Friday, June 6, 2014

An Ordinary Joe Writes an Extraordinary Book

The time has come, Paprocki said, to speak of many things. Of sports and bucket lists and movies, of cucumbers and the King. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll)

In Joe Paprocki's newest bookUnder the Influence of Jesus:The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ (Loyola Press) he speaks of many things - all of which point the reader to the lived experience of finding God in everyday life.  When was the last time you read something about Jesus that mentioned THAT scene from When Harry Met Sally, Wilfred Brimley, sports teams and the Rolling Stones all in the same book?  It's all there, along with lots of other stuff, and somehow, it all makes sense.

Ignatian to the core, Joe Paprocki has definitely found God in all things. This is a book very much for people of this time and place, filled with pop culture and sports references, illustrated by life moments from a guy of a certain age, who lays out for readers a “game plan” for personal discipleship.

At times, the heavy emphasis on sports and popular movies might be a bit wearing for those who don’t really care for sports or certain kinds of movies. And yes, some of the many references are already dated, perhaps. Younger people might have to look up movies from the 80’s and 90’s, for example, but for “Boomers”, this book definitely speaks to the times of our lives. While some of the examples may indeed speak to us "older folks" the methodology - of looking to life experience for signs of the presence of God is a timeless example for people of all ages. 

The cultural references, however, take the reader right up to the present, which speaks to Paprocki's current full participation in the life of the world. This is not a book showing us how to find holiness in a quiet prayer corner, written by a hermit in a cell, but a call to live more fully who we already are as God's people in the world.

Paprocki’s main points are great, especially the chapter where he lines up essential behaviors of disciples (illustrated from the mainstream culture) with the six tasks of Catechesis. Throughout the book, he is good at distilling lists of points into memorable life strategies, and there are a number of these lists, making the book practical for people who like a point-by-point approach.

Photo from 
The good news, according to Paprocki, is that “Exactly where we are is where God wants us to live as a disciple of Christ. It’s where he wants us to glow with the light of Christ so that others may recognize the kingdom in their midst.” Conversion to discipleship is, he says, about “changing while remaining who you are.” Evangelization is not pushy or “ham-fisted”, but just being your best self and living intentionally, focusing on others. “For Catholics, then, evangelization should simply be the act of helping others find God in the ordinariness of their lives.”

And that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. Ignatius, via an ordinary guy named Joe, living a pretty normal daily life in the suburbs of Chicago, where he goes to work every day, watches TV, movies and hockey games, blogs, posts occasionally on Facebook, goes to an occasional concert and sometimes teaches children the faith as a catechist in his local parish.  If a guy like that can see himself as proud to be found guilty of living "under the influence"of Jesus, then so can any ordinary person.

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