Faith Formation Sunday

Cunningham_formal_robes Last week, I wrote about the Catholic schools in our diocese and the excellent educational programs, infused by Gospel values and the teachings of our Catholic faith, which they provide for the students who attend them. Many more Catholic  children and young people, however, are enrolled in the public schools of Central New York. These students, numbering over 28,000, receive religious education and formation in parish programs offered throughout the school year and in religious education vacation programs available during the summer months.

On Sunday, September 20th, we celebrate Catechetical Sunday. This is a wonderful opportunity to recognize catechists who serve people of all ages in a wide variety of religious education programs. Catechists are a precious gift to the Church!  I am grateful for their commitment to this important ministry.

In a particular way, I acknowledge the 2, 814 catechists throughout our diocese who share the Word of God with their students during the course of the year. The catechists pass on to our students the priceless gift of our Catholic faith through their teaching and the witness of their lives. I thank them most sincerely for their contributions to the life of our diocese. Catechists are the heart of our catechetical programs for our young people. They recognize our students as valuable members of the Church of today and potential leaders for the Church of the future.

The theme of this year’s Catechetical celebration is Catechesis and the Proclamation of the Word. By choosing this theme, the Bishops are inviting the catechetical community in the United States to make the study of the Word of God its focus for the coming year.

Occasionally, the concept of the Word of God is misunderstood. The Word of God is more than Sacred Scripture. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. The heart of catechesis is the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Our catechetical efforts are directed toward putting people in communion with Jesus because He is the one who leads us to the love of the Father and the Spirit and makes us share in the life of the Blessed Trinity (cf. National Directory for Catechesis, #19).

During this catechetical year we need to focus both on Jesus Christ and the Sacred Scriptures. Likewise, we need to be conscious of the fact that we proclaim God’s Word, not only by our words, but by our actions. This is especially true for parents and grandparents who are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. It is true for our catechetical leaders and catechists who proclaim God’s Word by their daily lives. Pope Paul VI said it best more than thirty years ago: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelization in the Modern World #41)

In our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs, our catechists share with their students the living Word of God. These lessons not only prepare them for life in this world, but also for life in eternity which is the first goal of any catechetical program. How many of us can remember the answer from the Baltimore Catechism: “God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The mission of our catechetical ministry is to make disciples of the Risen Lord. This is a task that our catechists do not take lightly. Nor can it be taken lightly by any true disciple of the Lord. Through Baptism and Confirmation all of us have a responsibility to teach and make disciples of all nations.

The gift of our catechists’ faith and the gift of their time to share that faith are precious treasures. If you know catechists who participate in parish programs, thank them for what they do. Better still, consider volunteering in your parish catechetical program. Most parishes need assistants. Teachers, teacher aides, secretarial assistance are part of any program. Volunteers witness to their faith in a unique way.

With the assistance of The HOPE Appeal, we maintain four regional offices of religious education and five resource centers where materials are available to enrich our catechists’ ministry and their  personal faith. Through your support of The HOPE Appeal, you have the opportunity to advance our diocesan catechetical programs.

Through the years a variety of names has been used for the catechetical ministry: The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, religious education programs, faith formation, and catechesis. In our own diocese, we now call our efforts in this area, Faith Formation, in order to emphasize that religious education and formation take place not just for the young but for all of us who wish to be disciples of the Lord. Discipleship is a lifelong process and will end only in the joy of eternity.

On September 26th, we will have a celebration at the OnCenter for those involved in the catechetical ministry and for others interested in deepening their relationship with the Lord. Information about the day is available in The Catholic Sun, your parish bulletins, or from the Office of Faith Formation. I hope to see you there!

Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
September 3, 2009

Occasionally, the concept of the Word of God is misunderstood.  The Word of God is more than Sacred Scripture.  The Word of God is Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.  The heart of catechesis is the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Our catechetical efforts are directed toward putting people in communion with Jesus because He is the one who leads us to the love of the Father and the Spirit and makes us share in the life of the Blessed Trinity (cf. National Directory for Catechesis, #19).

During this catechetical year we need to focus both on Jesus Christ and the Sacred Scriptures.  Likewise, we need to be conscious of the fact that we proclaim God’s Word, not only by our words, but by our actions.  This is especially true for parents and grandparents who are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  It is true for our catechetical leaders and catechists who proclaim God’s Word by their daily lives.  Pope Paul VI said it best more than thirty years ago:  “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  (Evangelization in the Modern World #41)

In our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs, our catechists share with their students the living Word of God.  These lessons not only prepare them for life in this world, but also for life in eternity which is the first goal of any catechetical program.  How many of us can remember the answer from the Baltimore catechism:  “God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”  The mission of our catechetical ministry is to make disciples of the Risen Lord.  This is a task that our catechists do not take lightly.  Nor can it be taken lightly by any true disciple of the Lord.  Through Baptism and Confirmation all of us have a responsibility to teach and make disciples of all nations.

The gift of our catechists’ faith and the gift of their time to share that faith are precious treasures.  If you know catechists who participate in parish programs, thank them for what they do.  Better still, consider volunteering in your parish catechetical program.  Most parishes need assistance.  Teachers, teacher aides, secretarial assistance are part of any program.  Volunteers witness to their faith in a unique way.

With the assistance of The HOPE Appeal, we maintain four regional offices of religious education and five resource centers where materials are available to enrich our catechists’ ministry and their  personal faith.  Through your support of The HOPE Appeal, you have the opportunity to advance our diocesan catechetical programs.

Through the years a variety of names has been used for the catechetical ministry:  The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, religious education programs, faith formation, and catechesis.  In our own diocese, we now call our efforts in this area, Faith Formation, in order to emphasize that religious education and formation take place not just for the young but for all of us who wish to be disciples of the Lord.  Discipleship is a lifelong process and will end only in the joy of eternity.

On September 26th, we will have a celebration at the OnCenter for those involved in the catechetical ministry and for others interested in deepening their relationship with the Lord.  Information about the day is available in The Catholic Sun, your parish bulletins, or from the Office of Faith Formation.  I hope to see you there!

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