My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last month, as part of my series on discipleship, I wrote about how we have introduced Alpha in our diocese as a spark that we hope will help people grow in their relationship with Christ. In this column, I want to share how Alpha is beginning to transform our parishes into communities of discipleship.
To ensure that Alpha produces the greatest effect in our diocese, we decided to roll it out in phases. The first wave involved our priests, pastoral leaders and diocesan staff followed by a second wave that involved Catholic school principals, deacons and key parish leaders. With this, we directed parish leadership teams to do faith and life together with Alpha during the spring and summer of 2018. Today, Alpha is being offered to parishioners, catechists and Catholic school teachers.
Helping people to discover Jesus in their everyday lives is the first step of the discipleship process. A key factor in this step is for people to develop trusting relationships with other disciples, and this is what Alpha is built to do. Accompanying people on their journey and answering their questions about faith and life often inspires people to seek Jesus more. Alpha leaders are trained to be attentive to how the Holy Spirit is moving in the lives of the participants. Through this listening, they can help lead the participants to the promise that Jesus offers to every person: life in abundance. And who wouldn’t want that!
The discipleship process is a marathon, not a sprint. As one priest said, “People overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in three years.” Even Jesus took three years to form his disciples in relationships and spiritual disciplines. This shouldn’t surprise us because discipleship moves at the speed of relationships. Quite often, the speed of relationships is determined by the time it takes for people to develop trust. Yet, relationships don’t always fit neatly into time tables. Here, there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. This is why patient discernment and accompaniment are necessary when helping people take their next step in their discipleship journey.
But the good news is that what often follows trust and a sense of belonging is a curiosity about new beliefs and even openness to new behaviors. As parishes have begun to implement Alpha, we are starting to see this fruit. As one parish leader said, “The Holy Spirit has truly transformed many hearts.” This transformation has even renewed people’s appreciation for the Mass. One priest reported, “Some people have come back to church because of it.”
With these quick successes, however, we are also mindful of the questions people are asking about Alpha. One question that has come up is why we are promoting Alpha, if it is an Anglican program and not Catholic. While Alpha is not specifically Catholic, it was designed for Christians of all denominations. Alpha developers have even created specific materials to help parishes adapt Alpha to a Catholic context.
Ultimately, Alpha does not provide a complete Catholic world view, but no single program does. Despite this, Alpha is an excellent tool to help people discover Jesus and grow deeper into a personal relationship with Christ, which is something all Catholics can benefit from. Also, through the Office of Parish Evangelization, we are working with parishes to identify and integrate other resources that can build off the foundation laid in Alpha to help people grow deeper in their love of God and the church.
If you are interested in learning more about Alpha, please reach out to the Office of Parish Evangelization. They can answer your questions, address any concerns you have, and help you plan the best ways to lead the people in your community to discover, follow, worship, and share Jesus.
Perspective will help us persevere in this great but difficult mission. And the perspective I invite each of you to consider is this: Not knowing and loving Jesus Christ in this life is the greatest of all misfortunes. This is why, in the 150th Jubilee Prayer, we asked God to make of us a community of missionary disciples where marriages, homes and families will be filled with the love of Jesus! If we continue to entrust this cause to our Lord and to Our Lady of Good Help, I have no doubt that this great blessing will be realized in our day!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.