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Echo Alumni Interviews: Beth Franzosa

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In celebration of the upcoming graduation of Echo 12 on Saturday July 29, Church Life will feature interviews with select Echo alumni. Check out yesterday’s interview here.

Today’s interview is with Beth Franzosa, of Echo 2. During Echo, Beth served at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.
Now, Beth works at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, finishing up her tenth year there. As the Director of Adult Formation, she oversees religious formation opportunities for faculty and staff. Additionally, Beth teaches a senior Ethics course, and a sophomore class on Sacraments and Hebrew Scriptures for the Cristo Rey religion department.

CL: How would you define the phrase “Catholic Imagination,” and how do you see yourself renewing the Catholic imagination through your work?

BF: To me, the Catholic imagination seems to be a particular way of seeing the world, especially seeing and cultivating ways that our faith permeates our lives. What is a Catholic approach to work? To relationships? To social media, grocery shopping, commuting? To the big and small problems of our lives and society? It takes imagination, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, to see how every part of our lives is also part of our faith.

In my work with both students and adults, I help build a Catholic imagination through catechesis, shared prayer and liturgy, and discussion that helps us communicate our faith. I see Catholic imagination when students ask a great question or make a connection, especially to a current event or a personal story. They are asking, often explicitly, how to make sense of new aspects of their lives in the context of faith. In working with adults in our Ignatian Formation program for new employees, one of my favorite activities is when we practice discernment with real situations we face at work. How can we tell where the Holy Spirit is leading us when we have a difficult decision to make? This is Catholic imagination in action.

CL: What has shaped your own Catholic imagination? How do you continue to nourish your imagination?

BF: I think my best experiences of formation have been through community. My experience in my Echo community, especially, gave me support in learning how to work in the Church and trained me in living out my daily life with others in a faith context. My communities of friends and family continue to help me articulate and live my faith authentically, both by supporting me in shared values and by challenging me on the beliefs that we don’t share.

For me, an understanding and acceptance of vocation as God’s call to each person is central to Catholic imagination. St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, asks us to consider: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ?” What we must do for Christ is a question for everyone, whatever our path in life.

CL: Where do you see a need for a renewed Catholic imagination within the Church?

BF: We live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, and I see a strong desire to understand others and work for justice all around, in my friends, my colleagues, my students, and my Twitter feed. It seems to me, though, that Catholic people of all ages don’t always look to the Church or to faith for answers to life’s problems. In the Body of Christ, we see a model for dialogue, acceptance, and love. Could we look to the examples of the saints as we work for a better world? Could we see the Church as a place to find inspiration and community?

I was a high school student at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000 when I heard Pope John Paul II preach, “It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness… It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives… the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society.”[1] In our Catholic imagination, could we see Jesus as the center of all our goals and dreams? Could we be more open to the ways Jesus is calling each of us?

CL: What tips and tools would you recommend for others serving the Church who aspire to renew the Catholic imagination?

BF: Get to know Jesus better, and encourage it in those to whom you minister! Spend time in imaginative prayer, placing yourself in a scene from the Gospels, and notice how you feel and what draws you. Perhaps you’ll see some ways that Jesus is calling you, in your own specific situation, maybe in ways that surprise you or call you to something new.

Featured photo courtesy of the McGrath Institute for Church Life; headshot courtesy of Elizabeth Franzosa

[1] John Paul II, Address at the Vigil of Prayer for the 15th World Youth Day, 19 August 2000., §5