Toward a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus

Local Catholic leaders help bring new evangelization to life in the Diocese of Green Bay

ALLOUEZ — “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”

That’s not a question Catholics are used to hearing, but it’s the crux of the matter for the future of the Catholic Church: Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

“That is the question! We (as Catholics) have steered away from it,” said Sr. Marie-Kolbe Zamora, chair of the Department of Theology at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, in an interview with The Compass.

Sr. Marie-Kolbe Zamora, chair of the Department of Theology at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, is assisting the Diocese of Green Bay in promoting missionary discipleship and the new evangelization. (Suzanne Weiss | courtesy of Silver Lake College)

Yet, that is exactly the question Bishop David Ricken wants Catholics to ask. And it has been at the basis of “the new evangelization” since St. John Paul II introduced the phrase in 1983 during a trip to Latin America.

Sr. Marie-Kolbe is assisting the Diocese of Green Bay in promoting missionary discipleship and the new evangelization.

In 1990, St. John Paul noted that, in Christianized areas of the world, “entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case, what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization’” (Redemptoris Missio, 83).

“When someone says they are Catholic, what we think they mean and what they actually do mean may be completely different,” she said. “We need to re-propose the person and the message of Jesus Christ to many Catholics who no longer believe that the Catholic Church has anything to offer.”

Many people who were baptized as infants — who may even have attended Catholic schools or religious education programs — are not now in any personal relationship with Jesus. Many may not attend church frequently, or at all. It’s the same with receiving the sacraments. They also may feel spiritual, but not practice any religion. A recent Pew Research survey showed that, between 2007 and 2014, the total number of people who called themselves Catholics in the United States dropped by 3 million.

NO LONGER HOMOGENEOUS

“The biggest implication (of this),” said Julianne Stanz, diocesan director of new evangelization, “is that Catholics can no longer be seen as a homogeneous group whose members hold all the teachings of the Catholic Church in common.

Reigniting faith, bringing Jesus’ love and mercy to people so they know Jesus — in real and concrete ways — is the purpose of the new evangelization. It’s also the purpose of Bishop Ricken’s plan to spread the new evangelization, spelled out in “Disciples on the Way” (2014).

For Bishop Ricken, bringing about the new evangelization means the church must start “moving from maintenance to mission,” meaning the church cannot wait for people to come to it, but must go out to meet them.

To that end, diocesan staff, priests and parish ministers from around the diocese have been taking part in discipleship seminars since 2014. The goal of these is to create “missionary disciples striving to lead all people to the Kingdom of God” — as noted in the vision statement that the Green Bay Diocese released in August 2016.

Sr. Marie-Kolbe is a workshop leader in these seminars. She is often joined by Stanz and Fr. Maximos Davies of Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazianz and is becoming a familiar face to those who work in ministry around the diocese.

To explain the purpose of these seminars, Sr. Marie-Kolbe quoted Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato (Mindanao): “We have been sacramentalized, but we have not been evangelized.”

RULES, BUT NOT THE HEART

This means, she said, that Catholics have learned all the rules of the faith, but may not have learned the heart of the faith. She pointed to an observation by someone who in a recent discipleship seminar, who said: “I never thought that I needed Jesus because I had the church.”

A heart-to-heart experience of Jesus, and sharing that experience with others, is the heart of the Christian faith and at the heart of these seminars. It’s definitely a change in approach.

“It seems to me that … the transmission of faith had become all about the catechist having all the right answers, and the catechized absorbing the right answers,” Sr. Marie-Kolbe said, as if Catholics could learn about a relationship with Jesus “via Google.”

Instead, she points to St. Paul, who lived as a true missionary disciple: traveling, meeting people, sharing Jesus with them, healing, teaching, working with his hands as a tentmaker — even teaching the faith after getting shipwrecked.

“I am fond of saying that St. Paul did not set up headquarters and send a baptismal packet out to those who wanted to be baptized: he himself was the baptismal packet,” said Sr. Marie-Kolbe.

Pope Francis said every Christian has the potential to become just such a baptismal packet. In 2013, he said, “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples … Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love” (Evangellii Gaudium, 119).

That love, according to Sr. Marie-Kolbe, energizes a missionary disciple. She defines that disciple as “a person who experiences the joy of having been touched by the mercy of the Lord Jesus and who cannot keep that mercy to themselves. A missionary disciple goes forth into those places where there is no love in the Lord and plants love there; to those places where there is no joy in the Lord and plants joy.”

TOUGH QUESTIONS

This can mean asking tough questions — both in discipleship seminars and the Alpha seminars also taking place in parishes. But Sr. Marie-Kolbe doesn’t believe we should be afraid of tough questions.

“God made us with this mind designed to ask questions,” she said. “The only way learning is going to happen is if I ask a question. The question is the straw that draws the water of learning up out of the glass and into me. If I don’t ask the question, the water stays in the glass.”

Both the Alpha and discipleship seminars encourage questions, explore personal relationships with Christ and then encourage people to share that relationship with others. It can become quite personal, but it’s also based on the traditions of our faith.

“In terms of new evangelization, it’s not to say that the rules don’t matter or aren’t important, or that the doctrine doesn’t exist,” Sr. Marie-Kolbe said. “The point is that what’s more important than the rules and the doctrine is the relationship with the Lord Jesus. I’m in this for the relationship.”

RULES OF THE GAME

She compared it to a professional basketball player. Does he or she think about rules the whole time on the court?

“Athletes are in the game for the love of the game,” she said. “Are the rules important? Yes. Must the basketball player know them? Yes. But the most important thing, what drives the basketball player, is his love for basketball. If all he was doing was thinking of the rules 24/7, all he would do is stand in the middle of the court and be a dud.

“So I am in this in terms of my relationship with Jesus,” she continued. “Are there rules that I must know? Yes. Are they important? Yes. But all of these serve the relationship.”

Stanz explained that, “with the new evangelization, the Gospel message isn’t new. What is new is “the way that we must preach the Gospel — with new dynamism, new methods and new expressions.”

Sr. Marie-Kolbe noted that the novelty of the new evangelization involves a reversal in the way Catholics think about church — from “everybody coming in (to a building), to exactly the reverse — we all need to be moving out. That change in dynamic is, I think, what Bishop Ricken is working very hard to get at.”

If the effort succeeds, it will become a joy for everyone, Sr. Marie-Kolbe said. Citing Blessed John Henry Newman, she said that “heart speaks to heart.”

“If I’m a heart who desires the Lord, I’m going to connect to another heart that desires the Lord. It’s always going to happen,” Sr. Marie-Kolbe said.

“All of us desire to be happy, all of desire to be loved, all of us desire love and life,” she added. “If my desire in my heart for love and life is real, it will connect with the desire for love and life in the heart of another and there we’ve got the place to speak the Gospel.”