COLORADO SPRINGS. Laity Engaging Laity has grown up some in the six years since Ed Gaffney, director of Mission Effectiveness for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, along with Brian Krutka of St. Dominic Parish in Security and Patty Degen from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Colorado Springs struggled with the question of how to teach people that it was possible to have a rich, two-way, ongoing relationship with God.
Together, the three developed a group dedicated to training and empowering laity to change their lives from the inside out.
“At first we had an eclectic set of topics,” said Krutka. Sherry Weddell, author of the best-selling book “Forming Intentional Disciples,” worked with the group in the first few years and helped focus their efforts to the mission they now have.
Weddell’s 2012 book examined the Pew Forum research that revealed that only five percent of Catholics in church on Sunday have an active spiritual life. With that in mind, Laity Engaging Laity (LEL) decided that the focus of their retreats would be to teach people how to have an ongoing relationship with God.
The Saturday morning retreats follow a simple pattern: first catechesis, then spiritual reflection and finally, group work. Retreatants are encouraged to journal their thoughts.
“We try to give them the experience: prayer, journaling, questions. Many are not comfortable with silence. God’s first language is silence. Many haven’t been exposed to the spiritual life,” said Krutka.
A theme for each year is adopted after the leaders pray individually, talk, and sometimes take some time. Each retreat relates to the overall theme. The 2016 theme focused on mercy. Retreatants learned what is mercy, what it means to receive mercy and to live mercy.
“We referred to St. John Paul II’s Encyclical on mercy called ‘Rich in Mercy,’” said Krutka. A DVD series by Father Dan Crosby was helpful in interpreting the encyclical, he said.
“That personal relationship with Christ — according to Father Crosby, we lose conversion because we forget the experience, we’re afraid. When we really live it we push back against our culture. Head and heart is a full whole, according to God,” said Krutka.
“To be in relationship with Christ is desire to see ourselves as Christ sees us,” Degen said. “St. Ignatius would stop five times a day to examine his actions and try to judge whether they were from God or from his own ego. How many of us do that today?”
“What would it be like if more than five percent of us were having a relationship with God and living it out in our daily life? What would it be like if 50 percent of us were?” asked Degen. She said that the goal for the group was to “change the culture by changing ourselves, yet we can only change ourselves by the grace of God.”
As a leader of the group, Krutka described his experiences over the past six years as continuous conversion.
He described himself as “a head kind of guy.” Seeking a deeper, more intimate life with God some years ago, he began to attend daily Mass, prefacing it with Eucharistic adoration in the St. Dominic 24-hour adoration chapel. The LEL journey parallels Krutka’s own faith life, he said.
“I think I can hear God better now, through my prayer life and the work I’ve done in Ignatian discernment, and my relationships. I was missing the boat sometimes. I think this has led to me having a more integrated personality. Doing LEL has been a part of my journey. The journaling I did started out with event recording. Then it became a love letter — to and from God. Things will come to me as I am writing it out and it starts to flow. It’s a way of continuity in my growth.”
“It’s not just knowing but having experienced the change,” said Degen, “that we can go back into our daily lives and change the world.”
Anyone who is interested can join the retreats at any time — no background required. Most retreats have at least one new person, with a core group of 25-30 people at each retreat. It is not necessary to sign up, nor is any commitment required.
“Just get to know people and be formed,” urged Krutka.
The theme of LEL for 2017 is “Join the Spiritual Revolution (to sainthood).” The next retreat will be Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon at Corpus Christi Parish Hall. Father Mark Zacker, one of 1,000 priests appointed by Pope Francis as a Missionary of Mercy in the jubilee year of 2016, will talk about his encounters with divine mercy during his experience of that year.
For more information, refer to http://www.diocs.org/Our-Faith/Laity-Engaging-Laity.