Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists from Liguori Publications, and a contributor to numerous Catholic books, magazines, and online publications. Find her online at JenniferFitz.com.
Today I’m talking with Michael Hall, Director of Ministry Training and Program Development with Catholic Christian Outreach. Michael, can you tell us in a few words what CCO does to fulfill the Great Commission?
CCO is a movement dedicated to the evangelization of university students. Our primary target audience is Catholic students who have not yet decided to make their own the Catholic faith they were raised in. Our co-founder, André Regnier, describes how as a university student he would attend College and Career events at Protestant and Evangelical churches and discover how many people were ex-Catholics who would tell him, "I had to leave the Catholic Church to find Jesus." Something had to be done to give Catholic students the opportunity to encounter the fullness of what their Catholic faith had to offer.
Our goal is to build what we call "Multiplying Missionaries" — young men and women who have grown to a maturity in holiness and in their evangelistic capacities that they are not only engaged in the mission of evangelization, but able and willing to train others.
Of course, we are also here for anyone from any faith background. With Canada being a very multi-cultural country, we regularly have the opportunity to introduce students who have no connection to Catholicism to the beautiful truths of our faith.
You’ve mentioned that as a CCO missionary, “we will see more conversions happen in a week than many people will get to see in a lifetime.” And yet most Catholics I know really do want to see more people come to the Catholic faith, and they are truly trying to help make that happen. What’s the difference? What are you doing that isn’t happening in the average parish?
In part, the success we see is a function of the campus environment. Practically, we have access to our students every day, and so we have the opportunity to have multiple touch points every week, often even multiple times a day. That is certainly harder to maintain in a parish setting. Some of the key principles of our work, however, can be applicable regardless of the context. We always work with a mentality of "One person at a time."
While the majority of our work is in small group Faith Studies, we always want to keep in mind that every individual deserves individual attention. The small groups work best when the leader isn't there to lead a group, but to walk the road of accompaniment with each member of the group. The materials we use in the small groups, such as our Faith Study series, are excellent, but they are best used as a tool that facilitates a relationship. We try to stress with our missionaries and the student leaders we work with that their job is not simply to teach but also to model the faith. We incorporate the students into our lives; we spend time outside of official ministry contexts so that they can see that we have a genuine care for them as a friend. The more they feel cared for, the more they will grant us the privilege of having influence in their lives.
I would also give a lot of credit to our materials. Even though they are best used as a tool for relationship, the content of our Faith Studies is clear and direct.
CCO has five Faith Studies: Discovery, which is focused on the clear proclamation of the Kerygma with a direct invitation to a relationship with Jesus; Source, which is focused on our life in the Holy Spirit; Growth, which focuses on basic foundations of the Christian life such as prayer, scripture, sacraments, fellowship and witness; Obedience, which looks at specific areas of personal holiness; and Commission, which is about forming missionary disciples.
Another key component of our ministry is the clear and simple proclamation of the Gospel. Catholicism has such incredible depth in its teachings, but that can seem inaccessible to many. We put a major focus on the proclamation of the Kerygma in a way that is accessible, but not watered down.
Slow down a minute. What do you mean when you use the word “Kerygma?”
By “Kerygma” I mean the basic core message of the Gospel, the message of first importance as St. Paul presents in 1 Corinthians 15. It is a simple way to communicate the most basic truths about the faith, which then helps to contextualize all the wonderful vast teachings of the Church.
We share that every person is created to have a relationship with God, but that relationship has been broken through our sins. Through his death and Resurrection, Jesus has reconciled our relationship with the Father, but the relationship won't be forced upon us; each of us must choose to embrace the relationship Jesus offers us.
When someone chooses to embrace this relationship, it opens them up to everything the Church has to offer and is a first step on the life-long journey of discipleship.
So tell us more about how you go about sharing that message with your students.
I think one of the things we have really done well over the years in this clear and simple proclamation is that we don't shy away from making a bold invitation to our students to make a decision to accept the Kerygma and embrace a relationship with Jesus.
I think that in general the Church has really embraced how to proclaim the Kerygma, but we often stop short of directly asking those we are evangelizing, "Do you want to have a relationship with Christ?"
In our booklet "The Ultimate Relationship," we present what we call the Relationships Diagrams, which help people determine for themselves where they are in their relationship with Christ. After we present the diagrams, we ask two key questions: "Which image best represents your relationship with God right now?" and second, "Which image would you like to have represent your relationship with God?" When they answer the image which represents a "Christ-centered relationship," we invite them right then to say a prayer with us to start (or renew) that relationship.
It's not the end of the journey, but it provides a clear next step to move forward. It takes some boldness to ask those questions, but it helps bring clarity for the students we work with, so that they can identify for themselves that they want to move forward in their faith, and know that they have taken one concrete step to do so.
Your own conversion happened at a CCO retreat. You write, “My faith moved from an idea to a relationship with God who had revealed himself to me in an intimate and personal way.” Can you explain a bit about how that conversion happened?
Before that CCO retreat, I would say that I understood and believed that God loved me. You could say I had given an intellectual assent to the truth, but I hadn't really had an experience of God. I would have thought that God loved me as one of the billions that he loved, but I wouldn't have been sure he cared about the details of my life.
That night, however, I encountered Eucharistic Adoration for the first time in my life. At first, I was very hesitant about the whole thing, but as the night progressed, I decided to open up a bit and pray. I opened just a small crack in the door of my heart, and that was all God needed. I was overwhelmed by a sense of the presence of God. For the first time, I met this God that I believed in face to face, and I realized that he didn't just love me as part of the sea of humanity, but that he knew my name and loved me personally.
I was overwhelmed by this new understanding and experience of what it meant that God loved me personally, and I've never looked back since. It wasn't long after that I had my first thoughts of being called to evangelization. I realized that if God loved me in such a profound way as I had just experienced, he must love everyone that way, and that means someone needs to tell them... and maybe that someone would be me.
Many readers at The National Catholic Register are either already working on evangelization and discipleship, or they’d like to get started. What would you recommend as your top five resources for the average Catholic who does have a deep, active relationship with Jesus Christ, and who now wants to learn more about how to share the Gospel more effectively?
My first suggestion is the Scriptures. There is no more powerful tool for us to share our faith with than the Bible. The more we know the Scriptures, the more we can share with others out of the Scriptures. If I share my own thoughts with someone, those words will most likely fade away, but if I share the Scriptures with them, there is nothing better!
CCO's co-founder André Regnier has written two books that can be very helpful. We ask all our first-year missionaries to read them in their formation.
5 Tenets to Renew the World outlines five key principles of CCO's evangelistic methods and discusses how they can be used in any ministry context.
InCatholic Missionary Identity, André discusses the key principles at the heart of our baptismal call to evangelization.
We also have our missionaries read Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples, which I'm sure is familiar to many of your readers.
CCO's Commission Faith Study unpacks what it means to be a missionary disciple of Jesus and helps equip the participant to live a missionary life in Christ.
Lastly, one book that was instrumental for me was Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ. It was in reading that book that I began to develop a love for some basic apologetics so that I felt equipped to answer questions about the faith.
Bonus resource: We're in the production process of a short booklet that I wrote (along with some colleagues at CCO) on how to engage in what Pope Francis has termed "the art of accompaniment." It will outline what we're calling "Intentional Accompaniment" - essentially, how to walk with others on their journey of faith, but how to do this with a plan and a purpose. It draws on CCO's 30 years of experience in ministry. It should be ready by May 2018. We'll likely have it available as a PDF e-book.
Thanks so much! To learn more about the work of Catholic Christian Outreach, including links to resources for use in your parish or diocesan ministry, visit the CCO website.