Last weekend I had the great privilege to speak at a catechetical conference in the Diocese of Nashville.
I did two keynotes. One for the general conference attendees on Saturday and another at a pre-conference dinner for diocesan staff and DRE’s on the Friday before.
I experienced something at the dinner that every catechist should know about and somehow incorporate in their teaching. When you’re speaking about the faith in front of any kind of audience, but especially one that makes you nervous, it pays not to be alone.
South to Nashville
The trip to Nashville was not without difficulties. The connecting flight was delayed in Chicago because the toilet wasn’t working. They came in to empty it and it couldn’t. So, technicians came in and technicians went out and we sat at the terminal for 45 minutes.
Finally, the captain came on the intercom and said he got permission to take off without it because it was only an hour flight. So, he gave everyone 10 minutes to do their business in the terminal and then we could take off. The flight seemed without inflight incident…at least as far as I could tell.
The plane got in late, but not too late. However, the traffic in Nashville was pretty heavy. Big city, rush hour, Friday evening…what do you expect? The dinner started at 7:00 pm and I got to the hotel at 6:45. Plenty of time, right?
The 9:00 pm keynote
The food was excellent and I got to talk with Bishop Choby and Marcellino D’Ambrosio (who I met in Champaign last year and is a totally fantastic guy) about Rome, spaghetti carbonara, and lasagna cook offs. It turns out Bishop Choby is a great cook!
So then, about 9:00 pm, it was my time to speak. There were a lot of heavy hitters there. The bishop, the president and provost of Aquinas College, and all the other speakers (including someone from Franciscan I really admire and who was a speaker at the Bosco Conference when I was just a student there).
And, it was my job to say wonderfully fascinating and thought provoking things…at 9:00 pm after a big dinner. Needless to say, I was a little nervous.
Experiencing the peace of Christ
I made my introductions, said a few jokes, and started to speak. I could hear my voice cracking a bit from the nervousness but I kept going. Then after a few minutes, I noticed my voice had changed. It was calmer. I literally had this conversation in my head at the same time I was talking, “Wow, my voice sounds good, calm. Is that me talking? I’m speaking very sedated but it sounds good. Exactly the right tone. And, it seems to be working! I think I’ll keep doing it this way.”
It was kind of surreal. It was like I was outside of myself listening and evaluating myself as I was talking. I felt sort of strangely detached, and it was working.
The talk went really well. The bishop loved it! He even asked for a copy of my talk and mentioned it the next morning in his homily for the kickoff Mass. I actually couldn’t believe it! I acted very calm and didn’t react at all but really I wanted to nudge the person next to me and say, “DID YOU HEAR THAT???”
You sounded nervous…
Now the other person in attendance Friday night was Sr. Mary Rose. She is the Dominican sister in charge of catechetics for Aquinas College and the one responsible for bringing me to Nashville. When I saw her the next morning, she said, “The talk went great but I noticed from your voice that you were nervous. I started praying very hard that God would take away your nerves, give you calm, and help you to do a good job. Then you really relaxed.”
I was beside myself! I told her how I was very nervous and then, all of a sudden, I was calm and I didn’t even quite know why! It was Sr. Mary Rose’s prayers and the Holy Spirit that took away my fear.
Now, I knew it was the custom for Dominican nuns to pray for their compadres while they’re giving big talks. I’d seen it before at Franciscan during the St. John Bosco Conference. However, I’ve never experienced the power of that kind of intercession personally. It was amazing. I never want to do public speaking without it now.
So what about you?
For me this story brings to reality the power of prayer. When I said it pays not to be alone when teaching, I meant the Holy Spirit.
We bring our feeble efforts to bear and do the best we can, but it’s the Holy Spirit who has the real power to make things happen. I realized one of the most important things I can do as a catechist is let the Holy Spirit work in me and through me. I seriously experienced the lesson from St. Paul that in my weakness I’m stronger because it allows God to do his thing.
You can bet I’m always going to set up prayer support when I talk from now on. I would suggest that you think about it too.
Thanks Sr. Mary Rose, Sherri Isham, and Joan Watson for inviting me to Nashville and for the amazing hospitality. You put on a fantastic conference and I enjoyed being a part of it so much. May the Lord bless you in doing his work.