The gist of the program:
The Alpha program, which originated in an Anglican church in London, is a 10-week course on the basics of Christianity. Participants spend one evening a week having dinner together, watching a video presentation and discussing the material in small groups. Sessions cover faith, the life and death of Jesus as well as prayer and Scripture. Alpha also involves an overnight retreat toward the end of the course.
From a promoter of the course:
“The call to the new evangelization can be heard loud and clear throughout the Catholic Church,” Dave Nodar, director of ChristLife Evangelization Ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said in a statement. “What has not been so clear is how we as Catholics can answer the call in a practical, yet comfortable, way. Alpha for Catholics offers an excellent first step for parishes that are looking for a way to respond.”
That really struck me- practical and yet comfortable because that is what evangelism in America, catholic-style is all about. If it's not practice and comfortable just count me out.
The Alpha program has generated some controversy in the past. Paul Likoudis wrote an article citing his concerns here.
And Gillian Van Der Lande wrote about the program and her experience with it for Christian Order- article here.
It has been linked to such outrageous cults as The Toronto so-called Blessings where people (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit you understand) grunt like pigs, bark like dogs, laugh uncontrollably and roll around on the ground. Sounds more like the spirits that Jesus used to cast out of people than the Holy Spirit.
This program sounds a lot like Cursillo, Couples for Christ and any other groups that try to use "fellowship" to evangelize. They are attempting to personalize religion in a way that allows for mass marketing. The message is simple, "Christianity Lite", a pleasant evening, worship music, and dinner. The problem is participants want to keep their religious fervor at the tepid level that is so appealing. Since the participants "found God" or "renewed their Faith" or whatever they call it, in a safe, nonchallenging environment they come to believe that that state is the Christian Life and anything that moves them out of their comfort zone is unchristian; like protesting at an abortion clinic for instance or being open to life or going to Mass or even (gasp) Confession.
These program are not the way to evangelize. The disciples didn't convert whole nations with slick advertising, creating a comfortable atmosphere and generating warm feelings. The disciples challenged people in their errors and called them to the Truth. The truth is not easy, comfortable and personally I find it very impractical but programs that are based on the telling of faith fairytales gets sort of boring after a while.
I can think of two priests who preached the Truth, painful and uncomfortable as it was for them and their listeners. So painful they have both been silenced. Anyone remember Fr. David Mullen and Fr. Robert Altier?