By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND
This summer AJ Garcia, Director of the Office of New Evangelization and Justice attended Making Disciples 101 at the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, Co. It is the first of a series of three courses offered by the institute.
Garcia describes the training as an in-depth exploration of three books written by Sherry Weddell: “Forming Intentional Disciples”, “Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples”, and “Fruitful Discipleship.”
Weddell is a co-founder and the executive director of the Catherine of Siena Institute.
The week-long class examined five stages, or thresholds, people go through as they grow in faith and life with Jesus. Weddell defines the thresholds as: initial trust, spiritual curiosity, spiritual openness, spiritual seeking and intentional discipleship.
“These stages are not meant to be understood in terms of what sacraments you’ve received or how often you attend daily Mass, but by one’s internal personal and spiritual journey,” Garcia said. He added that each stage is necessary for everyone, but each person progresses through each stage on their own unique timetable.
During the training, Garcia and his classmates practiced identifying the thresholds by having conversations with volunteers including atheists and Mormon missionaries. They asked the volunteers questions about their experience of faith throughout their lives in order to determine which stage the individuals were in.
Another component of the training was considering different approaches to ministry and catechesis. Garcia said the current approach to faith formation and religious education in the United States has been an emphasis on catechesis.
“We assume that people have gone through the trust, curiosity and openness stages and teach and speak to them as if they are open, seeking or disciples, when often they are not,” Garcia said. He learned that it is important to include an emphasis on knowing and helping each individual in their personal faith journey in addition to providing catechesis.
The importance of intercessory prayer was another topic covered.
“The mission and all work of the Church begins and ends with prayer,” Garcia said. “We should not expect fruit without God, and when we are blessed with spiritual fruit – answers to prayers – we must give thanks to God.”
Garcia looks forward to applying concepts from the training to his ministry in the diocese.
“[The training] has helped to further establish how important it is for me in my ministry and day-to-day interactions with priests, parish staff, volunteers, adults and youth to meet people where they are. I cannot assume someone knows something about the faith or about evangelization and discipleship because of their age or their involvement in their faith and parish,” he said.
One important question regarding faith formation Garcia brought back from the training is: “Am I trying to teach facts and information, or am I facilitating and fostering an encounter and relationship with a person, Jesus Christ?”
“I hope that our diocese will continue to grow to make it increasingly normal to talk about one’s personal relationship with God outside of Mass and Church events,” he said.
He also said the Siena Institute has trainings that could be offered at various locations in the diocese. He said these trainings can help attendees, “further understand the unique gifts we’ve all been given by God and enhance our understanding of intentional discipleship.”
According to Garcia, intentional discipleship is conversion to Jesus Christ and his Church.
The National Directory for Catechesis states, “This conversion is acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him and a willingness to conform one’s life to his. Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as a disciple.”
Garcia added that intentional discipleship is not a perfection of the Christian life.
Sherry Weddell, Executive Director of the Siena Institute describes intentionality as, “An attempt, however early or faltering, to deliberately follow Jesus as his disciple in the midst of his Church in a freely chosen way.”
Garcia hopes that the approach in the diocese and throughout the universal Church would be to consider goals and the end desire when examining current and new programs or initiatives. “Rather than focusing on what we are doing, saying and offering, instead, focus on what we can do to achieve our desired end and goal, which is hopefully to become disciples of Jesus as we prepare and hope for eternal salvation,” he said.
He would like to see trainings and workshops from the Catherine of Siena Institute hosted in the diocese in 2018.
For more information about the Catherine of Siena Institute, visit www.siena.org.