This past week Deacon Joe Malenfont and Alan Badia of the Parish Life and Evangelization Department of the Diocese attended our deanery meeting. They spoke to us of a program called “Alpha”. Here is a description of Alpha from the promotional materials: Alpha is a tool for evangelization that is being used by thousands of Catholic parishes in over 70 countries around the world. Alpha is also run by churches of many other denominations to indtroduce people to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. This has led to more than 24 million people around the world experiencing Alpha. In particular, it is attracting many young people who are asking the question, “Is there more to life than this?”
Alpha covers the very basic tenets of the Christian faith, which is why it can be used across denominations. It is aimed at helping people to come to a knowledge of God and enter into a relationship with Him. The Pastoral Center of the Diocese has already run two programs of Alpha for the ongoing conversion of those who work in the Center. A training session will be offered in the Diocese on November 12th. (Location TBA.)
Here are the topics covered in the course:
Is there more to life than this? Who is Jesus?
Why did Jesus die? How can I have faith?
Why and how do I pray? Why and how should I read the Bible?
How does God guide us? Who is the Holy Spirit?
What does the Holy Spirit do?
How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? How can I make the most of the rest of my life?
How can I resist evil Why and how should I tell others?
How does God heal today? What about the Church?
Deacon Malenfont and Mr. Badia said the Bishop would love to see this program implemented in our parishes. If I remember correctly, they said that some fourteen parishes in the Diocese are beginning to implement the program. The program is a very concrete evangelization tool for parishes. This is important, because the Church exists to transform the world, to evangelize the culture around us.
Here are words of Pope Francis in his work Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel):
First the Pope invites all of us to be alive with the Gospel (paragraph 3): I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!
Then the Pope exorts parishes to “missionary conversion” (paragraph 25): I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.
Key times for starting an Alpha program in a parish are the beginnings of each academic semester. I was just about to start a group of parishioners from my last two parishes with Alpha training, when I got the call to come to Paulding. Now that we have the Department for Parish Life and Evangelization promoting it, I am all-the-more inspired to consider it at our parish. I could envision it at any one of our campuses (or all three!). The program lasts 10 weeks. I envision it happening on a Sunday afternoon or evening, although perhaps others would have better ideas for timing. Each session consists of a meal/snack with fellowship, a topic presentation (provided on video), and a discussion. People in the parish could invite those around them they know who are not going to any church. (Of course even those going to church regularly would get much out of the course.) Is there a small group of people in our parish who would want to pilot the program? It sounds like a big commitment – 10 weeks long – but so much of the material is provided to reduce the burden. I suppose we could even consider catering the food to make it still less burdensome. I’d like to get at least a few parishioners to consider going to the November 12th training offered in the Diocese to check out this opportunity.
I know our parishioners already reach out in so many ways to those around them in the community. This, however, could be one more beautiful and formal way to offer some faith content and fellowship to those who are not yet connected to the Church. You might consider it a pre-evangelization, or a relational evangelism, after which somebody not in the Church might consider joining RCIA to receive the Sacraments of Initiation.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,