By TIM BULLARD
CONWAY — Saturday mornings will never be the same at St. James Church after the excitement caused by keynote speaker Paulist Father Bruce Nieli at “Love Beyond All Telling.” The Pee Dee Deanery directors of religious education sponsored the workshop on Aug. 25 at St. James Parish.
Catechists, youth ministers and others enjoyed the animated presentation by Father Nieli, a native of Long Island, N.Y., whose nonstop, chatty style captivated the audience more than a carnival barker. It was anything but boring.
“I think Father Nieli was one of the best people we could have had to keynote this program because he speaks from his experience at the heart of catechesis which is evangelization,” said Pat Millus, pastoral associate at St. James. “Because of his varied experience, and because of his work with Hispanics, he is perfectly suited to the group that we assembled here today.”
Participants came from parishes across the deanery, including St. Michael in Garden City, Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, Infant Jesus in Marion, St. Andrew’s in Myrtle Beach, Precious Blood of Christ on Pawleys Island.
The Paulist priest kept the discussion contemporary and lively. “How many of you went to a Catholic school, raise your hands?” he asked. “Did all of your classmates come out as Mother Teresas?” There was laughter.
“How many of you are baptized? How many of you remember the baptismal anointing word?” he quizzed. “When we love, we pray, and when we pray, we love.”
Father Nieli also discussed the acronym, WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do. “Where do we ultimately experience communion with Jesus Christ in the fullest sense of the word? In holy Communion,” the priest answered.
He analyzed the relationship between evangelization and cathechesis.
“When we evangelize, we match-mate,” Father Nieli said. “Catechesis is the formation or the courtship, the getting to know each other. It’s communication to deepen that falling in love, but they go hand-in-hand.”
Saying, “The best way to learn about a subject is to teach a course on it,” Father Nieli explained the three parts of evangelization: the awakening; the metanoia, a Greek word translated to repent; and discipleship.
Father Nieli recalled the call of the fisherman Simon Peter. When Jesus came to him, he said, “Be away from me. I am a sinful man.” This is what the priest call metanoia.
“Without metanoia, there’s not going to be much of a conversion. It will be kind of feel-good religion,” said the priest. “It will be Santa Claus without Calvary. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not enough.”
He called on participants to ask themselves, “When were you awakened to Jesus Christ?”
The priest said he overcame asthma at age 11, the day he received the sacrament of confirmation. “The Holy Spirit is doing the breathing because when I pray, I breathe,” he said.
Other awakenings he mentioned included Cursillo, church, youth retreats, marriage encounters, parish missions, death of loved ones, even divorce and separation.
Father Nieli explored the topic of original sin. “How can you not believe in original sin?” he asked. “Can’t you feel the scars right now?”
The priest gave an extended, ultra-descriptive narrative of a city street scene with a man in a Mercedes, a magazine rack with Playboys, a pickpocket and other vices which form the seven deadly sins.
“We are all in this stew called original sin,” he said.
Father Nieli discussed Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist religious order. Prior to entering religious life, Hecker was also a founder of the New York Democratic Party and had even moved to upper New York with transcendalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa M. Alcott and others.
“Transcendentalists were a group of people who came together and formed spirituality without a religion. They knew that they had hungry hearts,” he said, “but they did not want the Inquisition over again or religious intolerance, witch burnings and organized religion.”
The spiritual hungers Hecker explored included unity, truth, goodness and beauty, Father Nieli said.
“He discovered the fullest experience [of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ] in the Catholic Church,” said the priest.