By Barb Arland-Fye
Who knew that being friends with Jesus could be so much fun!
My son Colin and I discovered the playful and wondrous side of our faith during a renewal day last weekend for persons with developmental disabilities and their families, friends and caregivers. The event featured Bishop Thomas Zinkula, a very good friend of renewal day directors Deacon Steve and Kathy MacDonald of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Their oldest daughter, Sister Stephanie MacDonald, OSB, started us off at the Benet House Retreat Center of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Ill., with energetic, easy-to-follow songs of faith. We sang, danced and pantomimed to them. Images of a bishop, deacon, nun and other adults doing a happy dance to the “Fish are Gonna Bite” song still make me smile.
The MacDonalds are pros at renewal days like this one, so each activity moved seamlessly to the next. We couldn’t help but become friends with Jesus through the people he placed in our lives that day.
Colin sat at his assigned table across the room from mine. I worried that he might need his mom to sit next to him, but his table mates and the activities kept him engaged, even as he paged through books from the retreat center’s library.
“Our day is going to be all about color,” Deacon MacDonald said. We would learn how the colors green, orange, purple, red, yellow and blue make us feel and how those same hues colored the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The deacon introduced Bishop Zinkula as a “dear friend of mine who guards us and guides us and leads us in so many ways.” The bishop identified himself as “a baby bishop; it hasn’t even been a year yet” and talked in a down-to-earth way about himself and the role of a bishop to his people. He described the symbols of his office and showed his pectoral cross, which looks just like the one Pope Francis wears.
The bishop talked about knowing the MacDonalds forever, having served on many retreats with them. He singled out their youngest daughter, Mackenzie, sitting at my table. “Mackenzie is one of my favorite people,” he said. She smiled and clasped her hands in elation.
Her oldest sibling, Sr. Stephanie, a preschool teacher, introduced us to a Dr. Seuss book published after his death that her young students love: “My Many Colored Days.” The book vividly captures the feeling of a certain color and how it might impact us. “We feel different ways on different days,” Sister said. “I’m sure Jesus had those days, too.”
Kathy MacDonald engaged us in a project to paint and build “Inukshuks,” a collection of rocks stacked in the form of a human figure. The Inuit people used these as landmarks to let future passersby know that they were not alone. Our painted Inukshuks serve as a reminder of the stories that colored Jesus’ life.
A prayer service in the monastery’s chapel focused on how we build a friendship with Jesus, just as he built a relationship with his apostles. Bishop Zinkula encouraged us “to be close friends with Jesus by being with him” through our prayers and actions. “Jesus wants to speak to our hearts, so we need to listen with the ears of our hearts.”
We enjoyed each other’s company on a friendship walk down to the monastery’s pond and later watched “The Story of Holy Week” presented by Jim and Shawna Hallenbeck and their children, Maria and Max. Their commitment to sharing faith as a family inspired me.
Colin skipped a baseball game to participate in the renewal event, which he told me he enjoyed. Nurturing our friendship with Jesus proved every bit as fun as baseball.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)