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Learning to deepen faith is point of weekly session

Engaging Spirituality blog:

Jesus writes straight with crooked lines, words heard by young adults searching for deeper, inner spirituality in the inaugural “Engaging Spirituality” series in the archdiocese.

 They know well as medical students, teachers, engineers, social workers, etc., that life doesn’t always leave time for spirituality, so they seek ways to form a deeper faith life to develop a more compassionate response to social injustice through the series.

 “It’s seen as a spiritual deepening process,” said Nick Albares of Catholic Charities’ Office of Justice and Peace that organizes Engaging Spirituality, a division of JustFaith ministry. “In Engaging Spirituality, you seek to create a space where the Holy Spirit can come and inform our thoughts and actions. It definitely has the focus of being engaged in the world and issues in the world. The deeper we go spiritually, the deeper we can enter into solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”

Getting started

This first session of Engaging Spirituality in the Archdiocese of New Orleans began this fall and drew 30 participants, enough to split into three groups – two meeting simultaneously on Tuesdays and another on Thursdays at St. Joseph Church in New Orleans.

At a recent meeting, an occasional siren sounded outside the solace of the chapel as participants reflected on the opening thought of how the world moves along while thousands live a sub-human life. Each chose a word to be “centered” during periods of silence.

Matt DeBoer, the evening’s facilitator, rang chimes indicating the beginning and ending of readings, group reflections and quiet time, an important component of the program along with journaling and a “Bearing Letter,” where they share their struggles of living a life for peace and justice while expanding their prayer life.

This group was in the middle of the series, where the focus was on injustice. They had completed seven weeks focusing on God’s creation and the mystery of goodness of the world and experienced a mini retreat to find good in nature and people. They will finish with seven weeks of integrating the world’s beauty and its brokenness and how to merge both.

“It’s a neat set-up, the 21 weeks,” DeBoer said. “This is more of a heart program. It’s rare to spend time in silence, but we do it in the group. It’s a challenging program that takes it from your head to your heart.”

They heard a “bearings letter” from a religious in Africa. Even amid tough situations, the letter writer was hopeful, a sentiment participants took to heart.

“Hope is something that gives you so much strength,” Gregg Kennedy, a Tulane medical student, said.  “How do you get there? If you come from a broken home and don’t have anybody you can count on, how do you have hope? You know people who are hopeful because it is tangible in their lives, and you can feel the effects.”

Stages of faith development

Learning to deepen their prayer life has enhanced the participants’ lives.

“Prayer helps us change ourselves so we can go out in the world truthfully and do something in a complete way,” med student Jake Brunner said.

Stephen Eckart said his daily prayer routine has improved since he started 10 weeks ago.

“I’m trying to figure out what God’s work for me might be, but I still have questions,” Eckart said. “I’m in medical school and just like that, I take one step at a time. I don’t have the time or opportunity I’d like to put into service. It’s comforting to keep in mind that it’s God’s work, not mine.”

“This is a lot more reflective, more meditational,” Kennedy said, comparing Engaging Spirituality to JustFaith. “It’s what I needed now in my life.”

“It helped me organize a better prayer life, something I’ve struggled with,” Tom Wonderlich said. “Even with medical school you make time for what’s important. It’s made me realize how important prayer is in life and how fortunate you are to have it.“

Albares said he decided to offer Engaging Spirituality since many who had completed JustFaith wanted more, not only a spiritual sanctuary but to be drawn into the world and find a place for reflection and discernment.

“We saw a need for another way of bringing people to social ministry and a way for people in social ministry to build community and connect spiritually,” he said. “As we grow spiritually it should lead us to engage with the world, (and) as we engage it leads us deeper into more spirituality. It’s not just about strengthening your personal relationship with God, but how we connect deeper with the world and address social issues and recognize solidarity.”

Albares said the next Engaging Spirituality session will probably take place in the fall, but he encourages other  parishes to inquire and possibly start a session.

“We’ll see where the spirit leads,” Albares said.

            Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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