I don’t think the average Catholic has a clue what difference Jesus makes.
Oh sure, they’ve heard homilies, listened to gospel stories, and read about the doctrines about Jesus in their CCD classes as children.
But do they understand what Jesus can do for them? Why it’s better to believe in him? How he can change them?
I’d say no. That’s because Catholics talk a lot about the “what” and “when” and “where,” but precious little about the “why” and “how” and “how come.”
But Joe Paprocki’s out to change that.
Preaching the kerygma
In Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ, Paprocki seeks to recover the powerful message that drove conversion in the early Church–the “kerygma.” This was the initial proclamation of why Jesus Christ was such good news.
“Whenever the apostles approached a crowd that would be hearing about the risen Christ for the first time, they relied on this type of speech—a simple, basic, Jesus-centered proclamation designed to foster conversion. This is precisely the type of proclamation of the gospel that is urgently needed and indeed required for the New Evangelization” (p. xii).
The book is very evangelical in itself. It’s not simply a book about Jesus but what life is like with Jesus.
This kerygmatic presentation begins by identifying our core, fundamental need—security.
“To be secure means to be free from danger, free from fear, and free from cares and worries….We long to be in a place or a state where nothing can hurt us and where no obstacle can keep us from our deepest desires” (p. 2).
We can fill up our lives with money, change our circumstances, or try to deaden our senses to the reality of our fear, but eventually the futility will catch up to us.
At some point we’ll find ourselves, like Roger Daltrey of The Who, shouting, “God there’s got to be a better way!” And, if we’re listening, God will tell us there is…the Kingdom of God!
It’s an alternate reality where the rules of the world don’t apply and security comes, not by gaining more power, but by giving it away.
A fresh repackaging of the gospel
This book, in a slightly offbeat way, shows you the difference Jesus can make in your life. And that’s the power of it.
The average cradle Catholic has heard the miracles stories, learned the fruits of the Spirit, and been told Jesus came to save us, but most have never really understood what that meant to them. In this book, Paprocki “repackages” these basic concepts so they have everyday meaning.
In the process, these often too familiar topics become fresh and get you to think about how they might apply to you.
Here are some examples of this repackaging:
- The Kingdom of God is an alternate reality where people talk and act differently.
- Jesus is the “poster child,” the front man, of the Kingdom who establishes his credibility as the King through miracles.
- Miracles are signs that show Jesus has the power to defeat our greatest fears and give us the security we crave.
- The Cross is a new kind of weapon for a different kind of army. It’s power is selfless love and it can defeat your greatest fear of all…death.
- The three traditional forms of penance are keystone habits–three ways to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.
Not merely an intellectual exercise
I also like that the book calls the reader to action.
This is not merely an intellectual investigation of Jesus. If these new realities resonate with you and you realize you want them, it will require something from you. You must repent and change.
“The message is clear: to participate fully in the accomplishment of the cross, we must dis-identify with a former, defeated way of living and identity with a new way—a kingdom way—of life. The way to do this is to give in to our craving for God” (p. 58).
“To be a disciple of Christ requires more than an intellectual acknowledgment of God’s existence. It means more than accumulating knowledge about Jesus. Rather, it is an experience of friendship with God. It is an experience of getting out of our minds so that, as St. Paul wrote, we many ‘have the mind of Christ’” (p. 87).
“Conversion reaches its climax when we can truly say good-bye to a former way of living and being and embrace a new way of living and thriving under the influence of the mind of Christ” (p. 123).
A book for the New Evangelization
This is a New Evangelization book.
For someone with no Christian background, it’s a great introduction to the basic “why” of Christianity. Paprocki writes in easy to understand language, devoid of insider lingo and “Church speak.” His repackaging will resonate with seekers and makes a perfect primer for the non-Christian.
For the cradle Catholic who’s lost his faith or perhaps never really found it, this book explains Catholicism in a fresh, new way that makes sense and awards a different perspective. It’s sure to resonate with fallen-away Catholics and give them the all-important reasons behind the seemingly random, useless stuff they did as kids.
So take a look at Under the Influence of Jesus. If you’re a catechist, get it for yourself. This may provide your own much needed foundation on the kerygma.
Or, give it to a friend who’s struggling with the Church. It might give the perspective they need to open up and receive more of Jesus’ influence in their lives.