An article was written in January 2023 on Catholic365 entitled, “ALPHA should never be used in the Catholic Church”. It was the first featured article in the Catholic365 newsletter, and it caught my eye. I have a story to tell about The Alpha Course, as it is referred to that I would like to share as a response to the article posted stating the negative attributes of ALPHA. Here is my story:
My ALPHA story
The year was 2000. My husband and I were married more than 10 years with two small children and in our 30's. Admittedly, both of us had not been devoted to our faith throughout the beginning of our marriage We had been raised Catholic, but both of us had not taken our faith nearly as seriously as we should have. We were basically going through the motions.
I had had a deeper conversion of faith after being miraculously cured of a serious heart ailment after having received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick a couple years before. It was life changing for me, but I was still praying hard that my husband would come to deeper faith in his life.
A friend invited me to take The Alpha Course in the fall of 2000. It was a weekly meeting with other young mothers where we watched a video presented by an Anglican pastor Mr. Nicky Gumble, and then we met for small group talks after the video. It was a time of fellowship and of faith.
Half-way through the course, there was a weekend retreat where we again watched specific videos, met in small groups, and had time for fellowship. The weekend retreat is referred to as the “Holy Spirit Weekend” where there is music, fellowship, and prayer. The prayer was something I had never encountered before, and for the first time I experienced having someone “pray over you”, as in charismatic prayer. It was an emotional experience, beautiful, and something I will never forget.
What is presented in the videos
ALPHA does not pretend to be uber-Catholic or a program deep in the catechesis of the church. It is very basic, and it is an ecumenical course. There is an ALPHA for Catholics version as mentioned in the Catholic365 article “ALPHA should never be used in the Catholic Church” but that version does not claim offer heavy-duty catechesis or suitable for RCIA or for students enrolled in PREP. The basic premise of the course is to acknowledge the Holy Spirit, the third person of the holy trinity, as not only important to our lives but integral in the life of faith. Without the spirit we as Catholics are nothing. We need the holy spirit to guide us, to show us, and to form us as disciples. This is a major part of ALPHA in forming missionary disciples for the Lord. The course does not claim to be the perfect program in all instances, but it does help to facilitate fellowship, prayer, and acceptance and deep acknowledgement of our relationship with Christ and with the holy spirit.
Back to my story
After much prayer, my husband took The ALPHA Course in March of 2001, more than twenty years ago. He had been Catholic all his life, but never had I seen before the transformation of his prayer life, trust, and love of God than through his involvement in ALPHA. Not only did he become more enthusiastic for his Catholic faith, but together we led more than eight course over the period of five to seven years. My husband also became a volunteer on the board for ALPHA USA for several years, organizing benefits and golf outings, making wonderful new friends, and spreading the faith. ALPHA transformed our lives, and at the same time we became even more interested in learning more about our Catholic faith. My husband started a men’s prayer group with another friend and that prayer group has been going on for more than twenty years. God used ALPHA to transform my husband’s heart. He became even more devoted to his Catholic fatih.
We had the amazing opportunity of praying with so many people when we were involved in ALPHA. We saw people come back to the Catholic Church, people decide to enter into vocatiions such as the priesthood and deaconate, and couples who were ready to call it quits decide to stay together while honoring their Catholic faith.
Are there any negatives?
As with anything, there are always pluses and minuses. I was involved in ALPHA for more than five to seven years total, and I can honestly say that I did not see very many negatives if any. The course bills itself as ecumenical although the title of the Catholic version is ALPHA for Catholics. The approach is gentle, no one is forced to take a step he/she is not ready for in moving forward in faith. We, as leaders, always prayed for those who attended, but the final decision was always up to the attendees as to whether or not they would continue on. It was an invitation, but never forced. Kind of the way God works. The door is always open, but never forced.
More times than not, I saw deep transformations and most especially in myself and my husband. If it were not for ALPHA I would not be a writer for Catholic365. I would not have raised my children as devoted as I did. I would not have obtained a Master’s in Theology, and I would not be a doctoral student in Catholic theology as I am now. I would also not be working as the Executive Director for a Catholic nonprofit. In other words, ALPHA was truly the beginning of my deepening my Catholic faith. There are no major negatives to ALPHA. It has helped millions of people for decades, Catholics included. People like Father Mike Schmitz recommend ALPHA, because it works.
The Eucharist IS the source and summit of our faith. ALPHA is not a course on the Eucharist. However, it also does not claim to be a Catholic catechetical program. ALPHA is perfect for those who have fallen away from the faith and those who do not have a deep relationship with God. ALPHA offers fellowship, which is something ALL Catholics and Christians truly need. I have seen more often than not many people come back to the church and later become devoted to the Eucharist after having experienced ALPHA. In a nutshell, ALPHA focuses mostly on the holy spirit, somethings Catholics and Christians alike agree on, for the most part. Many people are led to learn more about the sacraments of the church after taking the course.
I invite you to learn more about ALPHA. It has been around a long time, and the proof is in the pudding. If you know someone who has left the church, someone who needs to know and experience the holy spirit, and someone who does not understand what a relationship with God is all about, think about ALPHA. Take it from someone who has known and loved ALPHA for more than 20 years. ALPHA is all about transformation of the heart and of the soul.