Saturday, December 27, 2014

Evangelize – Proselytize – Catechize, what is the difference?

Evangelize – Proselytize – Catechize, what is the difference?

Evangelization and proselytization are both acts which are done with the hope of converting someone from a particular religion, or no religion, to another religion. Evangelization when done properly is the sharing of one’s faith in a non-confrontational manner with the hope that the sharing sparks an interest in the listener and the conversation continues. Proselytization is a more direct, confrontational approach that tries to convert a person by making them believe that a particular way is the only right way and that you must believe that way as presented or suffer the consequences. Proselytization has never been overly successful and is illegal in some countries. It never less remains one of the most popular ways to try to convert people to a particular way of thinking. To catechize is to instruct someone in the principles of a religion (most commonly associated with Catholicism) by means of question and answer, typically using a catechism. Catechism continues what evangelization begins.

This blog is a bit of both evangelization and catechization. It is my way to share my faith with you while providing some instruction and explanation on why Catholics believe what we believe. Going through RCIA the second time with my wife and son I found that I like to share my faith. More so, I found that I enjoy explaining or teaching why we believe what we do. There is no end to the number of people, Catholic or not, who are willing to tell you why we believe and do what we do. Unfortunately, the number of people who get it wrong are more numerous than the web pages that will back up their claims. The Church, at least in America, has done a poor job through the ages in properly catechizing the faithful. As a result we have a church full of people who stand together on Sunday and proclaim, “I believe….” But then get to the parking lot and say, “But I think the Church is wrong on….”

The Catholic Church has the magisterium. The magisterium is the authority that spells out exactly what the authentic teaching of the Church is. It stems from apostolic succession. Jesus taught his disciples and gave them the authority to teach their replacements. The replacements came to be known as bishops. Bishops have the authority, responsibility and duty to teach the authentic teachings of Christ to the faithful. The magisterium consists of the pope and the bishops who are in communion with him.

What the magisterium ensures is that every Catholic Church teaches the same thing no matter where they are in the world. Truth and teaching is not left up to the individual parish or person to define for themselves. Jesus taught his disciples one way, one truth. Today we have over 41,000 Christian denomination and non-denominational churches throughout the world each teaching what they believe to be the truth. I think it is safe to say that there are not 41,000 different versions of the one truth.

The Catholic Church is the only church that can back up a claim of having an unbroken line of apostolic succession leading directly back to Jesus himself. What the Church teaches today is exactly what the first disciples taught and received directly from Jesus. Church teaching may have been clarified through the years but it has never changed, even during the bad years of even worse popes. No matter how corrupt they may have been none of them changed Church teaching even to benefit themselves.

The key word behind teaching a faith is authority. By whose authority are you teaching? If I were to show up at your house and demand you let me in because I was with the FBI I would be in a lot of trouble. I am not there with the authority of the FBI. The same is truth with faith. Am I teaching the faith according to Christ or am I teaching the faith according to Bob? Where does my authority come from? For a Catholic, the authority to officially teach the faith (catechize) comes only from the diocesan bishop. All Catholics are called to evangelize their faith as a mandate of their baptism but only those with the bishop’s approval may officially teach the faith.

I wanted to join our parish’s RCIA team but I would first have to gain the bishop’s approval to teach with authority. The following week I saw a notice in the church bulletin announcing that a new class of ministry formation was about to begin. The diocese offers a two year course for people who want to become a Catholic lay minister in one of the many ministries the church offers. The description of the course reads as follows:


What is the Ministry Formation Program?


A two-year formation program for Catholic lay men and women with at least a high school education who want to:


  • offer leadership in an area of ministry,
  • deepen spiritual awareness,

  • enhance theological knowledge,
  • develop pastoral skills for a particular area of ministry.

Who benefits from the Ministry Formation Program?

You and your parish.  Well trained lay ministers will promote the Gospel and encourage the involvement of others.

To learn more about the ministry formation program CLICK HERE.

 I sought approval from our parish priest and was enrolled in the course. Orientation day I felt very out of place. I wasn’t very comfortable around “church people” and these were definitely people who wanted more out of their faith than just a Sunday Mass. In the first class we had to do an introduction, state what parish we were from and tell what rolls we currently do for our parish. I listened to my classmates tell who they were, where they were from and the title after title of the ministries they were involved in. When it was my turn it simply went, “Hi, I’m Bob from St. Rita in Rockford.” It was the exclamation point on the “you’re in the wrong place” sentence echoing in my mind.

I am now half way through my second year of ministry formation and I can honestly say that it has been one of the best things I could have ever done. It has been transformative in my life. I have learned my faith at a deeper level while making some very good friends along the way. It has changed the way I think and look at people. It is leading me in directions I never thought I’d go. Before taking this course I would say that I did more proselytizing than evangelizing. I can only hope that my proselytizing days are long behind me.

As with all things with God each door he opens leads to a larger room. One just has to be willing to walk through the door. I am now almost through the room of ministry formation and am faced with yet another door. God is asking if I want the door to be opened and now instead of presenting excuses why I don’t I am willing to say yes and see where it leads.

I am now walking this road to Damascus with purpose instead of wandering aimlessly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

       “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.”

Luke 2, 1-20

And so began the first Christ Mass or Christmas where man received the greatest gift we would ever receive. Prepare your hearts to be as empty mangers waiting for the baby Jesus to come. Welcome him into your life and love him as any good parent loves a child. Let him shine through you into the New Year as a beacon of faith, hope and charity. Without him we are but dust. With him we become adopted royal heirs to God’s great kingdom or basileia.

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it."
John 1, 1-5

Rejoice for the Christ has come!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Right as Rain

It was now time to enroll our children in CCD. When we called to register we found out that my oldest was now too old to be entered into the program.  If he wanted to get confirmed he would have to go through the RCIA program instead. It was disappointing news at first but worked out better in the end. The middle two children were enrolled in CCD and began their religious education.

Seeing RCIA is an adult formation program it wasn’t something I was going to force my son to go through. If he wanted to become Catholic we would enroll him in RCIA. If he didn’t or wasn’t ready we wouldn’t force him to go through it. My son aims to please everyone and said he wanted to go through the program. I hoped that he wanted to go through it for himself and not just to please me. He assured me that it was something he wanted to do. His mother wasn’t very happy with this decision but said she would support him in it. He chose his grandfather to be his sponsor.

Much to my surprise when we enrolled my son my wife also enrolled. She had decided that she wanted to get baptized and become a full member of the Church. I could not be her sponsor because of our marriage situation but I attended classes with her and my son.

Going through RCIA the second time was more difficult for me. I had learned more about my faith and was looking to receive a greater depth of instruction than what was taught. I had forgotten that RCIA was meant to be a taste of the faith, enough so the person could understand what they were committing to but not too much to be overwhelming. It was perfect for what my wife and son needed. RCIA in our new parish was taught by a team of seven people. Many of them have become dear friends. One has become my mentor.

It was finally time for our family to right our relationship with God. I am sure it was with divine help all of the puzzle pieces started to fall into place.

First – my annulment was granted. I was now free to marry. My wife’s first marriage was also reviewed and she was cleared to marry as well. Free to marry, we could have our marriage blessed and be viewed as husband and wife by the Church. Father Ariel Valencia witnessed our marriage in a private ceremony in the chapel of our church on March 16th, 2013. We had already done the big show wedding. This one was for our family and God.

Next – I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. This was something that was overlooked the first time I went through RCIA and my Lutheran baggage told me that this was something I didn’t really have to do. With that baggage gone and a deeper understanding of my faith I understood that this was a huge hurdle keeping me from God.  One by one I went through the list of sins I had committed over the course of forty years. Some were extremely painful to say out loud. Some brought forth immense shame. Both of those were good things as it showed me that I was sorry for what I had done. Many people have told me about the weight they feel lifted off of them when they hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins.” I didn’t have that experience. It was good to know that I had been forgiven but at the same time some healed wounds leave scars and I have some that run very deep. In any event I was now a man with a clean slate and a blessed marriage. I was now in a right relationship to receive the Eucharist again. The thought of this brought me joy but that joy failed in comparison to what happened next.

We were now entering Holy Week where the catechumens (unbaptized) and candidates (baptized adults seeking full confirmation) were preparing to become full members of the Church. On Easter Sunday, 2013 my wife and her two children were baptized. Then my wife and oldest son were confirmed and became full members of the Church. Next my wife, my oldest and I all received the Eucharist together. For me it was the first time receiving the Eucharist in thirteen years. One could argue that it actually the first time I received the Eucharist correctly.

This by far was the greatest day of my life and the source of the greatest joy I have ever known. A husband and father’s primary responsibility is to make sure that his wife and children make it to heaven. When I first started down this road I had little hope of fulfilling that task. I am constantly amazed at what God can do if you only allow him to work through you. I now had a Catholic family, all baptized and growing in their faith.

God was far from done.

Father Ariel Valencia, my wife and children - Easter Sunday 2013.