By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
The hopeful message of the Emmaus story provided the framework for a retreat-like experience that motivational speaker Mike Patin led two evenings last week in the Diocese of Davenport. “The Emmaus story is real. There is an awakening,” Patin told parish ministers at Lingering Effects – a Convo-flect-ation in Long Grove on Aug. 17 and Mount Pleasant on Aug. 19.
Diocesan Faith Formation Director Don Boucher, who has known Patin for around 30 years, set the stage for the expectations. “Tonight’s focus is on us. On you. On me. We will reflect on a personal level, not communal level.”
Patin has years of experience in youth ministry and diocesan ministry and since 2003 has traveled the country as a full-time speaker, a “faith horticulturist.” He has presented numerous times in the Davenport Diocese, including the Vision 20/20 Convocation in 2019.
“Give one word to describe this past year,” he instructed his audience of parish ministers on Aug. 17. Answers included concern, confused, hopeful, crazy, anxious, enthusiastic, burnout. He assured them, “You are essential. You are front line people.”
He shared his own experience trying to cope with the crisis of the pandemic. In a typical year he spends 130 days traveling for his ministry, with a full schedule planned for 2020. Then the pandemic struck in mid-March and cancellations started coming in, and continued. He was not getting calls to book for 2021. His map of speaking engagements evolved into a map of the inside of his home, with trips to the kitchen, bathroom, balcony and other rooms. He shared stories of learning to use Zoom and teaching family members how to use it.
The pandemic messed people up, and so did the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he explained as he led the audience on the journey to Emmaus. He recapped the story, in which two of Jesus’ disciples were walking the seven miles to Emmaus, confused and dejected. As they talked, they met Jesus on the road, but did not recognize him until he broke bread with them. They returned to Jerusalem, their hearts burning to share their story.
Patin asked parish ministers to talk at their tables about what has been “messed up” in ministry or their personal life in the past 18 months. Among their responses: being away from grandchildren, wiping down groceries and changing clothes after going to the store, working from home, having kids at home attending school online. Limited or no in-person attendance at weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthdays, graduations and holidays.
“Jesus listens to what is going on and how you feel about it,” Patin said. “He wants to know what is messed up and what it is doing to your heart and head.” Jesus is listening. Boucher underscored that point by playing two different recordings of “Amazing Grace.” The first, sung by Italian Andrea Bocelli, was somber. The second, sung by Pentatonix, was upbeat and hopeful. “We have lost a lot and we are moving ahead,” Boucher said. He asked the gathering to reflect on what they had lost in the past 18 months, what they were grieving and what they wanted to tell Jesus.
Patin continued the journey to Emmaus with the ministers, asking them to think about times when they had felt God’s presence during the past 18 months. The attendees shared stories of goodness, such as a man who loaned a generator to a neighbor in need of lifesaving dialysis, a family surrounding their father so that he would not die alone, a daughter returning home after a long time away, people returning to the Catholic Church.
Patin shared his experience of Hurricane Delta. Before the pandemic, he usually was on the road when a hurricane struck his native Louisiana. In 2020, Hurricane Delta struck 20 miles from his home. He lost electricity but his car was spared from being hit by a tree that took out five other cars. “I’m like that tree. I was uprooted,” he said. That jarring experience also helped him to sense God’s presence. He recognized God’s message that people need one another and to work together, to rise above the crisis.
In the Emmaus story, the disciples rose up after recognizing Jesus’ presence and headed back to Jerusalem in haste to share the good news. Patin asked the parish ministers when they witnessed people rise up or step up during the pandemic. They offered examples. A junior football team removed a downed tree from parish property after Iowa’s derecho. A son-in-law cooked and assisted his wife’s parents when they needed help. Knights of Columbus and parishes raised money for people in need. Grandparents cared for grandchildren so their parents could go to work. A woman religious delivered bulletins and homemade treats to parishioners who were homebound.
“We must try to find hope and healing,” Patin said. The Emmaus story is real. “There is an awakening.” God speaks through the Bible, to ordinary people, not just saints, Patin said. “The Holy Spirit comes to the ordinary and invites us to tell Jesus where we are messed up. We might not get answers, but he will show up.” Faith formation in 2021 involves trial and error. “Now is the time for my faith to kick in. We are not too old for this. There will be obstacles, but I believe God is still at the helm and talking to ordinary people.”
Boucher closed the evening by encouraging ministers to get ready to get back into the field. “There is hope. Look ahead.” He played a toe-tapping, hand-clapping version of “Lord Hear Our Prayer.” “Speak out your prayers during the downturn in music,” he said.
Brenda Bertram, director of faith formation and youth ministry at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton said, “Mike can always inspire you and help you find hope. He draws off what is going on in everyday life and relates it to Scripture. We are living the Emmaus story here in 2021.”