Laying the Foundation for Forming Disciples in Our Parishes

A recent mailing of the Franciscan University of Steubenville declares, “The age of casual Catholicism is over. The age of heroic Catholicism has begun.”1 Men and women starving for truth and eager to be heroes for Christ need to be shaped and formed.

In search of the formation they need and long for, many Catholics become members of the various “movements” in the Church, which have sprouted up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lay Catholics credit such groups as Cursillo, the Neocatechumenal Way, and the various “Renewal” experiences (e.g., Christ Renews His Parish, and various Marriage Renewal and Encounter programs, as well as robust parish missions and orthodox Catholic speakers) with sparking their conversion and deepening their formation as Catholic Christians. Having witnessed the wisdom and beauty of the Church flow so naturally from the hearts of families, I have often wondered why we are not accomplishing the same level of formation of Catholic disciples in our parishes and within the mainstream structure of the Church, such that Catholics hungering for more, look elsewhere. The draw of the movements is, in large part, the small community feel that allows for sharing and building relationships. Catholics in a parish of hundreds or thousands can often feel lost. This small group experience is good insofar as the primary focus of the group does not divide individuals from their parish, pastor, and bishop. The group must foster the growth of the whole Church. There is also a commitment to the formation of disciples present in the movements that our parishes have struggled to embrace, even though such formation is the parish’s core mission. As so many voices are straining to proclaim in this historical moment, parishes need to focus their efforts on helping men and women encounter and follow Jesus. This should be the ordinary work of daily parish life. Bills must be paid, facilities must be maintained, and money must be raised—but never at the cost of proclaiming the Gospel.

The parish, in the mind of the Canon Law of the Church, is, after all, a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor (parochus) as its proper pastor (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop and that pastor (parochus) is the proper pastor (pastor) of the parish entrusted to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share. …2

The parish is the core of the community in which it is established. It proclaims to people of every faith and walk of life within that neighborhood, through the presence of its church building, the “dwelling place of God among men,” and the witness of its members, that Jesus Christ is alive in our midst. From his saving love alone, we receive the gift of true and eternal life.

In her wisdom, the Catholic Church has divided the world into geographic territories in order to provide for the systematic care of souls. The diocese and its parishes constitute the normative administrative structure and means of transmission of the Christian way of life left to the Apostles, and handed on through the Tradition of the Church. Alongside the diocesan and parish structure, there exist the various movements, which the Holy Spirit has inspired to bring new life to the Church. In some cases, tension, fueled by jealousy, scandal, and disagreements over theology and administrative style, has arisen when the parish and the movements exist in the same community. This need not be the case when the proper pastor takes charge and gives direction to the work of teaching, governing, and sanctifying the people of God within his territory and, of course, where true love, humility, and faith abide. Cardinal Wuerl, Relator of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in 2012, quotes the Synod’s Proposition §43, referencing how “The Holy Spirit directs the Church in her mission of evangelization ‘with various hierarchical and charismatic gifts’ (LG, 4). In fact the dioceses are ‘a portion of the people of God under the pastoral care of the bishop, helped by his presbyterate’ (Christus Dominus §11), where the diverse charismatic realities recognize the authority of the bishop as integral to their own proper action in service of the ecclesial mission.” The cardinal also relates how the synod “goes on to remind us that since the Second Vatican Council, the New Evangelization has greatly benefited from the dynamism of the new ecclesial movements and new communities.”3 Because the territory of any land where evangelization takes place is under the pastoral care of its bishop and proper pastor, and because, for the most part, the work of evangelization, even by those other than the parish staff, is undertaken on parish property, the parishes, “gathered in communion with the bishop, are called to be centers of the New Evangelization.”4 The cardinal continues by saying, “Of central importance is the parish,” a conclusion supported by Proposition §26 of the synod, which reads, “The bishops gathered in synod affirm that the parish continues to be the primary presence of the Church in neighborhoods, the place and instrument of Christian life. …”5 The Catholic parish, therefore, should be a place where truth and love unite, a center of vitality in the community, and the spring from which flows the Christian life of worship, proclamation, and service. All others, who desire to respond to the Lord’s call to evangelize, do so in collaboration with the parish in which they reside, or minister, in order to further the unified prayer and work of the Church. The Spirit inspires the movements—just as he guides the hierarchy—and the Spirit is One and cannot contradict himself. So, whatever is of God will be in harmony with the ordinary life of the Church. The movements will always hold a special place in the life of the Church for those who are drawn by the Spirit to their small group experiences, and according to their own unique charisms, while the dioceses and parishes will always be the primary loci of worship, proclamation of the Word and charity—the great enterprise of the Body of Christ. Loving collaboration within the Church supports the effective proclamation of the Gospel and its reception by all people.

The cornerstone of the New Evangelization, and thus the primary mission of the parish, is the formation of Catholics into, what Sherry Weddell calls, “intentional disciples.” She describes in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, how a survey of pastors and parish staff people concluded that 5 percent of Catholics are believed to be intentional disciples, which is to say, they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that motivates them to be active in their faith.6 If you think about your own parish, how many of the same people end up being involved in everything? It’s usually a small core group of devout people, and that’s presuming that being involved means they have encountered the Lord in a personal way, which is not always true. The number of real disciples—people who know the Lord, know their faith, and perceive their destiny to be saints—is shockingly small. So often, men and women in the Church today settle into the idea that they are “ordinary Catholics,” while sainthood is for the “extraordinary.”7 The reality is that we are all called to be saints. A human person, while always still prone to sin, who is determined to remain on the road to sainthood is best described as an intentional disciple. Pope Francis described the Church in this way: “We are all sinners here. Yet the Church is holy! We are sinners, but she is holy. She is the spouse of Jesus Christ, and He loves her, He sanctifies her. …”8 Our encounter with Christ, not our own piety, is what makes us holy. The Christian life, the life of the Spirit first given to us in baptism, ignites a fire in the disciple, which is meant to be fanned into flame by an intentional daily journey with Christ. In the parishes, we encounter a myriad of different types of people, all of them sinners, all of them in need of an introduction to Jesus and formation in the Christian life of discipleship. Confession, pastoral counseling, and the administration of a parish so often involves “spiritual triage”—quickly assessing the needs of human hearts and discerning how to best apply the salve of Christ’s love and truth. Pope Francis calls the parish the “field hospital”9 in the midst of the spiritual battle we face today. This is the incomparable blessing of parish life. This is the lifeblood of the Church’s New Evangelization. In our parishes, where we embrace the fullness of the Church’s treasure of spiritual resources, we bring Christ’s healing and form men and women to be intentional disciples.

So, where do we begin? How do we help those beyond the boundaries of the parish registry and the complacent majority within the parish to encounter Jesus and see the beauty of what is offered in Catholic life? What gives energy to these experiences of Catholicism so they do not become stale routines? The answer is: love. First, we need to open our own hearts to receive the love of God the Holy Spirit, who gives life and grace to the mission of the Church. We return that love by wrapping our ministries and apostolates in constant prayer and praise of God. We share that love in our embrace of the needs of everyone we encounter.

So we can ask ourselves: is the liturgy both faithful to the Church and imbued with prayerfulness and holy joy? Is my preaching flowing from time in prayer and anointed by the Spirit? Are our parish ministries and apostolates undertaken in a spirit of discernment of God’s will? Do people see our parish as a place where love and Love Himself resides? Love, like all the virtues, is a “habitual disposition to do the good.” Being disposed to something and developing a good habit takes time and practice. We need to deliberately train ourselves and our collaborators to love better. Hard decisions will still have to be made that will not please everyone (and pleasing is not the same as loving). Yet all the while, the parishioner and the stranger should know the parish is a place of love.

Sherry Weddell remarks in her book that the Good Shepherd image has been flipped around. We now have to leave behind the faithful one to go seek out the 99 lost. More souls are lost than are found in today’s world. This reality of our times demands that the parish be visible and reach out to the community. The Catholic parish in town ought to be involved in town festivals, belong to the local chamber of commerce, and support community events. If there is an opportunity to be seen as a place of love and generosity, seize it. Service to the poor and marginalized proclaims the Gospel and reveals the love of Jesus without words. The parish that wants to form disciples is welcoming and friendly, never turning anyone away, always returning calls and letters, and never allowing a visitor to leave alone and unacknowledged. We belong to a Church that does not wait for the lost and broken of society to stumble upon us. We are attentive to the people we meet along the way in life, and we bring them the love of the heart of Jesus. We proclaim to them Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, in deed and in word. Our love for God, his love in us, and our love for others is the spark of the Gospel that ignites the flame of faith.

Welcoming is the beginning and the constant underpinning of formation. We invite others to “come and see Jesus” in our communities. Something much deeper then occurs as Jesus’ loving presence transforms those who have encountered him. When we speak of formation in seminary terms, we mean the molding of men from different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences into holy men who have an abiding relationship with God and the ability to lead others to him according to the Catholic tradition. Formation addresses the whole person. The life of the priest demands a constant devotion to prayer, the ability to celebrate the liturgy with fidelity and devotion, maturity and comfortableness in one’s own skin, the skills to work well with people, the intelligence to articulate the teaching of the Church, and the pastoral sensitivity to build and lead communities of faith. Knowing the outcome necessary for the good of the flock, the Church determines the process of formation, which is broken down into four pillars: Spiritual, Human, Intellectual, and Pastoral Formation.

Analogously, what are the essential qualities of the formation of disciples that take place in the parish? Discipleship is a way of life that permeates the whole person. It also makes expensive demands on us. You won’t find a program endorsed in this article because the best authors and educators in the fields of theology and religious education know it’s all about Jesus, and not about the “best program.” Instead, we will shine the spotlight on some classics, drawing from our storeroom, the ancient and the new.

I am convinced that we cannot speak of discipleship in theoretical terms. The life of the disciple, which begins with an encounter with Christ, develops through the assimilation of the fullness of what the Church has to offer. Once people meets Jesus, he welcomes them into the Church where they continue their formation into disciples, saints. There has to be something substantial waiting for people when they come to us. “Catholicism lite” will not inspire, form, or maintain discipleship. A commitment to Catholicism, pure and simple—and yet so very profound—is the best way to form disciples. Returning to the tried-and-true basics that have kept us strong for almost two millennia results in disciples who never forget the core of what it means to be a Catholic disciple. These experiences touch the intellect, the soul, the emotions, and the wounds of men and women. They form the whole person in the image of Christ.

First, and by far, the most significant, everything Catholic centers on the person of Jesus Christ, present most substantially in the Holy Eucharist, the source of grace and summit of activity in the Christian life. Our Eucharistic Lord is first adored in Holy Mass and that worship of Christ is extended in Eucharistic Adoration. He is consumed in Holy Communion, as we become filled with the living presence of the Lord. He is served in our care of those in need, as we behold the face of Christ in our brethren. Having partaken of the Body of Christ, we become active as His Mystical Body. This three-fold Eucharistic manner of life—adore, receive, serve—is the heart of the Christian experience. It is also the heart of the parish.

Since Christ, present in the Eucharist, is the center of parish life and discipleship, then his presence should also be the focal point of the church building. Where the tabernacle is hidden, or made to appear secondary, implicitly Jesus has been relegated to the sidelines, and parish life serves other ideals than his. A parish that desires to form truly intentional disciples needs to purposely focus all the attention on Jesus, and that includes making sure the tabernacle is centrally located in the sanctuary itself, beautifully adorned, and easily within view of the faithful all the time. This reminds the people of Whom everything is about in their parish. Where God is adored, he bestows great blessings on the parish. As I heard Fr. Bruce Nieli, CSP, say in a recent conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, “we need to put the Eucharist in the driver’s seat” and everything else flows from him.

In a similar idiom, after making a pastoral visit to a parish, Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote:

“What makes this place tick?” I quizzed the exuberant pastor as he showed me around the parish, renowned for its high rate of Sunday Mass attendance; first-rate school; excellent religious education for kids, teenagers, young adults, and adults; remarkably effective stewardship; and successful initiatives of social justice, pro-life efforts, evangelization, and neighborhood presence. I wanted the “recipe” so I could bottle it and send it around! “Follow me, I’ll show you,” Father replied. … (W)e reached the chapel of the former convent, where, oh, perhaps six to eight people, of diverse ages, were in quiet adoration before Jesus, really and truly present in the Holy Eucharist, there in the monstrance on the altar. “We’ve had perpetual Eucharistic adoration now for four years,” the pastor whispered. … “I’m convinced this Eucharistic adoration is the key to the vitality, growth, and effectiveness of our parish.”10

That is a wise pastor, who knows that, without Jesus at the heart of everything, all attempts at proclaiming the Gospel are in vain. The well-formed disciple will be a Eucharistic-centered person.

Secondly, I am reminded of the flourishing of the early Church. In Acts 2:42, “about three thousand people” who are baptized after accepting the Spirit-filled message of Peter, “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” This tells us that the instinct of the earliest converts is to ground their lives in the teaching and traditions of the Church. This attitude must be adopted by any parish wanting to form intentional disciples. If we are not grounded in the heart of the Church, then we will form people by our activities and ministries to be something other than Catholic.

Because fidelity to Christ includes fidelity to the Church he established, and into which he welcomed us, friendship with Jesus, or discipleship, includes orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The two go hand-in-hand: lex credendi, lex orandi, lex vivendi. Our beliefs shape how we pray, and our prayer expresses our beliefs. Both doctrine and prayer shape how we live. At the same time, right belief, proper ritual, and the instruction in right conduct need to be vibrant, never heavy-handed or worn out, in order to be effective.

St. Augustine famously said that “orthodoxy without charity is not Christianity.” So often, I have encountered false dichotomies between love and truth. For example, some argue that if the Church loved people, she would not have such strict moral laws, or that being pastoral means bending tradition to fit the newest trends. On the other hand, some very committed Catholics can speak without making sense to modern man and woman. The fact is, that the Church’s moral doctrines are the best answers to the real issues facing modern people. The flock deserves the very best: balanced authenticity, a loving presentation of the truth. Christ deserves to be worshiped according to the rubrics established by Holy Mother Church; to be adored by his disciples; and to be loved in the person of the weakest among us. These realities are always interwoven. The Catholic approach is always both/and, not either/or. Orthodoxy has to be explained well and presented in a spirit of love. Liturgy that is reverent and true to its core purpose of worshiping God and sanctifying mankind speaks volumes to the people and resonates with their desire to experience God’s holy presence. Music that quiets the soul and speaks of God, and not ourselves, keeps our easily distracted minds focused properly. A shepherd who is in love with his Lord and at the same time willing to heed Pope Francis and sometimes “smell like the sheep” will inspire the flock. Commitment to the heart of the Church is a winning game plan.

There need not be a dichotomy between orthodoxy and charity. My experience has shown me that it is absolutely possible to “say the black and do the red” in the liturgy and to preach authentic doctrine in a sensible manner that inspires and intrigues, all the while showing great love for the flock. A shepherd after the heart of Christ does all of the above with a sense of joy and camaraderie with his people. It takes work, but the result is a more vibrant parish.

Thirdly, the liturgical calendar and traditional devotions of the Church provide a framework for the formation of disciples. The hours, days, weeks, and months are sanctified by our devotion, and the spiritual elements assigned to each one keep us constantly focused on the Lord. As we go about each day, certain hours provide times for prayer in a specific way. The day of a Catholic should always begin with a version of the Morning Offering, for unless we surrender everything to the Lord and seek to do his will alone, we will ultimately fail. Evening or bedtime provides an opportunity for thankfulness and examination—either the general examination of our sins or the particular examination of some struggle we’re working on. Evaluating the day and making resolutions for the next day keeps us from becoming complacent. Disciples also need to be taught Lectio Divina11 in order that they might devoutly reflect on God’s Word, the source of life and inspiration, for 20-30 minutes each day.

These spiritual practices are the backbone of the Catholic daily experience. The ultimate purpose of all three is to attune us to the heartbeat of the Savior, thus allowing us to walk with the Lord through the day. In addition, the 3:00 Hour of Mercy is a good time to pause and remember the love of God for us manifested in the Passion of Jesus. Such a remembrance cannot help but stir the soul, lifting it from the often mundane and stressful daily experience of life to ponder the higher realms.

Some days are connected with particular mysteries of the faith, for instance, Thursday is the day of the Last Supper, and thus a prime opportunity for Votive Masses of the Holy Eucharist and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; Friday, the day of the Lord’s Passion, is a weekly moment in which to recall the saving action of the Lord, and to celebrate the Votive Mass of the Holy Cross; Saturdays should always include the Votive Mass of Mary, where appropriate. First Fridays and First Saturdays should never go by without attention to the devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. The promises made by the Lord and Mary are just what the world needs to keep it from evil and on the path to salvation. As many of the saints as possible should be celebrated at daily Mass, for the men and women who have gone before us in faith offer us an irreplaceable gift as they inspire and intercede for us. The lessons of the saints are indispensable for Christian living. The months and seasons further open up new realms of formation. The month of May is traditionally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and October to the Rosary, fitting times to emphasize the role of Mary in leading us to Jesus, her Divine Son. The themes of each liturgical season connect the hearts of men and women to the life of Christ in a constant cycle, thus keeping before our eyes the image of Christ, whose imitation is the path to eternal life. Since Pope John Paul II established the Feast of Divine Mercy, the Sunday after Easter should never be missed by any priest as an opportunity to proclaim God’s love and honor him with the devotion to Divine Mercy. The Way of the Cross in Lent, the Advent Wreath, and the Corpus Christi procession are tangible symbols that allow us to express our love for the Lord. Pastors, of course, first need to study all these observances, prayers, and devotions, and be prepared to preach on them in order to catechize the faithful before the celebrations themselves. Not a day goes by without a reason to speak of a unique aspect of our faith and make it real for our people. These opportunities do not need to be invented, but only embraced and shared.

Fourthly, I recall the wit of Fr. Brett Brannen at a retreat when I was in seminary. Among his many pithy sayings, he quipped, “90 percent of 90 percent.” He then explained: “90 percent of Catholics receive 90 percent of their information and inspiration from Sunday Mass.” That being the case—and we know from our experience how so few parishioners attend events during the week—Sunday Mass demands our heartfelt attention. A parish needs to examine its priorities and make sure that its liturgy is directed to the worship of the Almighty, not the glorification of the community, conducted according to the rubrics established by the Church, and filled with a spirit of delight in the things of God. Liturgy is not about creativity. It is about preparing a place for the Creator to manifest himself. Styles can vary within appropriate boundaries, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be manifest in adoration of the divine, obedience to the Church, inspiring beauty and authentic joy. Such a vibrant combination will be “catchy.” It will attract seekers and form disciples. In a world of constant noise, the noble simplicity of the liturgy allows transcendent realities—unity, truth, goodness, and beauty—to shine forth. The Spirit will move as he wills and capture the hearts of mankind. That requires that we get out of the way and let the Missal and the Lord do all the work.

A word about preaching must be added here, since the homily is the message which the 90 percent take home as their spiritual nourishment for the week. The homily is the facilitation of an encounter between the hearer and the living Jesus, who speaks through the Word proclaimed. Therefore, it is never a megaphone for any one preacher’s personal agenda. Preaching ought to be balanced: not fluffy, yet not over the heads of the people; rooted in Scripture, yet not a lesson in historical-critical scholarship; catechetical, yet not moralizing. Every homily does not have to begin with a story: explore the point of the story in three points, and then close the circle with a return to the moral of the story. The “story” can be a song lyric, an occasional joke, a quote, or a personal experience—something to set the tone. At the same time, what often works better than a circular approach, is a trajectory approach. The homily should take the congregation on a journey, from the opening “hook” through the scripture, to a concrete lesson, to an application of the lesson, and finally, a mission like a sound bite they can latch onto, that sends them out of church excited to live differently, because of the hope they have received from God. Preaching, done well, brings the listener to a meeting with Jesus in the words of Scripture, a meeting from which he or she leaves energized to walk with him in newness of life. So when a homily is being prepared, the preacher needs to ask in prayer: what, in these readings, will speak most eloquently to my people of the reality of Jesus’ saving love and liberating truth? Where is Jesus in my homily?

These are the core realities of the unique Catholic content of the formation of disciples in our parishes: an intentional focus on Christ in the Eucharist, fidelity to the heart of the Church, attentiveness to daily devotions and the liturgical calendar, liturgical fidelity, and preaching that leads the congregation into an encounter with Jesus, and challenges them to a holy life. These experiences of God in the life of the Church have formed saints for centuries. People learn and grow spiritually from such foundations.

In a variety of ways, we deliberately go out to find the lost, so that they can see in the Catholic man and woman the face of Jesus. That will be their initial encounter with love, and with Love himself, which God can make to grow into conversion and discipleship. Then, by his grace, they will come to behold the amazing dynamic beauty of our Catholic life which our parishes have to offer. If the parish is ready with all its priorities in order, the journey of discipleship will continue. If not, it will remain rather shallow or fade altogether. The people are hungering; with what shall we feed them? The choice is ours. Be heroic Catholics!

  1. Fr. Terrence Henry, TOR, Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  2. CIC §517 ff.
  3. Cardinal Wuerl, relator of the Synod of Bishops, 2012.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Weddell, Sherry. Forming Intentional Disciples. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012. p62.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Pope Francis. “Saints are humbled sinners sanctified by Christ.” Vatican Radio. May 9, 2014.
  9. Spardaro, Antonio. “A Big Heart Open to God.” America Magazine. American Press Inc., September 2013.
  10. Dolan, Timothy. Eucharistic Adoration. Online. July 2011.
  11. Lectio Divina, Latin for Divine Reading.
Fr. Matthew J. Albright About Fr. Matthew J. Albright

Fr. Matthew J. Albright is pastor, Our Lady of Victory in Andover, Ohio, and St. Patrick in Kinsman, Ohio. He is spiritual director of DOY Faith and Family Festival, spiritual advisor to Catholics United for the Faith; vice-chair of the Bishop Franzetta Memorial Lecture Series; member of the Society for Catholic Liturgy; DOY Catechetical Commission (Technology Committee); Diocesan Friar of the Knights of Columbus 4th Degree; member of the International Bonhoeffer Society; board member of the Ashtabula (Ohio) County Catholic Charities.


  1. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    Excellent piece. I’m all for disciples who are intentional.

    However, if we’re going to play the stats. game, then ‘99%’ of those whom I’m encountering promoting or calling themselves ‘Intentional Disciples’, I have grave concerns about.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Being on my phone, I touched ‘post’ before finishing…

      I was going to add:
      To me, there’s something fishy about them or to use one of Pope Francis’ metaphors, they just don’t smell right.

      In the same way, I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t now start seeing people calling themselves ‘Heroic Catholics (TM)’ after this article…

  2. Thank you, Fr. Albright, for this article. You have provided much guidance toward the goal of formation of disciples in the Catholic Faith, with a rightful Christ-centered orientation. If I could have recommended one thing to you, specifically to include in your article, it would have been this: Do not – because we cannot – presume that the first step of apostolic work has taken place. Do not presume that the kerygma has been preached, heard, received and embraced among members of the parish. Do not presume that members of a Catholic parish today are, in a real sense, converted from the world and are now disciples of Jesus Christ.

    Msgr. Charles Pope has written some helpful advice on this in two blog articles (links below), on the crucial importance of beginning with the kerygma, in the work of making disciples of Jesus – so that then disciples can be rightly formed in the Faith of the Church. He wrote:

    “The basic content of the kerygma emphasizes that Jesus is the chosen Messiah of God, the one who was promised. And though he was crucified, He rose gloriously from the dead, appearing to his disciples, and having been exulted at the right hand of the Father through his ascension, now summons all to him, through the ministry of the Church. This proclamation (kerygma) requires a response from us, that we should repent of our sins, accept baptism, and live in the new life which Christ is offering. This alone will prepare us for the coming judgment that is to come upon all humanity. There is an urgent need to conform ourselves to Christ and be prepared by him for the coming judgment.”

    We could add, following this quote, that this necessary initial conversion to Christ will prepare us to receive any further formation in the many mysteries which He entrusted to HIs Church, and which comprises the Catholic Faith. Without this foundation, any attempted “formation” is something less, “mere information” (about Jesus and/or the Church) in contrast to authentic “interior formation” in Him, with living faith.

    Msgr. Pope, in studying eight examples of the initial (kerygmatic) preaching in the Book of Acts, notes three essential components:

    “1. Effect–there is some event, usually a healing which in effect generates the audience. This is a critical element that we will return to later.
    2. Explanation–there is an explanation for the events presented that is rooted in Jesus Christ and setting forth how he fulfills prophecy, is the longed-for Messiah. The Paschal mystery, that Christ was killed through our sinfulness, but rose gloriously triumphant, is at the heart of this explanation. And this Paschal mystery is the power through which all healing takes place. This same Jesus, now exulted at the Father’s right hand is Judge and Lord of the world.
    3. Exhortation – there is an appeal to repentance and the call to receive Jesus Christ in faith.”

    That first “gathering” event – a dramatic, miraculous event – was then and is today, Msgr. Pope is bold to say, necessary. But the kind of miracle need not be of a supernatural physical healing: it can be and ought to be a proclamation of personal transformation by the preacher: he must be able to say, “Because of Jesus Christ, I am a new man! He changed my life! He gave me a new life, an eternal life, the reason for my life!” That testimony is only possible when the speaker himself is a witness in himself to such transformation. If it is true that we cannot give what we do not have, it is also true that if we have this, we must give it! Such preaching has zeal, unction, urgency and power. The Gospel, and the people, deserve nothing less.

    Pope Paul VI said the same thing, it seems to me, when he wrote “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii nuntiandi) Persons – both those living entirely worldly lives, and those who live mostly worldly lives but mixed with a vague loyalty to their Catholic roots – are hungry to hear how their own lives can make sense, can have direction and meaning, have a reason, a purpose and a destination. A witness to this supernatural gift, to be found in Jesus, is the necessary bridge between the darkness of this world, and the light of life.

    So please excuse the length of my response – attribute the length to my eagerness to promote this crucial element, which I believe to be absolutely essential to any renewal of formation, catechesis and making of disciples. My experience with “Returning Catholics” and with adult formation of practicing Catholics is that for many, the essential foundation so often presupposed in homilies is not there, and has never been laid.


    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Thank you so much for this Dr Richard, very interesting and useful.

      I think Francis Schaeffer used to bash on about ‘Pre-Evangelism’, and is that the sort of thing you meant?

      To be honest, I was an ‘undercover catechist’ in my last parish – I had no formal role – but was trusted and fully authorised by the PP to run small studies at home for adults which were informal and low-key, and they seemed surprisingly successful at switching people on gently, like blowing on dying embers. It really does work:
      (Greg Koukl was co-author with Frank Beckwith of, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air)
      I have to say, that experience was an eye-opener, as people spoke openly in an unthreatening environment. Not only were they embarrassed and ashamed of their ignorance and so didn’t want to admit it, but they often thought ‘the Church’, and even our priest, might as well speak Chinese. They needed real basics.

      What worries me, though, is too many people seem to be setting themselves up as ‘Evangelistic Entrepreneurs’, or enterprises, often appealing only to people like themselves, and causing what seem to be counterproductive tensions within a parish.

      I think the following allegory by William J Abraham, the Methodist Theologian – what he calls the Doornob Theory of Renewal – which sums up what I see happening:

      We have encountered in our journey thus far what we might accurately depict as the doorknob theory of renewal. The theory runs like this: In entering the church, a bright and alert member notices that the doorknob needs polishing. In time others join him, but they then notice that the door itself is in need of painting. So another enterprising member sets out to paint the door, and a hardworking crew soon joins her. On the way in through the newly painted door, a third member notices that the vestibule is terribly cluttered and untidy, and he sets about clearing it up in earnest. He is keen that newcomers do not get the wrong impression on their first visit. Other members do not like the music and insist on updating the tempo and the lyrics. In reaction to this move others threaten to leave and set about strengthening the traditional forms of worship with gusto. By now fixing the building has become something of an obsession for many of the members.

      In time the architects show up and begin looking at the foundations. They claim to be trained experts and specialists. Unfortunately they do not agree on either the structure or the original layout of the building, nor on its developments over the years at the hands of later occupants. Worse still, they have radically different plans drawn up for either restoring the building to its original beauty, or for renovating it in a fitting way to meet current expectation and needs. Not surprisingly, by this time the noise in the church has become cacophonous, and the building begins to fall apart, as rival teams of workers assault it. In the meantime, many members have been sneaking out to look at other buildings in the neighborhood that seem to have exciting new architects. So some of them leave to join these new architects and to start all over again. Others make their way down into the basement and settle in to endure the chaos above.”

      William J Abraham, The Logic of Renewal, p133-4

      • Hello Mr. Rodden – No, I don’t think “pre-evangelism” describes what I was trying to say. I had to look up the term on the internet, since I was unfamiliar with it. But I was trying to say that many Catholics have been catechized to some small degree, and sacramentalized – “institutionalized” into the institutional Church – but perhaps never really converted from the world and to Christ in their minds and hearts. I just saw the Angelus of Pope Francis for today – it seems very relevant. The talk focuses on “Jesus preached with authority, and not as their scribes.” We, the Church, need to preach salvation in Christ, with the authentic power of Christ! The Pope said:

        “What does “with authority” mean? It means that in the human word of Jesus the strength of the Word of God was felt, the same authoritativeness of God was felt, inspirer of the Holy Scripture. And one of the characteristics of the Word of God is that it carries out that which it says. Because the word of God corresponds with His will. Instead, we often pronounce empty words, without roots or superfluous words, words that do not correspond with the truth. The Word of God, instead, corresponds to the truth and is united to His will and does what He says. ……

        “The Gospel is the word of life: it does not oppress people, on the contrary, it frees those who are enslaved by so many evil spirits in this world: vanity, the attachment to money, pride, sensuality…The Gospel changes the heart, the Gospel changes the heart! It changes life; it transforms the inclination to evil to resolutions of good. The Gospel is capable of changing the hearts of the people.

        “Therefore it is the duty of Christians to spread everywhere the redeeming power, becoming missionaries and heralds of the Word of God….. The new doctrine taught with authority by Jesus is that which the Church brings to the world, together with the effective signs of His presence: the authoritative teaching and the liberating action of the Son of God becomes the words of salvation and the gestures of love of the missionary Church. Always remember that the Gospel has the power to change life! Do not forget this! That is the good news that transforms us only when we allow ourselves to be transformed by it. That is why I ask you always to have daily contact with the Gospel. To read it every day; a passage. To meditate upon it and also, to carry it with you everywhere, in your pocket, in your purse. That is, to nourish yourselves every day from this inexhaustible source of salvation. Do not forget, read a passage from the Gospel every day. It is the power that changes us, that transforms us, it changes life and it changes the heart.”

        I was trying to say that we need to be witness of such power within our own hearts and minds – we need to be or to become not merely educated scribes, but rather human witnesses of the power of God to work the miracle of a changed human life.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful and helpful reply.
        I get it , now, and fully agree. Truly beautiful. It is what is needed because it can speak to anyone.

  3. Avatar Dorrie Daly says:

    For me, the experience of the Charismatic Renewal and being baptized in the Spirit was what really gave me zeal for reaching out to others. However this movement in the Church seems to be very marginalized and almost disallowed when it has so much potential for evangelization.

    • Hi Dorrie,
      “However this movement in the Church seems to be very marginalized and almost disallowed when it has so much potential for evangelization.” Why do you think that is, and why do you think marginalisation is not warranted? Has nothing else got, ‘so much potential for evangelization’?

      To be honest, In order to get my head round some of this New Evangelisation stuff, I have just started reading, Brendan Leahy’s book, Ecclesial Movements and Communities: Origins, Significance and Issues. It’s hard going because I find the movements – especially the Charismatic one – so irksome, if not just creepy. But I’m determined to try to work through it (the book and my antipathy to movements!).

      In short, might too many movements be starting to see themselves more as saviours than saved, more Esoteric than Evangelistic, and their members, more Recruiting Sergeants than Evangelists?

      • Avatar Dorrie Daly says:

        Paul, the Charismatic Movement has been approved and encouraged as a hope for the Church by St. John Paul11 and is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people who are not open to it ,or have not experienced it and therefore are doubtful. I never said or implied that there aren’t other methods for evangelization. I only know by personal experience and that of others that my faith was awakened and made compelling by this experience. I went from knowing about Jesus to knowing Him personally. It was and is a great gift to me for which I am very grateful.
        It increased my faith as I also saw and experienced miracles, as have many others.

    • Brian Van Hove SJ Brian Van Hove SJ says:
      • Thank you for this and taking your time to reply and assist.
        I am away at the moment, but will investigate it when home.

      • Oh. There’s actually a transcript (as I can’t watch video here). But what’s more uncanny is that it mentions John MacArthur’s book ‘Strange Fire’ which I came across in another blogpost about a fortnight ago, and it arrived the day before I came away!

      • Brian Van Hove SJ Brian Van Hove SJ says:

        Primary source research on the subject of American Catholic Pentecostalism is available here. It is a dark history so only the brave should look into this matter:
        Thomas Yoder Papers, 1967-1988, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

  4. Hi Dorrie.
    Glad it works for you.
    My point was that too many I know seem to be faking it and so they just smell wrong.

    Sadly, the vulnerable, including young adults, will often override that sense. Also, in my experience, some form of abuse is lurking not far away owing to the layers of self-deception being played out.

    • Hello Paul – The thing is, to reject something because it has been seen to be abused by some people does not seem a reliable standard. What has not been abused by some people? Can you name anything good in God’s creation that you can say is not susceptible to abuse, to counterfeit, to pretense, to self-advantage – to sinful manipulation?

      It can be very difficult and tedious to try to sort through some given spirituality, to weed out salesmen, self-promoters, booksellers, and even “groupies”,…, and begin to search for seeds or flowerings of holy truth. God wants to reach us all! Even when we are the biggest obstacle and obstruction to His outreach. And He has many ways to hold out His hand to us – often, surprising ways.

      • Thank you for this helpful reminder and understanding, Dr R. I am heartened you struggle with similar concerns and grasp the issues I have raised. In a sense I often feel embarrassed as I realise how negative what I write here, and have elsewhere, on HPR might sound. I am just trying to deal with issues I come across as a lay person/non-professional.

        I suppose I hope I am not on any personal quest so much as seeing sensitive people I know damaged, including one suicide as a result of the individual feeling guilty that they just didn’t ‘feel the spirit’, and nobody in authority stepped in, even though they knew that individual was extremely vulnerable and suggestible. It seems that if something starts in a parish which claims that it’s ‘of the Spirit’ or will fix everything, then it seems to be allowed to flourish undiscerned and unhindered.

        To me, in these matters, as a knife will be used differently by a chef or a madman, it’s often remarkably similar in the realm of spirituality, where wisdom, discernment, etc., are switched off, and as long as the message is correct (knife), the medium (spiritually mature or neurotic) doesn’t matter, as long as they have ‘passed the training’ or have a certificate.

        Like Fr van Hove’s important, but lighthearted, comment, above, I am by no means a cessationist either (although often feel a party-pooper), but it just seems like any gift or activity which claims to bring some empirical outcome is sought at the expense of discernment, wisdom, temperance, prudence, etc.. In fact attempts to apply any of these are frequently met with a sneer or as a deliberate attempt to ‘quash the Spirit’.

        I don’t mean to sound a sourpuss, but cautious in the light of what seems to be a chronic imbalance in the presence of gifts/virtues in a growing number of settings – even ‘traditionalist’ – and it seems odd the Holy Spirit seems to forget to bring along to the party any ‘parent’ that’s likely to pour cold water on it…

        From what you’ve written, do you have any tips please as to when, or should, we step in, or do we just let the ‘wheat and tares’ continue in what Ronald Knox called ‘a mixed bag’, looking on helplessly whilst supposed experts are allowed to run roughshod over the simple piety of the faithful in the pews because it doesn’t look how they think it should look, causing pain and division? Part of me says just pray about it as that’s the most powerful, but I’m in a real quandary…

        Any help/advice greatly received (from anyone!).

      • Hello again Paul (by the way, are you and Paul Rodden one or two persons?). It’s hard to know how to respond specifically to your last post, because so many factors are involved in the question, when to speak and when to keep silent. Maybe you’d want to email me, and we could try to deal with it in a more confined way. If you click on my name, you’ll get to my blog; if you click on “About this Blog” you’ll go to a page with a email address that gets to me. If you’d like, that is.

    • Brian Van Hove SJ Brian Van Hove SJ says:
      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Fr van Hove.

        There is so much in the material you have pointed to with which I find resonance. Thank you. (I hadn’t heard of Thomas Yoder, but it was interesting Ralph Martin and Derek Prince (an Englishman whose talks an Evangelical friend of mine tries to foist upon me regularly to get me out of Babylon) were members of that community, and so it joins up some dots! As you’ll guess, I too have problems with the Charismatic Renewal. I believe in Charisms, but the only time it seems I can’t help coming over all cessationist, is when I’m talking with Charismatics. :)

        But seriously, one of the things Charismatics always point me to is the ‘glowing’ support Movements, especially the Charismatic one, have received from recent popes, but also the enigma of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa at the heart of the Church. (I am no expert, and have read some of his books, and they seem straight down the line.)

        In many cases, I’ve been given the justification that, ‘Well at least it sets people on fire for the Lord’, as if the Charismatic Movement is essential for kick-starting an active faith, and one can see a correlation. Charismatics do tend to get far more ‘converts’, and more zealous ones, too.

        It seems to be a very strong argument empirically, and they are, indeed, zealous, or at least tenacious, to the point of still carrying on trying to evangelise folks even after they’ve completely alienated them. So is it the Holy Spirit, or simply more an epiphenomenon of its emphasis on affectivity that brings the capacity for dogged persistence? There seems to be so much wrong, but at least they’re getting committed bums on seats (but are they committed to the right things?).

        What’s more, many squeaky clean ‘traditionalist’ Catholics now have guitar-led adoration sessions, like at Y2K (Youth 2000), yet they still hate guitars during Mass. Is it a different Jesus during adoration? Might those who like ‘Clown Masses’ think this is incredibly hypocritical if the traditionalists are having, in effect, ‘Fairy Benedictions’ with soporific riffs around a ‘Christmas tree’ of candles with Jesus on the top, like the fairy?
        Are they doing it just because they know it works particularly well with impressionable young people? The end – ‘converts’ – justifies the means?

        Sorry, that’s a bit of a rant to make a point, but how can latent Catholics, especially the young, be switched on without appealing to things like the above: the ’empirical’ or sensational? Or are us 98% of the laity in the pews, as many Charismatics (and the new 2% Intentional Disciples) think, ‘dead’, particularly when we look it by chattering before and during Mass, only do the bare minimum to keep ourselves out of Hell, know nothing about the faith apart from oft quoted snippets from the Penny Catechism, and resist all offers of further, ongoing formation, whilst they are committed, prayerful, and generally Christian goody-two-shoes? (2 Cor 11.3-6, Rom. 16.17-18, 2 Tim. 4.3-5)

        Dr Thomas Richard has given me a great insight and some really helpful pointers on dealing with this issue from a personal perspective, for which I am grateful, but would you be willing to comment here about how, or whether, you think we can evangelise successfully without gimmicks/emotionally-charged events, or is it simply a case of knuckling down to ‘the narrow way’, and many simply won’t choose to travel it because it’s not nearly as exciting or satisfying?

        Any thoughts gratefully received, but if you’re too busy, that’s OK.

      • Brian Van Hove SJ Brian Van Hove SJ says:

        Pentecostalists say how “welcome” they are in Rome and that they are approved by the popes. So are Jews and Buddhists and Communists. Rome is friendly by vocation! When I lived there, Papa Wojtyla gave a State Dinner for Fidel Castro, and Wojtyla was no Communist-sympathizer. It is all in a days work when you are both a civil and an ecclesiastical entity as is the Holy See. Many treat Father Cantalamessa’s idiosyncrasy as nothing more than an exaggerated personal devotion, such as to the Infant of Prague. Pentecostalism is generally perceived as an American import, despite the occasional European devotee. And Americans got it from Protestants in 1967 at the famous Duquesne weekend. All we need are the seven sacraments, not foreign imports.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. Much appreciated.

        I am in England, and what you say rings true, but if anything, more pronounced. Oddly (or not) the English Charismatics – Protestant or Catholic – seem to get a ‘personality transplant’ when they get involved, and dare I say it, they come to ‘behave like Californians, except with English accents’, as my cousin from Chicago puts it. (Apparently there’s an American in-joke – ‘There are Americans, but then there are Californians’ – which he had to explain to me). :)

        Here’s a quote from Dietrich Bonnhoeffer I read yesterday about Youth Ministry you might appreciate (apparently he was a Youth Pastor and wrote a lot on the subject):

        Since the days of the youth movement, church youth work has often lacked that element of Christian sobriety that alone might enable it to recognize that the spirit of youth is not the Holy Spirit and that the future of the church is not youth itself but rather the Lord Jesus Christ alone. It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God; it is the task of the church not to capture the youth, but to teach and proclaim the Word of God.

  5. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Thank you father Albright for your wonderful paper on the parish life. , Active membership in parish organisations is wonderful.. Each catholic should make an intention to the Holy Spirit to remain in the faith and practice love of God and others. Although the Knights of Columbus are independent from parish authority it is a superior order that promotes life by assisting those not so fortunate morally or financially . I am a 4th degree member here in Dallas. The Knights of Columbus being ” evangelism in action” invites men to join to express discipleship in a parish and the universal Church The Summa Contra Gentiles of St. Thomas Aquinas can show one a way to be a devout parishioner.

  6. Brian Van Hove SJ Brian Van Hove SJ says:

    With these two points I leave you–(cessationists by definition must cease!) :

    1. Many ordinary people join the Lodge, a sewing circle, a discussion club or a pentecostalist prayer group in order to find good company. It does not mean agreement with ideas, but it does mean a need for some social life. A cessationist friend of mine, erudite and now deceased, told me just that–he was lonesome and needed the company that the social hour and refreshments provided.
    2. Whenever we speak of a movement, we look for the money trail. The expression “Ann Arbor” always comes up when Pentecostalism is discussed. Not Bristol, or Peoria, or Boston or Oakland–just “Ann Arbor”. Somebody connected to this obscure dot on the map had the resources to launch and to relaunch pentecostalist interests. And in there lies a tale.

  7. You know, I’m generally instructed & uplifted by HPR articles & dismayed by the comments left after the articles. In this case, Dorrie was taken to task for simply stating her experience of the Charismatic Renewal and, a few comments later, the Inference was that the Renewal was as welcome in the Vatican as Castro.
    Geez. Talk about not passing the ‘smell test.’ If you’re putting that much time, energy & hyperbole toward detraction of your fellow Catholics, it may be that they’re not the ones who are stinking.


  1. […] in “Laying the Foundation for Forming Disciples in Our Parishes”, Fr. Matthew J. Albright, HPR: Like this:Like […]