ST. LOUIS — Prayer, study, generosity and evangelization are the four signs of the “dynamic Catholics” that every parish has the power to form, according to author and evangelist Matthew Kelly.
“Imagine if a whole diocese committed to a four-year plan to raise up its people in the four signs,” he writes.
Imagination is turning into reality, as the Archdiocese of St. Louis has become the first in the country to create an evangelization plan called “Dynamic Catholic, Alive!,” which is based on the program envisioned in Kelly’s Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, but kicks it up from a parish level to a diocesan level.
The concept behind Kelly’s book and the Dynamic Catholic Institute is the same: The Catholic Church needs a “game changer,” because “evangelism as usual” in the Church is hemorrhaging Catholics at an alarming rate — a finding recently confirmed by Pew Research Center. In Kelly’s estimation, only 7% of Catholics are engaged Catholics, but he believes that doubling the number of engaged Catholics — and then building on that success — could make a substantial difference and awaken the sleeping giant of the Catholic Church in the United States.
For that end, Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Institute has been providing parishes and diocesan offices with a series of programs and resources designed to form somewhat engaged Catholics into fully engaged “dynamic Catholics” and help Catholics who have disconnected from the Church re-engage in the faith.
“This has been a benefit for persons, parishes and the [archdiocesan] curia,” said Msgr. Mark Rivituso, the archdiocese’s vicar general.
“One strategic objective we have is for people to understand that they are called to be dynamic Catholics and that they are part of the evangelization and mission of the Church,” he added. “And the other objective is that people become more aware that they are part of the mission of Jesus … that all of us are called to be missionaries.”
For the next four years, “Dynamic Catholic, Alive!” will focus on forming individuals, parishes, schools, apostolates and the curia. Each year will have a different emphasis. For instance, 2015 emphasizes developing “daily prayer” in one’s relationship with Jesus; 2016 will focus on “study” to become continuous learners of the faith; 2017 looks at how to practice “generosity” as a follower of Jesus and as a Church; and 2018 will emphasize how to put evangelization into practice, such as with door-to-door outreach.
“It’s a framework for spiritual renewal in the archdiocese,” said Andrew Kassebaum, evangelization coordinator for the archdiocese’s Office of Family Life.
“It’s a broad program, and we’re going to be reaching the 500,000-plus Catholics in the archdiocese,” he said, explaining that it has the structure of Dynamic Catholic resources — books, study guides and the archdiocese Dynamic Catholic, Alive! website — but also built-in flexibility, so individuals, groups and parishes can tailor it according to their particular needs and circumstances.
“We’re hoping to be the model for other dioceses in the country,” he said.
The first step to rolling out the program was getting the parishes to order the Four Signs book and distribute them at Christmas 2014, in order to get it in the hands of as many Catholics as possible. As the program unfolds, and more parishes join in, Kassebaum said the focus is forming evangelization leaders to connect, share “best practices” and give feedback on how the program is doing and what they could do to improve. They are also engaging the deaneries, getting input and feedback from the priests and deacons.
“We’re really trying to be a two-way collaborative entity,” he said.
Pastors and Possibilities
Pastors engaged with the program said they were looking forward to the fruits.
Father Anthony Yates, pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in St. Louis, has already hired an evangelization coordinator to help get his parish “moving forward” with deepening the faith and becoming mission-oriented disciples of Jesus.
“I saw a need with our people,” he said, adding that while he has a “good parish,” many of the people seem “stuck in a rut.”
“I want to see people more dynamic, alive and vibrant [in the faith], and that’s why I was excited to jump on board with it,” he said.
“I want people to see that everything they do in this parish is for God’s glory and their sanctification,” he said.
The program is also helpful for priests themselves, explained Father Noah Waldman, associate pastor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in St. Louis.
“So [it’s] first to make ourselves open to greater holiness, and then to really challenge our people that this is an all-or-nothing proposition, and you can’t lose if you go all in,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing here. After prayer and commitment, everything else follows.”
Father Waldman said the program really succeeds by trusting in God and the power of prayer.
“Our plan is to ignite a core group, and then, like the apostles, that fire from the core group will spread out by the Holy Spirit to the rest of our parish; and from there by the Holy Spirit into those Catholics who are not coming to church,” he said. “So I love it. I don’t like gimmicks, but this is for real.”
While not yet at the halfway point in this first year focusing on prayer, Kathleen Sartori, a member of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, said the program has helped the neighboring parishes develop a greater sense of closeness and communion with each other.
“This has fostered a sense of community among our three parishes — and hopefully among all the parishes in the diocese … in our goal and mission to get souls to heaven,” she said.
Sartori is part of her parish’s Dynamic Catholic evangelization committee that collaborates with the Dynamic Catholic committees of the nearby St. Francis of Assisi and Queen of All Saints parishes.
“We realize the need to evangelize our own people,” she said. Each parish is planning and sharing events at their own parishes, but also together. They’re spreading news about Eucharistic adoration opportunities in each other’s bulletins and putting together monthly Eucharistic adoration, praise-and-worship services. They are also reaching out to the community and have plans to put a joint advertisement in the paper during Advent and Christmas, listing their activities, such as confession, Mass and prayer services, and inviting people to come.
“We also continue to offer something special every month,” she said, adding that May was featuring classes on lectio divina, a Benedictine practice entering into communion with God through scriptural reading, meditation and prayer.
From St. Louis to Beyond
Claire Darnell, the coordinator at Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Institute, said the institute has been in close touch with the St. Louis Archdiocese, offering support with resources and exchanging information. While they have worked with other dioceses on other projects, she said Kelly is “excited” that St. Louis decided to have a diocesan-wide program based on the four signs.
“It’s been a real honor to work with them,” Darnell said. “We’ve already had people from other parishes or dioceses call in and ask us what ideas we have for doing more. … We go and tell them to check out what St. Louis doing.”
Darnell said Dynamic Catholic is assisting the archdiocese with tracking data from parishes as the program expands.
“It’s really giving us ideas of how we can make this work in other dioceses and archdioceses.”
Msgr. Rivituso said he is looking forward to seeing more Catholics whose faith lives are manifesting themselves authentically in living the beatitudes and corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which will touch the lives of everyone in their parish boundaries and beyond.
“I’m hoping that the Catholic Church is going to be more present in our neighborhoods and our communities and that we are reaching out, because we believe in Jesus and love him so much that we want to share him with everyone and bring him to the lives of all, not just Catholics.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register’s Washington correspondent.