With the publication of his pastoral letter, “Enriching the Church: The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond,” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham announced a special Year of the Family, which began in the diocese on Dec. 3, 2017.

In his letter, Bishop Cunningham reflects on the mission of the modern family — evangelization — and how it can be accomplished by forming an “ecclesia domestica,” a “domestic church.”

“How does the modern family strive to live God’s plan for marriage and family today, namely, by forming a domestic church of their own?” Bishop Cunningham writes. “Allow me to suggest a few time-honored, but very practical, powerful, and effective ways: (1) prayer and worship, (2) formation, (3) community, and (4) service.”

Throughout the Year of the Family, the Diocese of Syracuse and its ministries will focus on each of these pillars and provide resources families can use to build their domestic churches. This week, a look at the ways Catholic education strengthens the youngest members of the domestic Church.

Opportunities for prayer and worship. “As the saying goes, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’ So often we underestimate the power of prayer or we reduce it to a grocery list of things to ask of God. In reality, prayer is our response to God, who is always searching for us. In prayer, we encounter Him; we enter into a dialogue with Him. Through prayer, we become aware of His presence and His providence in our lives. Prayer reminds us that we are never alone. God is always with us” (Enriching the Church, 6). Students in Catholic schools have numerous opportunities to pray, whether during a daily or special school-wide Mass, as the school day begins or ends, as part of a club or activity, or during a few quiet moments in the chapel.

Formation in the faith. “I am grateful for the work that our diocesan Catholic Schools as well as our diocesan offices of Family/Respect Life, Faith Formation, Evangelization and Youth and Young Adult Ministry do to provide the tools needed for families throughout our diocese to be formed in our Catholic faith. I encourage pastors, parishes, and schools to engage in family catechesis so that all members are growing together in our faith” (EC, 7). The mission statement of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Syracuse affirms that students are provided “an education rooted in the Gospel that is ‘living, conscious, and active’ including values and ideals that are in accordance with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” Through instruction, the examples of their teachers, and personal experience, students come to know and live their faith.

Creation of community. “Let us not forget that the family and the Church are communities that build us up and support us in love. When the family is a strong community then the Church is strengthened and becomes an impressive ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1)” (EC, 7). Catholic schools are faith-centered communities dedicated to supporting and nurturing young hearts and minds.

Dedication to service. “A strong Catholic identity is what helps to transform our service into charity, into that which we do to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of others, extending to them an invitation to be a part of God’s Kingdom, a part of Christ’s Body, the Church” (EC, 8). Service is at the core of Catholic education in the diocese, evidenced by the 105,000 collective hours of community service performed by students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 last year. (And be sure to look for highlights from the diocesan-wide annual Day of Service that marks each Catholic Schools Week in upcoming issues of the Sun.)

For more information about the Diocese of Syracuse’s 22 Middle States-accredited Catholic schools, visit syracusediocese.org/schools/apply-to-catholic-school/.

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