Book Review: Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples
Following on the heels of her rightfully influential book, Forming Intentional Discipleship, Sherry Weddell released this collaborative sequel. Seven separate authors, both priest and laity, share their own individual stories of being Catholic evangelists and disciple-makers in specific areas of praxis.
When I first saw this book’s layout, I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a little bit (and then pre-ordered on both Kindle and paperback), because often these types of books feel like they are written more for by the publisher than the author trying to capitalize on the success of the previous work.
Then I read it and repented.
Here are just a few examples why this book is important for the new evangelization.
Never in my life have I read something that made me want to become a saint more than the opening chapter, written by Weddell, called “A Generation of Saints.” Filled with real human beings whose lives of profound holiness and apostolic zeal led to thousands upon thousands of conversions. From the lives of Saint Francis de Sales to Saint Vincent de Paul, these “disciple-friends” radically influenced one another for a 150-year legacy of Catholic zeal and evangelization.
Reading this chapter for the second time, I put down the book and knew that holiness was possible. I cannot relate the intensity of this feeling to you. Too often saints seem otherworldly, like they are not quite human. But “A Generation of Saints” made me feel like I was a few friendships away from sanctity. It was tangible, historical, and accessible. I loved it.
The next chapter, written by a friend of mine, Deacon Keith Strohm, who also works with Sherry Weddell’s St. Catherine of Siena Institute, lit a fire within me to start a prayer practice that needs to take root in as many parishes as possible. He prays for his parish’s neighbors. Yeah, that’s it. He talks about how he formed prayer teams and sent them out into the surrounding neighborhoods and had them lead intercessory prayer for every household they walked by. He shares that Catholics of whom public prayer was a rarity became bold prayer warriors.
It was shortly after reading this chapter that I became friends with Keith via Sherry’s FID Facebook Group. With a few encouraging words, I set out on my own to test the waters of intercessory prayer. Before our staff’s noon Angelus, I would walk the fairly huge parking lot of our campus and pray the rosary for all those whose properties touch ours. I prayed for their health, their conversion, spiritual blessings, and the like for total strangers.
Two things immediately happened.
First, I realized that, outside of Mass, there wasn’t a lot of visible praying at the parish. I wanted God’s church to be a house of prayer and not just the location of liturgy. This place, if we are not careful, can quickly resemble any other office park or complex.
Second, I discovered people showing up on campus who described themselves as “pulled in” or “drawn in.” One man, raised a Hindu in India his whole life, audibly heard God tell him to seek out the Catholic Church in The Woodlands. He was driving to work in Clear Lake, which for you non-native Houstonians is an hour away. A woman who found herself captivated by the Catholic Church’s teachings for over a year, but driven away by poor examples, randomly heard my parish’s RCIA program mentioned on a Catholic Answers satellite radio show. It was a casual side-comment from a caller on the show.
Each chapter is written by an expert in the field. I spent 10 years in youth ministry, so reading Jim Beckman’s chapter on “Rethinking Youth Ministry” was music to my soul. I don’t know of any voice in America that I would listen to more than Jim Beckman’s. I’ve spent some time with him over the years and have only benefitted from his wisdom and experience.
Bobby Vidal, now counted as a friend as well, contrasts parishes stuck in maintenance mode with those parishes closing to be in mission mode. For instance, a maintenance-driven parish focuses on “[g]etting parishioners involved in the many events, activities, and experiences of the parish.” But a mission-driven parish helps “all people to encounter Jesus Christ and experience conversion through parish events and activities and also in life and events outside the parish.”
Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples is less a book written by a publisher and more of a group of evangelists talking shop with one another and the reader gets to listen in. I highly recommend this book and think it would be most profitable for pastoral councils and parish staffs to read through these chapters together and have a lot of conversations around encounter, conversion, and discipleship that just aren’t happening in a lot of parishes.
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