Tuesday, July 5, 2016

(Overdue) Book Review: Jared Dees - "To Heal, Proclaim and Teach"

What if parish ministers treated everyone they encountered as if they truly wanted them to become disciples of Jesus Christ?  What if they used the same methods Jesus did to attract his followers? These are the important questions that Jared Dees attempts to answer in To Heal, Proclaim and Teach: The Essential Guide to Ministry in Today's Catholic Church.

Dees starts by noting the crisis in catechesis, which has resulted in many young people leaving the Church after Confirmation. He begins probing the problem by noting the 5 stages of evangelization described in the National Directory for Cathechesis, all of which are inspired by the Catechumenate (RCIA):  Pre-Evangelization, Missionary Preaching, Initiatory Catechesis, Mystagogical or Post-Baptismal Catechesis and finally, Permanent or Continuing Catechesis

In effect, Dees implies, we tend to move right into the third stage without giving attention to the first two. Then, we skip the 4th stage and wonder why people are not around or not interested in the fifth. An experienced teacher himself, Dees admits that he, too, has spent a great deal of time doing things in less-than-effective ways.

Jesus, Dees points out, had a specific method. He reached out to people in ways that they most needed. Quite often, Jesus first healed people, either physically or by attending to what it is they needed most spiritually.  Then, he proclaimed his message about the love of God the Father. Only when he had done these, did he teach them. The disciples and those most closely connected to Jesus received a deeper form of teaching. The crowds, however, he taught in parables, because they were not ready for the fullness of knowledge of the faith. "In other words, writes Dees, "we do not teach the unevangelized. We cannot expect them to understand the mysteries of God's Kingdom because they are not yet ready."

The first step is healing. We need to listen, get to know people and understand their deepest longings. Catechists cannot move forward effectively if they do not know those whom they teach. We need to help people discover the sin and brokenness in their own lives. We do that best when we get in touch with our own brokenness - so that we can recognize it and approach it authentically in others. This, of course, echoes the "threshold conversations" of Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples, aimed at building up trust.

The second step is to proclaim. He suggests we share four things with those we evangelize: the Paschal Mystery, personal testimony, saint stories and the way we live. (See Chapter 6 for how to have something to share on these.)

The third step is to teach. Not in the ways that currently bore young people, but by challenging them to look at the world differently:
In order for us to to be truly remarkable teachers and catechists, whether it is in religious education of children, youth ministry, marriage preparation, RCIA, or adult faith formation, we have to think of ways to present our beliefs in ways that challenge conventional thinking about the world. We have to offer new and creative insights into the stories and teachings Catholics have heard for years or even decades. Or, at the very least, we need to make sure that we do not strip all sense of wonder and awe out of the process.  (p.105)
It all hinges on Chapter 6, "Be Evangelized."  Dees issues a series of nine challenges to the reader to deepen his or her own faith... and skills for sharing it. We cannot accompany learners unless we ourselves live our faith.

The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring methods for one-on-one evangelization, for fostering small groups, and to suggesting specific age-appropriate approaches for children, teens, college students, young adults and adults.

Dees has offered us a blueprint for deepening our formational approach in parishes from teaching ministries to what Pope Francis calls "accompaniment." Parish ministers who, like Jesus did with the disciples at Emmaus, listen first, then reveal what people most need to hear in ways that reach them deeply will revolutionize parishes by truly forming disciples.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.