One of the most intriguing aspects of Thanksgiving is that we give thanks around a table of food with people, typically family members, we may not care for. Though this point may be denied by some, it is fact of life that not everyone gets along. Sin, by our own free will can lead us to do funny things around those we care not to converse with. It seems as if our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual demeanor goes through a metamorphosis when positioned with family members we don’t agree with on a variety of issues.
The Deadly Topics
It never fails that when a family community gathers for a festive event such as Thanksgiving the topic of conversation can only last so long on the weather. The inevitable happens and someone raises an issue about faith, politics, or sports that another family member will not agree with. It’s like the card shark telling the poor sap “pick a card any card.” It doesn’t matter what card you pick, you will end up losing the bet.
A point of contention with any family is the state of religion or faith within the household. There are those who are faithful to the Church and attend Mass every Sunday, there are those who don’t. There are those who believe everything the Church teaches and there are those who don’t. There are those who think they have God’s direct line of thinking and let you know about and there are those who confuse Advent with Lent due to the similarity in liturgical color. So the question is what do you do? How do you humbly begin to offer an authentic witness of the Gospel without causing evangelageddon in the home?
Evangelizing the Family
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans serves as a good sounding board when it comes to matters of evangelizing our own brethren. He remarks that the mark of a true Christian is one who is genuine in their love for another. We are called to live in brotherly affection to the point of outdoing the other in honor (12:9). He then takes it to another level where we he urges the faithful to bless those who persecute you and do not curse them (12:14).
No one will argue that one of the most challenging groups of people to evangelize is your own family. Why, because they know you, or know the old you. They remember when you were not always “this Catholic” or can recall all of your deep dark sins. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to provide a genuine witness of faith not by what we say, but instead how we now live. Keep in mind even a mime can effectively evangelize a crowd.
St. Paul goes on to say that none of us lives nor dies to himself, instead we live and die for the Lord (Rom14:7-8). The reason for this is that we belong to Him. And if we belong to Him then our actions must be centered on being all things to all men (1 Cor 9:22). So the question then becomes, how do I become all things to my family? The first step is to recognize their dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. It doesn’t mean you condone any aspect of the person’s life that is in contradiction with the Church, it simply means recognize him as God’s child. The second step is to lead him toward a conversation about him and not yourself in light of Christ. Look for the commonalities that actually reflect a genuine Christian life and expand on those and affirm them. Again St. Paul reminds us that our sufficiency is from God and not ourselves (2 Cor 3:5). This means that our actions should be Christcentered when evangelizing our family members. They should see Christ through us and not just us. The third step is to be at peace with any fruit that comes from the first two steps. Keep in mind that the Catechism reminds us that grace is a participation in the life of God (CCC1996). Our efforts are not an isolated act. Our aim is to introduce everyone into the intimacy of the Blessed Trinity which is what grace does (CCC 1996). If this is the case, which it is, then by nature of our Baptism we are called to share the Trinitarian life with those around us. Thus, Thanksgiving provides us with an opportune time to evangelize in light of Jesus Christ. Happy Thanksgiving!
God should always be in our minds. You may say that this was the thinking of Pope Pius XII when he formally established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. The premise behind this significant Feast was to combat secularism by bringing an awareness of Christ in the daily lives of the faithful. Pope Pius XII saw the rise of secularism amidst society resulting in a way of life without God. The Feast of Christ the King was in essence a way for Pius XII to reclaim the world to and for Christ and deliver the truth that Christ is the true head of society.
The Meaning of Christ the King
In (Quas Primas) Pope Pius XII reminds that “Christ is Lord.” This specific title lays the foundation that our Redeemer Jesus Christ is due proper acknowledgment as our law-giver and requires the faithful to obedience. A central tenet to this encyclical is the fact that all are called to obedience toward Christ. And our obedience is exemplified in our love for Him. Let us not forget that Christ reminded the Roman aristocracy that His Kingdom is not of this world.
Pope Pius XII reminds us that the gospels present the kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross. (15)
What We Can Learn
When we begin to read on the significance of this feast, it calls us to acknowledge that Christ is indeed King and Lord of History. This realization leads us to our first lesson we can learn and apply as evangelist which is to avail people the opportunity to see Christ in everyday life through a living witness of the Gospel. Just like John reminds us that; “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God and the Word is God . . .” (Jn 1:1-2) meaning that the Word of God has always been with us, in Christ the King the Word became flesh to make us partakers of the Divine nature (CCC 456). Thus our evangelistic efforts should provide an authentic witness of the Gospel lived in accord with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The second lesson we can learn is that redemptive suffering is one of the most powerful gifts Christ left us. The redemptive act culminates in His sacrificial offering on the Cross for the sins of humanity fully revealed in the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. Our evangelistic efforts cannot solely rest on what we preach, which is Christ Crucified. We must also offer the opportunity for the person(s) to take hold of the proclamation of the Gospel and begin to see the relevance of the Gospel in their daily lives. Pope Pius XII reminds us:
It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. (17)
The third lesson we can take from this feast is that we don’t evangelize for our own sake and gratification; instead our evangelistic efforts should be clearly set to reveal the primacy of Christ as Head of the Church. Evangelization is not “me-angelization.” The primacy of evangelization is an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ which in turn fosters a genuine conversion of faith. Our efforts to bring others to Christ does not necessarily rest completely on our personal testimony per se, but instead rests on a personal testimony that has authentically and genuinely embraced Christ. Our daily life walk with Christ is an opportunity to turn towards Him and not the false promise of the world.
The fourth lesson is that we belong to Christ as bestowed by our Father in Heaven. This means that our methods of evangelization should not involve witnessing “I crucified” to others. The aim is “Christ crucified” in order to bring the person into an ongoing and formative relationship with Him. It’s important to note that one of the greatest weapons against our evangelistic efforts is the sin of despair. This is due in part because despair aims at destroying the virtue of hope which leads to a loss of seeing in Christ in our daily life. Thus it is important that we genuinely reveal and explain the relevance of “Christ crucified.”
If the Kingdom of Christ, then, receives, as it should, all nations under its way, there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth—he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity; who said also: “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Oh, what happiness would be ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! (20)
The fifth lesson revolves around making it abundantly clear that a life without Christ is an empty life. Our society is indeed Christian, even though it may not appear that way more often than not. Nevertheless, the feast Christ the King reminds us that; it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. (21)
The end goal of our evangelistic efforts is to bring the faithful to rest with our Lord in Heaven. It is not the pleasures of the world which are afforded primacy of place amongst the secular establishment. Christ cannot be dispensed with nor can He be neglected since is He is Lord of all. Pope Pius XII reminds us that the hope of the Kingship of Christ will hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. (21)
I would imagine that no one ever wants to see a loved one walk away from the Church. This scenario plays out more often than naught with the people I speak to on a daily basis. A day doesn’t go by without encountering someone who is Catholic but not practicing.
When I recently taught on this topic to a large capacity crowd who were anxiously waiting for the magic formula I asked them a basic question: How many of you know someone who has either left the Church or is considering leaving the Church? To the surprise of everyone all hands were raised. It’s a situation that has become all too prevalent for a myriad of reasons. One of the main reasons Catholics leave the Church is a continual disassociation from the Church or in other words, a loss of belonging in the Church.
St. John Paul II once said that conversion requires convincing of sin (CCC 1848) which in turn involves an active conscience and the ability to authentically distinguish right from wrong, grace versus sin. It was very apparent to me that the audience was deeply concerned about their loved ones who have left the Church and had an ardent desire to do something about it. A point I stressed throughout the presentation was to not lose hope and fall into despair. There is no sense in joining the “misery loves company’ approach. Regardless of the reasons someone either leaves or is contemplating on leaving the Church it’s usually for the wrong reasons.
What Should You Say?
Many of us worry that we’ll say the wrong thing and drive our loved one further away from the Church. Thus the temptation might be to say nothing at all or just pray. From one perspective it shouldn’t matter because some have already left the Church in mind and spirit. Cynicism set aside, honestly there is no way you can truly assess whether what you say will have a lasting impact or not. Your actions however can paint a different story. The key is that if you say or do something may it be reverent (1 Pt 3:15-17).
When talking with someone about the Church it’s important that you’re Christian actions speak louder than your words. Genuine discipleship goes a long way in communicating the faith to someone. As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons people either leave or drift away is that they have no intimate relationship with the Church especially the Church community. They don’t necessarily see themselves as part of God’s plan. At times it boils down to being religious without affirming God.
Leaving for the Wrong Reasons
A recent article at the Our Sunday Visitor Weekly highlighted a study conducted in the Diocese of Springfield, IL on why Catholics leave the Church. When the sample size data was collected four main reasons stood out within the Diocese of Springfield as to why people left the Church; (birth control, ordination of women, civil marriage after divorce, fertility treatments; same-sex marriage) these four reasons should come as no surprise that they are related to core doctrinal teachings of the Church. This statistic shows us how easily ignorance becomes doctrine. If the Diocese of Springfield is any indication of why Catholics leave the Church in general, then our efforts must be directed on clarifying any misconceptions of the faith through our visible and authentic witness of the Gospel. One of the most striking reasons as to why Catholics tend to leave the Church was a loss of the sense of community which led to people no longer believing in the Church which in turn caused dissatisfaction with the Church as a whole.
Are these legitimate reasons for leaving the Church? Those that left think so, but regardless of the reasons this Diocesan study does reveal an underlying theme; “why can’t the Church give me what I want when I want it?” This “mecentric versus Christocentric” attitude is at the heart of the great diaspora of Catholics from the Church.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians presents the counterpoint of being part of the body of Christ where he reminds the people of Ephesus that they are no longer strangers and sojourners, but are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (2:9-22).
What’s the Next Step?
Pray! In particular pray that the person in question is open to God and begins to cooperate with Him. Jesus for example would call upon His disciples to prayer, almsgiving and fasting as the means to cooperate with God (Mt 6). This makes logical sense because these actions aim to draw us away from ourselves and towards God.
Intercessory prayer is by far one of the greatest spiritual weapons you can use for someone who has fallen away from the Church. The desire for God is naturally written in our human heart because it comes from God Himself. We must not forget that we are created for Him and are called to be in communion with Him. It’s an invitation to converse with God (CCC 27). And this is what anyone who is considering leaving the Church needs, a genuine invitation to stay home.
St. John Paul II once said that conversion requires convincing of sin, it includes the interior judgment of conscience which in turn provides the start of a new grant of grace and love (CCC 1848). At the heart of our journey with Christ is identifying what leads us away from grace so we can have a clearer understanding of Christ in our lives. It’s recognizing our sinful ways and striving to make a firm purpose of amendment to avoid the near occasion of sin. In light of recent developments within the Synod on the Family there appears to be a need to recognize the necessity for not only authentic conversion, but authentic discipleship.
The great Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila provides us with what I believe to be an appropriate model on effective discipleship. She describes three characteristics necessary for religious life; Humility, Authentic Detachment, and Fraternal Love. However they can also be viewed as the seeds of effective discipleship.
The Seeds of Discipleship
Humility, Authentic Discipleship and Fraternal Love have one thing in common; they help us form an interior fortitude that enables us to endure suffering. When one goes out to evangelize a person or a group of people these characteristics intimately allow us to look beyond ourselves allowing Christ to work through us. Humility reflects a genuine concern for the person we come in contact with, Authenticity reveals that we do not put on a false face, our discipleship is not a gimmick it’s real and Fraternal Love shows that at the heart of our evangelistic efforts is to bring a person into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in an organic, systematic, and gradual way. It’s not necessarily what we say as Disciples that stirs conversion, it’s how we authentically live out the Kerygma to others that opens the seeds of a gradual conversion to Christ.
When properly understood and applied the Gradual Law Discipleship does not mean: “I casually try to be a disciple” while maintaining a lifestyle contradictory to the Gospel. The Law of Discipleship means “I actively and progressively shed my sinful habitual nature and gradually begin to live a sacramental life of grace. I don’t necessarily ponder conversion I actively seek conversion through mediation and prayer.”
What Can St. Teresa Teach Us About Discipleship?
St. Teresa would stress that God is truly present within us. Our actions are not meant to be apart from God. We can easily forget that we are part of the Kingdom of God. When this reality is lost then we are merely thinking of ourselves. Our goal in the Christian life is to be in union with Christ. The virtue of charity reveals this desire because it means an intimacy with Him.
One of the greatest gifts St. Teresa gave to the Church is the art of seeking Christian perfection through an interior life with Christ. She exhorted anyone who desires an interior life to embrace the Trinity as it leads the person to Christ. Thus the most important characteristic a disciple can possess is an active prayer life that leads you to the Blessed Trinity. St. Teresa fittingly reminds on how to live out our discipleship;
“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”
There are times when even the most simplest of prayers make a significant impact in our daily lives. Whether you make the sign of the Cross or simply recite a Hail Mary the impact of these prayers when devotedly practiced brings you toward the possibility of a deeper awareness of Christ in your life. Today we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. As history reminds, this memorial has great significance in that it was instituted by Pope Pius V to celebrate the anniversary of the Christian victory over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 effectively ending Muslim dominance in the Mediterranean.
The Irony of this Memorial is that in light of what’s happening in the world today especially with the rage of ISIS being exerted against the innocent especially Christians, the awareness and celebration of this memorial takes on greater significance for all of Christendom.
The Premise of the Rosary
As with any form of Christian meditation, one of the significant characteristics of the rosary is its Christocentric character. The Rosary is the meditation of the Paschal Mystery i.e. the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Hence the aim for anyone praying the rosary is to draw yourself into the mysteries of Christ.
What is just as significant as the Paschal Mystery is the role our Blessed Mother plays within the drama of the life of Christ. In effect she becomes the “god-bearer” of the Word became flesh. Mary serves as the perfect model of obedience in bearing the only-begotten Son of God.
The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that “with God nothing will be impossible” and so giving her assent: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” Elizabeth greeted her: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed. (CCC 148)
Why is this understanding of the rosary significant?; because its aim is to draw you into God’s Divine Providence fully manifested in the Son born of a Virgin who in a perfect model of obedience sets the stage on how we should respond to God’s call. St. Paul furthers this understanding by reminding us that His Son was born of a woman, under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.
In Time of Need
Should you pray the rosary in time need? From a practical standpoint, there is no reason why anyone should not. I am not saying that the rosary is the only form of prayer or devotion one should have. Quite the opposite, any form of prayer centered on Christ is appropriate in your time of need. What makes the rosary significant is its emphasis on Christ and our reminder about our Blessed Mother’s obedience of faith serving as the perfect model of charity for all to follow. In our time of need, the rosary serves as a valuable weapon of prayer to assist us in withstanding the wages of sin and reinforcing our missionary outreach to others. This could not be clearer than what happened at the Battle at Lepanto.
A Tool of Evangelization
How is the rosary a tool of evangelization? Very simply it is a method of prayer that offers anyone the opportunity to intercede for others while meditating on the life of Christ. The rosary serves as a catalyst to bring our missionary outreach to the forefront of those who desire an introduction to God’s mercy through a meditation on the Paschal Mystery. In other words, the rosary introduces us to the “Story” of God’s plan for our lives and that we are part of this story to this day until Jesus comes again (CCC 1021).
As children many of us were brought up to pray to our guardian angels. Somehow our parents would invoke our angels to protect us and guide us in our daily life. It almost became synonymous that when we dared to defy our parents rule they would say; “you better pray that your guardian angel will protect you.”
Other than calling upon our guardian angels to protect us, there is something more important, more distinct in following and applying the angelic model in our daily walk with Christ. When we take the time to really study the lives of the Angels throughout salvation history one cannot help but see that they are truly models of evangelization.
Who and What are the Angels
St. Augustine explains that the name “Angel” defines their office not their nature. The true name of their nature is “Spirit” (CCC 329). They are spirits which make up their nature; they are Angels for what they do as servants and messengers of God (CCC 329). Angels possess certain qualities such as extreme intelligence, a will and surpass perfection. Another distinctive quality of Angels is that they are at the service of Christ Himself. Christ is the center of the angelic world (CCC 331) and thus Angels were created through and for him, they are His (Mt 25:31; Col 1:16).
Messengers of God
When one reads Sacred Scripture you cannot help but see the role Angels have played in spreading the Word of God. Because the Angels belong to Christ they are ministers to Christ’s covenant, He has made them messengers of His saving plan for all humanity. Some of the examples we have from Sacred Scripture reveal a unique evangelistic role the Angels have had throughout salvation history e.g.
- They announced Salvation (Job 3:8-7)
- Closed earthly Paradise (Gen 3:24, 29, 21:17, 22:11)
- Stayed Abraham’s Hand (Ex 23:20-23)
- Led the people of God (Jdgs 6:11-24)
- The archangel Gabriel announces the birth of Christ (Lk 1:11; 2:14; 26)
The Catechism tells us from the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels from his birth (Heb 1:6); praise of his birth (Lk 2:14); protect at his infancy (Mt 1:20; 2:13). (CCC 333)
How Do They Evangelize?
The archangels (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael) as with all the angels evangelize by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. This involves the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery which would place them at the very beginning of the Incarnation and the climax of His Resurrection. In other words they are perpetually proclaiming the Kerygma, the Gospel of Christ to the whole world on his behalf.
In keeping with the angelic model of evangelization our evangelistic efforts should start with the presentation of God’s plan a pre-evangelization or period of inquiry of sorts where our intent as evangelists is to engage the person to see outside their own religious box and begin to place themselves within Christ’s plan for all humanity which is eternal rest in Heaven. Part of our calculated engagement is to draw the person into the mysteries of Christ one mystery at a time beginning with why we are created in His image and likeness and why this likeness was further revealed through Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The Catechism beautifully describes the role of the angels this way; from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC 336)
Let us call upon the intercessory prayers of the archangels on this their Feast day for their continued guidance and protection. St. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael; pray for us!
There’s a general rule of thumb all teachers hear at least once in their career and that is: never pretend to teach your students. Contrary to popular belief a student can sense a teacher’s false attitude towards him right away. Jesus reminded us that; “my teaching is not mine but his who sent me” (Jn 7:17). The catechist serves as a mediator of sorts between Christ and those whom we teach. Our missionary outreach is literally to hand on what Christ has taught.
If we say we are catechists then we place ourselves in the position to speak nothing other than Christ. Acts of the Apostle reminds us of this where “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (4:20). It’s quite clear what are aim should be; to provide a continual and gradual opportunity for a conversion of heart to Christ.
The role of catechist is one of the most significant ministries one can be involved in the Church. Why, because we are consistently dealing with the teeter-tottering effect of the human soul either believing in God or simply seeing Him as a passing fancy. But what if we can’t seem to teach about Christ with joy? What if our spiritual tank is empty and the seeds of despair, discontent or doubt creep in? I’ve seen this happen to many good catechists and the results can be deadly. Our spiritual aim should always be Christ in everything we do.
Addressing Spiritual Dryness
What are some ways we as catechist’s can address the spiritual dryness that may hit us from time to time?
- Establish an active prayer life through the Lectio Divina mediating and contemplating on the Word of God.
- Reestablish our sacramental life centered on the Holy Eucharist (Jn 6:34).
- Engage in praying the Divine Office the prayer of the Church.
- Establish a process of Lectio Divina with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
- Make it a habit to spend twenty minutes a day in spiritual reading and reflection.
- Marian devotion e.g. Consecration to Mary.
- Frequent reception of the sacrament of penance.
- Weekly participation in Eucharistic Adoration (where available).
- Go on retreat.
- Seek Spiritual Direction
Prayer for Catechists
This Sunday marks the annual celebration of Catechetical Sunday in the United States. Catechists across every Diocese are affirmed for their sacrifice and dedication in handing on the faith with joy. This year’s theme: “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness” reminds us of Christ sacrificial love as the ultimate sign of forgiveness and reminds us of the need to live out our sacramental life especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. The Second Letter to St. Peter provides us with a great biblical meditation that we can pray for all catechists: “His Divine power has granted all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to be his own glory and excellence by which he was granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature” (1:3-4).
Are crayons an effective tool of evangelization? Does the use of these sticks of color foster an intimate relationship with Christ? If the answer is no to both of these questions, one has to wonder why a crayon would even be used to determine our relationship with Christ. But yet this is what many catechists do when it comes to an initial evangelization of the faith.
The great evangelist Frank Sheed in his short classic: Are We Really Teaching Religion once commented that “a child must see the faith come alive from the teacher. . . This is turn requires the teacher to give of himself toward the truth and adhering to it. . . There must be an actual self-donation of oneself (pg. 5-6).
One of the great realities of the catechetical movement of the last forty years was and at times still is its infatuation with crayons as a tool for evangelization and catechesis. Instead of utilizing the perennial sacred works of art that have been present to us over the centuries e.g. Caravaggio’s the Calling of St. Matthew it seemed as if whenever someone was going to make a point about the Church it involved the use of crayons, felt and poster board; can everyone say “banners!”
The joy of expressing and revealing the natural beauty of the Church was replaced with the lure of colored faith images that didn’t necessarily exude sacred beauty nor look like anything remotely Catholic in nature. Is this how we are called to evangelize others? Would Jesus have used crayons to convey the faith to others? I’ll venture to say that the answers to these questions are probably not, but you never know, the Transfiguration did involve an array of bright colors.
Evangelizing Beauty in the Classroom
As catechists, one of the most significant steps we can take in the journey of evangelization is the revelation of the evidential beauty that exists in the Church. People respond to things that are true, beautiful and good. In the liturgy, the foremost example of evidential beauty of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the need man has for signs and symbols expressing spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols (1146).
An important step to consider in the evangelization process within the classroom is making the sacred tangible. This requires transforming the teaching environment into an opportunity for conversion and formation rather than strictly information. Regardless of the group you are teaching, the process of evangelizing beauty rests on the genuine posture and presence of the catechist i.e. his or her demeanor or reverence towards Christ and His Church. The great philosopher Joseph Pieper commented that a sacred action requires a “celebration” . . . carrying out an action . . . a physical event manifested in visible forms, in the audible language of call and response, in bodily movements and symbolic gestures, in proclamation and song . . . (In Search of the Sacred pg. 26). Thus, before a child can truly grasp the significance of the Crucifix in the classroom, we should lead them toward the development of the sign of the Cross, what each movement signifies and where it leads you prior to any significant formal catechesis. In other words, you are establishing the building blocks to an intentional disciple. A great catechetical model that exudes this form of instruction is found in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Would Jesus Use Crayons?
I ask again; Would Jesus use crayons? It depends if He thought they would be useful. Then again we will never know. Are crayons incompatible with sound catechesis? It really depends on how the instrument is used. There is a value in coloring an image of our Blessed Mother when it’s part of an overall lesson plan. The problem is when all you do is have the student color a picture with no formal preparation, inquiry or pre-evangelization taking place about the Mother of God, thus you are left with a significant void about our Blessed Mother. In other words, the students’ knowledge of Mary amounts to a colored picture.
Unfortunately, this form of catechesis is still taking place today. It is tempting to simply have a child color a picture and be done with it. What’s the danger in this you may ask, for starters, you have no pre-evangelization, no stirring of the heart for Christ. There is simply no active engagement with the crayon method of evangelization. You leave a child by themselves in trying to “connect the dots” when all you do is color an image.
In the end, a practical way to off-set the crayon method of evangelization is by exposing a child to simple pieces of sacred art around your parish, home, or finding a magazine with various Catholic images that you can cut out and frame inexpensively. Here’s a helpful link that will get you started and hopefully inspire others to share the evidential beauty of Christ and the Church to those they evangelize.
What do you suppose is the primary intent of a parent when they send their child through a religious education program? Whether through the parish religious education program or a catholic school the hope would be that the intent of the parent is for their child to continue to develop an awareness of God and an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that has already been established at home. You would think this would be the primary purpose of religious formation.
G.K. Chesterton once remarked that: “One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.” And here lays an important point to consider when we bring the notion of discipleship into this equation.
The basic tenet of a school of religion is to assist in the ongoing formation of not just a child but anyone young and old toward an active and living proclamation of the Gospel. This tenet in turn results in the person having a genuine an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Hence the question, “is discipleship possible within the classroom?” St. John Paul II wrote that the proclamation of the Gospel must bring an initial conversion that leads toward a maturation and education of the human being in the person and message of Jesus Christ (Catechesis In Our Time, 19).
Is Discipleship Possible In the Classroom?
In short, yes. Prior to any formal catechetical formation taking place, the classroom must be situated in a way where an invitation to know God and His Son Jesus Christ is established. Merely sitting someone down behind a desk and having them take out their religion book for example will not suffice if the intent is authentic discipleship. Any student young or old within a classroom setting deserves to be brought from an institutional format of instruction toward and systematic presentation of the Gospel where questions are answered about the faith and curiosity of the faith is established.
Children for example should be asked and exposed to the question of where do they see themselves in relation to God? And depending on the age provide living witnesses i.e. active disciples who can effectively share how they have walked with Christ. Frank Sheed once said that the “special object of religious education is to prepare the pupils for life in Christ.”
Discipleship is possible if:
- Our intention is to form disciples in the faith and not just regurgitate information the student may or may not comprehend.
- The classroom invokes an opportunity for prayer especially towards Christ.
- The teacher is truly interested in Jesus. Note: A student can immediately tell if a teacher is interested in and is living a life in Christ. Putting on a false face doesn’t help.
- There is an authentic joy is presenting the Gospel and active Gospel living e.g. the sacramental life.
- The teacher truly values the development of the student’s soul.
The Catechism reminds us that all the baptized (us) are called to conversion (CCC 1427). By its very nature the sacrament of baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion (1427). In other words our evangelistic efforts should be directed towards helping all young and old exercise their baptismal call to seek in Christ and in turn become disciples.
One of the great realities that we as the body of Christ often times neglect to see is that we are created by God to freely and openly speak about Him if we so choose. Discipleship is possible if we choose to exercise this reality and communicate who Christ is instead of ignoring it. In communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ we begin to illuminate the mind of the student to something other than themselves. Instead we gradually and continually draw them into a sense of discipleship e.g. a sense and desire of belonging with and in Christ. At the heart of authentic discipleship is revealing the identity of our Lord and the hope displayed through the offering of His Son Jesus Christ to humanity. Our efforts should naturally reflect this desire in that we want God accessible not distant.
St. Paul provides us with an exhortation on discipleship to St. Timothy that could very easily be directed toward us to “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords . . .” (1 Tim 6:14-16).
At what point do you consider abandoning the evangelization process for a person who adamantly refuses to seek Christ in his life?” You may want to ask yourself; what have I done to form a genuine relationship with the person in the first place?” The journey towards discipleship is not an instant process. In many ways it is a gradual journey towards conversion. And, when part of our ministry involves forming disciples in Christ, we should first look toward the dignity of the person versus just the person.
The great doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo was no stranger to the conversion process that leads to discipleship in Christ. In many ways he wrote the book on it e.g. Confessions. One of the most telling aspects of his Confessions was the importance of the virtue of charity. It was in charity where he came to the realization of God’s love for him and that he was entering into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an eternal light of truth that he came to see the reality of Christ.
Authentic discipleship is rooted in the ability to love and show mercy to your fellow human being. It reflects an understanding of recognizing the dignity of the human person for who he is as a child of God. The great evangelist St. Paul echoed the importance of charity when he extolled his followers to embrace the failing of the weak so as to not please ourselves, let each of us please his neighbor for his good and edify him (Rom 15:1-3).
St. Paul’s words are very important for us to hear because when we begin the process of forming disciples the result is not a point of self-fulfillment, instead it’s the realization that hope reigns because of Christ and His Church. It’s the journey of walking and living in Christ not against Him. This was in many ways the same realization St. Augustine came to when he finally saw the light of eternal truth.
St. Augustine’s Methodology
At the heart of this great Doctor’s methodology as found in his First Catechetical Instruction was the Kerygma i.e. the proclamation of the Gospel. This involved introducing to the person that he is indeed part of God’s plan by the very nature of his creation in God’s image and likeness. This method would involve revealing the reality of the Church and providing ample examples of how we can live this life with joy. And this leads to a second point of St. Augustine’s methodology;
The disciple must possess joy. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that it is impossible to please God without faith since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who try to find him (Heb 11:6). Thus, when forming disciples those involved in the formation process are called to have a joyful spirit and actually live a life rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the premise of discipleship is joy, then those we form will witness the virtue lived out authentically.
The content of forming disciples must establish a way of life that leads to God. One of the many dangers in this step of the journey is that we tend to be strangled by the process of discipleship versus the journey of faith. What I mean by process is the steps leading up to forming disciples. At times we can preoccupy ourselves with the logistical steps towards forming disciples without ever arriving at the journey of discipleship which leads to conversion and results in joy.
Pope Paul VI understood the value of authentic joy when exclaiming that modern man is more willing to listen to an authentic witness of the Gospel (Evangelization In the Modern World, 41). The content of discipleship involves a genuine love for the Word of God, a willingness to live out the Word and a desire to hand it on to others. Some elements regarding the content of forming disciples are as follows:
One: Preach the Gospel, especially Christ Crucified (1 Cor 1:23; Gal 1:4)
Two: Ask the question: What do you believe? This question serves as good Segway to the Creed.
Three: Root discipleship in joy and hope (1 Pt 3:15) A holy disposition goes a long way.
Four: Evangelization is the greatest act of love. (Rom 5:5-8) Our evangelistic aim is an exposition of the truth of Jesus Christ not an imposition.
These elements set the stage to encounter the reality of Christ that St. Augustine expressed when he realized that his journey was not complete until he embraced Christ as the way, the truth and light (Jn 14:5-6;Lib, 7, 10, 18; 10, 27). It is imperative that the aim of our evangelistic efforts is the maturation of the soul to unveil the beauty of Christ’s light.
Pope Francis has made it quite clear as to our mission in this world. We are called to proclaim the Gospel with authentic joy. Thus our aim is to move from the process of conversion to the actual journey of conversion which results in the gift of joy. History has dictated, and St. Augustine has revealed that the most effective means of evangelization and catechesis rest with the gift of joy.