I always found our opening prayers for Confirmation and First Eucharist meetings to be challenging. Normally these involved something written down, something we would all read together, or maybe a pertinent piece of Scripture, or maybe both. It often felt dry and mechanical.
What I wanted to do was engage our families, invite them to get to know the Jesus I knew—a Jesus who was active, interesting, and intensely interested in their lives. The question was “How?”
I knew how I did this in my own life. The Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola had taught me over the years just how active and interested my Lord is in all of my days. It had helped me to appreciate each moment as a sacramental one, a concrete encounter with Christ, whose voice became more and more familiar over time.
After months of debating with Christ over whether or not the families would get what I was inviting them to do, I took the plunge. From the traditional five steps of the Examen, I had pared it down to a single question: “Where have you been, Lord?”
After inviting families to close their eyes and review the past few weeks’ events, activities, joys, and challenges, I invited them to ask God to help them pick one—just one. They shared these in their small groups, parents and children together. Afterwards they were invited to share just one of their group’s “Jesus Moments” with the larger group while we papered the wall with all the others, using newsprint and fun-tack.
I feared confused, uncomfortable silence. What God gave was the joyful noise of the Spirit drawing moms and dads, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors into conversations about the events that had been filling their days—events they were now seeing as gifts from God!
I feared endless, generic lists of “I saw Jesus in church,” and “I saw Jesus in a sunset.” It’s not that these could not be gifts from God, but a dozen groups with the same lists would quickly bring us back to that same dry, mechanical space I was hoping to avoid. What God gave was joyfully unexpected:
- “My neighbor baked me a cake when I broke my leg.”
- “My friend was bullied today, and I hugged him when he cried.”
- “A coworker had a death in the family last week; she needed someone to talk to…”
- “My boss and I got in an argument, but we managed to work it out.”
I have been using this as our opening prayer for all of our family gatherings for several years now. Jesus still shows up in church and sunsets, but these are made even more poignant by all of the other surprising and heartfelt ways that he has made himself present in the lives of the moms, dads, neighbors, and children who have been so blessedly open with their hearts and their lives through this wonderfully simple, grace-filled prayer.