Been there, done that; got the T-shirt

By Deacon Mike Siebert


I love Colorado. I remember my first trip – when I couldn’t take my eyes off the mountains. They filled me with wonder and awe. Camping, cooking out, hiking, friendships – all of these things are indelibly printed on my mind. This experience changed my life.

Colorado became part of who I am. Several times, I’ve bought T-shirts to commemorate the trip to my beloved mountains – announcing to the world my New Identity: I’m a Colorado-freak.

Don’t we all do that? We go somewhere or have a powerful experience that feels so awesome that it impacts our very identity – so impactful that we buy a T-shirt to tell the world about it. Like maybe a concert – where the music and special effects are awe-inspiring; and we get caught up in the crowd’s frenzy. We think, ‘Life should always be like this!” – and we buy a T-shirt to tell the world that this band/concert/whatever is now part of who we are; part of our identity: I’m a (fill in the blank)-freak.

But not every T-shirt really tells our identity.

My brother went to London. I stayed home and worked. He enjoyed the culture, the food, the beverages; I stayed home and worked. He brought me a really nice T-Shirt from London, one that many people would be jealous to have. Thing is, I’ve never been to London. That shirt, as awesome as it is, is nothing more than a sentimental reminder that my brother loves me. Yeah, I appreciate it; but I’ve never experienced London. London is part of the United Kingdom, but it’s not my kingdom. My only connection to that kingdom is a now-faded T-shirt.

Unfortunately, for many of us, that happens to our faith life. Our parents or grandparents had faith. They enjoyed the Catholic culture, the Eucharist and the cup of salvation. For them, this was more than a T-shirt; it was their very life. They passed it on to us; but unless we personally experience a relationship with Jesus, our faith is nothing more than a sentimental reminder that our parents/grandparents love us. They are members of the Kingdom of God – but it’s not my kingdom. My only connection to that kingdom is like a hand-me-down T-shirt.

Some of us may look like we’re in the kingdom. You know, we go to church once in a while – maybe even regularly. We throw something in the collection basket to appease our need to feel charitable. zWe might even go so far as to wear a Christian T-shirt, announcing to the world that Jesus is King! But if we don’t know Jesus, he’s not really our king… and we’re not really in the kingdom.

How can we turn this around? I propose that we all need an experience that fills us with wonder and awe; an experience that immerses us into the culture, the joy and the lifestyle of Catholicism. We need to surround ourselves with others whose enthusiasm is infectious. We need an experience that makes us realize, ‘this is how life should be!’ – an experience so intense, it touches our soul. It forever changes who we are.

The examples I’ve seen involve a retreat or a conference centered on an experience of the Holy Spirit – showing us that this faith our parents gave us really is the source of joy – like Cursillo, Welcome, Steubenville conferences, Renew Ministries, Encounter Ministries, Seek. These events and many others give us a taste of the culture of Catholicism that we don’t always see in our daily lives or, unfortunately, in our home parishes. Caught up in the emotion, we might even buy a T-shirt, telling the world we’re now a Jesus-freak.

Even so, a one-time event doesn’t change our identity. To keep that new-found Joy, something’s gotta change. To build and maintain a relationship with Jesus, we need to develop a lifestyle of prayer, scripture, and study – putting it on our daily schedules. But, if we don’t know the King, if we don’t immerse ourselves in the lifestyle of Catholicism, then our connection to the faith is nothing more than a faded, hand-me-down T-shirt.