‘Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).’ In my fifty-plus years of walking with Christ, I have repeatedly found surprising and intriguing evidence of things not seen. Faith is the connection — the spiritual bridge — between the lingering doubts I sometimes have and the discipline of ‘Yes, Lord, I believe.’”
Lisa M. Hendey writes that in the preface of her book The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living. Hendey, a Catholic writer and blogger living in California who founded CatholicMom.com, talks about what exactly the grace and the “yes” are, Holy Week, and more. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s “blinding passion” for the Church look like, and why would you describe yourself as having it? How does one get it? Is it healthy? It sounds dangerous.
Lisa Hendey: As I share in the preface to The Grace of Yes, I was born, raised, and educated Catholic. Growing up Catholic in the Sixties and Seventies was fun. I can honestly say that until I went away to college, church was my favorite place to be. That continued at Notre Dame and is even now all these years later true in my life. Being Catholic and loving my faith is as much a part of me as my brown eyes or my freckles! Sometimes, I don’t understand the Church, and especially some of her people, but I love her with all my heart.
Lopez: How does one “get it”?
Hendey: I’d have to say one of my most regular prayers is to trust God’s will for my life and to be obedient to that will, even when my head wants to argue with what my heart knows is the right choice. And for as many unhealthy habits and behaviors as I unfortunately can say I’ve got, loving my Church with all my heart is certainly one of the most healthy aspects of my life.
Lopez: You describe yourself as a sinner “but a hopeful, optimistic one.” How, with all the terrible, miserable, evil things happening in the world?
Hendey: Honestly, there are so many days when reading the news can be a direct path to despair. And being a Catholic blogger means being in the mix of some pretty terrible stuff some days. But by nature I’m a “glass is 99.9 percent full” kind of person. My hope in God’s love for us is unwavering. But He also gives us free choice, which is where things sometimes get messy. I used to try to pray for explicit results to the world’s (and my own) problems and issues. Now I just pray daily for the grace to deal with what comes along in a way that would please God and be of service to people around me. And as for being an optimistic sinner, that relates to the constancy of God’s unconditional love, despite my great unworthiness.
Lopez: What is the grace of yes exactly?
Hendey: What is it not? In my mind “the grace of yes” is two-pronged. First and foremost, it’s the idea that we give our “yes” to God, to God’s will for our life over our own selfish desires. That means praying to be in a continual state of discernment. And I’m not one of those lucky people who has regular visions or auditory proclamations from God, so I rely on being very close to the Eucharist and the Gospel to try to figure out what my “yes” needs to be on a daily basis. The second part of “the grace of yes” is being a generous spirit in the world around me, giving the best parts of myself to the service of others. We live in a world that is greatly in need of love and compassion. Erring on the side of “yes” means looking always for ways to better love and serve others. Do I always succeed? Definitely not. Am I constantly trying? You bet!
Lopez: The Annunciation was just last week. What does Mary have to do with “the grace of yes”? What does her “yes” have to do with ours?
Hendey: When it comes to a role model for “the grace of yes,” we look to our Blessed Mother Mary, whose “fiat” is the perfect object lesson for living our own “yes.” God called Mary to do something truly amazing, but also something for which she likely felt completely unprepared. And yet, she consented to giving her life fully to God. That certainly meant great fear, extreme risks, and a compromise in the way that she thought her life would end up to be. Mary’s “yes” continued far beyond the angel’s message to her, to the moments when she witnessed Jesus’ first miracle, stood at the foot of the cross, and was obedient to God’s will when the most precious person in her life was taken from her.
Lopez: What do we know about Mary’s “yes” that can help ours?
Hendey: Mary teaches me that “yes” is not easy. She is my go-to intercessor when I doubt or run from something God’s calling me to that isn’t in my personal plans. Mary’s “yes” was also sublimely humble. Humility has never been one of my strong suits, so I’m constantly praying for the ability to emulate the sincere humility of Mary’s fiat.
Lopez: “I’m fairly certain that at the heart of every Christian believer is a determined will to not only share the Good News but also to radiate at least a small glimmer of God’s love to everyone we meet.” If that were true, wouldn’t the world look a lot different?
Hendey: I do honestly believe God places both the call to share and the call to serve within each one of us. What we choose to do with that call is sometimes the problem. All too often, we let dogma stand in the way of doing good. But if we are truly professing that we are Christian believers, then we must be Christ-like in all things. Being pious is often far more simple that being kind and compassionate. And our world needs both from us. But I’m convinced that the Church and her people do amazing good in this world, too. Look around any community and you’ll see people of faith acting out the corporal works of mercy, in organized ways but also in simple ways that will never be publicized or shared.
Lopez: So what kind of “intriguing evidence” have you seen of “things unseen”?
Hendey: This harkens back to those early words of Hebrews 11 that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” I have to say that one of the greatest signs of this in my own life is the work that I do. While He’s never sent me an e-mail, I have the firm sense that God’s hand is on both CatholicMom.com and the call I’ve answered in my professional life. I have no qualifications for this work, no funds with which to really see it prosper, and no “ten-year plan” for its future. And yet every day, in big and little ways, there is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s guardianship of both the website I run and the writing and speaking work I do. When huge obstacles come along, as they often do in this kind of work, I’m learning to trust in the goodness of God’s plan. Often things happen both in my work and in the world around me that don’t have plausible explanations. I believe my faith helps me to see God’s handiwork on a daily basis. And God is good!
Lopez: Confirmation was a big deal in your life. How can we make a bigger deal of its importance? It’s not the sacrament of “so long,” as Pope Francis has put it.
Hendey: Yes, too often these days our teens see Confirmation as a “graduation” of sorts. And unfortunately, in a society where less than a quarter of self-professed Catholics receive the Eucharist on a weekly basis, we let this happen. In truth, Confirmation is both a statement of what we believe and an assent to our readiness to do the real work of the Church. Our Church needs each of us — our gifts and abilities — and in a very real way our Church needs our teens and young adults. One of my favorite aspects of working at CatholicMom.com is our team of five young interns. Their drive, their world perspective, and their zeal for our faith inspires and teaches me on a daily basis. Our Church needs our recent confirmandi to inspire and teach all of us in that very same way!
Lopez: What is generous living, and why is it so important?
Hendey: I’ve had the chance to travel in recent years to parts of the world where the need for food, for health care, for safe shelter, and for human compassion is great. But I can also travel five miles from my house and experience much of that same need in the farm fields that surround my hometown of Fresno. Being “generous” means sharing of our material gifts, but also sharing our love and compassion. Being generous sometimes means consuming less so that we can ensure that others have their basic needs met. Being generous means lingering for a moment when someone needs a listening ear or a caring heart. Being generous doesn’t always have to cost money, but it does cost us effort. I’m far from perfect at being a generous person, but I’m more convinced than ever that if we would all simply be more aware of the impact of basic compassion and consideration, we could make a huge difference in our world.
Lopez: How rooted is it in gratitude?
Hendey: It’s hugely rooted in gratitude. If I’m given a gift and greet it with the attitude that I’m entitled to the gift, I’m far less likely to share that gift with others. If I receive a gift with the attitude that it is a tremendous blessing, destined to be shared, it’s easy to be generous.
Lopez: Why is creativity so important to living a life of Christian generosity?
Hendey: God created each of us with remarkable gifts and abilities. When we fully give ourselves to our work as a deliberate act of prayer, it’s easy to see the connection between our work and service to others. It doesn’t matter what specific job we do . . . we’re each called to serve God and others with the fruits of our labor. When we create with a belief that our work is ordained by God, we are often able to see that connection more clearly.
Lopez: How can Holy Week be a way to the grace of yes?
Hendey: Holy Week marks Jesus’ amazing willingness to live out God’s plan. Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. I have to believe that the human side of Christ was fearful in the final days of His earthly life. Yet Jesus took up His cross and gave His life for each of us. Holy Week allows us a period of intensified prayer, fasting, and service to more fully align our own “yes” with that of Jesus Christ. The liturgies that we celebrate between Palm Sunday and the Easter Vigil fully prepare us for the glorious “Alleluia” of Easter Sunday.
Lopez: What does Holy Week mean in your life?
Hendey: My husband entered the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) 17 years after our marriage. This year, we will celebrate the 12th anniversary of that happy Easter vigil when he first joined our sons and me at the Eucharistic table. In my heart, my Holy Week journey is always a joyful celebration of those entering our Church. I love Holy Week at my parish home for the beauty of the liturgies, but also for the deeply profound connection to what is happening in the worldwide Church.
Lopez: What does generosity have to do with being an Easter people? What does it prod us to do differently?
Hendey: If we’ve “done” Lent well, if we’ve fasted, prayed, and given alms with intentionality, we celebrate Easter with a renewed spirit of gratitude and happiness. Easter doesn’t mean that we’re finished with our Lenten devotions. Hopefully it means we’re more readily able to see how we’ve been changed and what mission to serve still lies before us!
Lopez: How can this all help with some of our political debates — or discussions with friends — over assisted suicide, abortion, marriage, and other intimate and contentious issues?
Hendey: My parents taught me to “always err on the side of generosity.” When I find myself wanting to get into an argument with someone whose mind will absolutely not be changed, I’m trying to train myself to err on the side of being kind and actively praying for a change of heart in that person. The Internet is filled with good, believing Christians who engage in very un-Christlike diatribes. Now, when someone engages me with an accusation or complaint about a clear teaching of our Church, I ask them to pray for me and for those I am trying to serve, and I try to remember to pray for that person, too. That often means giving up on actively fighting with them. It’s how I’ve learned to preserve my sanity, and I’ve often been surprised at the results of trying to be intentionally kind in those moments.
Lopez: Pope Francis is coming to the U.S. in a few months for the World Meeting of Families. What do you think the impact might be?
Hendey: I think his visit will be huge, both for Catholics in the United States but also for anyone who will witness his visit. He is teaching us daily about the need to serve, to share our resources, and to be closer to Jesus Christ. I will be one of the millions in Philadelphia to welcome him. I can’t wait!
Lopez: Is he one walking “yes”?
Hendey: Absolutely. I sent Pope Francis a copy of my book simply to thank him for being in so many ways the embodiment of all I was trying to say in The Grace of Yes. While I doubt he will ever see the book, he models for me in so many ways the spirit of what I am trying to live with my own “yes.” We see his compassion for those who are often so forgotten in society, and it makes all of us want to be better, more caring, and more compassionate. He challenges us to be more like Christ. He is absolutely living “the grace of yes.”
Lopez: What is the grace of “no” then?
Hendey: While this could be a whole second book, in short, the “grace of no” pertains to two things: First, the “grace of no” means that I need to discern the offers and opportunities that I receive in my life. Sometimes, the most Christ-like answer to an invitation is “no.” Second, I need to be aware of the “nos” that I need to say to myself. No to habits that are unhealthy or un-Christlike. No to overconsumption of goods or substances. No to uncharitable attitudes . . . the list could go on and on.
Lopez: You were recently in Tanzania. What did you learn there?
Hendey: So much! I learned that the small sacrifices that we make to share some of our financial resources can make a huge difference in the lives of the poor. We traveled with Catholic Relief Services and saw firsthand how their stewardship of the funds we contribute through the annual CRS Rice Bowl program is truly making a huge difference for the poor in countries like Tanzania.
But the second, and perhaps equally as important, thing I learned is that we can learn from and be served by those who are less fortunate materially than we are. I went to Tanzania expecting to serve the poor. And I did try to do that. But I also came away served — loved, educated, and inspired. The families we met had very little of what we would consider “wealth,” and yet so often they were rich in spirit and joy. The women of Tanzania taught me so very much about hard work, about service to one’s family, and about the connection between faith and authentic generosity. I can’t wait to go back some day for a visit. I left a piece of my heart in the soybean fields of Tanzania!
Lopez: What do persecuted and martyred Christians teach us about the grace of “yes”?
Hendey: The grace of “yes” is not easy. And perhaps the most authentic “yes” we could ever give is the willingness to give everything, our lives included, to truly love God. Those who are being persecuted and martyred as a hallmark of their Christian faith often cause me to ask myself if I would be courageous enough to make that same choice. If the grace of “yes” is fully giving ourselves to God’s will for our lives, then these heroic men and women are our master teachers. We continue to pray for an end to the horrific circumstances they face. And we cannot forget them and the struggles they endure!
Lopez: What’s the most practical thing you hope people take from the book?
Hendey: I hope that people will be inspired to both contemplate and to fully embrace the grace of their own “yes.” I hope that they will want to prayerfully discern God’s will for their lives, but also that they will see that “yes” means living life in the service of others. I hope that they will see that God is calling them to do remarkable things with their lives, and that He’s waiting for their “yes”!
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.