A while back, I was contacted by Loyola Press and asked to review a book they felt would align perfectly with my “Bold, Brave, Catholic” series. While I am just as strapped for time this Christmas season as the next girl, I’m glad I agreed to review this book. I was provided a free copy of Start with Jesus, in exchange for an honest review. Furthermore, the links contained in this article are affiliate links to Amazon, which means at no cost to you, I may receive a small “referral bonus” if you choose to purchase through the links contained in my article.
The concept of the “Bold, Brave, Catholic” series is to inspire Catholics to boldly, bravely live their faith in their daily lives. Throughout the year, I have offered various thoughts by other writers as to what they determine, or even consider, living a bold and brave faith-life looks like. What is bold to me, may be shy to someone else. What is brave to someone else, could look completely awkward to me. So, I have let others share their thoughts and insights, and their stories about what it means to be “Bold, Brave, Catholic” in today’s world. I have kept my voice relatively quiet, simply because I have been living a little too boldly and bravely in my everyday role as Catholic Religious Education Coordinator (DRE for the civilian world), and haven’t had time to write my own thoughts on the topic.
When the representative from Loyola Press reached out to me, she explained,
[The author] Julianne describes her nationwide movement to help all Catholics point every action more deeply to Jesus and build a true relationship with him. In the world today, this hit me as bold, brave, and Catholic!
Therefore, considering the premise and prayer of this particular blog series, I agreed to review the book by Julianne Stanz, Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church.
The soft-cover, 161-page book arrived and was easy to hold and carry with me throughout my daily tasks. It fit neatly into my diaper bag as I shuttled to and from the chapel for work, the car dealer for routine maintenance, and all those many other seasonal activities. Even when I didn’t have it open, the artwork on the front cover focused my thoughts on the reason for the book – Jesus – and centered me as I struggled through my busy day.
This book is most ideally written for a group setting within a parish or Catholic community, but can certainly be used by an individual lay person. As Ms. Stanz explains in the introduction,
There are many books on the problems facing the Catholic Church. This is not one of them. There are also books about ideas that can help your parish grow. This book will incorporate new ideas, but it is not a checklist of small tweaks your parish might benefit from…
Instead, Ms. Stanz attempts, and is successful at providing a book that reminds readers of the primary reason and goal for discipleship – to draw Christ out in others, in a loving and relational manner.
Embedded at the end of each chapter were easy ways the reader could contemplate, reflect, and take small, but tangible actions on a daily basis. For those working through this book, the very end of each chapter also included a section titled, “Parish Priority.” This particular segment facilitates guided activities to assist a team in focusing on the building, not of parish community, but rather, of a community of disciples.
Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church identified a number of problem areas found within church communities – Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Yet, the predominant focus was built on solutions. Ms. Stanz used anecdotal stories from her varied experiences as a Director of Parish Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, a speaker, and a retreat leader. She emphasized the importance of knowing our own personal stories and faith walk, and more importantly, encouraged readers to be able to tell their own stories as part of the disciple-building process.
I also appreciated Ms. Stanz’s gentle reminders that the key to building disciples rests first on the ability to form relationships with others. As a strengths-based social worker, I found her emphasis on discipleship and the art of allowing others to find Christ hidden within themselves to be as persuasive as it was insightful. Ms. Stanz cautions, however, that,
Building relationships takes time, and you may need to prudently hold off certain conversations until the person is ready.
As I read this book, I was immediately drawn to the elegant simplicity of the concepts, but also forced to acknowledge that implementing them would be difficult for a parish that isn’t ready to dig deep and prepared to personally invest in their formation as missionary disciples. I marveled at how great this book would be for a group of catechists to read through together as part of a weekly book-study, perhaps during summer months between religious education program years. It is also ideal for parish staff, beginning with the parish priests and filtering into office-staff and ministry leadership.
This book would be perfect for catechists, parish priests, parish staff, ministry leaders, and anyone interested in being a true disciple of Christ!
I was once advised by a chaplain, “If you are doing God’s work, and doing what He wills, you will not make people happy. People will dislike you, and they will make their displeasure known.” This past year, I have been reminded of these words by my current priest, and have seen this wisdom and advice play out. As I read Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church, the pain of some of my own experiences came bleeding back to the surface, and forced me to look deep inside to understand how that pain was integral to my own calling to do what He wills me to do.
Along those lines, as I shared the aforementioned quote about relationship building taking time, a friend reminded me that, within a military community, time is a luxury we often do not have. Most military families average only three to four years at a typical duty location; my family moves every two years. Many of the civilian chapel staff are forced to watch parishioners come and go from the chapel, becoming all-too weary of the constant turnover in volunteers, in changes of vision, and in trying to keep the families from leaving military chapels and seeking spiritual formation outside of a military installation. And, I can’t fault them for being tired and cynical about changes.
As I pointed out to that same friend, “if I don’t have the luxury of ‘time’ to build relationships, how can this concept work within a highly-transient community such as a military chapel?” However, the more I contemplated this critique, the more resolute I felt that this book can, in the right hands, encourage military chapels to look upon their internal challenges with a fresh perspective.
And that, dear reader, is what has bolstered my belief that each of us are called to be “Bold, Brave, Catholic” wherever God has placed us. God placed my family in Florida for the past year and a half, though I am even now beginning to mentally and emotionally transition to our next duty station. At the end of my time here in Florida, I will have served as the Catholic Religious Education Coordinator for two program years, and will be challenged to identify and define my new role in the next chapel or church, wherever the Army sends our family.
Ms. Stanz is correct that one of the keys to success in building disciples and renewing the Church is relationships. We are built for relationships, not just with each other, but also with our Creator. This doesn’t change, regardless of whether or not a Catholic parish or community is civilian or military. But, the military lifestyle certainly poses a unique wrinkle to the concept of taking time to build relationships.
The premise of this book is sound. The challenge it has given to me, is how to take the principles Ms. Stanz promotes within, and implement them in communities that see major change-over in parishioners on an annual basis. Being part of a community that moves frequently does not reduce my responsibility to live out my Baptismal and Confirmation promises. But this life-style is a constant reminder that living as a Christian witness may take many shapes and forms as we seek to find and build relationships to help Him as he creates disciples in others.
If you are interested in reading more about these concepts in building up a community in which all members live a life of “Bold, Brave, Catholic,” I cannot recommend this book enough. Take the concepts and build them in your personal life, and within your secular and faith-based communities. Do not shy away from being “Bold, Brave, Catholic” in how you approach all areas of your life.
Join me in taking the road less traveled – the one in which you will sometimes struggle, but will ultimately meet the sweetest Salve known in the history of man: God, in all His glory, His majesty, and His splendor.
Thank you for supporting my blogging endeavors, especially by purchasing through the link provided.
For more about the “Bold, Brave, Catholic” series, don’t forget to check out the page created for this special series. I hope you have enjoyed the series, and look forward to continuing to feature “Bold, Brave, Catholics” routinely throughout 2020!