An Experiment to Attract the ''Nones''
In Pope Francis’ brilliant exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he stresses the importance of the proclamation and continual deepening of the kerygma:
“On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’”
So often in catechizing, when going deeper into the truths of the Faith, we find ourselves neglecting to bring everything back to this exact point. It’s easy to get caught up in the differences between faiths and point those out, and while this is obviously important as we are not subjectivists, the initial proclamation of the Gospel is essential in today’s world, marked by doubt in the very existence of God.
Before we dive into the incredible wealth of theology that the Church has to offer, we must be aware of the very fact that many might be struggling with whether or not their life even has purpose, and the kerygma, that basic Gospel message, must continually be part of our language in parishes, communities, and families.
That's what we're aiming to do at the parish I work for, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Grapevine, Texas. We want to urge our parishioners to become evangelists themselves by inviting their non-Catholic, non-Christian, and atheist friends to come and dialogue about some of the issues we might all be struggling with. The series we came up with is entitled "SEEK" and no, that isn’t an acronym. We're asking others to come and seek out the truths of life with us, asking questions such as, ‘Why am I here? Where am I going? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Was Jesus really who he said he was?’ The atmosphere is relaxed, non-judgmental, and multi-generational. Each night has a short 20-minute topical presentation and then an hour to discuss these questions among a small group.
After our staff had the idea, inspired by the Alpha program, which has done phenomenal work in the UK and across the world, we met weekly with a discipleship group of twelve people - some recent converts, others long-time Catholics, and some reverts to the Faith - to prayerfully discern what God wanted us to do with this idea. We created our own marketing materials, which included pictures of a few of our own parishioners, and we created all of the materials and invitations for our parishioners to hand out.
Remarkably, we had 300 people show up the first night, from high school to senior adult age, and the event was very well attended by non-Catholics and non-Christians.
So many people are struggling with purpose in life and if we can’t answer the deep questions they might have, it’s very possible we could lose them. Christ is the answer they crave, the personal, relational Christ who willingly suffered and died for all of humanity. As Sherry Weddell continually states, many have been baptized, and some have been catechized, but few have been evangelized. The kerygma is vitally important in our age of disbelief in order to begin the process of conversion and evangelization.
Fr. James Mallon in his phenomenal book, Divine Renovation, states that “trying to give people catechesis before they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is like trying to plant seeds in concrete.” We can give the perfect explanation for the reason not to use birth control or take part in abortion, euthanasia, or other intrinsically evil acts, but if the people we are preaching to don’t know Jesus on a personal, profound level, we indeed are wasting our time. "SEEK" is our way of dodging the histrionics and embracing relationship and discipleship.
To be sure, "SEEK" is a way of responding to the needs of today, but be assured that there needs to be a vital next step. So, what we have offered is a clear call to action once the series is complete. They have choices of diving into RCIA, the CATHOLICISM series, or many of the small groups we have in place for different walks of life. Evangelization and catechesis are continual and constantly in need of renewal both at the parish level and, most importantly, at the personal level. "SEEK" has become our initial phase which is so often overlooked.
Our hope in the series is that people come to either a renewed sense of purpose for their lives, finding that purpose in Christ Jesus. At St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, the mission statement of the evangelization and catechesis department is ‘Building a Community of Missionary Disciples’, we hope to do this through introducing them to Jesus first, and then dive deep into the incredible orthodoxy of the Catholic faith through continual catechesis. Our goal is that when people come to our parish, they experience the person Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke of when he said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”