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Sarah and Jeff

The Wild Goose is loose in Sarah and Jeff’s life

When Bishop Earl Boyea challenged his diocese to dive into a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, Jeff and Sarah Gray took him at his word.

For some, that would mean attending a Born in the Spirit retreat, joining a prayer group or cracking open some theology books. For the Grays, it meant turning on the TV and streaming episodes of The Wild Goose from Formed.org – and they were blown away.

“We were told not to binge it,” Sarah says, but it was hard for the couple to restrain themselves to one or two episodes a week.

The 14-part series, which takes its name from an ancient Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit, features Father Dave Pivonka, TOR. Nationally known as an engaging and down-to-earth speaker, especially at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s summer conferences, Father Dave takes viewers on a visually beautiful pilgrimage to locations across the country while breaking down the enigma that the Third Person of the Trinity is to so many Catholics.

The Grays counted themselves in that number.

“I’ve always understood God the Father and God the Son,” Jeff says. “You know the sign of the cross, but I didn’t understand the Holy Spirit.”

He and Sarah are both cradle Catholics. “Sometimes if you’re raised in it, it’s just always part of the routine,” says Jeff, adding that he had sensed in the back of his mind there was a richness to the Mass, even if he didn’t know what it was. That’s been changing. 

“Recently we’ve been trying to make our faith more of our central activity,” he says, acknowledging this means giving up other things – like more frequent TV entertainment – in order to prioritize their own catechesis. The couple began more actively educating themselves about their faith and making an effort to talk more openly about it, especially as their children grew older and started sacrament preparation. Soon, they were devouring any materials they could find, especially the video content on Formed.

Sarah describes it as an exciting journey they’re still on: “I feel like I can’t get enough. I just want to keep watching things, I want to keep reading things, I want to know more.”

The Grays took that newfound zeal and excitement to the Diocesan Assembly in September, participating in the Eucharistic procession down Michigan Avenue and soaking up the talks. When Bishop Boyea suggested practical ways attendees can continue their path of missionary discipleship – including viewing The Wild Goose – Jeff and Sarah started streaming the episodes within a couple days.

“We were so moved by the assembly,” Sarah says. “We got so much out of it and were so excited when we left, we didn’t want to lose that.”

Jeff was struck by the bishop’s call to evangelism. “We never thought we were really called to be evangelists; we didn’t know what that meant,” he says, frankly. “But when he said this was the next thing to do, we just said, okay, we’re on board.”  

Like most couples – Jeff and Sarah celebrated their 15th anniversary in October – the Grays are busy. Along with parenting Ellie, 11, Jake, 9 and Anna, 7, Sarah is a freelance writer, and Jeff is the city manager of Jonesville, where the family lives, about 20 miles from the Michigan-Indiana-Ohio border. But their routine of settling into the couch after the kids went to bed and watching another episode of The Wild Goose became something of a date night in, sparking conversations about what they were learning. They started out taking notes but then learned to just watch, not talking until the end of each episode, when they could unpack its theme together.

“Is there a sequel?” Jeff quips as they laugh about their disappointment when they finished the last segment.
“We felt like we were growing in our faith together,” Sarah says.

She appreciated how each episode features witnesses from other Catholics about how the Holy Spirit has worked in their lives. Being encouraged to open yourself to the Holy Spirit “can seem overwhelming,” she says, but hearing other people’s stories helped her recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in her own life, even in small ways.

“I’ve noticed subtle changes,” Sarah says. “I’m a little more patient, a little more understanding of circumstances that otherwise may have really upset me, just by praying, ‘Come, Holy Spirit, Your will be done.’”

Jeff has noticed similar ways the message of The Wild Goose is permeating his daily life.

“People have experiences where they can pray silently and hear God’s voice speaking to them,” he says. But for Jeff, “I spend more of my day … just praying quietly, ‘Come Holy Spirit,’ and what I’ve seen is, it’s not a voice that I hear in my head, it’s that I see [his presence] in people throughout the day and conversations that I have.”

Sarah can see the effects in their family. “We’re not perfect by any stretch,” she says, but there’s a peace that’s settled on their home.

What’s next?

The Grays’ parish, St. Catherine Laboure in Concord, is “small but mighty,” as Sarah says lovingly, and she and Jeff are part of a group of parishioners who want to continue cultivating the fruits of the Diocesan Assembly. They’ve started guiding a weekly Advent discussion group in the parish, in addition to their roles in various ministries. And they’re leading fellow second-grade parents through Formed’s Forgiven series as they help their children prepare for the Sacraments of Penance and First Communion.

“We’re pretty new to evangelizing,” Sarah says, “and we by no means feel like we’re experts. We know that’s not the point – we’re not supposed to be experts; we’re supposed to be open to the Holy Spirit. And we’re really trying to be.”

Experience aside, the Grays are confident in their calling and unquestioning in their response to open their hearts more fully to God. Sarah is quick to name her strongest takeaway from The Wild Goose, a theme that is resonating with the couple and their family, and beyond them, a parish and community: “The Holy Spirit is very powerful.”