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Spreading the Gospel

I recently posted an article, “Helping Our Children be Disciples,” inspired by my recent reading of An Evangelizing Catechesis: Teaching from Your Encounter with Christ by James C. Pauley (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 2020). 

Today I would like to reflect on another section from Pauley’s book. Before I do, I should note that his book is offering methods for catechesis that are evangelizing. By this, we mean that catechesis should not be simply a matter of knowledge. It should be transformative. It should lead us to a deeper relationship with God.

That being said, I want to go in another direction from the five-step method Pauley presents from Monsignor Francis Kelly’s book, The Mystery We Proclaim. I want to use what Pauley discusses about Kelly’s method to show how we can all contribute to the work of spreading the gospel. When people hear a call to evangelization, they sometimes respond saying they don’t know enough. They might agree that better evangelization is needed but that it is something for the Church to do, not them. They are right that it is for the Church to evangelize. What they don’t understand is that they are part of the Church.

So, let’s look at Monsignor Kelly’s five-step method as presented by Pauley (109ff). He describes the 5 steps as:

“The first step (preparation) helps participants into a position of openness and receptivity to what will be proclaimed” (109).

The second step is “a proclamation of the essential foundational truth for the lesson as the Good News that it is” (109).

Then, in the third step, “What is proclaimed is then unpacked and thoughtfully explored (explanation)”, leading to the fourth step where it is “applied to culture and proposed in the context of personal discipleship (application)”, leading to the fifth step, “with the possibility that joy and gratitude are aroused and deepened (celebration)” (109).

That says a lot. Pauley spends the next 90 pages of the book unpacking this methodology.

While I will have something to say about the other steps, it is the first step (preparation) where I think everyone can contribute to the work of evangelization. It starts with helping people open themselves to what God offers. As Pauley writes, “Any good gardener knows that the growth process does not begin with the planting of the seed. Rather, the gardener must first attend to the soil into which the seed will be planted” (111). If the soil is too hard, it will not let the seed sprout.

The Church has much to offer but the recipient must be open. If they trust you, they are more likely to initially listen to you than the Church. If they see some joy and hope in you, they may want to see where you get it from. Thus, they begin to loosen their harden hearts. They might not be interested in what our faith offers. We need to help them become interested (Pauley, 112). Pauley offers some tips for catechists (116-117) on how to make the classroom an environmental where the students want to learn. The world is the everyday classroom of life.

We need to be good examples (witnesses) of our faith. We need to show the same characteristics to the world that Pauley calls for catechists to offer to their students when he writes, “When our students see our smile, feel our respect, sense our joy and good humor, and know our authenticity, they are better disposed to hear us and open themselves to what we’re trying to teach them” (118). Remember, in the classroom of the world, you don’t have to teach the whole lesson. You just need to get them interested. For those who are familiar with Sherry Weddell’s book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, (Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, IN.  2012.  See pages 129-130), this parallels her first threshold, “Initial Trust.”

Weddell’s second threshold is “Spiritual Curiosity.” We could sit around and hope people we encounter in the world become curious on their own or we can choose to stir up curiosity in them by living our faith for them to see. Or, as Pauley writes, “Perhaps we can write a compelling question” (123) that they would like the answer to. From here, we offer Monsignor Kelly’s second step, proclamation.

From there, we can move to the third step of explanation. In the classroom of the world, you might not feel capable of offering the full explanation. As you see others reach Weddell’s third threshold, “spiritual openness,” ask the Lord what He wants you to do. “It is important to keep before us the divine origin of the content of catechesis” (Pauley, 153). The Lord may tell you to bring the person to the parish for more instruction. Or the Lord may lead you to learn more yourself so that you may provide the explanation (Ask questions!).

Hopefully, the person you have helped bring to God will move from Weddell’s third threshold of “spiritual openness” to the fourth of “spiritual seeking” and maybe even to the fifth threshold of “intentional discipleship” (Weddell, 129-130). Just remember, you don’t have do it all on your own. Point them to Jesus and Jesus will bring them home.

This brings us to Kelly’s fourth step as presented by Pauley, application. Here we read, “Monsignor Kelly explains: “Our mission is to bring the faith to today’s real world. This means being sensitive to the modern world’s concerns and also seeking to understand critically its thought patterns and language. It must be, however, our humble conviction that we have the values and truth that this modern world is actually seeking” (172). What we need to do is show them why our faith is relevant today. Your faith means something to you. Share what that is with others.

Lastly, remember you don’t have to do it by yourself. The most important thing you must do is “to cooperate with the movement of grace” (174).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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