A follow up to my previous spring post, The new evangelization and how YOU can be a part of it, I recently received a copy of the full program, The 99 Experience from Ascension Press. For one reason or another, Catholics have become very poor at evangelization. Many times it is just fear of rejection. St. Pope John Paul II recognized this during his pontificate and wrote an encyclical, Redemptoris Missio (7 Dec 1990). He coined the term “New Evangelization.” Ascension Press has been part of the new evangelization in the hundreds of Bible studies they have published over the years. This is their latest adventure into the new evangelization, collectively called The 99. The name actually comes from the story of the Lost Sheep where the good Shepherd leaves the 99 behind to find the one lost.
[Catholics] do not see ourselves as needing to be found, like the “one” sheep who has gone astray. Nor do we see the need to seek after the “one,” the “lost” sheep, through evangelization. The 99 is a call to recognize that we just might be that one sheep who is lost, even through we might be part of Jesus’ flock…It is also a call to recognize when we need to be the shepherd to others, leaving the flock to spread the message of the Gospel.
The 99 primarily is a call to grow our relationship with Jesus using The 99 Experience, but it is also the call to go out like the Apostles and find those lost sheep and bring them home in The 99 Masterclass. It is full of Catholic evangelists rock stars including Mark Hart (who wrote The 99 Handbook with Joel Stepanek), Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sister Miriam Heidland, Leah Darrow and many more. It is to be offered over and over again, with each session growing with new invitees. What is wonderful is with the complete system, Ascension has done all the work by giving you the materials to train leaders and then have them go out to find the “one” that is lost.
To begin, you first need to gather a group of leaders and train them using The 99 Masterclass. The masterclass is a total of 6 sessions (each broken into 3 segments) to build the faith and confidence of the new leaders to share their faith story with their small groups during The 99 Experience. While there are times to watch a short video and for small group discussions, there is also a personal prompt to dive deep while at home for personal prayer and reflection. In order to lead a small group, you too must be prepared to know your own relationship with our Lord and how to share and respond to the questions others may have. While we will not have all the answers, knowing what to say can make the difference between someone who is drawn deeper into faith or pushed further away. As leaders, we want to be sensitive to others during their faith journey while encouraging them to continue to build that relationship with Jesus. The 99 Masterclass will prepare leaders to guide their small group discussions and to encourage them to find the answers they seek.
Next, we send those “shepherds” who completed masterclass out as the leaders in The 99 Experience. The 99 Experience are three 90 minute sessions broken into short video segments and small group discussions. Also, depending on the size of the groups participating, there are three formats that you can choose from: large group with small group discussion, large group with individual reflection where the participants will journal about the video segments, or large group with partner discussion which would allow for more intimate discussion as it would only be with one or two people. The goal of The 99 Experience is to be welcoming for those who are there to seek the Lord and encouraging for those who may feel lost that they too are loved by the good Shepherd who loves them so much to find THEM.
What is wonderful is at the end of Session 2 is a call for “Mercy.” During the closing prayer there could be a Reconciliation service, Eucharistic Adoration or prayer service with an examination of conscience to encourage those who have probably not received this Sacrament in years, to be able to fully feel welcomed back into the arms of Jesus and carried home. I can almost feel the weight that will be lifted off the shoulders of so many who have carried their sins for so long! Can I get an AMEN? Amen! And at the end of Session 3, there is an opportunity for a Mass or Eucharistic adoration. Just like a mini RCIA class, The 99 Experience will allow fallen Catholics to feel welcomed back into the fullness of the Catholic Church.
We are all called by Jesus to go and find the lost sheep. Throughout his ministry, he would send the Apostles and disciples out to share the message he just taught them. They would then come back and report to him their successes and at times they had to ‘shake the dirt from their shoes’ when the people didn’t listen. While we may feel discouraged as they did when we fail, we must keep looking to find the “one” that Jesus wants us to bring back to the Church. We also need to be strong in our own faith and relationship with Jesus. We need to be comfortable sharing our personal story to encourage others who feel lost by the hurt and sin they are carrying. We are all called to be a faith community including being a part of those who encourage others to come back into the Church. Ascension Press has the program ready to go, The 99 Experience, with all of the resources, guides, and videos. Now is your time to join the work to bring the new evangelization to life in your parish.