Lawn Chair Catechism Session 3: We Don't Know What Normal Is



Welcome to the third session of Lawn Chair Catechism, using Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

This week, we’ll be covering Chapter 2: We Don’t Know What Normal Is.


In her extensive research, Sherry Weddell learned that most Catholics consider their relationship with God a forbidden topic – too private to discuss with others.  What we don’t hear about, we don’t know is possible:

One of our most surprising discoveries has been how many Catholics don’t even know that this personal, interior journey exists.  A high-level, cradle-Catholic leader on the West Coast acknowledged to me recently that the very idea of a personal relationship with God was still new to him.  The possibility had only dawned upon him for the first time a few years ago, when his parish started offering evangelizing retreats.

Our idea of “normal” Christian life is skewed.  We consider an interest in the spiritual life to be an exception, and not the norm.   To combat this mistake, the first Catholic discipleship group Sherry belonged to wrote a series of resolutions as part of their mission statement (here are a few excerpts from their longer list):

. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.

. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable of their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church.

. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.

. . . It is NORMAL for the local parish to function consciously as a house for formation for lay Catholics . . ..

For discussion:

In your own faith:

  • Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?
  • Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined above?
  • Or are you a “typical” Catholic, fighting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics?

In your parish:

  • Do you personally have, within your parish, a group of Catholics you meet with regularly, to discuss the faith, study the faith, and encourage each other to greater virtue?
  • At this time, does your parish have in place a working system for actively mentoring those who want to grow in their relationship with God?


Join the discussion!

We’ll be “talking” in the combox, too, so please leave your thoughts there as well!


About Author

When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one…more…chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. You can join her for a weekday take on Catholic life by subscribing to Three Shots and follow her writing at Snoring Scholar.


  1. I am fortunate enough to belong to a parish where there are plenty of opportunities for lay Catholics to grow in their faith. It is a Dominican parish in San Francisco, which for the last fifteen or so years has been very involved with the Catherine of Siena Institute’s Called and Gifted workshops. The pastor really *gets* the idea of involved lay leaders and of adult formation — in fact, he hired my husband Scott as Director of Adult Faith Formation about twelve years ago. (Scott, by the way, credits the C and G workshops for inspiring him to switch from a programming career to a ministry career!). They offer Bible studies, small faith groups, various workshops, speaker series … many ways to engage adults in their faith. More than any other parish I’ve ever known, you have adults who are joyfully on a journey into their faith. It’s really great.

    I think what’s key is to have a pastor who wants adult formation, and who is committed to making it happen. If you have the funds to hire someone to do it full-time, that helps a lot, too. I also think there is a kind of snowball effect: involved lay Catholics who are enthusiastically involved in their faith create more lay Catholics who are enthusiastically involved in their faith.

    And — I think this is key — you have to welcome people no matter where they are on their journeys. There are sometimes people who are so quick to judge others for not being where they themselves are … and they forget that they too once had honest questions and struggles with certain aspects of Church teaching. It is a process and it is important to be welcoming and give others space to grow.

    • You know, Ginny, I’ve read your comment a couple of times, and after the initial urge to pack up and move to your neighborhood, I can see the truth in what you say. Enthusiasm is contagious, but first you need the enthusiasm in a way that others can SEE it.

      I still want to pack up and come over, though. 😉

  2. Ginny – thank you so much for sharing about your parish! Very encouraging. It’s good to know about some of the practical details.

    Jan – You’re absolutely right. I’d recommend reading the whole book, for anyone who has the means the do so. In later chapters there are some very helpful details that wouldn’t fit into the word count limit for the study guide.

    (I know some readers at this blog barely have time to grab a shower, let alone sit down with a whole book and not get it eaten by a toddler. I had a baby who chewed books once. Long couple years. It was like living with a beaver.)

    –> Tip for those doing a book club around the parish: Those who’ve read the book should bookmark and highlight their favorite passages that aren’t in the study guide, and plan to share that during discussion, so those working from the cheat-sheet get the benefit of a little more content.

  3. I agree with Weddell that “Our idea of “normal” Christian life is skewed. We consider an interest in the spiritual life to be an exception, and not the norm.” I get the point, however; I struggle with the connotations associated with “normal” vs. “typical”. I answer yes – most of the time to, “Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?” – But, you won’t catch me out on the street corner yet preaching.

    I am probably somewhere between “normal” and “typical”. I’ve been leader for one parishes’ RCIA team; I’ve been on two Christ Renews His Parish Teams (two different parishes), made a Cursillo and Marriage Encounter weekend – yes, I am excited about this journey and enjoy being on it with other believers who want know Jesus more deeply and want to grow in their faith.

    Even though this wasn’t part of the summary, I appreciate Weddell’s Paradigm Examination section and agree that in most parishes I’ve been a part of the “infant paradigm” still is the rule of the day. We need to have ongoing adult catechesis and an opportunity for faith sharing. To expect adults to have any kind of mature spirituality without providing them with opportunities to develop as adults isn’t very prudent.

    Fortunately, I have a small faith community within the context of my parish life now. We have chosen to follow the rhythm of the liturgical year and use the readings from upcoming Sunday. We have used several commentary-type resources during the last four years which provides a starting point. We meet weekly in one anothers homes and it really helps us hold one another accountable for trying to live the gospel message. We’ve been trying to grow this concept every year during Lent – we’re up to approximately 125 parishioners who do participate during the season, and a much smaller number who continue throughout the year. The question our group struggles with is this; how do we get more folks excited about this? Maybe – to use Weddell’s language, the difference is between “normal” and “typical?

  4. Since a spiritual renewal experience some 30 years ago I can confidently say that I am now a normal Catholic. It seems that the Holy Spirit evens out the extremes of our personalities. My shyness is overcome as I die to myself and find ways to help others see what God is doing in their lives. My nervous talkativeness gives way to a listening ear to find out what is needed, how this person is hurting, what encouragement they need and how to pray for them.
    This freedom of the Spirit changed my approach to life and has me doing exciting things I could never do except in the Spirit.

  5. I am really floored all around. I wanted to leave a comment just to say how much I’m enjoying the interaction here! (It’s going to be tomorrow before I can work through the different link submissions, sorry!)

  6. Wanted to add a half baked idea/question that I didn’t put in my blog post.
    It’s this: I can’t recall any writings from saints, or well known catholic author from the past, talking about one’s “relationship with God”. Not to say they didn’t have one, but they must have used other words. Extensive use of the word “relationship” has a pop-psych or women’s magazine feel to it, doesn’t it? I’m just making an observation, rather than a criticism. How did older writers talk about it? Friendship with God? Love for God? The spiritual life? These words, and probably others were used, I think. I’m not even sure why I”m bringing this up. I guess I wondered if anyone else was sticking on the possible overuse of “relationship”, or if they find it a useful umbrella term as Sherry Weddell does.

    • You know, Daria, I hadn’t been able to formulate this, but I think you have just put words to something that has sort of stuck on me for years (referring back to my non-Catholic days).

      Relationship is important, but yeah, it has a pop-psych feel. And it feels…fake to me sometimes. Like it’s part of a life I left, and not that it’s not important but that there’s more to it than what the word implies…

      Going to noodle on this.

    • St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Paul. They didn’t use the word “relationship” but they wrote and spoke a lot about the experience. So did St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa of Avila, in particular, spoke of it a lot in here writings as the companionship of the Lord.

      This is what they experienced that changed their lives.

      From the “Way of Perfection” by St Teresa of Avila.

      “Then, daughter, as you are alone, you must look for a companion—and who could be a better Companion than the very Master Who taught you the prayer that you are about to say? Imagine that this Lord Himself is at your side and see how lovingly
      and how humbly He is teaching you—and, believe me, you should stay with so good a Friend for as long as you can before you leave Him. If you become accustomed to having Him at your side, and if He sees that you love Him to be there and are always trying to please Him, you will never be able, as we put it, to send Him away, nor will He ever fail you.”

      I’m not sure how she could have been more clear about what she was trying to say.

      • I’ve been thinking about this question of personal relationship and here’s how I see it. When I think of relationship I think of something between two equals where there is a give and take. But, God is not my equal. He is my Creator and I am His creature.

        I think the saints and spiritual writers don’t talk about relationship because they recognize that fact. They speak more of providence, obedience, and surrender–the God who created them will care for them. As creature their job is to accept God’s gifts and surrender to God’s providential care, seeing it all as gift. They see with eyes of wonder and gratitude and perfect trust in God’s mercy and love.

        I think this is what is meant by “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.”

        • Somewhere in his writings, C.S. Lewis talked about how the idea of a close, tender, intimate friendship with God has to be at times supplemented with “I fell at his feet as one dead”, because remaining aware that God is so very Other, so very awe-ful and potentially (dare I say it?) scary, is what makes the fact that He desires intimacy with us so amazing and moving.
          Now, I think the main point that Forming Intentional Disciples is trying to make is that plenty of Catholics see God as Other, awe-ful, etc. but that they haven’t internalized what it means for Him to be our Father, and for Jesus to be our Savior/Brother. Personally, I am of two minds on that thesis. If there’s one thing that I’ve heard for years in sermons and religious ed is that “God Loves You” So much so that at times this message can seem boring, saccharine, etc. On the other hand, you hear catholics who join an evangelical church saying crazy things like, “during all my years in the Catholic church I was never told that Jesus loves me and that i could have a personal relationship with him.” So what gives? Anyway, I’m going to keep reading and see what else this author says. I’m enjoying these online discussions.

  7. Kelly Guest on

    My parish offers many opportunities through Adult Catechesis and Youth Group. Problem is that it is always the same faithful few who take advantage of these opportunities. Hopefully the book will address later on how to entice others into coming to a Bible study or the like. Feel like we are competing with so many other priorities families place before “extra church time.”

    • Kelly –

      I haven’t read beyond the chapter we’re supposed to be doing either. And, like you I’m looking forward hearing the ideas the author has to get people excited too. Because your right, if our programs are only feeding the always fed, what do do about the hungry?

      I’ve been told by other “normal” or at least “mostly-normal”, engaged Catholics that I can’t want it more for people than they want it for themselves. In my head this makes sense, but in my heart I know that if the not yet engaged folks would engage, we could set the world on fire!

      • Hal Brey wrote (in part):
        I’ve been told by other “normal” or at least “mostly-normal”, engaged Catholics that I can’t want it more for people than they want it for themselves. In my head this makes sense, but in my heart I know that if the not yet engaged folks would engage, we could set the world on fire!
        (end quote)

        Absolutely true, but I would add that if there is no way for folks to realize what the potential is, how can they want it? So, perhaps the question is, how can we evangelize them in such a way as to inspire them to seek it?

  8. This is a comment from John in NYC who is having a hard time posting:

    John Says:

    I thought I posted my thoughts on the matter but apparently it didn’t take. So in short my parish is doing a wonderful job in catechesis. Personally for me being in the men’s bible/prayer group provides an opportunity to discuss faith and also talking with individuals during the week. I will just post this link to give an idea of what is happening in my area.

  9. Pingback: Week Three: Forming Intentional Disciples | Acts Of The Apostasy

  10. Pingback: We Don’t Know What Normal Is : Lawn Chair Catechism Week 3 | The Wine-Dark SeaThe Wine-Dark Sea

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