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February 10, 2021

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

What do you seek? Who are you? Why a God? What is our story? Who is Jesus? Am I saved? Why a Church? These seven questions are explored in THE SEARCH, a FORMED.org program offering a fresh approach to sharing the Good News. What makes this approach so appealing? The NCC spoke recently with two people whose experience with THE SEARCH has convinced them of its unique value.

For one thing, says Father Bryan D. Stitt, pastor of St. Mary’s in Canton, “THE SEARCH is a shallow entry point into the deep pool of Catholicism. It doesn’t present all the answers but asks all the right questions. It helps us acknowledge that there is a way of looking at the world that is other than what contemporary society presents – and this way is beautiful. The seven short videos are beautifully produced – the visuals and music are better than any others I’ve seen. Also, Chris Stefanick is the host. He not only has great content, but he shares it with a joy that I find compelling.”

Marika Donders, Diocesan Director for the New Evangelization, agrees. “The whole thing is so beautifully done – and Stefanick just exudes the joy of faith. The series explores the big questions with an understanding that the audience is not necessarily Catholic or Christian. In that sense, it allows participants to explore the reasonableness of the Christian story and the universal appeal of the claims of faith. The stories are told by brilliant scientists and professors and summarized by a theologian that, while not dumbed down, is easily accessible. You do not have to check your brain at the door if you want to explore faith. Faith and reason are not in opposition, but both are seeking the truth.”

In fact, Donders continues, “THE SEARCH is different from most video programs in that it tries to open a dialogue. Other programs present the teaching (‘Here is the dogma and doctrine’ or ‘Here is the Scripture passage and this is how you should interpret it’). THE SEARCH presents the reasonableness of faith and why you might want to consider it. What I love about THE SEARCH is that it draws people in to think about the big questions that modern life (consumerism, relativism, technology, scientism) either distracts us from asking or suggests that the questions can’t be answered. It also presents the questions in narrative form – it tells the story – rather than dry abstracts of the faith. This makes it suitable to young adults as well – especially those who have been so influenced by the ‘new atheists’ and the relativism of our culture.”

Not only is THE SEARCH different from other evangelistic programs, but in the coming weeks Father Stitt and Donders will use it to reach different audiences. In Canton, THE SEARCH was presented last fall to people interested in the Church since, Father Stitt notes, “It is ideal for inquirers, and it can lead right into RCIA. Now it will be used to lead into Lent and will focus on those who are just one step removed from worshiping with us. Maybe they were raised Catholic and haven’t been back in a while. Maybe they are our Christmas and Easter Catholics. Maybe they are our college students and post-Confirmation kids who so often slip through the cracks.”

Connecting with the disconnected is a perennial challenge, but Father Stitt and his parish staff have discerned a way to make that connection, using THE SEARCH and the willingness of what he calls the 5%. “Every pastor knows that there is 5-7% of his parish that does the heavy lifting. They come to the programs we host and were (generally) the first to come back to Mass in the Spring when we could do so. There’s nothing wrong with offering good programs to the 5%, but that doesn’t spread the Gospel. However, the 5-7% each have pods of family and friends that they are quarantining with. THE SEARCH is for those folks! I keep encouraging our parishioners to watch the videos with their friends and then to discuss them. We’ve provided handouts with conversation starters. We also provided the book version of THE SEARCH as a Christmas present to every parishioner. And for the next seven weeks, pastor, staff, and parishioners will view and discuss the seven segments of THE SEARCH with their own quarantine pods – the folks in their inner circles – mostly in person. Then, as follow-up, we’ll invite people to come together virtually for a ‘The Search Continues’ presentation to highlight some of the grace-filled moments and to look to the future.”

Starting February 1, Donders – who previously piloted THE SEARCH with a women’s group in Fort Covington – began a new group for 20 adults. “We will meet for seven Mondays via ZOOM,” she explains, “and will have two breakout groups; Deacon Mastellon will facilitate one for deacons, deacon candidates and their wives, and I will facilitate the second small group. We don’t want to go much bigger because then the groups would get too large and unwieldy for online discussion. We will meet from 6:30-8ish to watch the video streamed via ZOOM and then have an open discussion. Which leads me to another aspect of this series that I appreciate: it is a vehicle that allows people to share where they are at in their faith without putting expectations on them. It is not about having to put on a pious Catholic mask, and it allows participants to ask questions and voice where they struggle with faith. Because THE SEARCH opens a dialogue, it opens the floor to discussion and questions and in the process builds relationships and trust, both with other participants and, if they are open to the Holy Spirit, a relationship with Christ.”

Father Stitt concurs, underscoring THE SEARCH’s value as a shallow-entry point. “Bishop Barron talks about being taken to Wrigley Field as a boy and falling in love with baseball – watching the Cubs play, sitting next to his dad, the green of the ivy on the outfield wall. THE SEARCH is our Wrigley Field. It’s got professional stuff, it’s got those we love, and it’s beautiful. As Bishop Barron says, no one falls in love with baseball because of the infield fly rule. Likewise, we don’t fall in love with the faith because of some esoteric teaching of theology or morality. We want to just open the door and let the Holy Spirit lead.”

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