By Beth Doherty
“You are what you eat”, said evangelist Martha Fernandez-Sardina as she addressed the 400-strong crowd at PROCLAIM 2012: the first national conference on the “New Evangelisation” held from 9-11 August at The Concourse in Chatswood.
The American keynote speaker wasn’t giving diet tips or fitness advice; rather, she was exhorting the crowd gathered to understand the power in frequent reception of the Eucharist.
“If you receive Christ frequently, you slowly become transformed. It changes you. You become the bread come down from heaven. You become Holy as the Lord your God is Holy”, she said.
One of two high-profile international guests to address PROCLAIM 2012, Martha: a bilingual speaker, trainer and consultant captivated the audience for over an hour with witty stories, anecdotes, personal sharing and biblical wisdom.
Martha admitted to those gathered that growing up, her family were not great Church-goers, but that at the age of 15, she saw that there was something missing in her life.
Raised between New York and the Dominican Republic, Martha grew up speaking Spanish and English and now is the Director of the Office for Evangelisation in San Antonio, Texas.
Her work has led her develop programs in both languages and to reach out via the media and in various forms of ministry to share how Christ has worked in her life.
By way of personal anecdote, Martha shared the story of attending a parish as a young teenager and realising that they had a youth group. Having had not much contact with Christian young people, she observed them closely during the mass and realised that “she wanted what they had.”
“I saw how they loved one another!!” she said.
As soon as Mass ended, she approached one of them and asked when the Youth Group met. Reflecting later, she admits she probably scared the youth group leader a little bit.
“He was probably thinking, “wow! I wasn’t even fishing and she jumped into my net”. But you know, even when we aren’t fishing, the great evangeliser catches fish.
It was at this mass that Martha prayed the prayer: “Lord, I recommit my life to you and the Church.”
Following this, she forced herself to attend mass every week until she began to understand the beauty and sacredness.
“For me, there are very important ways in which you maintain your faith. Through daily mass; frequent reception of Holy Communion and by regular confession. We need to want that holiness so much that we would pay any price, we want the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb.”
Martha had clearly done her research before coming to Australia and was familiar with the sayings of St Mary MacKillop as she addressed the crowd.
“Do not get so attached to the world that you will find it hard to go home – after all, as Mary of the Cross MacKillop said, “we are but travellers here”.”
“There will be sacrifices! You will need to give things up. You will wrestle with God and some things won’t be easy to give up”, she said.
“And speaking of giving things up, I arrived at the airport here and swapped over my American dollars for your beautiful, colourful Australian ones. I was a little apprehensive, because not only was there a fee, but I actually got back less than I handed over”, she said to the laughing crowd.
“However, that allowed me to do something – it allowed me to buy things I needed for the trip. God works in a similar way. Sometimes we have to give up certain attachments, lifestyles, baggage. But God will reward you abundantly for what you lay down!”
Martha then told the story of the young man who went to buy a large burger and fries at a fast-food chain, and was greeted with the reply: “Do you want heartburn now, or later?”
“It’s the same with Jesus”, she said.
“It is inevitable that we will get heartburn from an unhealthy diet, that we will see the effects, just as eventually, we will all come before the Lord; but how much more beautiful if we live Christ’s way now, if we allow our hearts to burn with the Gospel here on earth.”
“We don’t just want our hearts to burn, we want a heart transplant. We want God to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.”
Her final words were an exhortation to approach prayer and faith in the same way that Olympic athletes do, and used the motto: “stronger, faster, higher”.
“Holiness requires effort, self-discipline, self-denial and a “fierce Olympian attitude and mindset.”
“After all, you want to, as St Paul writes in Corinthians, ‘run so as to win’.”
“It requires getting up and going at it every day. We too can be Olympians and medallists. As Fr. Benedict Groechsel said: ‘Saints are people like us who simply tried harder’.”