Defeating the World by Embracing the Cross: Under the Influence Of Jesus Blog Tour

One of the great gifts of the New Evangelization is the reminder that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to evangelize the culture because, like us, it is in need of conversion. Christians, we know, are called to live, work, and play within the world without taking on the attitudes and habits of that world which — while made by God and declared good — has nevertheless been broken through sin. Thus our weapons are not those of the world. Rather, our weapons are spiritual in nature.

Joe Paprocki makes this point in his new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe devotes an entire chapter to the power of the cross and it’s power to transform our ways of living and thinking.

By way of example Joe relates the story of Barabbas and the decision by the Jews to ask for him instead of Jesus when offered a prisoner by Pontius Pilate. Barabbas was a revolutionary who sought to overthrow the occupying Romans by force. Jesus, in contrast, was a king with no visible army who did not defend himself.

These two figures continue to challenge us today as we seek to live in a world increasingly hostile to the kerygma. One tempts us to be “realists” and utilize the ways of the world in order to defeat it. The other asks us to renounce those ways in favor of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. In short, we are asked to embrace the cross. Joe reminds us that

As Christians, we formally worship Jesus on Sunday; but all too many of us continue to clamor for Barabbas the other six days of the week. We do so because we trust that his weapons are more suited to the “real world” than are those of Jesus Christ. As a result, we remain enslaved by what I call the “Barabbas cycle.” Whenever we perceive that we are “attacked” by an evil, we are inclined to respond with a bigger, stronger (but in our eyes more righteous) version of the same evil. Ironically, our actions are self-defeating. By perpetuating evil, we are only strengthening the enemy we aim to crush.

The Gospels, of course, tell us that choosing Barabbas is a mistake — that Jesus is the savior we need, and that his weapon, the cross, is more powerful than any gun.

The cross? Cue those crickets again.

Unfortunately too often we fall short of Christ’s call and fall prey to the temptation to fight fire with fire. Whether calling for preemptive war, making disparaging and uncharitable comments online, gossiping in the office, or playing politics while ignoring the common good, the ways of the world lead away from the cross and the Kingdom of God.

Fortunately we can renounce the bad habits of the world and seek to embrace the way of the cross in our lives. Joe offers three suggestions for cultivating “kingdom habits” that will help us embrace our crosses and use them for the spiritual benefit of the world:

  1. Cultivate silence as a means of silencing the ego.
  2. Shift the focus away from our own needs by reducing our consumption.
  3. Focus on others by practicing generosity.

These three habits can not only radically transform our personal lives; they are also key habits for the New Evangelization, which calls us out of ourselves in order to preach the Gospel through the proclamation of the kerygma and the practice of the Works of Mercy.

I highly recommend Under the Influence of Jesus — in fact, I’m giving away a copy to a lucky reader! Check out this blog post for details.

Win a Copy of Joe Paprocki’s New Book!

UnderInfluenceBlogTour-SocialToday I’m very pleased to be part of a blog tour for Joe Paprocki’s new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe’s book is a great primer on the Christian life and what it means to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.

(It also includes a reference to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and gets bonus points just for that.)

As part of the tour I have a copy of the book to give away to one of my readers! Just leave a comment on this post by 11:59p (CT) on Wednesday, June 11, and I’ll randomly select someone to receive a copy of the book.

Good luck!

Five Books for 2014

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For whatever reason we seem to be a golden age of books on Catholic evangelization and catechesis. Every month sees more books being published on these subjects, many of them highly recommendable. It can be hard to keep up with them all!

With that in mind I am continuing a tradition I began some years back and recommending some of the best books I read in the past year.

  • Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran (2013) – I’ve been recommending this book as a great follow-up to Forming Intentional Disciples — not so much for the decisions this parish made in changing the way they organize and live their communal life (some of which I don’t agree with) but because of the questions they asked that brought them to those decisions. Anyone trying to revitalize parish life would do well to reflect on the experience of this parish.
  • Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechiesis That Not Only Informs but Also Transforms by Joe Paprocki (2013) – I have yet to read a book by Joe and consider it time wasted, and this slim volume — a follow up to his rightly loved The Catechist’s Toolbox — offers a clear vision for making catechesis “more like Mass than class.”
  • Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church by George Weigel (2013) – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up Weigel’s latest book, but I certainly wasn’t expecting both a cogent and thoughtful history of the New Evangelization and recommendations for reforming Church structures for an increase in the missionary activity of the Church. This one-two punch is a must-read for Church leaders planning for the next 40 years.
  • Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat (2012) – Douthat is one of the best Catholic commentators in America today, and this study of the ways in which religious practice has been subverted and made to serve philosophies alien to traditional Christianity puts in stark terms the culture we are living in today.
  • 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator by Jared Dees (2013) – Another deceptively small book with big ideas. Digestible in a month’s time, any catechist who takes Jared’s words to heart can’t help but become a more engaging and evangelizing religious educator.

What books did you read last year that have made an impact on your life or ministry?

More Than Just Teaching: A Response to Barbara Nicolosi

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One of the dangers of taking a break from the blog is the potential for missing something really juicy to write about. Unfortunately this reality befell me when, shortly after my self-imposed blogging hiatus, Barbara Nicolosi posted a long-form piece on Patheos about the state of parish-based catechesis in the Catholic Church. With apologies for being a month late, here are some thoughts about that essay.

In broad strokes, Ms. Nicolosi laments the number of misinformed and seemingly uncatechized Catholics in our pews. She outlines a proposed solution in three steps:

  1. A commitment to “content and rigor”
  2. Paying Catholic school teachers to staff parish-based catechetical programs
  3. Recruiting theology students as tutors

I won’t disagree with Ms. Nicolosi’s view of the situation. She’s pretty spot on about the fact that most Catholics these days couldn’t name the 10 Commandments, let alone the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit or the precepts of the Church. But I would propose that she is seeking to treat the symptoms and not the illness. Where she sees a deficiency in catechetical knowledge I see a lack of discipleship.

Fundamentally I think Ms. Nicolosi overemphasizes the doctrinal dimension of catechesis to the exclusion of all else. This clashes with the fullness of the Church’s understanding of catechesis. As paragraph 75 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults reminds us, a complete catechesis consists of not only the doctrines of the Church but also an apprenticeship in prayer, participation in the liturgical life of the Church, and doing the works of mercy. No one of these is singled out as more important than the rest; the assumption seems to be that they are equal pillars of a curriculum designed to lead one to an intimate encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. That’s not to say that sound doctrine and knowledge of the Church’s teachings aren’t important. A commitment to the Church’s full understanding of catechesis doesn’t preclude content and rigor. Indeed, I believe it assumes it. But seeking to replicate the modern school model in parish catechesis is not a recipe for discipleship. As Joe Paprocki states so well in his recent book Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox, catechesis should be more like Mass than class.

Beyond this dilution of catechesis to mere information transferal, Ms. Nicolosi dismisses the role of parents in raising young men and women as disciples of Jesus Christ. This not only flies in the face of the Church’s consistent teaching that parents are the first and primary teachers of their children, but I would also argue that a failure to integrate catechesis into family life and focusing on maintaining a once-a-week, 30-weeks-a-year model of catechesis will only perpetuate a failed system that cannot create, grow, or sustain discipleship. Helping parents to catechize their children — especially parents who were themselves the recipients of poor catechesis — may be challenging. But taking the harder path will, I believe, lead to stronger and more dedicated disciples in the long run.

Focusing on discipleship and helping Catholics to deepen their relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ will address the issues Ms. Nicolosi rightly voices. As Matthew Kelly describes in his book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, believers who take their journey of discipleship seriously will naturally want to learn more about the Church, the saints, the Eucharist, and other aspects of our Catholic faith. They will not need to be goaded or prodded. Instead they will see life-long faith formation as a natural extension of their desire for closer union with Christ. As catechists it is our duty and privilege to guide people into that relationship and help the fire of faith grow in their lives.

The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.

Image by Michael 1952/flickrCC

The Catechist as Kingdom-Dweller (Guest post by Joe Paprocki)

Joe Paprocki needs no introduction.

The crowds who heard the first proclamation of the Kingdom of God by the Apostles on Pentecost reacted by thinking that the Apostles were drunk – they clearly seemed to be operating in an alternate reality. What else would explain the seemingly reckless behavior of this small band of men eagerly announcing their allegiance to a convicted criminal who was recently executed as a traitor to the Roman Empire? It was the transformation of the hearts of this small group of followers that caught the imagination of the crowds. They looked and sounded perfectly secure and fearless in the face of real and enduring danger. They exuded the one thing we all desire: security.

beer taps - photo by ricciardella | morguefileThe reason the crowds considered the Apostles inebriated was their lack of inhibition. Alcohol, of course, is known for reducing inhibitions. The Apostles, who had been in hiding for several weeks out of fear for their own lives, were now totally uninhibited in proclaiming their allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is this inhibition that is characteristic of folks who “dwell” in the Kingdom of God. As catechists, we are called to be uninhibited proclaimers of the Kingdom, showing total inhibition when it comes to…

  • putting our own needs aside in order to tend to the needs of others.
  • having a lightness of being; not flippant, but possessing the ability to brighten up a room.
  • carrying an unwavering sense of serenity, even in the midst of turmoil; being unflappable.
  • winking at the foibles and shortcomings of others instead of putting them in their place.
  • finding the energy to repay even the grumpiest of people with graciousness and civility.
  • always having the best interests of others in mind, even when we fail.
  • staying on message even under duress.
  • remaining even-keeled and reasonable in the face of conflict.
  • practicing mindfulness.

The Kingdom of God that we proclaim as catechists is a reality that is in our midst, albeit unseen. Unseen, that is, until Kingdom-dwellers exhibit uninhibited wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, and awe – the Gifts that flow abundantly from the Spirit! May we and those we teach become inebriated!


Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 25 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including the best-selling The Catechist’s Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith. Joe recently received his doctor of ministry degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. Joe serves as an 8th grade catechist and blogs about the experience at Catechist’s Journey. He and his wife, Joanne, and their two grown children live in Evergreen Park, IL.

Book Review: Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox

A few weeks ago Joe Paprocki asked if I would be interested in reviewing his new book, Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechesis That Not Only Informs but Also Transforms. Of course I said yes; I’ve been a fan of Joe’s work ever since I became involved in catechesis.

beyond-coverBeyond the Catechist’s Toolbox builds on and expands Joe’s book The Catechist’s Toolbox. In fact, this new book is a intended to help catechists “take it to the next level” by offering a model for religious education that moves beyond the typical “classroom model.” This model will be familiar to anyone who follows Joe’s blog since he makes regular allusions to his method there. Nevertheless, having this model laid out systematically and in one place is a blessing.

This new model focuses on making religious education more like religious practice; Joe’s refrain throughout the book is “more like Mass than class.” To that end Joe outlines a 70-minute, 5-step process for engaging youth in catechesis not only through the use of books (although Joe points out the importance of good catechetical materials) but through prayer, activities, and reflection.

For instance, after the opening prayer, Joe recommends starting the session with an activity that helps students identify with the topic or subject of the evening. He uses St. Ignatius of Loyola’s practice of “entering through their door but leaving through your own” to make an immediate impact while guiding participants to where you want them to go.

I love this model for the way it connects the content of the faith with the practice of the faith. Too often our catechesis exists in a vacuum where what we learn doesn’t make an impact on how we pray and worship. Joe rightfully recognizes the disservice this does to youth and seeks to reintegrate these aspects of faith formation.

Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox is an excellent resource and, at just 90 pages, a great gift for catechists and Catholic school teachers. I heartily recommend its use in parishes and schools as another way of taking catechesis beyond the school model and back to its evangelizing roots.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from its publisher, Loyola Press.

Guest Post: Catechist Formation: We Owe it To Them!

Joe Paprocki is the catechist’s best friend. In addition to serving as a National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press and authoring some great books, including The Catechist’s Toolbox and Practice Makes Catholic, the “grand poobah” of catechetical blogging is celebrating five years at the keyboard this month. It’s a pleasure to be part of the celebration by hosting this guest post!

5 years may not seem like a long time, but in blog years, I guess that’s ancient! Back in 2006, when I was asked to begin a blog (to accompany the release of my book The Catechist’s Toolbox), my first reaction was, “What’s a blog?” I had heard of blogs but was not at the time following any. Now, 5 years later, I have written over 1200 posts! I guess I learned what a blog is after all.

If I’ve learned anything over the past 5 years of writing Catechist’s Journey, it is that catechists are incredibly dedicated and creative but are in need of support. Over the years, I have received countless emails from catechists who find themselves struggling as they attempt to transmit the Good News to a new generation. Just recently, I received the following email from a catechist looking for help:

I am a new Catechist as of this year. I teach an 8th grade class and my biggest problem is getting the kids to pay attention and show some interest in the subject matter. About half of the 8th grade book is about Church history. My problem with just following the book is that reading bores the kids. They don’t pay attention, they talk, they pull out their phones and text when I am not looking, etc. I need help!

I make a habit of replying personally to every email such as this that I receive, offering whatever suggestions and insights I can to help them turn the corner. One might ask, “Where are their catechetical leaders and why aren’t they helping their catechists?” The fact is, many of our catechetical leaders are struggling as well. In too many parishes, pastors seeking to cut costs have let their professional catechetical leaders go in favor of volunteers or program secretaries who know how to order text books and make class lists but have little or no training in forming catechists which is a critical responsibility of the DRE. I have spent almost as much time responding to emails from novice catechetical leaders as I have novice catechists.

Suffice to say, the catechetical ministry needs all the support it can get. If my blog, Catechist’s Journey, and the various Webinars I have offered over these past 5 years have in some small way contributed to the care, nurturing, and support of catechists and catechetical ministers, I am indeed grateful. Let’s pray that the Church continues to find ways to support all those in the catechetical ministry. We owe it to them!

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 25 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including the best-selling The Catechist’s Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith. Joe recently received his doctor of ministry degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. Joe serves as an 8th grade catechist and blogs about the experience at Catechist’s Journey. He and his wife, Joanne, and their two grown children live in Evergreen Park, IL.

Episode 009 – Practice Makes Catholic

009Welcome to episode nine of the Catechetical Leader podcast! This month I talked with Joe Paprocki of Catechist’s Journey about his new book: Practice Makes Catholic: Moving from a Learned Faith to a Lived Faith (Loyola Press, 2011). Our conversation ranged from the resurgence of sacramentals to why holding on to hope and joy are more important than ever in the life of the Church.

Joe is a 4th grade catechist, the National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, and well-known author of The Bible Blueprint, The Catechist’s Toolbox, and A Well Built Faith.

In addition to the book Joe is offering free resources for anyone who would like to use Practice Makes Catholic in a spiritual mentoring role; those materials are available on the Loyola Press web site.

Click to Play – 009 – Practice Makes Catholic