By Andrea Slaven | Contributing writer
Editor’s note: Andrea Slaven, M.Ed.; M.A. Instructional Technology, is the Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Syracuse. This is the first of a four-article series focusing on the Office of Catechesis and the different models and aspects of catechetical instruction in our diocese.
Last year, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia delivered his first pastoral letter to the Diocese of Syracuse titled, In the Name of Jesus. In his letter, Bishop Lucia shares five ways each of us can witness and lead others to live the faith. These include proclaiming the kerygma, being people of prayer, acknowledging our sins and failures, being a community of faith and service, and finally, responding to our universal call to holiness by discerning our gifts for the vocation to which God is calling us, especially for pastoral leadership. The Office of Catechesis supports parish catechetical programs that develop these five areas in the faith formation of children, families and teens. Over the next few weeks, The Catholic Sun will share the stories of how parishes are teaching and providing encounters that bring these principles to life.
We begin this week with proclaiming the kerygma: the kernel of our faith, the seed that needs to be planted and nurtured for catechesis to thrive. The kerygma presents the person of Jesus Christ and the story of our salvation in a direct and simple way and brings one’s own personal experience into the Christian story. Catechetical programs (or faith formation programs) bring the kerygma to children and families, not only through curriculum and content that teach in terms of the kerygma, but also through the catechists themselves who witness, as the Bishop writes, “boldly and with loving conviction the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
For over 30 years, faith formation programs in the Diocese of Syracuse have been encouraged to center catechesis with the family rather than a traditional school model. The Church recognizes that not only are parents the first heralds of faith by word and example, but they are also the primary educators of the faith for their children. No other person has as much positive influence over their childrens’ lives of faith than their parents and therefore, it is important for parents to be involved in partnership with the parish in the formation of faith with their children. As we transition from a traditional school model of religious education, the fruitfulness of family catechesis is more evident in many of our parishes. Over the years, many parishes began integrating family formation into their programs at times of sacramental preparation and/or seasonal catechetical events.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented the catechetical community with an opportunity to engage parents in a more intentional way as catechesis was provided by way of the internet. As faith communities once again returned to in-person capabilities, parish leaders developed in-person programs that continued to be centered on and with the family.
Family catechesis empowered families to deepen their relationship with God and with each other while learning more about our Catholic faith. It is an evangelizing vision for catechesis that can be implemented through a variety of ways, depending on what works best for the parish and their families. Parishes are developing creative and unique ways to lead families in faith formation utilizing new models and varied gathering times. These sessions provide opportunities for both children and parents to hear the kerygma together in a space that nurtures family prayer, discussions and activities.
At the heart of the kerygma is a person, Jesus Christ; catechesis, therefore, is a privileged space for a personal encounter with him. Pope Francis tells us that “catechesis therefore must be interwoven with personal relationships.” Catechists are witnesses who have themselves encountered Jesus and wish to lead others to encounter him. In the kerygma, the active figure is Jesus who manifests himself in the testimony of the one who proclaims him, hence the catechist. The “echoing” of the teachings becomes a missionary action of the Church as the Good News of creation, redemption and salvation is echoed in the midst of the community and passed on from generation to generation. We are so blessed to have the witness of so many catechists in our diocese who, through their faith, joyfully express God’s saving love.
So, as we look at the ways catechesis supports Bishop Lucia’s five visionary actions to live the truth in love, the kerygma is the first and foremost objective in all catechetical programs and resounds through family models of catechesis. In future issues of The Catholic Sun, we will look at the ways in which the other actions are embedded and encountered in parish catechetical programs.
As Bishop Lucia points out, the call to be kerygmatic is not reserved for catechists and catechetical programs, though it is a prime directive in faith formation programs. It is directed to all the baptized. We are all called on a mission to spread his Good News to all nations!
If you feel you are called to be a catechist in your parish, contact your parish catechetical leader or contact the Diocese of Syracuse Office of Catechesis to learn more about being a catechist: one who echoes the teaching of the Gospel!
To read Bishop Lucia’s 2021 Pastoral Letter, visit thecatholicsun.com/in-the-name-of-jesus-a-pastoral-letter-2021/