Pat Collins C.M. Web Page

Subtitle

Parish Evangelisation Course







Input 6: Nurturing the Faith of the Evangelised

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Cor 3:6).

When people come to commit themselves to the Lord in a personal way as a result of such things as attending an  Alpha course, or Life in the Spirit Seminar, or person-to-person contact, the question arises, what happens next? Do they merely join the other parishioners for weekly Mass, or is something more required?  

Pope John Paul II said in par. 26 of Christifideles laici (hereafter CL), “So that all parishes may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster . . . small basic or so-called ‘living’ communities, where the faithful can communicate the word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centres of evangelisation, in communion with their pastors.”

A  Community of Communities

When people come to commit themselves to the Lord in a personal way as a result of such things as attending an  Alpha course, or Life in the Spirit Seminar, or person-to-person contact, the question arises, what happens next? Do they merely join the other parishioners for weekly Mass, or is something more required?  

Pope John Paul II said in par. 26 of Christifideles laici (hereafter CL), “So that all parishes may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster . . . small basic or so-called ‘living’ communities, where the faithful can communicate the word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centres of evangelisation, in communion with their pastors.”

A number of bishops have also acknowledged this point. For example, Archbishop Martin of Dublin  said in an address,  “I believe that the transmission of the faith in the years to come will have to be more and more linked with the creation of faith communities, like the basic ecclesial communities that we speak about in the context of Africa or Latin America. These communities will help people, young and old, to be formed in their faith and to live it  out  concretely in a cultural context which is less and less supportive of faith.  These communities must then, however, find their nourishment through their insertion into the broader communion of the Church in the common celebration of the Eucharist. Our parishes must become communions of communities, finding their unity again in the liturgy.” 

Most parishes are blessed with many groups. For instance, here in St Anne’s in Portmarnock,  your website lists over thirty  groups.  So there is a wide range of special purpose groups to choose from. They cater for a wide range of ages and needs.  They are usually led by an enthusiastic and committed person.

When people have been evangelised either in a person-to-person way or by attending an evangelisation course, it would be really helpful if there was a card available which listed all the groups in the parish together with a description of their purpose, when and where they meet, together with a list of contact people, phone numbers and email addresses.

It has to be said that some of these groups often provide a sense of belonging without providing good teaching in the faith.  There are a number of groups, however, that are particularly good at providing  faith formation such as scripture groups, prayer groups, parish cells, and pastorates.  We will look briefly at each.

Bible Groups

Pope John Paul II said  that all Catholics, lay and clerical, “In order to recognize who Christ truly is, should turn with renewed interest to the Bible, ‘whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading”  (Par. 40  The Coming Third Millennium). Pope Francis says in par 175 of The Joy of the Gospel, “The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith. Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging its prayerful individual and communal reading.” One way of responding to advice of this kind  would be to prayerfully reflect on the readings for the Mass of the coming Sunday.   Phibsborough  parish has a weekly “Word on the Word” meeting. It lasts for one hour and consist of the following steps.

1) A prayer for inspiration.

2) One of the readings for the following Sunday’s Mass is read by a participant.

3) The participants  prayerfully reflect on the text for between five and seven minutes. They are encouraged to address two questions, what was the inspired writer intending to say? How does his message relate to life today?

4) The participants share in twos for between five and seven minutes by telling one another what came to them during their prayerful time of quiet reflection.

5) Then the discussion is widened so that anyone can share with the group. That can go on for up to fifteen minutes. It is fascinating to see how many complementary insights the participants can contribute.

6) When the Bible sharing is complete the person who is animating the session  offers an exegetical and spiritual analysis of one or more of the readings. This part of the meeting offers insights which might not be readily available to those who have not had an opportunity of studying the Bible.

7) The meeting ends with a prayer of thanksgiving.

Those who attend meetings of this kind find  they attract a regular and appreciative clientele. They comment on the fact that, not only are the meetings useful and edifying, they are a great preparation for the liturgy of the word on the following Sunday.

Parish Cell Groups

In the mid 1980s Dom Pigi Perini, of St. Estorgio parish in central Milan was looking for something that might revitalize his dying parish where only 5% of the people were practicing. He visited St. Boniface parish  and afterwards adopted and adapted the Florida version of the cell groups.  Don Perini says that as a result of his visit to the U.S. he underwent a fundamental change of mentality. He moved from a maintenance model of parish to a missionary one and took to heart Paul VI’s phrase that “The Church exists to evangelise”  (Par. 14 of Evangelisation in the Modern World).  

He  introduced the cells into his parish in 1986. As a result, St. Eustorgio has been transformed over the last twenty five years. Currently there are 120 groups with about ten people in each. They meet once a week.  The group meetings consist of seven key elements: song and praise, sharing, teaching, discussion, business, intercessory prayer, and healing prayer.  Fr. Michael Hurley who lives in the Pro-cathedral parish Dublin, has written, Parish Cell Communities as Agents of Renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland. The is a Parish Cell website, http://www.parishcellsireland.net/

The seven purposes of Parish Evangelising Cells are spelled out as follows:

  1. To grow in an ongoing intimacy with the Lord.
  2. To share our Faith – evangelising by word and lifestyle.
  3. To grow in love of one another.
  4. To minister in the Body of Christ.
  5. To give and receive support.
  6. To raise up new leaders.
  7. To deepen our Catholic identity.

What is a Pastorate?

Simply put, a pastorate is a small community of between 20-40 people within the larger community of the parish. They function kind of like an extended family or a small congregation. They grow spiritually together. They “do life” together and have fun. They care for each other and serve one another. They also serve the larger community in some way. Pastorates are communities in which a person can develop friendships, grow spiritually, develop their spiritual gifts, help others grow, and impact the world — all in the context of caring, fun-filled relationships.

Conclusion

In AA one of the ways recovering alcoholics hold on to their sobriety is by helping other alcoholics to attain it. Clearly, the founders of the movement had grasped the truth of what Jesus said in Lk 6:38, “Give and gifts will be given to you . . . for the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Surely Pope Paul VI had something like this in mind when he wrote, “the person who has been evangelised goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelisation: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn” (Par. 24 of Evangelisation in the Modern World).

Pope John Paul II echoed that sentiment when said “faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” (Par 2 of The Mission of the Redeemer).  Newly evangelized people should be encouraged and helped to engage in person-to-person evangelisation and running an Alpha Course or The Life in the Spirit Seminar.

Our short course on New Evangelisation in a parish context is coming to an end. 

  1. We have looked at the need for the new evangelisation in contemporary Ireland where many people have drifted away from Jesus and his way of living. 
  2. We examined the core message which was preached both by Jesus and the early Church while stressing that it challenged people to change their thinking about God and afterwards  their behavior.
  3. Following that, we looked at ways in which parishioners can evangelise, either by helping to put on an evangelization course or by engaging in person-to-person evangelisation of one kind or another.
  4. In this final session we looked at how parishes can help to nurture the faith of those who have been newly evangelised.

We hope that what we shared proves to be inspirational, practical and a spur to action. Inevitably there were many topics we had to overlook. However, if you want to learn more there are lots of resources on the internet , e.g. Pat Collins C.M. Website, which you could consult in order to deepen your knowledge.  The New Springtime Community also has a website http://newspringtime.ie

We will end with some words taken from Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the Irish Church in 2010. “Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide, inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland. May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of the faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family.”

   

Week Three

Evangelisation and Conversion 

Famous Conversions

We are all familiar with the conversion stories of well known saints  such as Paul, Augustine, and Ignatius of Loyola. The notion of conversion as acceptance of Jesus and his gospel is central in evangelisation. That is made clear in par. 46 of Mission of the Redeemer   where John Paul II  wrote,

“The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion [my italics] as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity.”

The notion of conversion  is often misunderstood insofar as it is viewed primarily as behavioural change,  of “giving up yer aul sins.” The Greek word for repentance however is metanoia which literally means, “a change of mind,” i.e. in one’s thinking about God which afterwards leads to a change in one’s behaviour.  The story of the prodigal son in Lk 15:11-32 is an outstanding example of this  dynamic of change. There are three sages discernible in the parable.

Three stages of conversion

Firstly, we are told  that the wayward  son “came to his senses,” and decided to return to his father. In a way there was nothing particularly spiritual about this. In all probability it was a matter of expediency and enlightened self-interest. Even a life of slavery at home would be better than the miserable form of slavery he was  enduring in a foreign land.

Secondly, when the prodigal son returned home his true conversion began when  he was challenged to change his thinking about his  father. He acknowledged that instead of being greeted in the cold,  critical and judgemental way he deserved,  the  younger son had to accept that his father greeted him in a loving, accepting and merciful way that he didn’t deserve. His father’s non-condemnatory  embrace  converted him from one way of thinking about his dad to another. Whereas the first stage of his conversion was occasioned by his own experience of misery, the second stage was occasioned by the revelation of the father’s love. This is an important point. True conversion, as a change of behavior  is not a requirement for right relationship with God. Rather, it is a graced consequence of it.

Thirdly, once the younger son knew what his father was really like we can presume that his behaviour began to change. The very next day he may  have offered to help around the farm, not as a matter of cheerless duty, like his elder brother,  but as a matter of loving  desire. His good works would not have been a means of earning the love and acceptance of his father, but rather a grateful expression of gratitude for the love and acceptance he had already received as a free, unmerited gift. It is worth noting that in the case of the woman caught in the act of adultery Jesus asked her not to sin again as a respone to his mercy and not a requirement for receiving it (Jn 8:11). It was the same for the man who was healed at the pool of Siloam. Jesus said to him,  “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (Jn 5:14).

Like the prodigal son, the conversion of many people begins because of inner

and outer problems such as

•          Material poverty, e.g. unemployment,  lack of money, debts, poor living conditions etc.

•          Psycho-spiritual vulnerability, e.g. addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, neurosis etc.

•          A spiritual need, e.g. for a sense of meaning, forgiveness, love etc.

The grace of conversion is the result of hearing and experiencing the Good News. One way of encapsulating it is to say, no matter what sins I have committed,  “if I look only into the eyes of God’s mercy, expecting only mercy, I will receive only mercy,   now and at the hour of my death.” The following words describe this grace in a more theological way,  “By grace alone, through faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works” (Par, 15 of The Joint Declaration on Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church).

Conversion is a wholehearted  trust in the unmerited gift of God’s merciful love. Later it leads to   a willingness  to change one’s way of living with the help of God.  Once any of us come to know what God is like there is an implicit invitation in that experience to be for others what God is for us. As Jesus said in Lk 6:36-38, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,”  and “love one another; even as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). This third stage of conversion is the one when a person learns how to become a true disciple of Jesus. Needless to say it involves many other changes also e.g. in business and sexual ethics

Conversion of Churchgoers

“I am a Chartered Accountant and trainer and I start every course with the same words: “I was born an Accountant and I believe in cost/benefit analysis for everything: eating, sleeping, breathing, training courses…”. It’s an attitude which God changed dramatically in 1996 when He became the centre of my life.

I grew up in a Catholic family, was confirmed at age 8, went to a Jesuit-run secondary school and effectively left the Church at age 14 because God was irrelevant to me. I got married in a Catholic Church because my family expected me to. When I started taking my daughter to the Catholic primary school I felt it would be hypocritical not to take her to Mass. After six years of irregular Mass attendance I volunteered, so I thought, to read at Mass and become a Eucharistic Minister. A job I took seriously but not spiritually. My faith was limited to a grudging one hour a week.

In 1996 I went on an Alpha course out of interest - much as I would have gone on a tax planning course. I soon realised that the course was about Jesus, who I had never thought of as a real person before. The revelation that He had died for me was mind-blowing. On the Holy Spirit weekend I was prayed with for the first time in my life. To experience God’s love in the quiet words spoken to me was a life-changing experience.

The impact varies from the silly: previously holidays were Barcelona and Tenerife, now it’s Lourdes , Celebrate at Easter and the Walsingham New Dawn Conference in the Summer; to the sacred: my Eucharistic ministry was transformed and I was ordained a Permanent Deacon in June 2007. My priorities have been transformed, making money is no longer my reason for living.” (Goodnews, Sept/Oct 2008)

Conversion of the unchurched

Those engaged in the new evangelisation seek to help those who neither know the content of their faith or have an intimate relationship with Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.  As Pope Benedict XVI said on Oct 7th 2012 the new evangelisation is "directed principally to those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to Christian life."    

Pope Francis says in par 3 of Evangelii Gaudium, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (EG 3). It is worth pointing out that while some Catholics experience a sudden and dramatic conversion, research indicates that for about 80% it is a slow, incremental process which is not dramatic. The important thing is to come to have a committed, personal relationship with Jesus. How one gets there is of secondary importance.

Structural conversion

It is worth noting that although Pope Francis talks about conversion in his Evangelii Gaudium in pars 25-33, he focuses mainly on the need for pastoral and ecclesial conversion, i.e. of   structures and practices at every level. He said in par. 25, "I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. Mere administration can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be permanently in a state of mission” In Par. 27 Pope Francis says, “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” 

Week Two 

Part One:  Brief Worship Time

This should be brief e.g. one or two appropriate hymns and an opening prayer. 

Part Two: Input on What is the Basic Christian Message?

There is an interesting story in Acts 16:16-40.  The evangelists Paul and Silas had been unjustly scourged and cast into the deepest depths of a Philippian jail and chained to the wall.  Instead of complaining, they sang hymns and praised God while the other prisoners listened. We are told that as they did so there was an earthquake, their chains fell off and the doors of the prison opened.  Then we read, “When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”  The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

Let us pause there and answer the question “what would you answer?” When other groups have been asked this question they have given all sorts of answers such as  “believe in God,” “Keep the commandments,” “Live by your conscience,” “love your neighbor as yourself,” and the like. While these answers are true up to a point, it is interesting to note what Paul and Silas actually said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household. They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.” 

When Paul and Silas said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” we can presume that  they would have gone on to explain what they meant. Perhaps they  illustrated what they meant by recounting their own conversion experiences. Paul’s reply raises an important question for Irish Catholics.  Are we aware that there is a hierarchy of truth, and that some truths are more basic than others?  Just as a house is built on the foundations, so the Christian faith is built upon what is known as the kerygma or core Christian teaching.  This raises the issue, what is that core message?  In this talk we want to suggest that it can be divided into six basic points. We will firstly mention what they are and then we will go on to describe each one in more detail.

1.       God loves you

2.      All have sinned and are in need of salvation

3.      Jesus died to forgive our sins

4.      Repent and believe

5.      Receive the Holy Spirit and his gifts

6.      Enter into Christian community

Now we will describe each point in a little more detail

1] God loves you

The very first element of the Good News is that God loves you  in an unconditional way. As Jesus said on one occasion to his disciples,  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9).  God’s love for his divine and perfect son is wholly deserved.  However, what is truly amazing is the fact that Jesus has the same love for us as creatures, and sinful ones at that. Knowing how important this awareness was, St Paul declared, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:17-19)

2] All have sinned and are in need of salvation

Our sins prevent us from fully experiencing the presence and the love of God. The Greek word for  literally means “to miss the mark,”  such as happens when an arrow fails to hit the target. God expects us to lead holy and loving lives, by obeying the commandments especially the great commandment of loving our neighbours as ourselves. However the good we wish to do, we sometimes fail to do, and the evil we wish to avoid is exactly what we do as a result of either weakness or malice. That is why St Paul said,  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”  ( Rom 3:23-24).  St John added, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 Jn 1:10). As a result of sin, Deut 27:26 declares, “Cursed be anyone who does not uphold the words of the law by observing them.”

3] Jesus died to forgive our sins

When Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours” (Lk 6:20),  he was declaring that through no merit or good work on their part, the curse of sin was being lifted from those who knew their need for God, and that the free gift of God’s merciful love  was being poured out upon them free gratis and for nothing. This was made possible because Jesus as our scapegoat took the curse of sin upon himself.   As Paul declared,  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”  (2 Cor  5:21). The word righteousness here means, right relationship with God. So Paul added, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”.  We are reminded of this amazing truth at every mass we attend. For example, at the consecration of the wine, the priest says, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.  It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.  Do this in memory of me.”

4] Repent and believe

Many of us find it hard to acknowledge our failings. Pride can make us reluctant to honestly admit our faults without excusing or minimizing them, e.g. by attributing them to impersonal factors such as environmental pressures, unconscious influences, addictive tendencies etc. But the Lord says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind” (Jer 17:9-10). Just as bright sunlight reveals dust particles on window sills and table tops, so the light of God’s merciful love reveals our lack of mercy and love. Like the Prodigal Son we need to acknowledge  how merciful and loving God really is, and turning away from our sinful ways. We will have a good deal more to say about this point next week when our topic is conversion.

5] Receive the Holy Spirit and his gifts

St Paul wrote, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). This is a command of the Lord. Without the Spirit we can do nothing, but when the Lord and Giver of Life is active within us, we can do all things. To receive the Holy Spirit and his gifts, we simply need to ask with expectant faith, relying on Jesus’ promise: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13). As we ask for the Holy Spirit, we should be open to receiving His gifts, those outlined in Isaiah 11:2 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. In Is 11:2 we read, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” In 1 Cor 12:8-10 we read, “To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.” These charismatic gifts are expressions of the love of God and help us to build up a loving Christian community. As par. 12 of the Constitution on the Church says, “These charismatic gifts…are to be received with thanksgiving… for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church.” 

6] Enter into Christian community

When people accept the Kerygma they will need to find a group who will support them in their new life of faith e.g. a Prayer Group, Parish Cell or Bible Study Group that meets regularly for prayer and scripture reading. We will have more to say about this in our final talk). This was the way of life in the early church. As St Luke tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer … And the Lord added to their community daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42,47).  Paul calls this community the Body of Christ. We are the gifted members of that Body and Jesus is our head. It is almost impossible to grow in the Christian life without the help and nurturance of a loving community, giving us a sense of belonging, building up our faith through teaching and practical support,   thereby helping us to resist the false values of secular society and grow in holiness of life (Rom 12:2).

 While the six points we have looked at are useful, we need to keep in mind what Pope Francis has said in par 129 of The Joy of the Gospel, “We should not think, however, that the Gospel message must always be communicated by fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content.”

That said, it is good to keep the six points in mind and when it seems appropriate to refer to one or more of them, while trying to illustrate their truth with practical examples/stories drawn from everyday life including your own life.

Part Three:  Feedback

1. If you an immigrant  Hindu or Moslem asked you what the basic teachings of Christianity are, what would you reply?

2.      In Dec 2011, Diarmuid Martin of the Archdiocese of Dublin said, “Everywhere I go  . . . I am asking people the same question: “Do you really know Jesus?” It is a question which surprises people to be asked at Church gatherings. You can see on their faces that they seem to be saying “we would not be here if we did not know Jesus Christ; that is why we come to Church”. At the same time I can see that people are slightly stopped in their tracks and they begin to ask themselves: “what is the Archbishop really saying to me? Am I clear in my own mind about who Jesus is and what Jesus Christ really means to me in my life?” How would you answer the Archbishop’s question?

Part Four:  Ministry

Ask those who are present if they would like to commit their lives to Christ. If they would like to do so, you could ask them to say the following prayer.

“Lord Jesus Christ, I want to belong more fully  to you from this day forward. I want to be freed from the power of sin and  the temptations of the evil one. I want to enter  more completely into your kingdom, and to be more fully a part of your people. I will turn away from all wrongdoing, and with your help I will avoid everything that leads me to wrongdoing. I ask you to forgive all the sins that I have committed. I offer my life to you, and I promise to put you first in my life and to  do your will. I ask you now to fill me with your Holy Spirit of you love. I believe that your spiritual hands are upon me now and that the red light of your mercy and the white light of your love are flooding my body, mind and soul. I  thank you Lord that even  as I pray you are  responding to my request because it is so in accord with your loving desire for me. Amen.”

Week One

Part One:  Brief Worship Time

This should be brief e.g. one or two appropriate hymns and an opening prayer each week. 

Part Two;  Input on The Urgent Need for Evangelisation

When Pope John Paul II came to the Republic of Ireland in 1978  about 87% of Catholics  attended weekly Mass.   The latest survey indicated that about 32% of Irish Catholics are attending weekly mass.  At the end of 2011 it was estimated that the overall practice rate in the Archdiocese of Dublin was as low as 14%. In some parishes it has fallen to 2 or 3%.  No wonder  Archbishop Martin has  stated that the church is in crisis, that it has reached a breaking point. One of the reasons for this is the fact that there is a faith  crisis of head, heart and hands.

1)   The faith crisis of the head

This crisis of the head has to do with knowledge. Many Catholics are unaware of the core teachings of the Christian faith. Some of them   espouse ideas which are contrary to church teaching such as occult and New Age beliefs and practices like Reiki, angelology, and reincarnation.  St John Paul II went even further when he stated,  “European culture gives the impression of  silent apostasy on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist”  (Par. 9 of the  apostolic declaration, The Church in Europe). 

2)   The faith crisis of the heart

This crisis of the heart has to do with experience. Even if some Catholics know a lot about the person of Jesus many of them don’t know him in person. This could be due to

·   A lack of personal faith,

·   A negative image of God,

·   An unwillingness to turn away from sin,

·   Or some other personal reason.

This lack of conscious awareness of the free, unmerited gift of Christ’s forgiveness and love  is often evident in a lack of  inner  peace and joy.  

3)    The faith crisis of the hands

The faith crisis of the hands has to do with Christian action.   If the truth of the gospel has not fallen from the head to the heart, it is not surprising that Catholics often fail to act in a way that would be consistent with the teachings of Christ and his church.  For example, in recent years this has been particularly obvious in the realms of sexual and business morality where many people have re-written the ten commandments to suit themselves.

The need for a New Evangelisation in Ireland

Although current statistics indicate that Ireland is still a Christian country  it won’t be for long if the trends we have looked at continue. What is clearly needed, is what is referred to as a new evangelisation.

Evangelisation

The word evangelisation is a churchy one. Many Catholics mistakenly believe that it is  a Protestant term.  In fact the word evangelisation, which is repeatedly used in official Catholic documents, is derived from a Greek word.  It literally means,  “to preach the good news.”  

Pope Francis says in par 14 of The Joy of the Gospel, "Evangelisation is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him." Evangelisation Has Two Main Aims

 

  • Firstly, it enables individuals to come to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ as the one who forgives their sins and loves them.  Someone else has said that evangelisation in this sense is, “one beggar telling another where he has found the bread of life.”
  • Secondly, evangelisation seeks to transform the culture in which we live as a result of the influence of Christian beliefs and values.   

 

Although current statistics indicate that Ireland is still a Christian country  it won’t be for long if the trends we have looked at continue. What is clearly needed, is what is referred to as theththe new evangelisation as a new evangelisation.

The Meaning of New Evangelisation

We have said that evangelisation is a handing on of the faith, a sharing of the good news about Jesus Christ with other people.  So what is the new evangelization? It is important to insist that the Christian message  is unchanging.  However,  the culture in which we share that message is changing all the time, e.g. millions of baptised Christians no longer know or practice their faith.  “At its heart the New Evangelisation is the re-proposing of the encounter with the risen Lord, his Gospel and his Church to those who no longer find the Church’s message engaging.” (2012 Synod of Bishops).   As a result, John Paul II said that we have to find ways that are new in ardour, methods and forms of expression in order to get the unchanging Christian message across.

  • Speaking about  the new ardour that is needed John Paul II said, “We must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. ”  (Par. 40 of Novo Millennio Inuente)
  • There are many new methods that can be used to evangelise such as street evangelism, evangelization courses such as Life in the Spirit seminars, Alpha , Philip Retreats and Cursillo.
  • There are also many new ways of expressing the Christian message such as  the internet, social media, mime, Radio, drama, music and the like.

So the new evangelisation is the rekindling of faith in people and cultures where it had almost  died out and caring afterwards for those who have come to  faith in Christ. 

The Focus of the New Evangelisation

The new evangelisation mainly focuses its efforts on two distinct groups of people

•   Firstly, there are the innumerable men and women who have been baptised and confirmed but who only attend church on rare occasions such as baptisms, marriages and funerals. They are often referred to as the un-churched or the lapsed. Speaking about them Pope Francis says in par. 14 of The Joy of the Gospel, that the New Evangelisation focuses on "the baptised whose lives do not reflect the demands of baptism, who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith."

•   Secondly, there are people who are sometimes referred to as cultural Catholics. Although they dutifully go to church, on a regular basis, they have not yet crossed the threshold faith by establishing an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. 

Why Should We Prioritize Evangelisation?

Firstly there is the great commission of Jesus, e.g., in Mk 16:15-18, the needs of the time, and the Church’s  strong exhortation to do so.

Secondly, John Paul II said, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to the new evangelization . . . No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church  can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (par. 3 of  Mission of the Redeemer). When John Paul said “no institution” can avoid the duty of evangelising, he had  in mind parishes like yours and parish  groups such as, the Pastoral Council,  Legion of Mary, Vincent de Paul Society,  etc.

Evangelisation has two main aims: 

·   Firstly, it enables individuals to come to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ as the one who forgives their sins and loves them.  Someone else has said that evangelisation in this sense is, “one beggar telling another where he has found the bread of life.”

·   Secondly, evangelisation seeks to transform the culture in which we live as a result of the influence of Christian beliefs and values. 

Parish Evangelisation

It is clear in Catholic teaching,  that parishes are intended to be centers of evangelisation. For example,  Pope Francis says in par. 28 of The Joy of the Gospel, "The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.  In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers." The American bishops have added, “Every element of the parish must respond to the evangelical imperative – priests, religious, lay persons, parish staff, ministers, organisations, social clubs, local schools and parish religious education programmes. Otherwise evangelisation will be something a few people in the parish see as their ministry – rather than the reason for the parish’s existence and the objective of every ministry in the parish” (par. 85 of Go and Make Disciples).

Here are a number of questions  which could help you to  identify  whether your local parish is missionary or not. 

  1. Has the parish a mission statement? one that includes an explicit commitment to evangelisation? 
  2. Does the parish have a yearly plan that includes a section which states what individuals and groups will do to evangelise the un-churched in the area, and how they will do it?
  3. Does the parish have any organized form of practical outreach to the un-churched  in the parish?
  4. What does the parish do to evangelise young adults between the ages of 18 and 35? 
  5.  Does the parish train parishoners to evangelise? 

If your parish cannot answer yes to at least three of these questions, it probably means  that it is too inward looking. There would be nothing unusual in this. It  would probably be true to say  that most Catholic parishes are better at shepherding the people who still attend church, than fishing for the majority of those who no longer attend. Another way of putting it is to say that the local parish is probably better at maintenance than mission.

Part three: Feedback

Break into groups of 5-8. You may choose to respond to one or more of the following questions.

  1. Would it be true to say that the Church in Ireland is facing a major crisis?
  2. What is the difference between evangelisation and new evangelisation?
  3. You heard the list of five questions which can be addressed to parishioners about evangelisation. As you listened did you feel that your parish focuses on maintenance or mission?
  4. What one thing could be done in your parish to make it more outward-looking and evangelistic?

Part Four:  Ministry

Say the following prayer together, or listen as one person says it. "Lord we thank you for the countless blessings you poured out on Ireland in the past. We thank you for the many ways in which your grace found expression in generous and loving lives. We are also thankful for the times of prosperity we have enjoyed. However, like the prodigal son, we regret that sometimes we allowed the flame of the Spirit to be quenched within us by an idolatrous pursuit of power, pleasure, popularity and possessions. We confess Lord that many of us have gone astray, and selfishly rewritten the commandments to suit ourselves. We believe that you came to cast fire on the earth, and long to renew your wonders in our day as by a new Pentecost. Help us to turn back to you with all our hearts, and to fan the smoldering embers of our faith into a lively flame, especially by self-denial, together with regular periods of personal and family prayer. Mary Mother of Jesus we entrust Ireland to your motherly care. In the past our people remained faithful to your Son in times of persecution. We now pray that we may witness to his abiding love in these testing times. Amen."


 

 Week Four

Person-to-Person Evangelisation 

The Example of Jesus

Although Jesus preached to and taught crowds of people he also engaged in person-to-person evangelisation e.g. with Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, and Simon the Pharisee.   That was also the case when he met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

Clearly, Jesus did not judge or condemn her in any way. By means of his gestures and words he showed her great respect. Indeed, he broke  a number a number of  taboos in order to convey his unconditional acceptance. As Jesus talked to the woman he reflected back his understanding of how she felt. He intuited the fact that she was looking for the kind of vitality and well-being that comes from knowing that you are truly loved. That is why he talked to her about water. It was a symbolic steppingstone to faith and new life. Even as she sensed his understanding, and respect, the water of life was already springing up secretly within the Samaritan woman. It is interesting that at this stage of their conversation Jesus felt free to talk to her about her painful past. He began by asking about her husband. The woman replied, quite truthfully, that she had no husband. Then Jesus said that she was correct, because in the past she had been involved with five different partners. Suddenly, the woman realized, that from the first moment of their meeting, this extraordinary man had known all about her and her dysfunctional relationships. But nevertheless she felt completely accepted by him. This was a moment of great healing and relief for her. She experienced the fulfillment of  something  that St. Paul would write about some time afterwards, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph 3:16).

Because he had been able to read the secrets of her heart, the Samaritan woman realized that Jesus was a prophet. Not surprisingly she began to discuss religious issues with him such as Jewish and Samaritan forms of worship.  Then she said, “I know that Messiah – that is Christ – is coming: and when he comes he will tell us everything.” To which Jesus replied, “I who am speaking to you, I am he.” It is an extraordinary and unique revelation. In great humility the Samaritan woman had opened her heart to Jesus. He reciprocated by revealing his true identity to her.

In the New Testament Church the disciples usually preached to and taught crowds. But like Jesus  they also engaged in person-to-person evangelisation. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 8:26-42. It recounts how, in obedience to an inspiration of the Lord, Philip the evangelist travelled down a deserted road in the desert where he met with and evangelised the Ethiopian official.

One-to-One Evangelisation

The contemporary Church continues to advocate one-to-one evangelisation. Pope Paul VI said, “Side by side with the collective proclamation of the gospel, the other form of evangelisation, the person-to-person one, remains valid and important” (Par. 46 Evangelisation in the Modern World). Pope Francis says in par  127 The Joy of the Gospel, “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” Person to person evangelisation can take many forms such as:

Ø   a parent talking to a child about Jesus;

Ø   a person sharing his or faith story with a friend, relative or colleague;

Ø  engaging in house to house visitation as a member of a parish evangelisation team;

Ø   doing street contact work;

Ø   exploiting a providential opportunity of talking to a stranger about meaning of life issues. 

Identify steppingstones to faith

Pope Paul VI once said, “one cannot deny the existence of real steppingstones to Christianity, and of evangelical values at least in the form of a sense of emptiness or nostalgia. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there exists a powerful and tragic appeal to be evangelised” (Par. 55 of Evangelisation in the Modern World).   So, those who want to engage in person-to-person evangelization need to look out for everyday steppingstones to faith e.g. asking a bereaved person, “what do you think happens when we die? Or if someone asks, “what did you do on Sunday?”   you could reply, “I went to the 11 A.M. Mass and afterwards had lunch with my daughter and her husband.”

Pope Francis says in par 128 of Evangelii Gaudium, “The first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us . . . At times the message can be presented directly, at times by way of a personal witness or gesture, or in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest in that particular situation.” 

Personal testimony and witness

John Paul II once observed, “People today put more trust in . . . experience than in dogma” (Par. 42 of Mission of the Redeemer).  That being so it is important to discreetly share one’s personal faith story with people you meet.  It is advisable that Catholics who wish to evangelise others should write down a brief account of their own conversion story. Ideally it should be structured as follows.

A] What were you like before you developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? 

B] How did you come to relate to Jesus in a more intimate way and to experience the free  gift of his saving mercy and love?

C] How did your new found relationship with Jesus have a transforming effect on you?

Whereas many of our contemporaries are resistant  to preaching of any kind, they do respect people’s personal experience especially when it is shared in a sincere and humble way.

Friendship evangelisation

One of the most likely forms that person-to-person evangelisation will take is what has been referred to as  friendship evangelisation, i.e. where one friend shares his or her faith story  with another. Authors, John McCloskey, and Russell Shaw observe,  “If there is any factor that turns up over and over in conversion stories, it is the role played by the convert’s contacts with Catholic friends”  A US survey of 15,000 converts was conducted on the primary influence in their conversion. It discovered that 80% was the result of friendship evangelisation.

House to house visitation

Much as clergy might want to visit all the families in their area, many hard pressed priests do not have the time to do so. However, parish pastoral councils can arrange for parishioners to do such visitation in twos.  They could engage in a  survey  on behalf of the parish, talk to people about parish activities and discuss faith issues if an orportunity presents itself. The idea is not new. The Legion of Mary have been conducting such visits for many years. It has enabled its members to contact practicing Catholics, the un-churched, and unbelievers.

In the Summer of 2009 there was a large mission in a number of parishes in Galway City. A few hundred lay people  volunteered to help. One thing they were trained to do was to make house to house visitations. Many of the participants said that when they began calling to people  they did not know, they felt nervous and apprehensive. However, when they introduced themselves they usually got a good reception. Apart from telling people about the mission, they looked out for opportunities of talking to them about faith issues. They kept in mind the six points of the kerygma, which were mentioned in week two of this course, and to spoke about them if it seemed appropriate. As a general guideline they aimed to talk at some point about  the person of Jesus. 

Praying for Others

Pope Francis says in par. 127 of Evangelii Gaudium, “If it seems prudent and if the circumstances are right, this fraternal and missionary encounter could end with a brief prayer related to the concerns which the person may have expressed.” No matter how well or badly an encounter of any kind  has gone,  evangelisers can bring it to a conclusion by asking the person they were talking to, whether he or she would like a prayer for any intention. Experience teaches that even those who are skeptical about Christianity will often reveal a need. It  may be a relative who is sick, a friend whose marriage is in difficulty,  or some personal need  such as a financial problem or an impending driving test.  The disclosure of such a need is significant because it is an acknowledgement of a certain openness to the grace and power of God.  The person who is evangelising can go on to ask, The person being asked this question will usually say that it is O.K. Then the evangeliser says, “would you mind if I said that prayer for you right now?” and  “do you mind if I place my fingers on your forehead, it helps me to feel connected to you and the person you care about.” Again, they will often say that it is O.K. We encourage the person who is saying the prayer to use this little formula of words as a prelude to the prayer, “God is love. God loves you. Because he loves you he wants what is best for you. His love is the answer to your deepest need and the needs of the people you care about.” The prayer follows. It is better to say it in the present rather than the future tense.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the ways that we can do one-to-one evangelisation. Pope Francis says in par 120 of The Joy of the Gospel, “Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.“ What is needed is conviction and courage. We have to overcome our fears, and like the first disciples have a spirit of boldness. In Acts 4:30 we read that they prayed, “Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” In Eph 6:19-20 we read, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Group Discussion

  1. Do you ever talk to a relative, friend, colleague, or acquaintance about your faith in Jesus?
  2. What are the feelings and attitudes that hold you back from person-to-person evangelisation?
  3. If you were to write a short account of your faith story/journey what would you say?

Prayer for evangelisers

Father in heaven, you so loved the world that you sent your divine Son to be our redeemer. I thank you that, not only have I been baptised and confirmed into his saving death and resurrection, I also  have the inner assurance that my sins, though many, are forgiven and forgotten, not through any merit of my own, but by the free gift of your  Spirit.

Lord Jesus I cannot bear effective witness to the love of God, which has been poured into my heart, without the energising fire of the Holy Spirit, which was first cast upon the earth on Pentecost Sunday. Help me to fan into a mighty flame the gift I have already received while expressing my gratitude by means of good works, especially by courageously bearing witness to Jesus and what he has done for me.

Enlighten my mind and heart to know how and when to proclaim this Good News in word and deed, even to the point of healings and miracles.  Preserve me and all those who seek to evangelise from the illusions and false inspirations of the evil one. Lord, you have said in repeated messages, of a prophetic kind, that a great age of evangelisation is about to usher in a new springtime for  Christianity. Help me to become an effective instrument of your saving purposes. Amen.

 

 

 

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