my knowledge or whatever that is, but nothing would console her. All of a sudden she says, ‘Daddy, can we go to the chapel?’”

A child will lead the family

The adoration chapel at St. Peter Church in Covington was a place where the Angelettes often had taken their children, but normally their prayer visits were brief because of the kids’ short attention span. This time was different.

Before leaving the house, Bella grabbed a recycled gift bag and started filling it with small presents to take to the chapel for the twins.

“We got to the chapel, and Bella and Sophia sat there for 30 minutes – they were like two little saints,” Angelette said. “After 30 minutes, I was tugging on their shirts saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go.’

“When we got back in the car, Bella said, ‘Daddy, I love you. I love everyone in the whole world, even on other planets.’ Thanks be to God. Moments earlier, she was weeping, she was hurting, but she knew where to go to find consolation and comfort. She could have said, ‘Daddy, let’s go to Chuckie Cheese or TCBY, but she wanted to go to the chapel. And, after going to the chapel, she had so much love, she wanted to love aliens.”

In speaking to more than 1,000 catechists, religion teachers and those involved in Catholic ministry, Angelette said Jesus set the model for evangelization both by inviting the apostles to come follow him and then by sending them forth to reach others.

“In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ first words are, ‘Come, after me, and I will make you fishers of men,’” Angelette said. “What’s interesting is that the apostles abandoned their nets. This is how they made money, how they put food literally on the table. Now, think what that is asking us? Are we holding on to the nets? Are we holding on to our own idea of what makes us successful? Or are we holding on to Christ?”

It is difficult for people to “let go of their nets, to let go of their excuses,” Angelette said.

“Kids have things they hold onto – their ‘woobies,’” Angelette said. “What is our woobie? What do we need to let go of? We think we find security in certain things, but that is not our hope, our salvation or God. And then, the very last words of our Lord in the Gospel of Mark are ‘Go out, now! Now you know what it means to go out into all the world.’”

Sometimes people busy themselves with so many things in life that, as in the story of Martha and Mary, they fail to reflect on God’s words, Angelette said.

“Have we busied ourselves, become too busy?” Angelette asked. “A friend of mind says that busy is an acronym ‘Bound Under Satan’s Yoke.’”

Yoked with too much stuff

“We can busy ourselves with so much,” he said. “We can consume ourselves with all kinds of things. So many times, I think I’ve got to finish off my to-do list. I deceive myself into thinking that as soon as I can check off all those boxes, then I’ll be able to sit and relax and enjoy the conversation time with my wife and with my children and with God. But it doesn’t work that way. There’s always something else on the to-do list. Sometimes we need to put that to-do list down because we’re not human ‘doings’; we’re human beings.”

The three-day Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference was sponsored by the Office of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of New Orleans in collaboration with dioceses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and northwest Florida. The theme of this year’s conference was “Go Forth, That All May Be One.”

There were dozens of catechetical workshops along with Masses each day. Representatives of the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life gave a daylong presentation on the integration of faith and science.

Dr. Stephen Barr, a physicist and president of the Society of Catholic Scientists, said the intricate design of the universe, from the smallest atomic particle to the breadth and depth of the universe, points to a loving Creator. Some of the world’s groundbreaking scientists of the 1700s and 1800s were strong Christians who saw the hand of God as they discovered amazing scientific truths.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.