On a visit home to her native Ireland to be with her dying mother, Julianne Stanz discovered ‘the thing.’ She didn’t know what it was, what it was for, why she was drawn to it, or even why she bought it. She just knows that while she lingered in a trinket shop in Ireland for 22 minutes deciding whether to purchase it, her mother died.
“The ‘thing’ prevented me from being there with my mom when she died,” Stanz told women at the 11th Annual Diocesan Women’s Conference held virtually last month. “So, I took my ‘thing’ and hid it away for several years.” She walled up her ‘thing’ and her grief eventually taking it out of its hiding place last year and hanging it in the garden of her Wisconsin home. It was the first time since her mother died that she was able to look at it without pain.
Stanz, with the lilt of her Irish brogue and the warmth of her gentle smile, told conference participants that like her, we all have ‘things’ in our life that we lock away whether that be grief for the loss of a loved one, the pain of a divorce, the heartache of a miscarriage, the pang of an eating disorder, or diminished health. “God wants us to take our ‘things’ out and put them in the light,” she said. God wants us to see His love present to us in the things that hurt us the most.
“We need each other when we carry our ‘things’ to help transform them from the things that hurt us into something beautiful,” she said. She urged participants to consider the ‘things’ in their life that are part of their story that they can share with others, and, by doing so, “Your ‘thing’ can transform others.”
Stanz believes that the sharing of our faith stories with others is the key to discipleship and evangelization. “Discipleship is having the courage and grace to say to another, ‘I have seen the Lord. Have you?’”
From the stories she told, it was evident Stanz has done just that in her own life. Currently, she is the Director of New Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin and serves as a Consultant to the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She is also the author of several books including The Catechist’s Backpack and Starting with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church.
One way Jesus drew disciples into his mission was through storytelling. “You are each a story of faith,” Stanz told the audience during her keynote speech entitled Women Disciples: Past, Present and Future. “If we don’t share our stories of faith, who will? And if we don’t share our stories now, when will we?...Let’s get moving for Jesus now as holy, bold, faith-filled women disciples.”
One way to share those stories is through shared prayer, Stanz said, urging the women to do so whenever the opportunity arrives. “When someone shares their struggles with you and asks you to pray for them, stop right there and say to them ‘let us pray now.’ Be present to their pain and suffering in that moment…Praying with someone makes the kingdom of God real,” she said.
When faced with those who voice negative experiences of God in their lives, Stanz says, be a disciple and lean into the conversation, and say, ‘tell me more about why you think that.’ Listen to their story and then add, “I’m sorry you feel that way. That has not been my experience of God. My experience is that he has carried me through some very difficult things in my life.”
She added, “You might be the only Gospel people will read. Let them read it in your life.”
Julianne Stanz’ ‘thing’ hangs in the garden of her Wisconsin home as a reminder of the ways the ‘things’ that make up our stories of faith can transform the lives of others.
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin, Catholic Family Services