Bringing Home the Gospel

In the second reading for this Sunday, St. Peter admonishes us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). This verse has become a kind of rallying cry for one approach to the world. In this view, the world is a dark and messed up place and our role as Christians is to debate and argue with unbelievers and to try to lead them to the truth so that they will be saved. St. Peter says this dialogue should be done with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:16) but it is not always done is this spirit. One might call this the “educate to save” approach.

It is certainly true and many people are mixed up about their faith and our goal should be to bring them to the fullness of truth. The problem is, if we are honest, the “debate and argue with unbelievers” approach is not bearing much fruit in our modern world.

Perhaps this could be linked to a recent trend created by Rod Dreher which he calls the “Benedict Option.” Considering our modern difficulties, maybe we should just give up and stage a tactical retreat from the world?

Author and social media personality, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has declared that the Benedict Option “may be the only option because debate has ended.” He notes that, “Our society is so worm-eaten with relativism the any idea that one might use reason, research and debate to discover truth is defunct.”

While it might be true that certain approaches are less fruitful, we do need to ask, what approach does the church propose for reaching out to our culture?

Documents such as the General Directory for Catechesis, propose that catechesis occurs as part of the process of evangelization. It unfolds in stages and is a slow process.

One way to picture this process is to compare it to the stages of a baseball game. In the game of baseball to score a run, the players must proceed through a series of stages. After hitting the ball the player needs run the baseline and get to first base. The next goal is to get to second base, then third, then home to score a run.

Getting to first base in evangelization, is called primary initial evangelization. The goal of this stage is for the person to make a decision to put Jesus at the center of their life. Before the person can reach this decision point, they must be led through a series of thresholds involving the basic human needs of security, love and acceptance. This pre-evangelization stage prepares the human heart to consider the claims of the Gospel. Then when the person is ready, the Gospel is presented and an invitation for a response is given.

Using human trust as a bridge the evangelizer must connect these basic needs to a desire for God and his word. This special ministry of the word is directed at non-believers, those who have chosen not to believe or who have fallen away from the faith, those who follow other religions, and to the children of Christians who have not yet experienced conversion (NDC 49).

After reaching first base in our analogy, running the next baseline is called initiatory catechesis. This phase is like an apprenticeship in the heart and habits of being a disciple. Having made the decision to put Jesus at the center of their life they need to be nurtured by learning to pray, to meditate on Scripture, to become part of a caring community, to engage in a rich sacramental life, to learn to rely on the Holy Spirit, and to foster a spirit of service.

All of this prepares the person for second base. The General Directory refers to this stage as permanent perfective catechesis. This base is kind of a world of its own. It is here that we unpack the whole bottomless treasury of the Church.

Over the course of a lifetime we learn the entire depth of our faith, such as we see summarized in the Catechism. This course of learning should be an endless life long process. Yet this is not the final goal of the process. We are only on second base!

When we look at the words of Jesus in the Gospels, more than 80 percent of what he says is practical. Jesus wants to prepare each one of us to be missionary disciples. At third base, we are equipped with basic skills in evangelization. We learn about the special gifts that God has invested in us to help build the Church.

Finally, we head back out into the world fully to help make disciples and to help them to come to know Jesus in the Church. Unfortunately, the “educate to save” approach often ignores the above stages and tries to “debate” and “argue” people directly to second base while ignoring all the process in between.

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit as an Advocate to be with us always. The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept” (John 14:18) but by following these stages and proclaiming the Good News this same Spirit can personally become known to each one of us and remain in us.

Is it possible that forgotten stages in this process are responsible for some of our ministry frustrations? Have you personally decided to put Christ at the center of our life? Does that decision need to be renewed? Imagine the transformation that would occur in our parishes if we aligned all our programs to the goal of missionary discipleship.

Scott McKellar is associate director of the Office of Discipleship and Faith Formation.

Daily Scripture Readings

For complete daily Scripture texts, click here: http://www.usccb.org

Monday, May 22
Acts 16:11-15
Psalms 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a & 9b
John 15:26—16:4a

Tuesday, May 23
Acts 16:22-34
Psalms 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8
John 16:5-11

Wednesday, May 24
Acts 17:15, 22—18:1
Psalms 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14
John 16:12-15

Thursday, May 25
Acts 1:1-11
Psalms 98:1,2-3ab, 3cd-4
John 16:16-20

Friday, May 26
Acts 18:9-18
Psalms 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
John 16:20-23

Saturday, May 27
Acts 18:23-28
Psalms 47:2-3, 8-9, 10
John 16:23B-28

Ascension of the Lord
Sunday, May 28
Acts 18:1-11
Psalms: 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28: 16-20

Monday, May 29
Acts 19:1-8
Psalms 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab
John 16:29-33

Tuesday, May 30
Acts 20:17-27
Psalms 68:10-11, 20-21
John 17:1-11A

Wednesday, May 31
Zephaniah 3:14-18a
or Romans 12:9-16
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
Luke 1:39-56

Thursday, June 1
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11
Psalms 16:1-2a & 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
John 17:20-26

Friday, June 2
Acts 25:13b-21
Psalms 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab
John 21:15-19

Saturday June 3
Acts 28:16-20, 30-31
Psalms 11:4, 5 & 7
John 21:20-25

Pentecost Sunday, June 4
Acts 2:1-11
Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Daily Readings” tab on the right hand side of the page.

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Thursday
May 25, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph