Inviting Zacchaeus to Come Down from the Tree

A HUGE part of forming disciples is inviting people to take the next step (there is ALWAYS a next step!). Throughout Scripture, we see Jesus inviting people to take the next step in their faith journey. One such story is of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and we see how this invitation was life-changing for him.

Many of us in ministry can recall how our lives have changed because of an invitation. Here is a picture of me (center) in 1977 (gotta love the bow tie and hair, eh?) as a high school student, playing guitar at a liturgy at my high school, St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. I’m standing next to Fr. Terry Baum, S.J., who discovered I had some talent for playing guitar and invited me to play for school liturgies.

Picture1Fr. Terry is fond of reminding me (and my best friend, also named Joe, not pictured) that we tried our very best to be bad in our first couple of years of high school and failed miserably. To Fr. Terry, I was no doubt a Zacchaeus, someone on the fringes in whom he saw potential for growth in faith. He called me down from my tree and was instrumental (no pun intended) in shaping the direction my life took.

You and I need to find the Zacchaeuses that are lurking about in our ministerial settings. We need to identify young people who are climbing the tree in search of a direction in their lives and invite them to come down and get to work using their gifts in service of others.

I fear that in wake of the sex abuse scandal, we are more timid about inviting young people to partner with us in ministry. The truth is, many perpetrators used this very strategy to lure young people. However, as catechists, we must not fear inviting young people to walk with us on the journey…we simply need to make it clear to them and to their parents that what they are being invited into is a safe environment and then we need to make sure that environment is indeed safe for all involved.

Who called you down from your tree when you were in your “Zacchaeus stage” in life? Keep your eyes open and look up in the “trees” for the next Zacchaeus who is searching for direction in life and call that person down!

P.S. The above topic was part of a presentation I gave to the faculties of the Catholic schools of Quincy, IL, yesterday…a very enjoyable day and I thank them all for receiving me so warmly and for being so interactive. Below is a pic of the crowd being welcomed by hostess Ann Gage. That same evening, I met with a small group of catechists from the 4 parishes of Quincy to explore evangelizing catechesis…another wonderful group!

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About Joe Paprocki 2745 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

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