This painting by Sarah Norton, wife of catechetical conference presenter Andy Norton, was used as a visual aid to Lectio Divina in the conference’s last talk. In contrast to Caravaggio’s painting of Doubting Thomas, grounded in a particular time and place, Norton’s work seems to take place in the garden of prayer and indicates that all of Christ’s disciples, each one personally, is invited to have access to this same kind of encounter by grace. (Photo credit: “Touch His Side” by Sarah Norton. Prints available at https://conversionstreetstudio.com/touch-his-side)
Catholic Herald Staff
From Aug. 20-22, the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship hosted its annual Parish Catechetical Leadership Conference at St. Joseph Church in Rice Lake. The conference, attended by parish directors/coordinators of religious education, youth ministers and others, addressed how to know if evangelization is bearing fruit and what discipleship looks like in practice.
Chris Hurtubise, director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, offered the theme’s context. “The evangelization initiative that is now casting the vision of evangelization and missionary discipleship to the whole diocese had its roots in work that has been slowly happening with parish catechetical leaders for five or more years. The last few summers, we have focused on the relationship between evangelization – sharing the good news of the good news of the Gospel and inviting a response) and catechesis (building up disciples who have dropped their nets). This summer we homed in on forming a clearer picture of what a missionary disciple looks like.”
Hurtubise added that the goal was twofold: Forming missionary disciples at our parishes, but even more fundamentally, “becoming missionary disciples so that we can be living examples.”
Featured speakers Andy Norton and Danielle Hendricks were both alumni of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
Norton is an experienced speaker, writer, musician and missionary leader. With a bachelor’s degree in Theology and Catechetics from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a master’s in Theology from the Augustine Institute, he has worked for 12 years with FOCUS and NET Ministries.
Local to the Diocese of Superior, Danielle Hendricks lives in Rice Lake with her husband and four children. She has been involved with a number of Catholic ministries and was also a FOCUS missionary. Hendricks is currently the CEO of Rice Lake’s Pregnancy Help Center.
The speakers discussed three essential habits of a disciple: Divine intimacy, authentic friendship and spiritual multiplication.
Divine intimacy was presented as a life of deep, intimate communion with God in prayer and the sacraments; authentic friendship, as a life of rich community, seeking holiness with the body of Christ; and spiritual multiplication, as a drive to make disciples who make disciples.
In her last talk, Hendricks touched on each of the three habits and how they work together and bring about a shift in mindset. Sharing this paradigm shift through her personal experience, she said it took her from “me teaching what I know, to let’s run together.”
Inviting others into divine intimacy invests in authentic friendship, which goes hand-in-hand with spiritual multiplication through relationships organically inviting more into the dynamic. Hendricks iterated that the primary purpose of sharing the good news is to make Jesus known as the promised Messiah of God and to bring others into encounter with him.
She then took some moments to engage attendees in Lectio Divina with the passage of the cure of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. This passage has been frequently used in the diocese in recent years and is included in Bishop James P. Powers’ pastoral letter released on Pentecost this year.
“How much do you care about the person you are carrying to encounter Christ,” Hendricks reflected and responded with another question, “How firmly do we believe in the Jesus that we are bringing people to?”
The speaker referenced the action of St. Paul repeatedly seen in his letters. “All St. Paul did was share his encounter with Jesus, over and over and over again… What he said was, ‘follow me as I follow Christ.’”
As for spiritual multiplication, Hendricks clarified the need for assessing where people are at in their journey toward encounter with Christ. Commenting on the tried-and-true process that acts as a guide, she shared how if we deeply invest in only a few disciples, the growth will take care of itself as fruit of others’ experience of Jesus.
“We’re not looking at changing the whole world,” she clarified. “The beautiful path multiplies,” even starting with only two or three exponentially. In mathematical terms, Hedricks showed how this “formula” reaches 15 billion people within 22 cycles.
Noting that the process does take time, “a lifetime,” she offered as encouragement a quote from St. Pope John Paul II, “The ultimate purpose of mission is to enable people to share in the communion which exists between the Father and the Son,” this union and unity “so that world may know and believe.”
In response to questions, Hendricks returned to an earlier point about integrity and starting with the care of one’s own relationship with Christ, like how persons on an airline flight are directed to put their own oxygen mask first if they want to effectively help others. She said that knowing oneself helps to ensure we are not over- or underextending as well as understanding the different ways men and women learn and connect, and the importance of providing opportunities for casual encounter to foster these friendships in natural ways.
Hurtubise also responded ensuring that the focus for adult disciples is to form these authentic friendships with other adults, especially in the context of family encounters.
Given that many of the catechetical leaders work with teens, Hurtubise acknowledged the challenge adhering to the safe environment guidelines can present but added, “A family that’s evangelized is always going to be more fruitful than working with individual teens.” It was also noted that sharing the Gospel should be worth the obstacles presented by the charter because it does provide for the safest environment for these young people to encounter Christ.
Hurtubise reviewed points from the bishop’s pastoral letter that touch on the three habits. On page 16, under the topic of personal evangelization and in the context of the Gospel story of the men who lowered the paralytic through the roof, he enumerated: First, they were in relationship with the paralytic and cared about his needs; second, they had confidence in the power and love of God and desired to bring this friend to Jesus; third, these friends were willing to take a chance bringing him to Jesus not knowing what the outcome would be; fourth, they accompanied the paralytic, going so far as to carry him in his need; and fifth, they were not deterred by the obstacles.
In that same section, Bishop Powers talks about investing in Christian friendship and how it involves meeting regularly, praying together and sharing hearts. Hurtubise challenged those present, identifying the tendency to stay comfortable in our current friendships, and encouraged praying for the courage to offer ourselves as missionary disciples to be sent.
The final talk by Andy Norton was a summary of the conference. Norton spoke of the “scandal of particularity,” how God chooses, as the history of salvation shows, a particular people in particular circumstances to reach the whole world.
He added how necessary the virtue of patience is. “The church’s mission takes time. We need to detach from being successful and focus on being faithful,” and echoed the importance of working with entire families.
Norton also did Lectio Divina with the group, using the passage of doubting Thomas from John 20:19-29. Focusing on divine intimacy, he illustrated his words with a painting created by his wife depicting the encounter, “Touch His Side.”
“Jesus wants to encounter us in the same way,” Norton shared. “He wants to pass through the locked doors of our hearts and meet us where we are broken, where we are doubting, where we feel furthest away from him. And he wants to say, ‘Peace be with you!’” This encounter is not merely a story from the past, but an invitation to believe in Jesus even without seeing, especially encountering him in the graces of the sacraments.
One of the participants, Bob Lecheler from the Rusk County Catholic Cluster, appreciated the organization of the event and the opportunity it provided “to learn, reflect, pray, play and connect.” He felt both speakers provided excellent information.
One idea that stood out to Lecheler was “that Jesus meets us where we’re at, not where we think we need to be.” For him, that means allowing Jesus to encounter us in our weakness. He also resonated with discipleship as a response to a call. Offering that he doesn’t always initiate discipleship, Lecheler said, “I need to respond to Jesus’ call to follow him into the messiness of life. That calls for me to be vulnerable to recognize it is Christ who calls me.”
Lecheler, who felt the entire conference was informative, relaxing, inspiring and energizing for the year ahead, said the call to integrity was challenging. Clearly understanding the call to discipleship alongside others, he heard the invitation to be focused first on the Master, “to whom I want to be a disciple,” and then draw others into relationship with him.
For Tyler Kircher, religious education coordinator and youth minister for Holy Rosary Parish in Medford, the conference was thought-provoking and left him with a deeper desire, “not only to grow in my own faith but to continue to build the fires of authentic friendship in order to, when the time is right, reap the harvest of Christ’s abundant love within those friendships to let them bloom into new relationships rooted in the foundations of truth and salvation we find in Christ Jesus.” For more information on the program, email .
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