Our editor, Barb Szyszkiewicz, asked me if I wanted to attend SLS18: Presented by FOCUS here in Chicago. FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) is an organization “that was founded in 1998 and invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same.”
While watching your videos, I was thinking of what to ask you and one of the things that came up was, when did you become a storyteller?
Interesting question! I was thinking about how your experiences in life form you … and I think babysitting made me practice storytelling. I started babysitting at a very early age and parents love to hear what happened while they were away and they love to hear what you did or something funny that their child said. I used to so enjoy babysitting. I basically had to taste the joy of parenting where children say things that are completely unexpected or totally inappropriate or they do things like, “Wow, you pulled out every tissue in the box! I turned around for two minutes and now you’re covered in Vaseline! Things seemed to be going well and now you’re locked in the bathroom. Okay, what are you doing in there? How am I going to get you out of there?”
If I were to think about it, my mom’s a storyteller and I always loved that about her. The way she sees things or ponders things after they happen. Yes, I’m sure that had a role in it.
I know how encouraging stories are to me when I hear a story. It’s almost like that’s how we can receive a teaching. Like I have an image of it or someone witnessing it to me. So I know how beneficial it is for me to receive in that way.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your ministry?
It might surprise you, but I think fighting against self-reliance. I think that really trusting that the Lord has asked this and He’s the provider of the grace and it’s not about me proving or doing or, yeah, I know! Guilty as charged! It really is! I think fighting the temptation to rely on myself or the pressures. It’s kind of like an ingrained bad habit — a pressure. When if I were to entrust myself to the Lord more deeply, if I were to entrust those I’m serving to Him totally, if I were to take the intentions given to me in a way that I don’t take it on myself how much freer I am in Him and how much more room He has to work, and move and respond so I think that would be the struggle.
So what do you do when you find that you’re in control and you’ve forgotten that God might be?
You have to put the car in park, get out of it, and trade seats with the one you put in the passenger seat and let Him drive again. There has to be a pause, like I’m spinning, I’m spinning. I think discernment of spirits helps that a lot. St. Ignatius wrote fourteen rules called The Discernment of Spirits and there’s great books on it. Fr. Tim Gallagher has one, but it’s how we can know if a movement within my soul is of God or of the enemy because sometimes we can give way to something and I’ve suddenly fallen into the depths, and I think, “Why am I here?” Oh, I gave way to this thought which gave way to this one which gave way to this one … I resisted here which led me here and so being able to say, “What is that movement I am experiencing here? Is it of God or is it of the enemy?” And if it’s of the enemy I don’t want to consent I want to reject that. If it’s of God, I want to consent and I want to say yes and I want to follow what He’s asking and knowing that He’ll give me the grace to do it.
What advice would you give young people today who are Catholic and struggling with the pressures they face from society in contrast with their faith?
That’s so many of us! The secular culture puts a lot of pressure on us. It’s very hard. I think having a solid prayer life is the answer and it’s every day, twenty minutes a day that is sacred and protected and a time to be quiet and a time to really let yourself be in a mode that is receptive and not doing and performing and achieving and box-checking. Like really being able to say, “Father, I ask that this time would be yours that I would be able to steep in your loving gaze and just be at peace that I’m not having this colorful meditation or this flight coming in. That I could just have this peace in you and let you hold me or let you share yourself with me or be in you.” Or beginning with scripture. Scripture is the word of God! Every word that Jesus spoke is the Father’s to us, so as I read scripture, God is speaking to me and it’s not me having to think of things to say or just going off on my own concerns or worries or whatever, but being able to receive the Word and let it penetrate, let it have an impact.
Journaling can be helpful in sharing my heart with the Lord. It’s a beautiful way to be able to put words to something that could make me just spin if I just start thinking about it, but if I write it out there’s freedom in seeing it, like wow, there it is and that’s what I need to bring to prayer! I need an answer to this. It gives me a platform to move forward.
The other thing, too, is that when we are given a grace it’s good to recount it to ourselves so it’s not snatched up away from us. It’s just like the parable with the seeds. Sometimes a bird will come and snatch it up, but we want it to take root, deep root and to bear fruit in our lives so it’s really good to recount a grace so that we can go back to it and go deeper and deeper in our hearts.
I’ve heard you say you thrive in awkwardness. What was your most awkward moment?
Oh, mercy! How many have I had? Okay, so many awkward moments! They are flashing one after the other! Here’s a fun one: I was having a bad day. I was living in Manhattan at our convent, down the street from Times Square. I decided I was going to go see Cardinal O’Connor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He’s our founder. I was like, this day couldn’t get worse! I’m going to make a stop to his tomb and just lay it out for him and have him give me some advice.
So I’m on my way, walking down the street and I’m stopped underneath the stoplight and waiting. There’s like twelve people around me. It was an overcast day. Over the city, over my heart. Suddenly, what felt like large droplets of rain fell only on me. I looked down and I looked up and I was beneath a quivering flock of of pigeons! I had just been the target of a bird bomb squad! They had all waited till I arrived and then really …
I recognized that I would not be going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. That I would be returning home because I got nailed and I stepped aside and I pulled out a tissue. You know when you really need a tissue you only have a shard of something to really work with? There I am dabbing myself of what has just happened.
A gentleman approached me and touched me and said, “Sister, are you okay?” I’m like in a corner attempting to recover. He sees me and I said, “Well, I just got pooped on.” And he was like, “Oh my gosh!” It was everywhere!
We had the most beautiful conversation and he shared some struggles with me and I realized I was at a very weak and vulnerable place. God brought me this son of his who was also feeling filthy and we had a beautiful moment together. As I went home, I thought, “Wow, Lord, you couldn’t have chosen a day where I felt more poor? But what a blessing you gave me in this experience to be united to him and to pray for him and to know myself to be loved somehow in all of that.” That was an awkward moment!
It was such a joy to interview this young woman! I wanted to just follower her around and breathe the same air!
Copyright 2018 Pam Spano