By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Hear the statement, “Our lives change when our habits change,” and chances are people would think about ways to improve their health, job performance or relationships.
What might not readily come to mind, however, are habits that can help them radically transform their faith lives as Catholics and re-energize their parishes.
Such was the message some 470 women, men and children heard Sept. 22 in St. Mary Church, Colts Neck, during a presentation on “Find Your Greatness: Four Habits that Will Transform Your Life” by nationally known Catholic speaker and author Dr. Allen Hunt, vice president for strategy at the Dynamic Catholic Institute and author of four books.
“Have you ever wondered what are your habits?” Hunt asked. “Are your habits helping you to become the best version of yourself or some second rate version of yourself?”
Hunt’s visit was a collaborative effort organized by the four parishes that comprise Cohort 13 -- St. Mary, St. Catharine and St. Benedict, both Holmdel, and St. Gabriel, Marlboro.
“This was an opportunity for the parishes of Cohort 13 to come together to prepare and host an event together,” said Father Jeffrey Lee, pastor of St. Mary Parish, as he highlighted how the parishes have been working together to implement the diocesan Faith In Our Future initiative.
“We have had great success in strengthening our communications’ plan weekly in each other's bulletin and linking on our websites and e-newsletters,” said Father Lee. “We are beginning conversations about sharing some para-liturgical and spiritual events. Additionally, we are beginning a process to learn from parents of religious education students how the parishes might better serve them, and they in turn, might become greater stakeholders in the mission of the Church lived in our parishes of Cohort 13.
“I realized firsthand and early on the importance of reaching out and building relationships with the key faith formation staff personnel in each parish,” said Linda Dickinson-Pancila, Cohort 13 committee chair and former faith formation coordinator in St. Mary Parish. She, along with faith formation coordinators in the other three parishes, worked together in organizing the event.
Emphasizing that the mission of the Dynamic Catholic Institute is to conduct research on why Catholics engage or disengage in their faith and explores ways to establish vibrant Catholic communities in the 21 st century, Dickinson-Pancila said in hosting the presentation, “We wanted to inspire our parishioners and light fires in their hearts to cause conversion and deepen parishioners’ relationships with Jesus Christ.
“When people are on fire for their faith, they motivate others, bear witness to God in their daily lives and invite others into the faith,” she said.
Food For Thought
In his presentation, Hunt explained how the four habits – pray, study, generosity and evangelization – were determined based on a study that Dynamic Catholic conducted over the course of several years from parishes across the country. Statistics showed that in the average parish in America, 6.4 percent of the people give 80 percent in volunteer hours, and 6.8 percent contribute 80 percent of the funding for that parish. As a result, there is an 84 percent overlap between those two groups, so essentially it is the “same 7 percent who give 80 percent of the time and money donated to the parish.” The study also included interviewing 2,978 “of those dynamic Catholics to learn what they do that sets them apart from the other 93 percent of Catholics in America.”
Hunt said that when it comes to prayer, participants should work toward forming the habit of a strong prayer life and set aside a time and place for prayer and develop a structure of prayer.
For study, he noted that learning is s life-long activity and that a “dynamic Catholic” continuously learns about his or her faith. He suggested participants can develop their formation by joining a Scripture study, reading books or listening to CDs on the Catholic faith.
For generosity, Hunt said, “Our gifts from God are meant to be shared.” He pointed out that even though three quarters of Jesus’ teaching was related to money, “Jesus doesn’t want your money; he desires your heart. If your heart is centered on your ‘stuff,’ then your heart will be centered on your stuff.”
When it comes to evangelization, he said, “As a disciple of Christ, we need to be fishers and to be a good fisher, we need to bear witness to our faith and exhibit love and hospitality.”
Enriching Faith Experience
The participants, who hailed from the four parishes as well as from other parts of New Jersey and other mid-Atlantic states, said they found Hunt’s presentation enlightening.
Sandy Mullarkey, pastoral associate in St. Anselm Parish, Wayside, said she wanted to recharge her spiritual growth. “The seminar felt like a retreat day for me,” she said, adding that she was interested to learn how changing habits can lead to fulfilling a purpose.”
“Seek a goal and slowly change your habits to accomplish it,” she said. “Begin with the end in mind.”
Jane Hormann of St. Catharine Parish said she was inspired to hear how “God’s purpose is to make our souls great.” “God wants us to use our God-given talents to be the best version of ourselves and find greatness.”
Cheryl Ellsworth, who serves on the staff in St. David the King Parish, Princeton Junction, said Dynamic Catholic “tries to meet you where you are in simple, relatable language and help you improve your relationship with God…and each other.”
“It is all about what God wants, not necessarily what we want,” Ellsworth said. “We need to listen in the silence for his guidance.”
Father Lee said he found Dr. Hunt’s simple anecdotes and suggestions to be very helpful and practical.
“The challenge to read five pages per day of spiritual material [is] very direct and doable,” he said, then added, “It was awesome to witness so many faith filled people thoroughly engaged on a Saturday to enrich their own discipleship. This type of event is by design an opportunity to encourage greater participation in the liturgical and formational life of the Church.”
Elaine Goumas of St. Catharine Parish and a lengthy follower of Dynamic Catholic said, “They are meeting people where they are so that real change can take place,” she said, noting that the focal point of Dr. Hunt's message was taking active steps to get to “the place” – meaning heaven.
“The only way we can do that is to be intentional, to make changes one step at a time while keeping our focus on [Jesus]. He will supply our needs if we turn to him and make active effort to include him in our everyday lives, not just cram him in as an afterthought,” Goumas said. “Our Lord is waiting to partner with us but we have to reach out to him. If we want our souls to be great as God intended, we must put the time and effort into our transformation as we would any other goal. Greatness of our soul is there for the taking, the rest is up to us!”[[In-content Ad]]