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Coordinator of evangelization and catechesis

Joshua M. McCusker says that evangelization begins with becoming friends with people. 
 
New to Vermont, the coordinator of evangelization and catechesis at St. Luke Church in Fairfax and Ascension Church in Georgia is doing just that.
 
He understands the importance of showing interest in people and concern for what is happening in their lives. “Treating everyone with dignity and respect is key,” he said.
 
He plans to get involved in the community and befriend people who are not Catholic in hopes of showing them the beauty of the Catholic faith. He wants to work with youth, particularly the teens in the community. “I hope to help them fall in love with the Lord just as I did at that age,” he said.
 
This is the first time the parish has had a full-time person to address catechesis and evangelization. “It can be helpful when the same person who invited you to the Church is the one who accompanies you and instructs you in the faith,” said Father Henry Furman, pastor, adding, “Every confirmed Catholic has an important responsibility to spread the Gospel.”
 
Pope Francis in “Joy of the Gospel” invited everyone to be bold and creative in the task of rethinking goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities, noted Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
He called hiring McCusker to have full-time responsibilities for evangelization “a very exciting development in our Diocese and one that I hope can be a model for other parishes going forward.”
 
Currently there are two parishes in the diocese with a staff member that has part- time evangelization responsibilities: St. Mark in Burlington and St. Francis Xavier in Winooski.
 
In the Fairfax and Georgia areas, McCusker “will be helping with both outreach in the community and in equipping and inspiring parishioners to be joy-filled missionaries of the Gospel,” Deacon Lawson said. “Father Furman and St. Luke and Ascension churches are to be commended for responding to Pope Francis’ call to be bold and try new models in fostering the New Evangelization.”
 
McCusker’s job in Fairfax/Georgia will entail catechetical adult faith formation, confirmation preparation, baptism preparation, marriage preparation, “Post-Cana,” altar-server training and forming new ways of evangelization both within the parish and beyond it for adults and youth.
 
“When I first heard about the need for evangelization and missionary work among the Catholics in Vermont, I was instantly drawn to the challenge,” he said. “From the time of my Confirmation, God has placed this desire on my heart to be missionary and to evangelize in the parish, but also outside it.”
 
Many people have never heard the Gospel. “Many lapsed Catholics have never been approached by the Church since they left. There are many on the peripheries,” Father Furman said. “There are a number of people awaiting the first announcement of the Good News to them. As our Lord says, the harvest is rich but the workers are few. For these reasons a coordinator for evangelization is important.”
 
McCusker was born in Rochester, N.Y., and also lived in Rhode Island and Georgia.
 
He was a member of a vibrant and faithful parish community and spent much of his time as an altar server and volunteering in the middle school and high school youth groups, Respect Life Ministry and Knights of Columbus. “I loved everything about parish life and all that it had to offer,” he enthused.
 
He attended Ave Maria University in Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in theology with a minor in history. 
 
It was there that he met his wife, Jovannah; they were married in June.
 
McCusker enjoys sports, music and the outdoors, and he has worked various jobs during the past eight years in restaurants, landscaping, radio communication and athletics.
 
“I know that God is calling me to work for the Church, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity here in Vermont,” he said. “Catholics are called to evangelize. It is part of our faith, and it is an obligation. If we truly believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, how can we not share this truth with others?”
 
 
 
 
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“Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew”

“Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew.” By Deacon Keith Strohm. Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2017. 176 pages. Paperback: $10.17; Kindle: $9.68; Nook; $10.99.
 
It was in chapter six of Deacon Keith Strohm’s latest book, “Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew,” that I encountered a discussion about why many Catholics find even the word “evangelization” to be so intimidating. After stating that everything having to do with God is profoundly personal, Deacon Strohm notes that “[a] ‘personal relationship with God’ might be an unfamiliar or uncomfortable concept to a lot of Catholics. Many of us have experienced some of our Christian brothers and sisters asking us if ‘we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.’ This notion can feel foreign to our own experience as Catholics.”
 
Yet, it is the very personal nature of God’s relationship with us that is the subject of this book; not only is this relationship available to Catholics, he insists, it is at the core of our faith. Deacon Strohm, whose ministry centers on this liberating understanding of discipleship, takes the reader through the story of salvation, beginning with our first parents in the Garden of Eden, continuing through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then culminating with our call to be His followers in our daily lives here on Earth.
 
One of the challenges to this idea that some Catholics need to wrestle with, Deacon Strohm contends, is an “institutional relationship with Christ rather than an intentional or personal one. … Many people participate in the external practices of their faith…without forming any explicit personal connection with Jesus.” That is not to say that such practices should be ignored or discarded; indeed, as Deacon Strohm asserts, such things are “instrumental in building and shaping a deep intimacy with God.” What he encourages readers to do is take that relationship one step further:  “The Great Story of Jesus is a clarion call, a declaration of love made over all God’s people, and an invitation to enter into the depths of that love.”
 
That is why Deacon Strohm approaches all of this, not as a study in theology, but as a love story between God and us. Over and over he shows how God goes out of His way to bring us to Himself, not because we are good, but because He is. There is no one who can “fall through the cracks” with God, and Deacon Strohm states that explicitly when he says in Chapter Two, “You matter. You. Yes, you. And the proof is that God himself became man for you.”
 
Oftentimes we can become oblivious to this because the story is so familiar to us.  Deacon Strohm therefore, makes a point of introducing us to Jesus, not only as the second person of the  Blessed Trinity, but as a person like ourselves, “in all things but sin,” with whom we can form an intimate friendship. He urges us to enter into the story of Scripture in a very personal way so that the words engage us on a gut level. 
 
For me, for instance, the most powerful chapter in the book is Chapter Four, entitled “Jesus Embraces the Cross;” although I have participated in the reading of the Passion for as long as I can remember – not to mention the many times I have read it outside the season of Lent – the full meaning of what happened on those days we call Triduum opened up in a way I had never considered before. I will never think of the Garden of Gethsemane the same way again.
 
Deacon Strohm’s book is written with both the individual reader and small groups in mind. At the end of each chapter he has written a section for further reflection, followed by several questions suitable for one reader or a group to consider. For any person or parish looking to be empowered as “evangelizers,” Deacon Strohm’s book is a good place to begin.
 
Author bio
 
Deacon Keith Strohm is a well-known international speaker and teacher on the subject of evangelization. A deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago, he is the former director of the Office for the New Evangelization there and currently the executive director of Ablaze Ministries (ablazeministries.com). He is a long-time collaborator with the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado, dedicated to making formation resources available to parishes and the laity.
 
 
 
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Are we ready to listen?

“What do you want me to do for you?”
(Jesus said to the blind beggar.)
--Luke 18:41
 
Jesus is seeking a conversation with you. He is awaiting your response. He is calling you to enter more fully into His life.
 
“In the New Testament, Jesus asked 183 questions, gave three answers and answered 307 questions with a question in return like a true rabbi,” Sherry Weddell points out in “Forming Intentional Disciples.”
 
He waits for us. He listens to us and waits until we are ready to listen to Him. Only then does he ask a question for us to ponder in our hearts.
 
We see this dynamic over and over again in the Gospels. Jesus engages Nicodemus in a conversation. He draws a story out of the Samaritan woman at the well. He goes to dinner at Matthew the tax collector’s house! He asks the rich young man to consider where his treasure really is.
 
What does this mean for evangelization? Two things. One, what is your response to Jesus? One of the more beautiful features of the Gospels are the stories of individuals encountering Jesus. We see Jesus lovingly speak to the depths of their hearts, healing wounds, challenging notions and offering a better way.
 
The 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization highlighted this need for all of us. According to the 2012 Synod of Bishops, "New Evangelization for the Transmission Of The Christian Faith," calls, "all believers to renew their faith and their personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church.”
 
Second, to evangelize we must listen first. If we hear the questions a person is asking, then we can answer them. The noted 20th-Century theologian Francis Schaeffer was once asked, “If you had one hour to evangelize someone, how would you do it?” He responded, “I’d spend the first 55 minutes listening.”
 
There is a lot of wisdom in that response. Jesus just could have given long lectures on the principles of the Christian faith—and that probably would’ve been less time-consuming for Him. Yet, He took the time to engage in conversation, to ask questions and then to listen. We must do the same in all of our encounters and conversations.
 
Concretely, as we move into Lent, think about what Jesus is asking of you. Perhaps this Lent, take some time each day, or each Sunday to look at some of those encounters in the Gospels. Spend some time in adoration or the quiet of your home meditating on these encounters. For our encouragement, the Church offers many of these examples in the Sunday readings during Lent.
 
Let us joyfully seek to continue drawing closer to our Lord!
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Digital Culture and the Missionary Activity of the Church

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was in Atlanta in June to speak at the Diocesan Information Systems Conference (DISC) and he said the missionary work of the Church is in American culture.

In this presentation, Bishop Coyne explored how digital culture is both an object of evangelization — “Digital culture itself needs to be evangelized, needs to be changed by the message of Jesus Christ” — and a vehicle for evangelization — “Digital culture can in so many dynamic and creative ways be a means of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and evangelizing people.”

The missionary work of the Church is no longer “out there,” he said. “It’s right here in our own culture…We are now missionaries.”

Many countries and many places in the First World or West that were Christian are no longer so, he pointed out. For example, in the last major census in France, 50 percent of the people self-identified as Catholic. “That may sound like a pretty good number — 50 percent — not bad. But when you begin to mine what that means, of that 50 percent less than 10 percent had anything to do with the Church let alone attend Mass. Even more, of the 50 percent who self-identified as Catholic, 19 percent said they didn’t believe in God.”

And while there has been an increase in the total number of Roman Catholics in the United States, most of the growth numbers have been within the Hispanic community. “We have lost many members of the faith within the older enclaves of Catholicism,” the bishop said.

Using digital media, he noted, one must understand it is morally neutral. “It is a means to an end, a way by which information is conveyed. It is neither good nor bad. What makes it good or bad is what we do with it.”

Bishop Coyne encourages people engaged digitally to “always do onto others as you would have them do onto you.”

He also suggested in work and play people sow the seeds of righteousness, goodness and Christ: “Be someone who scatters seeds of goodness on the road. Lift up the good examples of humanity and charity and grace. And, if you can, engage in some form of active ministry to others: feeding, housing, counseling, visiting, praying with and for, whatever it may be.”

For more than 30 years DISC has assisted the Church in maximizing investment in information systems. 

Membership in the Diocesan Information Systems Conference is open to all Catholic arch/dioceses and related entities. The membership roster includes people from computer services, financial services, communications and chanceries.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,  Vermont Catholic staff writer.

Evangelizing People of All Ages

New Diocesan directors seek to bring people to God through youth activities, catechesis

Two of the offices of the Diocese of Burlington that receive funding from the annual Bishop's Fund are the apostolates of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and of Evangelization and Catechesis.

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