Faith formation

This past Sunday was Catechetical Sunday. This annual celebration occurs every year on the third Sunday of September in parishes across the United States. It provides us with the opportunity to recognize the many dedicated catechetical leaders, catechists and teachers in our parish programs and Catholic schools who are actively engaged in passing on our Catholic faith. More than that, however, Catechetical Sunday reminds all of us of our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and take part in the Church’s mission, evangelization.

   As I considered the important ministry of catechesis, I thought of four points that are particularly important for me in my role as a teacher of the faith and, I hope, are important for all engaged in passing on our faith.    First, evangelization is the mission of the Church. The vocation of the Church is to proclaim Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI reminded us that the Church exists to evangelize. The proclamation of the Gospel is the grace and vocation of the Church, her deepest identity (Cf. Evangelization in the Modern World, 14). Evangelization is a complex process made up of varied elements. Catechesis, the systematic, clear and coherent presentation of our faith, is an important element in evangelization.  

   Second, in order to provide this systematic, clear and coherent formation, the preparation of catechists and teachers is crucial. Just as teachers of secular subjects must know their subject area and be able to present it in an interesting and knowledgeable manner so too must we, charged with teaching our faith, know our faith. This means that we know the content of our faith and that we know Christ, namely that we have a personal relationship with Him and are able to share this content and relationship with others.

   Third, because actions speak louder than words, our behavior, our actions must “speak” about our love for Christ, His teachings and the authentic teachings of the Church. Sometimes this witness may be the silent proclamation of the good news. Without speaking any words, our lives can radiate our faith and our hope in what is not seen. Sometimes this witness may be an explicit proclamation by which we give a reason for our faith and provide an answer for why we believe and what we believe. Witness is crucial if we want others to know and follow Christ.

   Fourth, the aim of catechesis is to put people in touch with Christ. “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father” (Blessed John Paul II, Catechesis in our Times, #5). We know that our faith is not an abstract message. The content of our faith reveals a person, the Word made flesh. Our goal, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, is to lead others to enter the mystery of Christ, to encounter Him and to discover the meaning of their lives in Him.

   The theme for Catechetical Sunday this year was “Open the Door of Faith.” This theme is not reserved for one Sunday in the year. It is meant to give focus and direction to our programs of faith formation throughout the year. One of the prime duties for those of us engaged in passing on our faith is to open the entrance of the doors of the heart and keep that entrance free from obstacles that might cause someone to walk by the door. We know the treasure that lies beyond the door. We are eager to open the door that leads to an encounter with Christ.

   Although people of all ages are provided with numerous opportunities to engage in Faith Formation programs throughout our diocese, many of our 2,400 catechists are responsible for the education and formation of 26,000 children and young people in our parish and Catholic school programs. How important it is that these young minds and hearts be exposed to the beauty of the Gospel, the rich heritage of their faith and the authentic teachings of the Church. How important it is that they come to know and love Christ. How important to the life of the Church that they become disciples, followers of Christ who share His life and imitate Him. This is how the Church is built up from one generation to the next. I am most grateful to all the men and women who serve as catechists in our Faith Formation programs.

   For all of us, may the Year of Faith continue to be an opportunity to renew our relationship with Christ, faithful participation in the sacramental life of the Church and for opening the door of faith for others.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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