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.