First and foremost, faith is a relationship

ChristLife program invites parishioners to encounter Christ

Therese Bussen

The Catholic Church is more known to the world by her doctrines; what’s not as widely known or understood, is that the Gospel, the heart of Catholicism, is an invitation to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Having a relationship with Jesus is at the very heart of the faith — it is the most essential part.

ChristLife founder and director, Dave Nodar, created his parish-based evangelization program for this very reason.

“We need to encounter him personally. The majority of Catholics are infant baptized, and we rarely ratify our baptism with a personal relationship with Jesus. They don’t know it’s a possibility, or how to do it,” Nodar said.

He explained that most of people’s experience of handing on the faith has been one of a top-down, schoolroom style — but this is not the place to begin.

“We’ve put the cart before the horse. Evangelization has to precede catechesis — there has to be a conversion first,” Nodar said.

Nodar, who was familiar with evangelization methods from his personal experience in renewal movements, saw the need in the Church, heard the call, and acted.

“During the early ‘90s, I just had a growing conviction that I should start an evangelizing ministry based on the writings of [St. John Paul II],” Nodar explained.

He quoted St. John Paul II, how he and other popes called this time in history one that needed a “new evangelization,” where the Church could once again reach the ends of the earth, “if we respond with generosity and holiness.”

So, ChristLife was born. In the last eight years, the program solidified its curriculum into three-course DVD’s, “trying to make evangelization practical and doable for parishes, and make it relevant to Catholics who have dropped out, as well as people who are unbaptized,” Nodar said.

Each of the three programs runs once a week for seven weeks, and it follows a simple model: discover, follow, share.

The first course is “Discover,” and its aim is simply to proclaim the Gospel to participants, offering an opportunity to encounter Jesus and begin a personal relationship with him.

“It focuses on the kerygma, the life, death and resurrection of the Lord,” Nodar said.

He explained that the Gospel is something we should never assume someone’s heard; a participant in ChristLife, who was a lifelong Catholic said, “I’ve never heard this, and now my life is changed,” Nodar recalled.

“We’re not talking about devotionals, they don’t feel pressured. It’s really more of an experience,” he added.

The second course is “Follow,” which draws upon the lives of the saints, prayer, sacraments and spiritual warfare.

“It’s basic Catholic discipleship. Most people haven’t heard how to have a personal prayer life,” Nodar said.

One parishioner who went through the program said on the ChristLife blog, “This series helped teach me the way to pray, taught me how to forgive, especially how to forgive myself…I hadn’t gone to confession for over forty years. With the inspiration of this course, I was guided back to confession and Holy Communion.”

The third course, “Share,” the next step after learning more about the faith, is often the most challenging one for Catholics: it’s the call to evangelize, to share the faith with others.

“[Evangelization] is very practical, [it’s] not so much about methods, it’s not one more committee. It’s 24/7, listening to the Holy Spirit leading us to love people and being open to talk about our relationship with God,” Nodar said.

For parishes who want to run the program, regional and national trainings are available to help them best reach their parishioners — and others.

“We’re not effectively acquainted with how to evangelize people,” Nodar said. “It’s not enough just to give away DVD’s, so we do training — and there’s an archdiocesan one [in Denver] in November.”

The trainings teach parish members first that they are not simply leaders. They are facilitators in a discussion, Nodar said. They’re there to “establish relationships,” where personal interaction and one on one invitations to the program are key.

They also cover practicals like administration and leading conversations, and they especially stress the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of evangelization.

Since the program’s start eight years ago, over 75,000 people have gone through the courses in parishes as well as other countries.

“[The courses are] not just an intellectual experience, it’s about interior transformation…the answer [to our culture] is getting back on mission,” Nodar said. 

For more information on ChristLife, visit christlife.org.
For more information on their upcoming national conference April 26-28, visit christlife.org/training-conferences/national-conference.
For more information on the training held this November in the Archdiocese of Denver visit christlife.org/training-conferences/diocesan-training-conferences/archdiocese-of-denver.

COMING UP: Who is Jesus Christ?

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Who is Jesus Christ?

Alpha takes Christianity back to the basics

Aaron Lambert

As Catholics, it’s so easy to get caught up in the doctrine and dogma and theology of the Church that we often forget the fundamental question of Christianity: Who is Jesus Christ?

Alpha seeks to remedy this. The easiest way to describe Alpha would be to call it an evangelization tool, but as its proponents will say, it’s much more than that. Aimed primarily at people who have no experience with Christianity or the Church, Alpha is an introduction to the Kerygma, a Greek word meaning “teaching” and used to describe the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, upon which the Christian faith and all of its tenets are founded.denv

Originally started in the Anglican church, Alpha is designed to be used across all Christian denominations. The program is currently used in several parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver, including St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Denver and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver. The program is endorsed by the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries as one of three programs for parishes to utilize for evangelization efforts.

Alpha serves as a great starting point for those exploring the Church and many parishes have opted to use it as a supplement to RCIA, which assumes that a person has already taken the first step toward being a Christian—namely, entering and actively pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While RCIA is intended more as a means of catechesis, Alpha is a simple introduction to the Christian faith that can spark deeper conversion, said Scott Elmer, director of evangelization and family life ministries. However, he noted that the two should not be dependent on one another.

“[Alpha] could help people to make a decision to give themselves to Christ and enter into RCIA, but it shouldn’t be bound by that,” he said.

St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden is currently conducting its second session of Alpha. Andrew McGown, director of faith formation for the parish, implemented the program last year, and some people enjoyed it so much the first time that they’re going through it again. 

“It’s a safe place to come and really informally get a taste of Christianity and build relationships, which are really at the heart of Alpha,” McGown told Denver Catholic.

A typical Alpha night starts off with a free meal, followed by a talk, done either live or in the form of a video, and is capped off with a small group discussion. The casual nature of the program is a big part of its allure, McGown said, and makes it easy to invite people to.

“It’s a totally different atmosphere than any other church program. The three proposition statements of Alpha are: no cost, no pressure and no follow-up,” McGown said. “It’s always free, we’re not going to pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do, and we’re not going to track you down and guilt you into coming back. It’s safe to try.”

While the program is designed with non-Christians in mind, McGown stressed that practicing Christians should not write the program off as being too basic or below them.

“The great things about Alpha is it’s not so focused on non-Christians that that someone who is coming to Mass couldn’t benefit from it,” he said. “It’s a revisiting of the Kerygma, the most basic proclamation of the Gospel, and we all need that.”

Mid-way through the program, Alpha participants go on a day-long retreat that’s meant to be an introduction to the Holy Spirit. This experience is often very powerful for those in Alpha, and is the “crux of the whole Alpha model,” McGown said. “It’s a chance to pray and be prayed over … and really experience God in a profound and personal way.”

Brandon Young, director of communications for Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and a Catholic convert of two years, had such an experience on this retreat when he was in Alpha. Young had always had a relationship with God throughout his life, but he had never stepped foot inside a church before entering Alpha. At the time, the program was used as Immaculate Heart of Mary’s RCIA program, and Young entered because he felt like God was calling him to “step it up.”

He couldn’t have predicted the impact Alpha would have on him.

“Still, to this day, the most intense, personal encounter [with Christ] I’ve ever had in my entire life was part of Alpha,” Young said. “When we did the retreat, I felt the Holy Spirit enter me and Jesus talk to me so clearly that I couldn’t keep it together. It was overwhelming.

“After they were done praying over me, I left and went to the sanctuary and just wept. My heart had felt something it had never felt before.”

As a convert, Young said he can be critical of some cradle Catholics who are catechized really well, “but don’t know how to have a one-on-one relationship with Christ.”

[Alpha], for the first time, just let me focus on that, without any external influences,” he said. “It’s not Christianity 101, but it’s, ‘Who is Jesus, and how can I have a loving relationship with him?’ If we’re all called to be disciples, we need to understand Jesus.”

To learn more about Alpha, visit alpha.org. A new Alpha program starts at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish May 1.