Susan Rock, left, Sarah Rock, Nick Rock and Dan Rock found spiritual growth and deepening of relationships with family and friends through Live Lent Together. COURTESY PHOTO

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Live Lent Together brings families, couples and classmates together in surprising ways

Dan Rock’s family will tell you that in the past, his style of evangelization has been along the lines of “preach the Gospel at all times, use words only when necessary.”

Leading prayers aloud in a group is out of his comfort zone, and he would rather pray with his wife at home than attend a large retreat or gathering.

So, when Dan agreed to lead a small group with his wife, Susan, as part of Live Lent Together, an archdiocese-wide, parish-based effort to spread the Word of God, family members were understandably surprised.

“Dad is very smart and analytical,” Dan’s son, Nick, said. “With that, he’s usually pretty introverted. This time he just flipped and went out of his way to invite people because people need to hear about Jesus.”

Dan laughs when he hears that his wife and five children didn’t think small groups were up his alley.

“I look around the church at St. Margaret Mary during Mass and think about how many people aren’t in a small group but would like to be invited,” he said. “It makes me want to start more.”

Dan surprised his family again when he told them that he was going to invite his siblings and their spouses to join the group, including those who aren’t Catholic or have left the faith.

“I knew inviting them could go either way, but it just came into my mind that they would be good people to bring into the group,” Dan said.

“We started out with nine people in our group, but it kept growing as more family members started to show up, nieces, nephews and our kids. It was nice to get together on Sundays with family and talk about something other than the weather.”

At first, Dan and Susan, who are parishioners at St. Margaret Mary, worried that family members might view their invitation as an effort to convert them. Those fears were put to rest as the weeks went by, and everyone became more comfortable uniting around God’s Word.

What Dan likes most about their small group is that he can talk to his siblings and other family members about things that really matter.

“We are trained not to talk about religion, but this gave us permission,” Dan said. “Coming in the door, we all know that is what we are going to be talking about.”

Nick had participated in Bible studies and other small groups in the past, but it was becoming more difficult to find the time. His wife, Sarah, is expecting their second child, and he is busy with law school at Creighton University. He credits Archbishop George J. Lucas and Father Ralph O’Donnell, pastor of St. Margaret Mary, for convincing him to make the time.

“The archbishop and Father O’Donnell were really pushing Live Lent Together, and I was thinking, ‘My goodness, I don’t even know if I have time,’ but when I saw that this was where we are headed as an archdiocese, I thought, ‘Let’s look into this.’”

This year, the Archdiocese of Omaha encouraged all parishes to establish Live Lent Together small groups to pray together with Scripture and help members get closer to Christ and feel less alone in an increasingly disconnected world.

Nick and Sarah organized a small group for married couples. Sarah attributes its success to building authentic friendships between group members.

“You communicate through your actions that you care for everyone in the small group as a person,” she said. “You let everyone know that they are not just a number.”

Sarah said that wives had to coax their husbands into joining the group in some cases, but once they were in, they were all in.

“This may be the only opportunity these men have ever been afforded to grow in their faith,” she said. “It also allows them to grow in faith as a couple.”

In addition to the small group for married couples, Nick felt compelled to organize another small group for his fellow law students.

“All day at law school, I would see so many young men that I knew had the potential to be on fire and down the road be great fathers and great husbands, but a lot of them are just getting drunk on the weekends,” he said.

Nick knew this was a problem, so he decided to ask some fellow students if they would be interested in joining his group. The responses were overwhelmingly positive.

There are six members in the group, most of whom Nick would call “lukewarm Protestants.” The remaining members are Christians who would admit that they have not given their lives to Jesus. No matter where they are in their faith journey, however, Nick said they enthusiastically show up week after week to go deeper into the Word of God.

“We are turning toward the Lord and building a community around that,” Nick said.