Last week I enjoyed a great conversation with TL Putnam on the Outside the Wall show. We bounced around a number of topics concerning catechesis and how to form better disciples in the Church today. Listen below:
At the root of all Christian discipleship is the Sacrament of Baptism, for it is in Baptism that we become a new creation and are clothed in Christ (cf. RCIA no. 229). Jerry Galipeau’s new book You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality is an extended reflection on this reality, told mainly through stories of Dr. Galipeau’s discovery of the power of his own baptism.
The very first chapter recounts a pilgrimage Dr. Galipeau took to the church where he was baptized in an effort to connect his ministry to the roots of his participation in the life of Christ:
“I reached out and gave the top lid of the font a little push and, sure enough, it began to move. The lid opened and inside I saw three small chambers, probably enameled over some kind of steel (rust had formed around the edges) that once held the baptismal water. I just stood there and stared inside this font, thinking to myself, ‘My little head was once right here.’ I was overwhelmed with emotion. ‘Right here,’ I thought, ‘right here is where my life changed forever.'”
Subsequent chapters unpack the baptismal character of Lent and the ways in which a Catholic parish might help parishioners to rediscover the power and meaning of their baptism.
The book comes with an enhanced CD-ROM containing four instrumental tracks, sheet music for the hymn “God, Who at the Font once Named Us,” and the script for a parish-based baptismal reflection session (as described in the third chapter). The files are all reproducible for parish use.
You Have Put on Christ is a short but moving reflection on the grace of Baptism and a great resource for parish liturgists and catechists.
Sherry Weddell’s 2012 Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus sent shock waves across the Catholic catechetical and evangelizing communities. At the time I wrote that the book
has appeared at precisely the moment it is needed in the life of the Church… and I believe every bishop, pastor, evangelist, and catechetical leader should have a copy and study it carefully. I know I will be.
Since then I have read the book several times, led a discussion of the book in our curia offices, given away hundreds of copies, and incorporated Sherry’s reflections into my work as a diocesan catechetical leader.
So it is without hyperbole that I say that I have greatly anticipated the release of Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.
In this new book Weddell takes on editorial duties, collecting reflections from representatives of parishes who have set out to become centers of discipleship. It is a slimmer book than its predecessor — almost half as long — but relentlessly focused in its translation of Weddell’s first book for parish life.
There aren’t a lot of new theological insights in Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples. Instead each chapter offers stories and reflections on the real lived experience of “in the trenches” disciples who are committed to sharing the Gospel and helping others encounter Jesus in their lives and churches.
Weddell herself contributes a chapter based on her popular keynote talk recounting the lives of an extraordinary group of saints in the late 16th and early 17th centuries who transformed the lukewarm, corrupt Christian community in France into a vibrant, faith-filled Church. Keith Strohm writes about the importance of prayer in energizing the work of intentional discipleship, while Fr. Michael Fones, OP, offers an excellent reflection on the role and dignity of the laity in the mission of the Church.
Bobby Vidal connects intentional discipleship to the work of the New Evangelization by demonstrating the importance of embracing new methods, ardor, and expression — especially as they are expressed through the charisms present in a parish. Katherine Coolidge and Fr. Chas Canoy both offer reflections on how their parishes built up a community of disciples, and Jim Beckman dispels myths about youth ministry that stand in the way of forming teens as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples is an excellent companion piece to Forming Intentional Disciples and is a must-read for anyone looking for inspiration and real-life examples of disciple-making. As before, I recommend it to all bishops, pastors, evangelists, catechetical leaders, and anyone interested in the formation of disciples in the Church.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to record a video session for the USCCB’s Diocesan Educational and Catechetical Leadership Institute. The video, “Forming Intentional Disciples in the Parish,” is now available.
The session includes a few handouts to download; you can access the slides and discussion questions as a PDF file. The other handouts are available in the video session.
Thank you to Michael Steier and the Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis for the invitation to record this video session. It was a lot of fun to produce!
I’m pleased to announce that this fall I will be offering a free webinar series entitled “Building a Better Disciple.” Over the course of five webinars we will explore what it means to be a Christian through the lens of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
Full information on the series is being posted at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com; here’s a quick overview of the sessions (clicking on the links will take you to the registration pages for each webinar):
October 13: Jesus: The Face of Discipleship
Before understanding how to become a disciple we must first know what a disciple is. Through the person of Jesus Christ we will come to know what it means to claim the name “Christian.”
October 20: Scripture and Tradition: The Boundaries of Discipleship
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – passed on through the biblical authors, the apostles, and their successors – form the deposit of our faith. As the basis for all of the Church’s teaching they also provide the boundary lines for discipleship by illuminating the path that followers of Christ must follow.
October 27: Christian Community: The Foundation of Discipleship
Faith is nurtured and sustained in the context of a community of believers. This session will explore how the Church in various contexts (family, parish, school, etc.) sets the stage for a life of discipleship.
November 3: Liturgy and Prayer: The Engine of Discipleship
In this webinar we will examine how the graces received in the sacraments, liturgical celebrations, and personal prayer fuel our capacity for embracing the call to discipleship.
November 10: Vocation and Mission: The Aim of Discipleship
Faith that is not put into practice is sterile. Connecting the themes of the previous webinars we will explore how the faithful participate in the Church’s mission in the world through their particular gifts and calling.
All webinars begin at 7:30p (Central Time) and will last 90 minutes. I hope you’ll be able to join me for this exciting series!
This past Saturday our diocesan Department for Catechetical Services completed a one-year pilot project. Entitled “Journey of Discipleship,” we partnered with Ss. James and Patrick parish in Decatur, Illinois, and offered monthly adult formation sessions on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The project began in the summer of 2012 when, in the course of a discussion at one of our department meetings, one of my colleagues wondered aloud what it would be like if the members of our various offices took over a parish for one year, bringing to bear our knowledge, skills, and expertise in a concerted way across our various responsibilities.
That eventually lead us to the determination to partner with a parish for one year and help them to better understand how to grow in holiness and as disciples. Following a “Come and See” event last December, each month we offered a five-hour session on a different aspect of holiness:
- The Four Pillars of the Christian Life
- Regular Appointments with God
- Full, Conscious and Active Participation in the Liturgy
- Active Participation in Ongoing Faith Formation
- A Missionary Mindset
- A Simple and Sacrificial Lifestyle
- Building Common Ground
- Chaste Living
- Commitment to Life, Charity and Justice
- Following the Precepts of the Church
- Discerning the Movement of the Holy Spirit
It has been a wonderful, Spirit-inspired journey with the people of Ss. James and Patrick. It is rare for diocesan staff to have the opportunity to forge such relationships with a parish and we are already looking for ways in which to replicate the success of this program with other parishes in our diocese.
The handouts, slides, and select videos of the sessions are available online at journeyofdiscipleship.tumblr.com.
Today the Church celebrates the heroic sanctity of St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan (d. 1584). St. Borromeo is one of the patron saints of catechists, owing in large part to his role in the writing of the Roman Catechism during the Council of Trent. This was the first universal catechism of the Church and held a place of preeminence within catechesis that only ended with the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992.
It may be tempting to characterize the time of the Counter-Reformation by an austere and humorless defense against Protestantism (and St. Borromeo was certainly known for those qualities!) but even in the Roman Catechism we see a focus on the encounter with Jesus Christ as the ultimate end of evangelization and catechesis:
The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. (Roman Catechism, no. 10)
As we remember St. Charles Borromeo we ask for his intercession as catechists and for the strength, wisdom, patience, and love to bring those in our care to a full and lasting encounter with our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
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:
- A commitment to “content and rigor”
- Paying Catholic school teachers to staff parish-based catechetical programs
- 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
About four years ago one of the high schools in our diocese, finding themselves with sliding enrollment, started a prayer campaign with the specific intention of increasing the number of students at the school. The centerpiece of this campaign was a weekly rosary before the school day. Since beginning that weekly rosary their numbers have steadily increased and they are nearly at capacity.
Inspired by this a member of my department recently approached me about starting a similar endeavor in our curia offices with the goal of increasing levels of discipleship in our diocese.
To that end, for the past two months, we have held a morning rosary in our curia chapel every Thursday before office hours. We chose Thursday both for scheduling reasons and because the Luminous Mysteries seem especially relevant to the cause of discipleship. In place of the traditional prayer after the rosary we have substituted the collect prayer from the Mass for the New Evangelization.
We also developed a small pamphlet for people to take home in case they couldn’t join us Thursday mornings.
It is, of course, too early to know of any direct effects of this effort. Regardless, reminding ourselves of the end goal of our work — to help individuals grow in holiness and become more dedicated, authentic disciples — is essential for those of us in more “bureaucratic” ministries. I trust that God will bless these prayers with an abundant harvest.
UPDATED (January 25): The Spirituality and Discipleship for Catholic Teachers course has been canceled; instead I will be offering the Second Vatican Council at the same place and times.
I have a number of catechetical engagements coming up that you might be interested in:
- The Second Vatican Council: Its History and Its Documents
9a-2:30p, February 12 & 19, 2011 – Blessed Sacrament Parish (Quincy, Illinois)
Bring your lunch as we explore the Second Vatican Council! This adult enrichment course, held on two consecutive Saturdays, looks at the events leading up to the council, the documents produced by the bishops, and the legacy of the council 40+ years after its conclusion. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Ann Gage at 217-222-2759 to register.
- The Second Vatican Council: Its History and Its Documents
3:30p-5:30p, March 2, 9, 16; April 6, 13, 2011 – St. Aloysius School (Springfield, Illinois)
This catechist formation course for Catholic school teachers in the Springfield, IL, area looks at the events leading up to the council, the documents produced by the bishops, and the legacy of the council 40+ years after its conclusion. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Cindy Callan at 217-698-8500 to register.
Spirituality and Discipleship for Catholic Teachers
3:30p-5:30p, March 2, 9, 16; April 6, 13, 2011 – St. Aloysius School (Springfield, Illinois)
This 5-week catechist formation course for teachers in the Springfield area will help participants understand conversion and recognize challenges to conversion; reflect on the gifts and qualities of discipleship; and learn how involvement in education may be a means of conversion and transformation. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Cindy Callan at 217-698-8500 to register.
- St. Boniface Young Adult Ministry’s Theology on Tap
7p, March 31, 2011 – St. Boniface Church (Edwardsville, Illinois)
I will be speaking on “How Young Catholics will Save the Church”: As the Baby Boomers prepare for retirement, Generation X and the Millennials are poised to take on new roles as leaders in the Church. What gifts do they bring? How will they continue the work of the Church to make disciples and serve the poor? And what pitfalls await them? Bring your head, your heart, and your own experience as a young “ or not so young “ Catholic!
I’ve also added a new page to this site; click on “Calendar” above for more information on public events or formation opportunities I will be participating in.