“It is not enough by far to have taken radical initial steps of conversion and to be a reasonably observant and faithful Christian. At the center of our being we must remain poor and free and available to God, rather than barricade ourselves through habit to the approaches of God’s ever-surprising grace.”
That, as I may have mentioned, comes from a reflection in Magnificat, that daily devotional this week. Sounds right. So how do we do it? Randy Hain has a practical resource to help us along the way. It’s a book called Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith. He talks with me about it:
KJL: You are described as having your gaze “firmly affixed on the finish line of heaven… want[ing] nothing more than to assist all of us along the way to get there as well.” How is it any of your business where I’m headed?
Randy Hain: As a Catholic, I know my vocation is to help my family and everyone I encounter get to Heaven. We are also called to share the Good News with others and “love our neighbor as ourselves” so caring about the spiritual well-being of those around me is not an option, it is a mandate. Not everyone will be receptive and I often pray for discernment about the right approach with people I don’t know, but I must be responsive to Christ’s call in Matthew 5:16 to be a light for others and set a good example: “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
KJL: You had a moment of surrender you can pinpoint. “I had been helped by the Holy Spirit to let go of twenty-three years of stubbornness, pride and ego that had been keeping me from Christ.” How do you know that’s for real?
Hain: Well, I remember what my life was like for 23 years in the “spiritual wilderness” with no faith or relationship with God and I know how my life has been made immeasurably better since that moment in 2005 when I finally surrendered to Christ and made Him first in my life. There is no doubt and certainly no comparison for me about my life before and after my conversion.
KJL: “I had finally surrendered to Christ.” It involved a “dying to self” and an acknowledgement “that I was no longer in charge of my life.” But you also say “Surrender and convert daily.” Which is it?
Hain: I believe it is both. That moment of “dying to self” was the first time it had ever happened to me, but I still struggle with pride and other sinful behavior, so I pray every day for surrender and conversion. I view it as an ongoing process that I will be going through the rest of my life in an effort to practice humility and make sure Christ is first in my life.
KJL: “Raising children in a world in which TV and the Internet can become surrogate parents is scary and requires vigilance and time.” How do you do it? Why shouldn’t the world discourage people from having children?
Hain: Children are a blessing and the vocation of parents, as we’ve discussed, is to help get our families to Heaven. The Church also teaches clearly that the goal of marriage is to procreate. Our culture has grown increasingly hostile to families and children and parents need to be vigilant in defending their children and promoting the sanctity of all life.
KJL: Why do I have to tell a priest if God knows what I am sorry for?
Hain: John 20:21-23 reads: “… As the Father has sent Me, so I send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” God certainly knows everything, but the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the way God chose to administer forgiveness and reconcile us to Him. The priests, acting on behalf of Christ, not only hears our sins, forgives us and administer a penance, but he can guide us to changes in behavior to helps us avoid that sin in the future.
KJL: Why is the Eucharist so important?
Hain: The Eucharist is the center of Catholic worship in the Mass. I will never forget when I was asked by a friend to read John 6 in the months leading up to my conversion in 2005. As a Southern Baptist growing up I never read this passage where Jesus clearly teaches that the bread and wine as his body and blood. This was no symbol as I had been led to believe as a boy, but the True Presence of Christ. This revelation was earth shattering and helped me in my journey towards Christ and His Church.
KJL: What’s the difference between pursuing joy, not happiness?
Hain: Father Luke Ballman, a past director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, gave a wonderful talk to my parish a few years ago in which he described the pursuit of happiness as the “pursuit of the things of this world.” We think we are seeking happiness in the bigger house, nicer car, better job, bigger paycheck, but do these things really bring happiness? His point was that all happiness must be preceded by joy and that all joy is Christ-inspired! Seek out and surrender your heart to Christ to find joy… and you will also find happiness.
KJL: Seek out and surrender your heart to Christ to find joy … and you will also find happiness,” you write. But there is no guarantee I’m going to be happy tomorrow if I give in and surrender to God. Why should I do it anyway? How can I do it?
Hain: I think the best answer to your question lies in C.S. Lewis’s famous quote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” We are made for Heaven and not this world, so it is appropriate and necessary to focus on these things that will help us get to our heavenly home. We too often seek happiness in the bigger car or house or in accumulating wealth, but do those things really make us happy? If we seek Christ and surrender to Him, we get everything good back from Him including true happiness and a sincere joy that is obvious to others around us. Difficult to achieve, but worth trying for every day!
Hain: One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as I was coming into the Church was the difference between career and vocation. My work used to come first and now it is Christ first, family second and work is third. My career is my job and how I make a living. It has also become a place for my ministry as seek to help other Catholics integrate faith and work. As we discussed earlier in this interview, my vocation is to help my family and everyone I know get to Heaven. I am grateful to understand the distinction and share it with others.
KJL: How do you teach stewardship and responsibility to children? How do you model it to fellow adults?
Hain: By far the best example we can set for our kids and fellow adults is to simply do it. We take our kids to service projects and other opportunities to give back as often as possible. We also make them donate toys and books before Christmas and their birthdays each year as a reminder to give before they receive. In the workplace or our parish communities, each of us has an opportunity to step up and organize a service project/ministry or simply participate. It is very important that our stewardship be more than simply writing a check or donating online. When our kids and others witness this, they are much more likely to model the same behavior.
KJL: How does one show “simple and authentic joy” at work, while carpooling, at line in the grocery store with uncooperative children?
Hain: It takes work and prayer! Life is not easy, but it is important to try and give these stressful moments when we don’t feel particularly joyful up to our Lord in prayer. Ask Him for help in shouldering our burdens. Take a moment to reflect on the blessings we have in our lives when we feel stressed or anxious. We will know we are progressing in our spiritual lives when we can feel joy in the midst of our suffering. I struggle with this, but have had occasional breakthroughs and experienced the joy in the middle of challenging periods of my life and I will keep at it.
KJL: “I fully accept the teachings of the magisterium, but I realize that my full understanding of these teachings is a journey that may take a lifetime to complete,” isn’t that blind faith? Isn’t that ignorant/lazy?
Hain: Not at all! When I came into the Church I was at the end of a long journey to find the Truth. I knew on some level that the Church held the Truth for me, but it would take time to fully understand the Church’s teaching (2000 years of history is a lot to take in!). I took it on faith, but have also made time each week to study Church teaching and I also attend Nible studies and apologetics classes in our parish in order to further my knowledge and understanding. So much “mystery” about what the Church really teaches can be solved if everyone would take the time to study what she has been teaching for two millennia.
KJL: How does being authentically Catholic require courage?
Hain: One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” It takes courage in our often artificial culture to be yourself and stand up for your beliefs. We may risk the judgment of others, loss of position and ridicule. But, shouldn’t we worry more about what Christ thinks of us then the opinion of others? Will those who judge us help us get to Heaven? One of the central themes of my first book, The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work (Liguori) was recognizing that we can’t be someone different at Mass, home and work. It is spiritually, emotionally and mentally toxic. Be your true self, pray for wisdom, discernment and courage and those who may attack or criticize you will eventually begin to respect and listen to you.
KJL: How can you really know your faith? Because it’s not just all being nice to one another. There’s a danger, isn’t there, that if you talk about love enough, people might walk away with that impression. What about gay marriage and abortion and poverty and war and all those contentious things that make headlines?
Hain: I hear you, but isn’t love and the respect for all life at the core of the challenges you raise? The Church’s stance against gay marriage is not the Church being anti-gay. Far from it! The Church has a long track record of embracing and loving gay people. But, as defined by Scripture and Church teaching, marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman and the purpose of marriage is procreation. Love is at the heart of Church teaching on pro-life issues, helping the poor and any issues considered ‘out of touch’ by today’s world. Think about Pope Paul VI prophetic warnings in Humane Vitae and how right he was about what contraception would lead to in the world. Just as he made an unpopular stand to defend Church teaching and principles, we need to be unafraid to speak the truth to those we encounter.
KJL: Commit an hour or more to prayer each day, is that really realistic?
Hain: “Absolutely! Having prayer woven into our busy days is a wonderful way to make sure we are staying connected to Christ, the Blessed Mother and the Saints in whom we can rely on for help and support in the face of daily challenges to our faith. Here is how it can be done:
5 mins Pray the Morning Offering before you leave your home each day.
25 mins Pray a Rosary while you exercise before or after work or during your daily commute.
15 mins Pray the Jesuit Daily Examen – this is five 3 minute times spread throughout the day
for brief reflection and prayer.
5 mins Pray a blessing over all meals, regardless of your companions.
10 mins Pray at night with our families and/or spouse.
1 hour in prayer
Other opportunities for prayer: Go to Eucharistic Adoration each week at a local parish. Go to Daily Mass on the way to work. Pray the Angelus three times a day. Pray to your patron saint or other saints for help and intercession.
It is very important to put these prayers on your calendar! Nothing important happens in my life which isn’t on my smartphone calendar.