October 12, 2012

Humor marks young adult Catholic’s journey of faith

Jacque Singleton teaches a class of first-grade students on Dec. 8, 2010, at St. Anthony School in Clarksville. The “United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope” helps support the ministry of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education, which helps Catholic schools across central and southern Indiana provide a high quality education to their students. (Submitted photo)

Matt Weber offers his quirky and very Catholic journey of faith as a young adult in his book Fearing the Stigmata. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Matt Weber shows his sense of fun and faith when he offers this description of himself:

“I love the Virgin Mary more than mushroom pizzas, sometimes play blues harmonica with the church choir, smuggle in ice-cream sundaes to cloistered nuns, and started my own Catholic television show.”

Still, he shares a more revealing self-description when he talks about trying to live “a good Catholic life” as a young adult.

“The road I have taken brings me to church every Sunday, my brown hair floating in a sea of gray and white hair. I often go alone, have no children, and am usually seen three quarters of the way in the back of the church, end of a pew, dressed in jeans.

“I think about leaving after Communion to catch the beginning of the football game but usually think otherwise. If you look around church this Sunday, you’ll likely see one of me. We are often thought of as a rare breed, perhaps on the Catholic ‘endangered species’ list, but a resilient troop.”

In those descriptions, there’s a glimpse of Weber, the 29-year-old author of Fearing the Stigmata, a collection of “humorously holy stories of a young Catholic’s search for a culturally relevant faith.”

The book also offers a stepping stone for conversations and discussions about where young adult Catholics fit within the Church.

That opportunity will arise when Weber talks about his book as part of “a night of food and fun” at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, 5696 Central Ave., in Indianapolis on Oct. 27, after the 5:30 p.m. Mass.

Co-sponsored by St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, the presentation in the Immaculate Heart of Mary School gym is geared toward young adult Catholics, but all adults are welcome. The $10 admission includes pizza, soft drinks, beer and wine.

Weber will focus on the joys and challenges of his faith journey.

“I have tried to listen and figure out what God is saying to me as I show my faith to others, to keep on understanding the place of a 20-something Catholic in this world,” Weber notes. “Young people are trying to find relevancy in the Church amidst all the secular distractions of the 21st century. A lot of them are asking, ‘What is the value of the Church in their lives?’ ”

Answering that question has led him to host a weekly segment for CatholicTV called “A Word with Weber” which is broadcast internationally to more than 10 million viewers.

“My segments are two to three minutes,” says Weber, who is also a multimedia producer for Harvard University’s School of Education. “They’re a way to share the faith that I know will appeal to young people. I know the power of posting content on Facebook, putting videos on YouTube and connecting through Twitter.”

He shows his humor and his quest for growing in his faith when he writes about his first viewings of the Catholic cable television network.

“Either you were praying the rosary with the Knights of Columbus or you were watching a young priest use a green puppet to talk to toddlers about the Old Testament,” he notes. “Occasionally, there would be programs for families, but what I found missing in my late-night channel perusing was programming for me.

“Now, my demographic is small, but I feel it is rather important. We are no longer dragged to church by our parents. We are not going to church simply for the sake of baptizing our newborn. New careers are starting, metabolisms are slowing and Sunday mornings just aren’t what they used to be.”

That combination of faith and humor also surfaces in his explanation of the title of his book, which reflects a conversation that Weber had as a fourth-grade student with his religion teacher.

After looking at a picture book of Catholic saints, Weber asked the teacher why St. Francis of Assisi had spots on his hands and his feet.

The teacher responded, “Well, Matthew, those are holes, and they are called the stigmata, and it reflects the wounds Jesus suffered during his crucifixion.”

Weber asked how St. Francis got the holes.

The teacher said, “He was good, Matthew. A good Catholic.”

Recalling that experience, Weber writes, “That night, I went home and decided I had better start doing some more sinning.”

Beyond the humor, Weber also touches upon the challenges and uncertainties that many Catholics, no matter what their age, struggle with in their faith lives.

“I would be lying if I told you I never had a crisis of faith,” he notes. “There are days when I seriously lose the faith. Well, maybe lose is a bad word—perhaps misplace is a little better. And while I’m trying to find my faith again, many terrible thoughts run through my mind. I wonder if there is a God. I think, When I die, is that it? I worry that there is no heaven. Of course, on the bright side, if there’s no heaven then there is no hell.”

Weber’s focus on faith and his sense of humor made him a natural choice for a program geared toward young adult Catholics, according to Stacy Hennessy, pastoral associate and director of religious education at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

“Humor breaks the ice,” Hennessy says. “We don’t know how many of our parishioners know one another so we are trying to reach out and connect them with humor—to meet, exchange information, get together. Ultimately, we want to create faith-sharing opportunities and mentoring opportunities.”

These outreach efforts toward young adults Catholics are needed because they are “a neglected age group in the Catholic Church,” she says.

“Our young people reflect the glory of the Church, the enthusiasm, curiosity, questioning, freedom and service of the Church,” Hennessy continues. “They deserve the best of our resources, not the leftovers. We are trying to form a community within a community in the hope that when young people find community at the Catholic Church, this is a source of evangelization.”

Weber applauds the parishes’ willingness to invite and embrace young adult Catholics.

“What they’re doing is what a lot of parishes should be doing. The power of pizza is amazing,” he says with a laugh. “I wish other parishes across the country were doing things like this. They see me—or people like me—as people who live the faith. It’s a holistic understanding of passing down the faith to the next generation in a way that’s relevant to them. This event embodies that perfectly.”

Writing the book has bought him closer to God, Weber says. He recommends “writing about God in your life” as a helpful process for anyone. He also offers this advice at the end of his book:

“Fear not the stigmata. Be a good Catholic in whatever way you can, and take this charge with an adventuresome spirit.” †

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