By Andrea Slaven
The national theme for Catechetical Sunday this year, Sept. 19, is “Say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
These are the words that we pray just before we receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Catechesis literally means to “echo the Word.” As Scripture reveals in John 1:1-14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” During his ministry on earth, Jesus brought us God’s love and mercy through his healings, his teaching and his witness of compassion. It was Jesus who said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” and he commissioned his disciples to carry forth his mission of selfless love. We too are called to be missionary disciples, people who share in the mission of our Catholic faith as believers and followers of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is still with us today, in the Eucharist and in the community that gathers together. The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. But how is this faith transmitted in the world and especially within our parish communities?
Since the mission of catechesis is to share the Word of God (the Word that became flesh through Jesus Christ) in our world, we are all responsible and capable to be witnesses of our faith. This begins in the home as families demonstrate the basic teachings of Jesus that are given to us in Scripture: to love one another, to serve one another, to pray with and for each other, to forgive and to recognize the presence of God in our lives.
As a Church, we are all on a journey together to grow in our knowledge of our one Triune God; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Faith begins in the home, and the Church offers accompaniment for families to supplement their own faith experience and understanding. This takes place in the form of catechetical programs and calls upon members of the parish to teach and share their faith with others in a more formal way. Those called upon to use their gifts in this special way are commissioned as catechists on Catechetical Sunday.
Catechists are in partnership with our parish families. As catechists, they find meaningful and creative ways to communicate the Gospel message and the Tradition of the Catholic Church to various ages and stages as they accompany members of the faith community. Catechists not only echo the teachings of the Church, but also echo their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ through words and deeds.
Last year, the pandemic required our parishes to worship at times without being physically together as a community and without receiving the Holy Eucharist. Because of our spiritual connection as the body of Christ through the Holy Eucharist, communities stayed intact throughout these challenges. Likewise, many parishes also had to change the way our young members learned about their faith by utilizing remote learning or smaller gatherings. This was a challenging time, but with challenges come new opportunities. These opportunities brought forth a new energy, a new creativity and a renewed hope that is being carried into the 2021-22 catechetical year.
One of the most evident outcomes from that last year in many of our parishes is a greater appreciation to meet the needs of today’s families. Many parishes are now offering more than one model of catechesis so as to accommodate and accompany families with their schedules as well as guide them more personally in their faith journey. Parishes may offer a more traditional approach with sessions for the children and teens, but they may also offer a variety of ways to engage families. Some parishes are offering family-style catechesis in which the families learn together. At the same time, parishes are using technology to communicate more with families, providing digital resources and tips for sharing faith at home. Parishes are also accommodating those families yet unable to attend in person.
Catechetical programs are evolving to bring the Word into an authentic and lived experience. Our catechetical programs are bringing hope and healing with a new ardor or zeal, as well as using new methods and expressions to bring people to Christ.
The Office of Catechesis has responded to these parish needs through engaging consistently with our parish leaders, providing resources such as funding to update digital learning needs and providing the weekly Buildingfaith@home pages found on our website (http://rcfaithquest.syrdio.org/). The office has also provided support for parishes as they move toward developing family catechesis within their programs. This past summer, the office sponsored a series of five webinars with national speakers to address how to implement effective family catechesis. We intend to continue to support and guide parish programs as they navigate this year.
My hope for all of our families is that we take this year to reflect on the beautiful words we pray at Mass, “Say the Word and my soul shall be healed.”
Let us be reminded that in our own brokenness and in our times of feeling hopeless, we can learn who Jesus Christ is for us. May we understand that we are journeying together, learning together, and that we come together in communion to be healed and strengthened so as to be able to bring the Word of God to others.
May this be a grace-filled catechetical year for our catechists, our families and our children.
Andrea Slaven, M.Ed., M.A. Instructional Tech., is Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Syracuse.
PRAYER FOR CATECHISTS
Loving Father, we pray today for our catechists.
We thank you for their gift of ministry in your Church.
Grant them your wisdom that they may grow in the understanding
and teaching of your Word.
Grant them also your love that they may be fruitful heralds of
your Word and lead others to love you.
Pour forth your Holy Spirit upon them to grant them wisdom about what is important;
knowledge of the truths of faith; understanding of their meaning;
right judgement about how to apply them in life;
courage to persevere even in the face of adversity;
reverence before all that is sacred and holy;
and that loving zeal which leads others to a transforming
encounter with your Son.
We pray this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Prayer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops