Called to evangelize

| March 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

Jeff Cavins embarks on a new mission to help Catholics know Christ better and share their faith

Dianne Towalski/The Catholic Spirit

Dianne Towalski/The Catholic Spirit

Well before creating a successful Bible study series, reintroducing audiences to Christ, and leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Jeff Cavins knew he was destined to teach God’s word.

“I think if there’s anything I’m called to in my life, it’s evangelization,” he said.

Recently, Cavins was appointed director of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ new Office of Evangelization. He officially began his duties March 17.

“I am very pleased to be able to establish our new Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization, and even more thrilled to be able to hire Jeff Cavins to be its director,” said Archbishop John Nienstedt. “As we have learned from the last four popes, evangelization is at the heart of the Church’s mission — as Pope Francis says, ‘reaching out to the periphery.’ Every one of the baptized, clergy, religious and laity alike are called to witness to the beauty and truth of the Gospel.

“In that respect,” the archbishop added, “Jeff Cavins has proven that he understands and can articulate what the New Evangelization means. He was the inspiration behind the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute, as well as being a noted author and speaker on the topic. I have great hopes that his hiring will lead to a flourishing of our Rediscover: initiative and other programming as well.”

Bishop Andrew Cozzens said Cavins “is ready to help parishes and people. I know he’s not going to sit behind a desk.”

In forming the Office of Evangelization as part of the archdiocese’s strategic plan, Archbishop Nienstedt seeks to create a culture that helps Catholics understand and embrace their call to be evangelists, Bishop Cozzens said. The office will oversee the archdiocese’s Rediscover: initiative, which launched in December 2012 as a way for Catholics to strengthen their faith lives and invite others to know and love Jesus and his Church more deeply.

Jeff Cavins leads regular pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Submitted photo

Jeff Cavins leads regular pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Submitted photo

Listening and learning

Cavins will spend the first months on the job listening, learning and starting to implement ideas that he hopes will engage more Catholics.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” Cavins said. “We have to work with pastors, we have to work with [directors of religious education]. There has to be a vision for evangelization that people can buy into and say, ‘I like that, that’s a great idea,’ and work together with the bishops and all the churches we can.”

The local parish must be at the heart of evangelization efforts if those who are coming into the Church will successfully go from initial conversion to full maturity, he said. The relationship between evangelization and formation — catechesis — is crucial.

“If people come to Christ through evangelistic efforts, we have to ask ourselves what kind of parishes, what kind of formation programs will greet them,” he said.

By developing tools and methods that equip people to do the work of God and be Christ’s disciples, the office will offer ongoing opportunities to evangelize, perhaps through a speakers series with music, testimonials, expert presenters and answers to specific questions.

Cavins said, “We have to bring up the questions that people are asking: What do you do with suffering? What do you do with children that run away from the faith? What do you do when you don’t feel like forgiving someone, but you want to? And when we start to address the itch or the hurt in their lives, we gain their attention. And then we have to come through with real answers to the problems people are facing” — communicating answers in ways that make the Gospel message compelling.

Earlier in his life, Cavins himself was seeking answers to challenging questions. As a 19-year-old college student, he felt disconnected from the Church and lacked an essential, personal relationship with Christ. At the time, he thought he found the answers in the Protestant faith. He delved into studying the Bible and eventually became a Protestant pastor.

His return to the Catholic Church was preceded by years of prayer and discernment.

When he first thought about returning to the Church, he called the man who served as his boyhood pastor at St. Edward in Bloomington: Bishop Paul Dudley.

Bishop Dudley, who headed the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., at the time, played a major role in the process.

“He met me at the airport, and I still remember his arms stretched out as he said, ‘Welcome home,’” Cavins said of the bishop, who died in 2006.

“Through our evangelization efforts, I hope we can not only provide a home for new believers, but we can welcome home those who left the Church,” Cavins said.

Planning under way for 2014 Rediscover: Catholic Celebration

As the director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Jeff Cavins will oversee its nationally recognized Rediscover: initiative.

With the Rediscover: 2014 Speakers Series finished and the last Cor Jesu prayer experience April 8, the next event being planned is the 2014 Rediscover: Catholic Celebration, slated for Oct. 3 and 4 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The event will bring together Catholics in the archdiocese to celebrate Mass, hear internationally-known speakers and learn about worship and service opportunities. Cavins emceed at the 2013 celebration.

With potentially up to 12,500 attendees, Cavins wants the two-day event to be a “tremendous musical celebration.” He’ll work with organizers to plan speakers and music, review best practices and consider possible improvements.

One of Cavins’ goals is to start working on evangelization initiatives that could be announced at the event, which is an opportune time to talk to specific groups — such as men, women and young adults — about issues in their lives, he said.

Already he has met with Rediscover:’s executive team.

“Their response to me has been so encouraging,” he said. “It’s a dream. And I like to get together with other people who like to dream and collaborate, and roll up our sleeves, pray, discuss, throw out ideas and ask the Lord to help us — as a group — to do this. And so I’m looking forward to that.”

Learn more about Rediscover: events

Hope for the future

For the last eight years, Cavins has taught at the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul, passing on the faith to adults. He has observed that one of the biggest problems with evangelization is Catholics not knowing how to invite someone to Mass or into the Church.

People’s tendencies are to reach out by offering opportunities for catechesis — teaching about beliefs and doctrine, Cavins said. But this can’t come before they are invited into a personal relationship with Jesus.

Evangelization is about three things: knowing Christ, knowing people and making the introduction, Cavins said. He sees the Office of Evangelization encouraging the lay faithful and the priests, deacons and religious.

“We are looking for good news — we have had some tough times — and the good news is Jesus. It’s Jesus [who] changes people’s lives.

“We have some great minds, some great souls in this archdiocese, and I would like to work with them,” Cavins said. “Every Catholic has a story. Everyone has things that have taken place in their life that they can tell people, ‘Look what Jesus has done in my life.’”

And, he added, “If we are going to be successful in evangelization, we are going to have to do what Blessed John Paul II told us: We are going to need to use new methods and walk with new enthusiasm and passion.

“When we combine a knowledge of our faith with new methods of sharing it and fueled by a renewed passion, anything is possible,” Cavins said. “Through prayer, humility, collaboration and an openness to innovative ways of equipping the faithful, as well as innovative ways of communicating our faith, great things can happen in the kingdom of God.”


About Jeff Cavins

Family: Wife, Emily; daughters Carly, Jacqueline and Antonia.

Parish: St. Vincent de Paul in Brooklyn Park.

Education: Master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio) with catechetical certification.

Career:

  • Founder of the Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study
  • Author of books and videos about the Catholic faith. Books include “My Life on the Rock,” “Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible,” “I’m Not Being Fed,” and the “Amazing Grace” series.
  • Host of long-running shows on Relevant Radio, a national Catholic radio network, as well as EWTN, a national Catholic television network. TV shows included “Our Father’s Plan” and “Life on the Rock.”
  • Director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul, a program of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity.

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