Meet Susan.

Susan is a 75 year old widower who’s considered herself Catholic her whole life, even though her and her husband stopped attending church twenty years ago. Last year after the death of her husband a friend invited her to attend a weekend retreat called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). After going on the retreat last fall and encountering Jesus, her faith has come alive. She knows she wants more, but she’s not sure where to start. She senses that she needs friends who are “involved at the church”, and she realizes she doesn’t know anything about the faith, so she should probably find some way to learn more. She also senses the need to volunteer or serve at the parish. Susan starts coming to Mass every Sunday, she reads the bulletin, and she’s looked at our parish website.

SUSAN IS NOT SURE WHAT THE NEXT STEP FOR HER SHOULD BE. WHAT SHOULD SUSAN DO?

SUSAN REALLY FEELS LIKE SHE DOESN’T KNOW HER FAITH AS WELL AS SHE SHOULD.

Maybe she should go through the RCIA class just to brush up, or maybe she should checkout formed.org and pick one of the 300 studies offered and just start there. There’s a group meeting weekly that is going through the Great Adventure Bible Timeline. There’s a group going through the Catholicism series. There’s a group going through Symbolon. Susan hears a class is offered at the parish that is reading through Moby Dick from a Christian perspective. That sounds interesting. There is another “bible study” that has been meeting at the parish for the last 20 years. There is a parish mission coming up. There’s a group that reads through the writings of this guy named Chesterton at a local bar.

SUSAN WANTS TO “GET INVOLVED”.

Susan remembers the women who served on the CRHP weekend, and they all seemed very active and involved. They seemed really happy and fulfilled in their role too. Susan feels the desire and need to “get involved” too. There’s countless opportunities to serve at the parish, and everyone seems in desperate need of help. Maybe Susan shouldn’t attend a weekly Bible study, but should just start by helping out? Susan could start lectoring, or ushering, or start teaching, or visiting the sick and homebound, or become a Eucharistic minister. Maybe Susan should get involved by becoming a marriage sponsor, or joining the prayer group for seniors, or the pro-life group, or the grief ministry, or joining the Lady Knights of Columbus.

SUSAN WANTS TO LEARN HOW TO PRAY.

Susan has heard people say daily mass is important, and adoration, and the rosary, and Liturgy of the Hours, and praying through the Magnificat, and the angelus; and there are groups that meet weekly for all of those as well.

SUSAN WOULD LIKE TO MEET OTHER PEOPLE HER AGE WHO ALSO WANT TO GROW IN THEIR FAITH.

There’s a mom’s group and another group for women and a parish picnic coming up. Again she thinks about joining the Lady Knights or a prayer group for seniors, but she’s wondering if those things would help her learn the faith.

Some of these opportunities meet some of Susan’s needs, but not others. Most of these opportunities meet weekly. Susan doesn’t have all the time in the world.

SUSAN IS NOT SURE WHAT THE NEXT STEP FOR HER SHOULD BE. WHAT SHOULD SUSAN DO?

In an ideal world, every choice is a fine one. Susan will pick something that appeals to her, and she’ll find her way. Eventually she’ll find what she needs, and try everything out, and figure out a healthy balance to her new life with Jesus in the Church. God works through everything our church offers.

BUT THAT DOESN’T ALWAYS HAPPEN. LOTS OF PEOPLE “JUST GRADUALLY DRIFT AWAY.”

I believe people gradually drift away because they try a few things that don’t meet the needs of where they are in the process of evangelization. If they do happen to attend something that meets their specific need, they either get stuck there or they don’t know what is next.

Maybe after a year or two we find that Susan has only tried being a lector, joined a rosary group, and went to one bible study. Susan starts wondering if church just isn’t for her. She still feels disconnected and the hundreds of programs and books and resources make her feel intimidated to learn the faith – there’s just too much to learn. New programs and opportunities are constantly advertised, but Susan feels she’s tried everything. Susan starts slowly drifting away. She stops coming to say the rosary. She feels drained by the different service events she’s been roped into. She doesn’t want to go to anymore classes. She’s not sure this is for her anymore.

SUSAN IS JUST TIRED OF CHURCH.

HOW CAN WE HELP SUSAN?

People at our parish are all at different stages in the process of evangelization, or the process of becoming an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ. We don’t need better programs or better resources or better liturgy or better education or better buildings or better outreach or better Priests.

What we need is to communicate what the journey of discipleship looks like – from outside the Church all the way to sainthood – and help people identify clearly and simply what they need at the stage they are at. Or better still, what committed disciples should invite their friend or neighbor to. We need to give people context for all the hundreds of things we offer them. We need to give people a framework to wade through what is most important and essential and what is not.

I believe we need to stop relying on apostolates and ministries and resources to articulate what this path of discipleship looks like. As parishes we need to stop leaving it up to every ministry or group in our parish to communicate this path for the church, based on whatever program or resource they are using. Instead every parish should provide a clear path of discipleship for its parishioners.

COMMUNICATE A CLEAR PATH OF DISCIPLESHIP

I don’t think this is the only answer, but I think this is one answer that would help tremendously.

The catechumenate is an ancient model of Christian initiation that has been used in some form since the Early Church. It is the process of evangelization that leads a person on the fringes outside the Church into full sacramental communion with Jesus Christ within the Church. In our post-Christian cultural context of Catholics who are sacramentalized but not evangelized, I think the catechumenate is still a powerful organizing model for evangelization, because of its focus on conversion and movement. The catechumenate exists in a seminal form as early as Acts 2. The Church has been calling us to this kind of model for decades.

“The model for all catechesis is the baptismal catechumenate when, by specific formation, an adult converted to belief is brought to explicit profession of baptismal faith during the Paschal Vigil”. This catechumenal formation should inspire the other forms of catechesis in both their objectives and in their dynamism.” General Directory for Catechesis #59

It’s time our parish communicated a clear path of discipleship, organized all their ministries around a clear path of discipleship, measured success at the macro level through the lense of a clear path of discipleship, and balanced the energy and resources of the parish around a clear path of discipleship.

WHAT MIGHT THIS LOOK LIKE?

There are other people who are trying this out. I’m not making this all up from scratch, and I’m not the only one sensing this need. I’m writing up a longer draft of what we’ve come up with so far for our parish, and I’ll clarify what a clear path of discipleship might look like at a parish, specifically our parish, as we prayerfully plan and move forward with this vision, and ultimately Susan, in mind.

Meet Susan.

Susan is a 75 year old widower who’s considered herself Catholic her whole life, even though her and her husband stopped attending church twenty years ago. Last year after the death of her husband a friend invited her to attend a weekend retreat called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). After going on the retreat last fall and encountering Jesus, her faith has come alive. She knows she wants more, but she’s not sure where to start. She senses that she needs friends who are “involved at the church”, and she realizes she doesn’t know anything about the faith, so she should probably find some way to learn more. She also senses the need to volunteer or serve at the parish. Susan starts coming to Mass every Sunday, she reads the bulletin, and she’s looked at our parish website.

SUSAN IS NOT SURE WHAT THE NEXT STEP FOR HER SHOULD BE. WHAT SHOULD SUSAN DO?

SUSAN REALLY FEELS LIKE SHE DOESN’T KNOW HER FAITH AS WELL AS SHE SHOULD.

Maybe she should go through the RCIA class just to brush up, or maybe she should checkout formed.org and pick one of the 300 studies offered and just start there. There’s a group meeting weekly that is going through the Great Adventure Bible Timeline. There’s a group going through the Catholicism series. There’s a group going through Symbolon. Susan hears a class is offered at the parish that is reading through Moby Dick from a Christian perspective. That sounds interesting. There is another “bible study” that has been meeting at the parish for the last 20 years. There is a parish mission coming up. There’s a group that reads through the writings of this guy named Chesterton at a local bar.

SUSAN WANTS TO “GET INVOLVED”.

Susan remembers the women who served on the CRHP weekend, and they all seemed very active and involved. They seemed really happy and fulfilled in their role too. Susan feels the desire and need to “get involved” too. There’s countless opportunities to serve at the parish, and everyone seems in desperate need of help. Maybe Susan shouldn’t attend a weekly Bible study, but should just start by helping out? Susan could start lectoring, or ushering, or start teaching, or visiting the sick and homebound, or become a Eucharistic minister. Maybe Susan should get involved by becoming a marriage sponsor, or joining the prayer group for seniors, or the pro-life group, or the grief ministry, or joining the Lady Knights of Columbus.

SUSAN WANTS TO LEARN HOW TO PRAY.

Susan has heard people say daily mass is important, and adoration, and the rosary, and Liturgy of the Hours, and praying through the Magnificat, and the angelus; and there are groups that meet weekly for all of those as well.

SUSAN WOULD LIKE TO MEET OTHER PEOPLE HER AGE WHO ALSO WANT TO GROW IN THEIR FAITH.

There’s a mom’s group and another group for women and a parish picnic coming up. Again she thinks about joining the Lady Knights or a prayer group for seniors, but she’s wondering if those things would help her learn the faith.

Some of these opportunities meet some of Susan’s needs, but not others. Most of these opportunities meet weekly. Susan doesn’t have all the time in the world.

SUSAN IS NOT SURE WHAT THE NEXT STEP FOR HER SHOULD BE. WHAT SHOULD SUSAN DO?

In an ideal world, every choice is a fine one. Susan will pick something that appeals to her, and she’ll find her way. Eventually she’ll find what she needs, and try everything out, and figure out a healthy balance to her new life with Jesus in the Church. God works through everything our church offers.

BUT THAT DOESN’T ALWAYS HAPPEN. LOTS OF PEOPLE “JUST GRADUALLY DRIFT AWAY.”

I believe people gradually drift away because they try a few things that don’t meet the needs of where they are in the process of evangelization. If they do happen to attend something that meets their specific need, they either get stuck there or they don’t know what is next.

Maybe after a year or two we find that Susan has only tried being a lector, joined a rosary group, and went to one bible study. Susan starts wondering if church just isn’t for her. She still feels disconnected and the hundreds of programs and books and resources make her feel intimidated to learn the faith – there’s just too much to learn. New programs and opportunities are constantly advertised, but Susan feels she’s tried everything. Susan starts slowly drifting away. She stops coming to say the rosary. She feels drained by the different service events she’s been roped into. She doesn’t want to go to anymore classes. She’s not sure this is for her anymore.

SUSAN IS JUST TIRED OF CHURCH.

HOW CAN WE HELP SUSAN?

People at our parish are all at different stages in the process of evangelization, or the process of becoming an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ. We don’t need better programs or better resources or better liturgy or better education or better buildings or better outreach or better Priests.

What we need is to communicate what the journey of discipleship looks like – from outside the Church all the way to sainthood – and help people identify clearly and simply what they need at the stage they are at. Or better still, what committed disciples should invite their friend or neighbor to. We need to give people context for all the hundreds of things we offer them. We need to give people a framework to wade through what is most important and essential and what is not.

I believe we need to stop relying on apostolates and ministries and resources to articulate what this path of discipleship looks like. As parishes we need to stop leaving it up to every ministry or group in our parish to communicate this path for the church, based on whatever program or resource they are using. Instead every parish should provide a clear path of discipleship for its parishioners.

COMMUNICATE A CLEAR PATH OF DISCIPLESHIP

I don’t think this is the only answer, but I think this is one answer that would help tremendously.

The catechumenate is an ancient model of Christian initiation that has been used in some form since the Early Church. It is the process of evangelization that leads a person on the fringes outside the Church into full sacramental communion with Jesus Christ within the Church. In our post-Christian cultural context of Catholics who are sacramentalized but not evangelized, I think the catechumenate is still a powerful organizing model for evangelization, because of its focus on conversion and movement. The catechumenate exists in a seminal form as early as Acts 2. The Church has been calling us to this kind of model for decades.

“The model for all catechesis is the baptismal catechumenate when, by specific formation, an adult converted to belief is brought to explicit profession of baptismal faith during the Paschal Vigil”. This catechumenal formation should inspire the other forms of catechesis in both their objectives and in their dynamism.” General Directory for Catechesis #59

It’s time our parish communicated a clear path of discipleship, organized all their ministries around a clear path of discipleship, measured success at the macro level through the lense of a clear path of discipleship, and balanced the energy and resources of the parish around a clear path of discipleship.

WHAT MIGHT THIS LOOK LIKE?

There are other people who are trying this out. I’m not making this all up from scratch, and I’m not the only one sensing this need. I’m writing up a longer draft of what we’ve come up with so far for our parish, and I’ll clarify what a clear path of discipleship might look like at a parish, specifically our parish, as we prayerfully plan and move forward with this vision, and ultimately Susan, in mind.


This blog was written by Edmund Mitchell, Director of Catechesis & Evangelization here at St. Francis of Assisi. If you’re interested in writing a blog for St. Francis of Assisi, please contact Joseph at [email protected].