Great Twentieth Century Catholics ($3.95)
Six-Meeting Series for Small Church Communities
Synopsis and Sample Reflection Questions
Under the "Gathered In His Name" umbrella title, this series offers a look at some of the most influential Catholics of the last century. Meetings run about two hours each: 90 minutes for study and reflection, and 30 minutes for socializing. The meeting guide is a 40-page booklet in 8-1/2x11 paperback format. Each participant should have his/her own booklet.
Additional resources and meeting ideas are available in the GIHN "Leader's Guide."
Meeting One: Dorothy Day
After a childhood that included experiencing the San Francisco earthquake, and a Bohemian youth, Dorothy Day converted to Catholicism, which helped her find “a synthesis reconciling body and soul, this world and the next…” She always had a passion for social justice and found her inspiration in Jesus’ love for the poor, especially as reflected in the Beatitudes and Matthew’s account of the Last Judgment. She helped found The Catholic Worker newspaper and Houses of Hospitality (now often called “Dorothy Day Centers”). By the time of her death in 1980, she was called a saint and a prophet. Her legacy is the passionate proclamation of Jesus’ love for the poor and her insistence that Catholic social teaching could and should make a difference. She combined faith and activism in an extraordinary way.
Sample reflection question: Dorothy Day was a woman of great passion, compassion and determination. What do you feel passionate about? How does your life reflect your passion?
Meeting Two: Blessed Pope John XXIII
Born to a peasant family, Angelo Roncalli was a bright and dedicated student with a love of people and a deep spiritual life. His motto was “Obedience and peace,” and when he was ordained a bishop he wrote, “May my ministry be one of reconciliation…and my authority used not to break down but to build up.” He worked for years in the Vatican diplomatic corps; at every posting he took long walks, stopping to talk to people along the way. After being elected Pope as a “compromise candidate,” he called for the Second Vatican Council to “open the windows” and bring new life to the faith of individual Catholics. His humility, simplicity, humanity and holiness are a model for all people of faith.
Sample reflection question: Share a story about someone you know who “carries peace around” with him or her.
Meeting Three: Thomas Merton
Born in France, Thomas Merton had an itinerant childhood. His parents, both artists, died when he was young, and after some unsettled years abroad, Merton graduated from Columbia University, converted to Catholicism and entered Gethsemani Abbey, a Cistercian (Trappist) abbey in Kentucky. Merton sought solitude to nurture his mystical/contemplative bent, but also became a prolific writer and – in the 1960’s – an articulate spokesman for peace and racial equality. His books have become classics of Christian spirituality, because he wrote with simplicity and directness about the life of God within us and the rewards of prayer and contemplation. The commentary includes excerpts from the "Prayer Before a Mystery" and "Prayer to God the Father on the Vigil of Pentecost," and from his autobiography and journals.
Sample reflection question: What do you think it means to be “witness, awareness, and joy”? Which do you feel like today?
Meeting Four: Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Mother Teresa began her religious life as a missionary Sister of Loreto in India, but in 1948 received permission to start the Missionaries of Charity to “offer whole-hearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” “I am not trying to change anything,” she said. “I am only trying to live my love,” and “I am only a little wire – God is the power.” Her austere life, her houses for the dying and for persons with leprosy, her fearless travels into war-torn countries and her care for the poor inspired the world. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. “By blood and origin I am Albanian,” she said. “My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to all the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”
Sample reflection question: Mother Teresa said that “every day you have to say yes to Jesus.” Share an experience when “saying yes” meant a daily recommitment to a challenging task.
Meeting Five: Henri Nouwen
This Belgian priest, born in 1932 and ordained in 1957, became a world-renowned writer, speaker and teacher on prayer. In simple and direct language, his many books inspire the reader to be more open to God and more life-giving to others. Nouwen believed everyone who wants to grow in faith needs both solitude and community. He stressed the overpowering love of God: “I am your God, I have molded you with my hands, and I love what I have made.” At the age of 54, Nouwen became the pastor and a caregiver at the L’Arche community in Canada, a residential center for the mentally disabled. He was following what he called the “downward mobility” of Jesus, an “always deeper choice of what is small, humble, poor, rejected, and despised.” Nouwen died at L’Arche in 1996, revered as one of the greatest spiritual writers of his time.
Sample reflection question: Is it important to you to find solitude in the midst of your hectic life? Where do you find solitude?
Meeting Six: Catholic Laity in America
“If we look at the health of the church … there is one group that in many ways continues to be the best resource and hope for the Catholic church. Catholic laypeople in America have been vibrant sources of strength and community…” Lay involvement and leadership provides strength for the parish and help carry the message and meaning of the Mass into the world.
The second half of this meeting, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Saints,” summarizes the series. Characteristics of the people we’ve studied include a deep prayer life, talent, a sense of vocation, adaptability, love of people, love of the church and individuality. “In the infinite creativity of the mind of God, each of the saints finds that he or she is called to make a certain contribution. It may not seem to be a world-changing contribution at first, but as time goes on it does change other people…”
Sample reflection question: What is one “habit of highly effective saints” that you think describes you at this time in your life?