(In photo above, Karla Jardon, right, became Catholic during the Easter vigil at St. Mel Parish in Fair Oaks this past Easter, with Bob Laywell as her sponsor. He has worked with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults since 2011.)
“I have always been hungry to know my faith, to really, really know it,” Bob Laywell says. “As a cradle Catholic, I always knew I was Catholic but when I was challenged, I often couldn’t explain why.”
Twenty-nine years ago, he attended a Promise Keepers event in Anaheim where 45,000 Christians came together. “It was nondenominational. I got mingled in with people of different faiths, and I was challenged many times about my faith: ‘You’re a Catholic; you’re going to hell.’ I didn’t know all the answers.”
Bob left that event determined to deepen his knowledge of his faith. “I knew I was Catholic; now I needed to know why. Because of that and other events along the way, I began really reading, really understanding. I knew the beginnings of the church but there was a lot I didn’t understand. I wanted to answer their questions and say, ‘Yes, I am saved.’”
For nearly 30 years he satisfied that hunger largely on his own, at first the time-tested way, building a home library of 400 books on the Catholic faith and faith in general, then by browsing the Internet and viewing the Eternal Word Television Network and listening to the Catholic Answers program. Now he has moved into new territory with the help of the Lay Mission Project, an advanced lay formation process offered by the Diocese of Sacramento.
“I applied for the project to continue to educate myself, to learn more about Jesus,” says Bob, a member of St. Mel Parish in Fair Oaks. “It has been three years of study. We’re starting our 14th topic now, one more to go. It’s deep study. Our curriculum is very intense. We started with lay vocation. We have courses on Scripture, ecclesiology, moral theology, faith formation, evangelization, law and political order, the economy and business, science and the arts.”
“Many of our teachers and facilitators are renowned,” Bob notes. He mentions Dan Lungren, former congressman and California attorney general, who discussed politics. Dana Gioia, one of the teachers on science and the arts, was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009.
The Lay Mission Project “helps me learn how to live as a Catholic as you do your daily work, whether you are at work or at home, and how we can take our faith to the next level.”
The project will conclude for Bob this summer with a capstone project to wrap up the three-year experience. The goal of this project is to show “how you, in your own unique and unrepeatable way, are putting this formation into practice, or will do so in the near future. I’m working on a couple of things right now,” Bob says. “One of them is to bring people back to Christ.”
Bob has been active in the church for most of his adult life, first as a lector in Arizona before moving to California in 1990. He has continued in lay ministry while expanding his service. He is sacristan at the Mercy San Juan Medical Center chapel and distributes Communion to patients in the hospital in Carmichael.
“It has been a blessing visiting people, listening to their stories,” he says. “Years ago, I wondered if I should become a priest. That didn’t last long. I told a patient the story and she said, ‘Oh, no, no, you’re doing what God wants you to do right now.’ She was right. When I go into rooms and say I am a eucharistic minister, eyes light up, smiles come. It’s a joy! I bring Jesus to the patients.”
At St. Mel Parish, Bob has worked with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults since 2011, first as a sponsor. “At Easter 2012, my first candidate became Catholic. I have sponsored six people and now as a catechist the last two or three years I am teaching and much involved in the educational part. I facilitate a bible study on Thursday nights. That’s a big thing. When you teach, you learn twice.”
The Lay Mission Project gives deeper meaning to those ministries, he says, “strengthening our faith in our daily walk, how to pray, how to center ourselves each day, to take that faith into the workplace, how to be Christ for others. But we also have to know our faith. We can’t go out there blind, not knowing.”
“A lot of people are baptized but not catechized. Many are baptized, then confirmed at age 12. Then a lot of people think, ‘I’ve graduated.’”
Bob sees the faith differently. His hunger continues.
“Confirmation is to me like graduating from kindergarten – you have your whole life ahead of you to learn,” he says. “After they are confirmed, many stop learning. They may continue to go to church for a while, they may not, but many stop learning. My goal is to continue to learn, to know, to teach.”