In his new book, Rerouting, Fr. John Riccardo presents the gospel in a clear, concise manner so that parishioners can respond to Jesus’ invitation to become missionary disciples. Like a GPS, the book takes all of the “data” offered in the Mass and the Scriptures and lays out a path to help readers reach their destination—a deeper relationship with the Lord and a commitment to sharing the good news with the people around them. The Word Among Us asked Fr. Riccardo to explain the vision behind his book.
You’ve said that two trends in the Catholic Church triggered Rerouting. What were they?
The first was this. If you ask most Catholics, “Do you have a personal friendship with Jesus?” they would probably say, “I don’t know what you mean by that.” They wouldn’t necessarily call their relationship with God a friendship, even though the idea might sound good to them. The second factor was that a large percentage of people will tell you, “I don’t really understand the Bible.” The lectionary readings seem disjointed to them, and many Bible passages don’t appear to relate to their lives. This makes for a very unsatisfying experience of Mass for many people.
How did you try to address these trends in your parish?
I had an inspiration, supported by my archbishop, to explain to my parishioners the narrative arc of Scripture in a short, concise fashion. I wanted to do it when we had a captive audience at Mass on Sunday. So I worked closely with my leadership team and Scripture experts to develop what turned out to be a fourteen-week series given at Mass. We tried to do everything we could to create a better learning environment, so we put an outline of the homily in the bulletin. We also made use of technology to project Scripture quotes, pictures, and other learning aids onto screens at the front of the church. (I am a reluctant convert to these, I must say!) Lastly, we encouraged people to bring their Bibles and take notes. And we were off! Over and over we heard people ask afterward: “We’re not going to go back to what we used to do, are we?” So I wrote this book to make that teaching series more widely available.
Why is the “narrative arc” of the Bible important to explain?
The purpose of telling the story is always to lead people to make a response. In essence, we are proclaiming the kerygma, the essential elements of the gospel message. It starts with the goodness of God’s creation, then it covers our fall into sin and the consequences of that sin, and then it explains that God has sent his Son to rescue us from sin. The last and most important part of the story is our response to the love that God has shown.
To make that response tangible, when we were finished, we encouraged people—both longtime Mass goers and new parishioners—to make an act of surrender to God. It was remarkable to me how many did so!
How can a program and book like Rerouting change people’s lives?
Hopefully it will help people come to know God in a way that is true. Many of us have an extremely distorted image of God. We think that he’s up in heaven holding an anvil over our heads waiting for us to mess up. And because of that we can think that Christianity is about keeping arbitrary rules that will somehow get us into heaven. I tell people, “That isn’t God.” He wants you to know him. He sent his Son to die for you because he loves you. You are worth dying for, and he is worth living for! The gospel message makes that clear and it has wide-ranging social implications. Remember, Jesus says, “You can’t love me unless you love your neighbor.”
That’s a striking message, isn’t it?
It is. People wonder, “How does Mass attendance help me lead the good, happy life that I want?” And “What does Mass have to do with my struggles and the tasks I need to do this week?” The answer is: everything! Why? Because here I meet the living, saving God, and from there he sends me out. He wants me to be a light to rescue others that are lost in the darkness of a life without him. He wants to turn the world upside down with the liberating message of the Gospel.
How exactly can Scripture help us make sense of our daily lives?
This may sound unrelated, but let’s start by asking, “What is faith?” Faith is a way of knowing and seeing. Faith is about seeing our lives in a new way—the way God sees us. Faith isn’t blind. To not have faith is to be blind. So as I understand Scripture more and as the Spirit moves more actively in my life, I come to deeper faith and I start to see. I see who God is; I see why I’m here, where I’m going, and how to get there. I see new meaning to my suffering and challenges. I see my responsibility for those in need and those who are hurting. Faith enables me to see all of this and more.
Fr. John Riccardo is the pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan.
Rerouting is available from The Word Among Us bookstore.wau.org and from amazon.com. Companion videos can be found at olgcparish.net/rerouting.