As a catechist, I’ve always been jealous of Peter and the Apostles. Why? Because, as a result of the very first catechetical “lesson” they offered on the day of Pentecost, 3000 people converted! How on earth did they do it? Their words were not accompanied by any flashy, dramatic healings or miracles to capture the attention and imagination of the crowds. What the crowds saw that day was not the equivalent of a contemporary televangelist dramatically healing people of their paralysis or blindness as “proof” of the authenticity of their message. Nor did they hear splendid orators delivering soaring rhetoric. What they did see and hear, however, was a small group of people whose lives had been radically changed. And this transformation was attributed to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Think about the most convincing advertisements you’ve seen. We are “sold” on something when the person delivering the message is authentic and the transformation they propose is convincing. The same is true for proclaiming Jesus to others. I am a follower of Jesus today because some very authentic people in my life—parents, godparents, teachers, friends—offered convincing evidence that Jesus transformed their hearts. If we want to convince others to follow Christ, we need to show evidence of a dramatic and observable transformation in our own lives along with a clear and concise explanation for that transformation: the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Message Format
The powerful and persuasive style of proclamation that the Apostles employed on that Pentecost Sunday (and elsewhere in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters) actually follows a specific format, which ensures that the message is a simple, basic, Jesus-centered proclamation designed to foster conversion. It was an evangelizing message. Today, the Church is calling for a “New Evangelization”—not necessarily focused on winning “converts” to Catholicism, but rather on bringing about a conversion of hearts among those who have heard (or are hearing) the gospel proclaimed but have not truly encountered Christ.
The New Evangelization
“This Splendid Mission,” was a phrase used in 2010, by then-Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) to refer to the ministry of catechesis. You too can catechize in such a way as to truly bring about transformed hearts. Knowing Jesus and proclaiming him to others should be simple and its effects should be life-changing. That’s how the Apostles presented Jesus and his message to others. As a Church, we need to recapture that simplicity and potency so as to present Jesus to current and future generations as someone knowable and as someone who can change your life. This is what catechesis in the New Evangelization needs more than anything else: a proclamation of the Person of Jesus Christ that is simple, compelling, liberating, and life-changing.
The important question we ask ourselves today is: how can we talk about God in our time? In talking about God…we must recover simplicity, we must return to the essence of the proclamation. Speaking of God is communicating what is essential, forcefully and simply, through our words and through our life. (Pope Benedict XVI. General Audience, 11/28/12).
Joe Paprocki, DMIN, is the national consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press. He is the author of numerous best-selling books including his most recent, Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechesis that Not Only Informs but Also Transforms. Joe is a 6th-grade catechist and blogs about his experience at catechistjourney.com.
This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist September 2013.
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