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“Risk Jesus”: New Evangelization in Action

WEB-Risk-Jesus-Diocese-of-Arlington

Diocese-of-Arlington

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 10/10/14

One diocese hosts event to help Catholics take the first step

Picking up my roast beef sandwich at the lunch tent, I looked around and saw more than 1,200 men and women enjoying the beautiful fall day. They were spread out on the lawn of the Hylton Memorial Chapel in Virginia: eating, laughing and discussing the morning’s talks by Arlington diocesan priest Fr. Juan Puigbo and well-known Catholic converts Jennifer Fulwiler and Dwight Longenecker. While the atmosphere at the first ever "Risk Jesus" hosted by the Arlington diocese was laid-back — even joyful — participants were being challenged in a new way.

The first challenge came not at the event itself, but in 2012, within the pages of Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s pastoral letter Go Forth with Hearts on Fire. He writes, “My foremost prayer is for the dawning of a New Evangelization here in the Diocese of Arlington. … Consider the implications of every Catholic introducing just one person to Christ.”

But the Arlington Diocese didn’t leave the challenge at Bishop Loverde’s heartfelt words, they provided the opportunity for parishioners to introduce (or re-introduce) another person to Christ. Invitations went out across the Diocese, asking everyone to attend a spiritually-enriching event themselves and to ask a non-practicing neighbor, colleague, friend or family member to come as well.

Risk Jesus was clearly designed to make parishioners’ guests feel at home. Over 75 enthusiastic volunteers from many parishes rolled up their sleeves to “make it happen,” according to Soren Johnson, the Special Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelization and Media. The event was not held at a Catholic Church and, notably, no Mass was scheduled during the day’s events. There was little that would divide Catholics and non-Catholics and make a non-believer feel out of place. No responses to remember, no sitting out during Communion; Catholics and non-Catholics were united as they entered into this day meant to encounter Christ.

The morning sessions included talks that very closely corresponded to Johnson’s description of evangelization as “sharing with others your own encounter with Christ and how He has changed you, so that they too will be invited into that relationship through the Church.” This was the second challenge — the second risk — proposed to all participants by the speakers. Each person was asked to consider Christ, to consider the reasonableness of faith compared to the empty promises the world offers.

Jennifer Fulwiler, well-known blogger and author of “Something Other Than God,” recalled the story of her own conversion, walking the audience through the many stages of her journey to Christ. One anecdote she shared was the opinion of a prominent atheist that an adult pig had more value than a human child, because the pig was more intellectually advanced. When she considered the implications of his words, she was challenged to reconsider her worldview. This same proposal to reconsider their faith, or lack thereof, was made to each attendee.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, another well-known author and blogger, told the story of his journey from an Anglican priest to a Catholic one. The road was longer than he had imagined it would be, but along the way, he came to understand the loving manner in which God plans for our lives.

The morning culminated with a rousing talk by Fr. Juan Puigbo who reminded the audience that each person, regardless of his state in life, is called to holiness. The afternoon included music by Catholic artist Marie Miller, a panel discussion with the speakers and Bishop Loverde and time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Priests were available to hear Confessions throughout the day. A number of prayer teams were also available for those desiring a chance to share a concern, and pray with others.

The third risk became apparent by the day’s end. People were challenged to take what they had heard and take the next step. For some, that was going to Confession. Johnson stated that one attendee went to Confession for the first time in 15 years! For others, it was continuing the discussion about faith with the person they invited; guests included many spouses, children and friends.

When asked what Johnson hoped people took away from Risk Jesus, he explained, “That faith in Christ is not a comfortable, undemanding thing with no impact on my daily life.  It takes a decisive choice, a willingness to surrender everything to Christ and to bring His love and mercy to others. Only in that is found the true freedom and joy we all seek.”

The day was notable because of the engaging speakers, the friendly atmosphere and the hopeful hearts of those who risked inviting others. The event stood out because it was more than an event. It was one step on a journey of inviting more people to encounter Christ.

An increasing number of dioceses around the United States are taking more seriously the call to evangelize. One way they are responding to this call is by giving an opportunity for people to evangelize others. Whether providing resources, supporting parish-based initiatives or hosting events like this one, dioceses are able to make very tangible contributions to the New Evangelization.  

Bishop Loverde summed up the joy of taking a risk for Jesus this way: “The beginning of the fall provides us with an opportunity for a fresh start. While you prepare for this new season, will you renew and rediscover your faith? Nothing will touch your heart and change your life as much as rediscovering the boundless and most beautiful love of Our Lord.”

Caitlin Bootsma
is the editor of Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum (truthandcharityforum.com) as well as the Communications Director for Fuzati, Inc., a Catholic marketing company. Mrs. Bootsma received a Licentiate in Catholic Social Communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome as well as a Master’s of Systematic Theology from Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and two sons.

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