By KATHRYN R. BYRNE, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 27, 2014
COLLEGE PARK—What does it mean to be “Christ-fit”? What do we do with life’s challenges? How do we deal with temptation?
These questions and more were pondered in a lively and uplifting message presented by Father Shawn Carey, a deaf priest from Boston. Known as Father Shawn, the priest presented at the American Sign Language (ASL) track during the Eucharistic Congress June 21. Director of the deaf apostolate in Boston, Father Shawn also serves as the pastoral workers representative on the board of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf.
As the track started, Kathy Daykin, coordinator of deaf services for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, explained the schedule, which included an opportunity for deaf attendees to receive the sacrament of reconciliation in ASL during the afternoon. Because sign language is visible from a distance, a curtained partition was set up in the back of the room for this purpose. Father Shawn’s presentation was interpreted for participants who don’t know ASL by Lisa Palak and Christina Hopper, who fed their interpretation through assisted listening devices.
Father Shawn asked that anyone who had questions or comments during his talk come to the front (to prevent everyone from needing to turn around and watch the person using ASL). “Many emotions may be triggered during my talk,” he explained. “If you want to share it with us, that is fine. Or if you wish to talk to me later about it, that is fine.”
A Scripture verse from John 19:25-30 was projected on the wall, and Father Shawn explained that the verse, which tells of Jesus’ last moments on the cross, is popular for funerals. While hanging from the cross, Jesus said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). “When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit” (John 19:30).
“This is my favorite verse,” Father Shawn said. “I am never bored with this verse.” He went on to explain that those who believe must never lose hope, because they have hope in heaven.
He described his first parish, which was within walking distance of the Boston Marathon. While serving there, he celebrated Mass prior to the marathon. Thousands of people would come, including many of the runners. “It was like Christmas or Easter Mass,” he said. Father Shawn then sent the runners off to the event with a blessing.
“We always attempt to be physically fit. What does it mean to be ‘Christ-fit’?” asked Father Shawn.
At the request of Frania Franch, a deaf parishioner at Transfiguration Church, Marietta, and to the delight of the attendees, Father Shawn dropped to the floor to do push-ups, to show everyone just how physically fit he is.
The priest next showed a photo of St. Francis de Sales, asking, “Does anyone know what he did?”
Again Franch came forward to answer, signing that St. Francis de Sales served deaf people, learning French sign language and taught religious education to the deaf.
Father Shawn recommended the saint’s book, “Introduction to the Devout Life.” “It was written for a woman who needed Christ, but the book is for all lay people,” he said. He explained further that the motto of St. Francis de Sales was to “live Jesus.”
He signed, “It is important to live with Christ in your life as if he is your best friend. My hope after I leave here is that you will invite Jesus to live with you today.”
At Father Shawn’s request, participants suggested ways to invite Jesus into their lives, including the Eucharist and Mass, reading the Bible, serving others, seeing Christ in all we meet, teaching, sharing, listening, not judging or criticizing, and making use of the sacraments. Father Shawn added that people “live Jesus” through their bodies, their thoughts, their actions and decisions, and their devotion.
He alluded to the body with an acknowledgement of his own challenges. “I am deaf. Yes, it’s a challenge. But there are also so many gifts. It is important to face who we are and not deny it.”
When he first applied to the seminary in 2002, he was turned down because he was deaf. “They had no interpreted classes, and they told me I couldn’t go. I was so confused, so lost. I was disconnected. The cross is always in our life. But Jesus is with you through the good and the bad.”
Father Shawn shared a personal experience about his own actions and decisions. He was thinking about becoming a priest around the time that the Boston sex scandal was publicized. He became angry and made the decision to withdraw. “But did God want me to withdraw?” he wondered. A month later he received encouragement from some priest-friends. “I took my anger to the Church; I didn’t want to live with it,” he stated.
To explain the importance of devotion, Father Shawn again referred to the writings of St. Francis de Sales. “It’s not just learning about Jesus in class, then we’re done. To learn about Jesus, one surrenders the vital center of one’s being, one’s heart.”
Father Shawn also shared his strong devotion to St. Patrick, especially since Patrick is his middle name. “In ‘The Confession (of St. Patrick),’ I learned that his life was awful. He went through a lot. But St. Patrick persevered and relied on God.” St. Patrick is the patron saint of Father Shawn’s home, the Archdiocese of Boston.
Father Shawn implored everyone to “read the Bible over and over. Sometimes one word can have a strong impact on your life.”
One of the attendees, David Klinger, also a Transfiguration parishioner who is deaf, expressed concern that there are so many deaf Catholics who are unchurched due to the long distances they need to drive to find interpreted Masses. Father Shawn urged Catholics to always invite them.
He said, “Our actions need to show loud and clear that we support them. We can lead them to Jesus Christ; this is our very mission.”
The Atlanta bishops stopped in to visit the ASL track throughout the day. Before the track began, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory brought the Blessed Sacrament into the room for a time of adoration. He then expressed his thanks to the attendees. “Thank you for helping us serve those who are hearing impaired. I thank you from the heart for helping us give praise and thanks to God.”
As the archbishop left the room, hands were raised and waved in the ASL sign for clapping, and white handkerchiefs were waved as a visual sign of appreciation for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Bishop Luis R. Zarama entered the room in the afternoon, exclaiming, “It was a beautiful gift when I walked in here—I noticed the quiet!”
He said, “It is beautiful to see that God speaks to us in different languages. You (deaf) people really pay attention to the people you talk with. You speak from the silence of your heart. That’s where we find Jesus. Love is the language that all of us speak. Love doesn’t have any barriers. The most important thing is to listen to him. Then we can go and make disciples.”
Bishop David P. Talley, during his visit, told the story of being a brand new priest in various parishes, as well as helping with Toni’s Camp for the disabled, and seeing people “doing this” (waving his hands in various directions).
“I was attracted to this because I could see another language. The Lord showed me a powerful message: God’s word is beyond our comprehension. He wanted to give it to us so we could see the word. So he gave us Jesus. Jesus is the sign language of the Father. Everyone here who speaks the sign language of humanity is the invisible word of God,” Bishop Talley said.
At the end of his presentation Father Shawn tackled the dilemma of temptation in life. He asked, “How many of you believe that temptation is a sin?” About half of those present raised their hands.
He said, “People say temptation is a sin, but it’s not, because we haven’t done the action yet. We may be thinking about it, but we haven’t done it yet.” He then reminded those present that Jesus himself was tempted in the desert by the devil. This made clear that temptation is not a sin, since Jesus never sinned. “We have a good angel and a bad angel on our shoulders. We are drawn both ways.” He later explained that part of the lie is that the devil gives us power and control. “We have the power to resist by following God’s will.”
“Are we living for God?” Father Shawn asked. “Our needs must be met God’s way, not our own selfish, short-cut way that leads to instant gratification.” He explained that bread, physical fulfillment, is not more important than God’s word and way.
As he was wrapping up his presentation, Father Shawn again reminded the deaf and hearing participants of the ASL track that if they wanted a relationship with God, they should serve him. In a closing quip of humor, Father Shawn explained, “We don’t play it by ear; we play it by eye!”