Alpha & Kerygma

August 30, 2013 | 7 comments

In one of my earlier blog posts entitled The Kerygma Enigma, I wrote of the essential importance of the initial preaching or proclamation of the basic Gospel message in the process of evangelization. After more than twenty years in professional pastoral ministry, I have become quite convinced that one of the reasons why we Catholics tend to be so weak and ineffectual at evangelization is the fact that we have lost a sense of how vitally important the kergyma is.

The dominant pastoral paradigm, operative in the vast majority of parishes today, dictates that we evangelize and bring people to Christ primarily through didache (teaching and instruction in the faith, or catechesis). How many Catholics do you know, after having received twelve years of Catholic education and years of religious instruction, have inevitably drifted away from the Church? Why is this? I would submit to you that the problem lies largely in the fact that we are guilty of putting the cart before the horse. While catechesis (didache) is an important component in the process of evangelization, it does not replace the proclamation of the kergygma, but should complement it.

Bl. John Paul II, in his 1979 apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, describes how catechesis (didache) builds upon the kerygma: 

Thus through catechesis the Gospel kerygma (the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith) is gradually deepened, developed in its implicit consequences, explained in language that includes an appeal to reason, and channeled towards Christian practice in the Church and the world (CT 25).

The reality is that many Catholics have been catechized without ever truly being evangelized. They have been presented with the teachings of the Catholic faith, without ever having been introduced to the person of Christ.

This very point was reiterated in a few YouTube videos that I recently came across from Father John Riccardo, Pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, MI. In them, Father Riccardo and his priest associates discuss a bold new evangelization initiative that their entire parish will soon be undertaking. This fall, in an effort to present the kerygma to all of their parishioners, they have suspended their very solid adult faith formation classes and will instead be offering one thing: the Alpha Course, 7 days a week for 10 weeks at 10 different times.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Alpha, it is a 10-week course, which introduces participants to…you guessed it…the kerygma. It was first developed by an Anglican Parish in London over thirty years ago and has been experienced by millions of people worldwide, across many denominations. It has been adapted for Catholics and has been hailed by many Catholic Cardinals, Bishops, theologians, scholars, pastors, and leaders as an effective tool for awakening faith in people who are on the fringes of parish life, as well as faithful Catholics and those outside the faith.

The Alpha Course is not without its detractors. There are some who assert that the course is theologically flawed and deficient, given its Protestant origins. Personally, I think that the many of the adaptations that have been made to it over the years have gone a long way towards resolving those issues. What many of these critics fail to understand is that the Alpha Course is meant to be a basic introduction to the heart of the Gospel and not a systematic and exhaustive catechesis or course in theology. That comes later.

The Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, a longtime supporter and proponent of the Alpha Course for Catholics sums it up best:

“It is the Alpha course, not the Alpha and Omega course. Alpha focuses on the kerygma, which is the starting point of faith. After people come to a living faith in Jesus then they need to be formed in the faith which is up to other parish programs to do.”

Is the Alpha Course a perfect program? As Father Riccardo notes in the video, no, it isn't. Then again, what program is? There are many parishes, like Our Lady of Good Counsel, that recognize the tremendous value and potential in the Alpha Course and have decided to build upon it. 

I applaud Father Riccardo and Pastors like him who recognize that it is indeed impossible to plant seeds on bricks and expect a harvest. Our people need to be introduced to the kerygma first, and Alpha is one of the exciting new tools and resources that enables parishes do just that.

 


Hector Molina is a dynamic lay Catholic speaker and apologist with over 20 years of experience in professional pastoral ministry and leadership in the Church. It was during his early years as a Youth Minister that Hector discerned his call to lay ecclesial ministry. He pursued his theological studies at...

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Seth Opoku-Aboagye - Tarkwa, Western Region

I couldn't agree with you more. I think the time has come for our catechists and leaders of the various parishes to decide as a first step proclaim the Kerygma first to the people going through catechism so that they don't receive baptism with the knowledge of the dos and donts of the Church but rather a relationship with the focus of Christianity.

August 31, 2013 at 5:22 am PST
#2  Franklins Tower - west jordan, Utah

I like the notion of proclaiming Christ to the world first, before teaching Catechism. However please lets not use the protestants as a model for how to do this. What drew me to the Catholic faith is that there was much less annoying and often ridiculously immature ranting about Christ involved with it. In the Catholic Church I felt I had found a much more stable and quieter faith.

I think adopting any "program" for outreach is wrong. Why not get really on fire with God and allow God to show each individual what the best way is to teach others?

September 1, 2013 at 2:00 am PST
#3  Chris Patterson - Platte City, Missouri

Franklins,
I think if you look at Alpha you'll like what you see. No ranting! Just a method that will help those who are on fire with God to share that fire with others.
It would be great if ALL faithful Catholics were equipped to share the Gospel well. And it would be wonderful if ALL

September 3, 2013 at 2:59 pm PST
#4  Chris Patterson - Platte City, Missouri

Faithful Catholics would be so well formed as simply have God "show each individual what the best way is to teach others." But, until that happens, we need to be open to what our good priests and solid laypersons propose to spread the Good News of Jesus.

Father Cantalamessa is a big proponent of the Alpha Course. If the preacher to the papal household since the early 70s thinks the course is useful for evangelization, it is undoubtedly "safe" for Catholics to adapt.

One more thing. Speaking as a long-time Protestant who came into full communion with the Catholic Church a little more than six years ago, I suggest we not be too quick to reject methods or approaches simply because a Protestant uses or develops it. I learned much about God, and about evangelization, during my Protestant days. One of the blessings I found as I became Catholic was that I was on solid ground on most of what I believed. I sure wouldn't want to reject a godly approach, even if a Protestant developed it! :) Besides, remember that evangelization went on prior to the Reformation. Chances are that "new" approaches have been used centuries ago. We simply need to rediscover them.

September 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm PST
#5  Franklins Tower - west jordan, Utah

Chris--

Two things I want to say to you. The first may seem a little radical but it is not intended to be- I really feel this way. I think your first paragraph is the only real hope for Christianity. I think this is precisely what we need to be putting all of our time and attention into. I think it is supremely realistic to think that if all of our efforts were put into gaining real and deep intimacy with God like many of the saints do- then evangelization would be really, really easy.

Secondly I am sorry if I came across negatively to Protestants. I am actually neither Protestant nor Catholic and I was raised in neither group. So just as an outsider I have consistently met annoying, loud, manipulative (in the name of evangelization) and immature protestants. On the other hand almost all of the Catholics I have ever met seemed level headed and much more mature. I realize that this is just my subjective experience though.

I would be deeply disappointed if the Catholic Church moved to a model of trying to get people to convert in the way that many protestants do. I feel like Catholicism should continue in the way it has been going but work harder on producing holy priests who can form holy communities. In the words of AA "Attraction rather than promotion."

September 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm PST
#6  Franklins Tower - west jordan, Utah

One more point I would like to make.

When I was twenty my life was in a bit of trouble and I was looking for some answers and guidance in my life. I went to a number of Churches looking for something. There were good people at many of these churches but no one who had that special something that hooked me.

I then met an independant Christian who was heavily influenced by the early Christian writers and also such people as St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. This man was a contemplative and when I met him I could literally feel the power of the Holy Spirit pouring off of him. He spent an hour and a half in prayer every day. He did not preach at all. He told me about Jesus and what would happen in my life if I drew near to him- he did not rant. He just spoke plainly but his words had real power and that changed my life instantly. I mean that literally.

I think this is the better approach and it draws from the deep roots of the Catholic faith.

September 6, 2013 at 12:00 am PST
#7  Maria Cecilia Calleja - Bethesda, Maryland

There is a Catholic alternative to Alpha.

For those searching for an itinerary of Catholic formation based principally on catechesis and liturgy, practiced within small communities and centred on parish life, please consider the Neocatecumenal Way. "The Neocatechumenal Way is not a movement or an association, but an instrument in the parishes at the service of the bishop to return to faith many of those who abandoned it. . . . It is a way of conversion through which the richness of the gospel can be rediscovered." (http://www.camminoneocatecumenale.it/new/default.asp)

It starts with a kerygmatical catechesis: a call to conversion and proclamation of the good news of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The catechetical program is a fifteen-evening session that culminates in a 3-day connivence. Small communities are formed that continue to live the Catholic faith in a practical way and within the realities of everyday living.

The first Neocatecumenal community was formed in 1964 in Madrid by Kiko Arguello. By 2007, there were over a million members worldwide, with over 100 seminaries preparing young men for priesthood, and hundred of "families in mission" living in many cities worldwide. Their statute was approved by Pope John Paul II in 2008.

For more information, visit these websites:
http://www.camminoneocatecumenale.it/new/default.asp?lang=enhttp://perhe.katolinen.fi/en_Statute2008.pdf

February 18, 2014 at 9:01 am PST

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