A Personal Experience
A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project
Milwaukee , Wisconsin
August, 2015A Pasto ral Experience Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them..” [#3] Knowing that this was not the experience for a large number of parishioners at St. Lucy’s paris h in Campbell , Cal i f ornia , the pastor and staff decided to try out something new. The pasto r and all of the staff members responsible for any area of religious formation met twice a mont h to pray, discuss and plan ways of changing what they offered parents of those preparing for the sacraments of First Eucharist, First Reconciliation and Confirmation. Providing classes for parents was not working; they seemed to have no lasting effect. Something more personal, more spiritually enriching was needed. The pasto r and religious educators agreed, “No more classes!” But what should take their place? Perhaps something closer to a retreat experience was needed where people could discover Jesus in their lives. Mandatory Retreats The new approach was to offer retreats for parents of children preparing for first sacraments, each one lasting six hours, from 9 am to 3 pm, on a Saturday. If parents did not come then their children could not receive the sacrament. Each retreat began with Mass, followed by fellowship and refreshments. They then listened to a talk given by the pasto r or a staff member on the theme of, “Who is Jesus and what is his plan?” The emphasis was on how Jesus preached about what kind of God we have, One that loves each person ind ividually and wants only good for that person. Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrect-tion, witnessed to this and pledged that he himself would be personally present to each one of us. All we need to do is to be open and welcome him in. Most of the parents had never heard this before. Following the talk, a parishioner who had undergone a conversion experience shared about an encounter with Jesus Christ that had been life-changing. After the testimony, everyone was asked to reflect for half an hour before the Blessed Sacrament on two questions: 1. On a scale of 0 to 10, where is my personal relationship with Jesus, with zero being none at all? 2. How could I improve that relationship by one or two numbers? Following this time for reflection, groups of 3 or 4 were formed so that people could share, if they so wis hed, their answers to the two ques-tions. None of the staff were in any of the groups. This sharing was supposed to last 20 minutes, but people did not want to quit. As many mentioned afterwards, they had nev er shared with anyone else their thoughts about such things. Lunch followed, animated by continual sharing. A second talk took place in the after-noon about how the sacrament their children would be receiving fostered and deepened one’s personal experience of Jesus Christ. At the end both children and parents came together for a final prayer experience . The Weekend Masses Based on the remarkable response from the parents who participated in the retreats, those preaching at the Masses decided to shift their emphasis as well. The new theme was, “Allow the Risen Christ to come into your life in very personal and practical ways. Experience firsthand the reign of God alive in your heart and allow it to change your way of acting and relating.” Using the Little Books created by the late Bishop Ken Untener(www.littlebooks.us), the preachers asked each person, from 8th grade on up, to pray quietly for at least six minutes a day. People were encouraged to find a regular place and time each and every day for prayer, allowing Jesus to touch their hearts. This has caught on. Weekly attendance at both the Spanish and English Masses has increased by 250 people for each language group and continues to grow.
Tom Sweetser, SJ and Debora Elkins