Every year on the third Sunday in September, parishes across the United States celebrate Catechetical Sunday. This year, the celebration falls on September 21 and will focus on the theme “Teaching about God’s Gift of Forgiveness.”
Two thoughts came to my mind as I considered Catechetical Sunday: the mercy of God and the vast number of catechists, many of whom are volunteers, who generously contribute their time and effort to our numerous faith formation programs.
When I think about God’s mercy, the words of Psalm 118 come to mind: “Give thanks to the Lord . . . for his mercy endures forever.” God is always at work in our lives, even when we stray from Him. God the Father pursues us down the byways of our life, intent to restore and share with us in greater measure a life of grace and union with Him, which was secured through the saving death of His son. Pope Francis has reminded us that forgiveness is not a result of our efforts, but a gift. “It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who showers us with mercy and grace that pours forth unceasingly from the open heart of Christ crucified and risen” (General Audience, February 19, 2014).
The message of God’s mercy permeates Sacred Scripture. Again and again God shows mercy to His errant people, despite their infidelity. Again and again He gives them another chance for repentance and conversion. The psalms repeatedly tell us that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 145:8; 86:15; 103:8; 116:5). And of course we cannot forget the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son, where the father welcomes back the son who had left home and squandered his inheritance. When the father caught sight of the son returning home he ran out “to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). When we “stray from the father’s house” He is always ready to welcome us home to the warm embrace of His love.
In addition to giving a focus to our catechetical endeavors, Catechetical Sunday provides us with the opportunity to highlight the vital ministry of catechesis, to acknowledge the numerous ways in which the catechetical ministry is exercised in our parishes and to celebrate the commitment and many gifts of parish catechists.
Catechists are called to be privileged instruments through which God continues His saving work today. Last September, speaking to an international gathering of catechists in Rome, Pope Francis described catechists as “people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others” (Homily, September 29, 2013).
Faith contains a memory of God’s history with His people, the memory of our encounter with God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us. Faith is remembrance of His word which warms our heart, and of His saving deeds which give us life and nourish us. “A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to be important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and fidelity, to speak and to transmit all that God has revealed, namely, the teachings of Christ and His Church in its totality, neither adding or subtracting anything” (Pope Francis, Homily, September 29, 2013).
I am grateful to the large number of directors and coordinators of our faith formation programs and catechists who offer faith formation to children, young people and indeed people of all ages throughout our diocese. The heart of a catechist beats with the movement of union with Christ and encounter with others. “The catechist is conscious of having received the gift of faith, and he or she then gives that gift in turn to others. It is a pure gift: a gift received and a gift given. The catechist is right there, at the center of this exchange of gift” (Address at International Congress on Catechesis, September 28, 2013).
Faith — a gift received; a treasure to be shared. All of us are called by our baptism to proclaim the Gospel. Catechetical Sunday is a good time to reflect on this call and responsibility. “All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. . . . Each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. All of us are called to give explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 120).
Faith — a gift received; a treasure to be shared. May we all “go forth” and share the precious treasure of our faith.
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.