Saturday, September 12, 2009

Faith Formation in the Parish (24th Sunday, Year B)

Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am?

Only a trained orator could really get it across, but each of those questions has a different emphasis.

The first time, the question revolved around the word “who.” Who is Jesus?

The second question emphasized the word “do.” Do you tell people who Jesus is?

And finally: “you.” Who do you say Jesus is? What do you believe and profess?

There’s a tidy and compact homily we can remember: who, do, you.

Before we explore those questions, let’s look at how and what Jesus is teaching his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel.

Our Lord takes a very interesting approach—it’s called the Socratic method, since it’s the one used by the great Greek philosopher and teacher Socrates. Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples a thing: he asks questions and they give answers.

The first thing he does is inquire about what “people” think. He wants to know what they’re hearing from their friends, even from their enemies. The answer shows that folks don’t really have a clue who he is. But they’re more than ready to guess.

And then a sharp change in direction. All right, the crowds haven’t got a clue. What about you? Do you know who I am?

And what happens? Peter, the rock on which Jesus will establish his Church, answers without hesitation. You are the Christ—you are God’s anointed one, the Messiah. In St. Matthew’s account of this conversation, Jesus tells Peter that he didn’t know this from human wisdom but because it was revealed to him by God the Father.

I see two things happening here. On the one hand, Jesus is teaching his friends. But on the other, he is bringing to light what they have already learned in their hearts. And he uses one disciple—Peter—to teach the others.

Sometimes the lessons we learn from our peers are far stronger than those we get in class or in church. We expect teachers and professors and priests to do their job, but we listen twice as closely when someone we live or work or play with tells us the same thing. This is why our witness to one another is so important.

There are two practical consequences of this for our parish community. First, we should pay close attention when others answer the question “Who is Jesus?” And second, we should prepare to answer that question ourselves.

As pastor, I am the chief teacher and preacher in this parish. But I am not necessarily the most convincing teacher and preacher, and I am certainly not the chief evangelizer—since most of the people who need evangelizing aren’t in church on Sunday. I don’t meet them—you do. They’re in your offices, your neighborhoods, your schools, and your families.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that our parish is committed to helping every member answer the question “who is Jesus?” and helping you share the answer with others.

The parish is positively humming with activities that help us grow in faith, some old and some new. You’ve already heard about the Great Adventure Bible Study. It’s taking place twice a day every Thursday—at nine a.m. for the convenience of school parents and those who prefer daytime events, and at 7:30 p.m. in the evening. It’s not only a chance to hear Jeff Cavins, a gifted Bible teacher, but equally a chance to share faith with others in the discussion that follows each talk.

On Monday evenings at 7:30 we have a smaller Bible Study group looking at the Apostles,using the book written by Pope Benedict.

On September 22 we’re starting up an old program with a new emphasis. Christianity 101 is a look at the core truths of Christian faith from a Catholic perspective. It’s for all parishioners, but especially for people inquiring about becoming Catholic. You’re all very welcome to come, but doubly welcome if you bring someone along who has some interest in the Church

In the past, the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults began in the Fall; now that program won’t start until after Christmas. But Christianity 101 is necessary for those who would like to be baptized or confirmed at Easter. After Christmas we’ll offer Catholicism 101, and again it will be open both to parishioners and those preparing for the Rites of Christian Initiation.

Details aren’t final, but we’ll be offering the Alpha Course again this year—a lively ecumenical introduction to the very basics of Christianity. And just like Christianity 101, there will be discussion and an opportunity to hear where others are coming from on the journey to faith.

For our very youngest parishioners, we have a Liturgy of the Word for Children aged 3 to 7, at the ten o’clock Mass.

For children in grades one to seven who attend public schools, we have already started the annual Parish Religious Education Program. And youngsters who did not receive the sacraments of initiation at the usual times can be prepared through our program for the Rites of Christian Initiation for Children, on Saturday mornings.

The Youth Group, for those in grades five to seven, is held every second Friday night, and kicks off this evening with a barbecue after the five o’clock Mass.

Our newest parish program is called I 2 T. That’s the letter I, the number 2 and the letter T. I 2 T stands for Information to Transformation. We started out calling it Theology Bootcamp but decided that sounded too scary.

I 2 T is faith formation for high school students grades eight to twelve. This pilot program, funded through our Project Advance rebate, begins with a day-long retreat in October. It’s a chance for youth to answer for themselves Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?”

We know that high school students don’t want just to be talked at, so instruction will be balanced off with fun and some food. It will be a faith boost to all youth, but should be particularly important for those not attending Catholic high schools.

Another great chance to share faith with one another is provided to young adults 19-30 through two dinner and discussion groups. Imprint is for young women, and has its dinners about twice a month on Mondays. M.E.A.T. stands for Men Eating and Talking, and they gather about every second Thursday.

It’s hard to imagine a parishioner who wouldn’t find at least one of these faith formation activities interesting or helpful. But even if you can’t fit something in to your frantic life, we have something new for you! At the back of the church is a display of CDs that have quality Catholic teaching, along with some brochures on faith-related topics. The CDs cost only $5, and we will try to update the selection regularly.

More details about all these things are found on the cover of this week’s bulletin. But let’s go back for a moment to this week’s Gospel.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Answering the question requires more than looking up something in the catechism. The classic spiritual book the Imitation of Christ reminds us that God’s words cannot be understood by human senses alone. To know Jesus we need the Holy Spirit—we need to meet Jesus in prayer in order to know him.

At the same time, St. Jerome has written that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. It’s in the Bible, and especially the Gospels, that we meet Jesus and come to a deeper knowledge of him.

Finally, we need the Church. It’s no accident that the truth about Jesus was revealed to Peter—he was called not long afterward to be the chief shepherd of Christ’s flock. We need the authoritative revelation of Jesus that the Church preserves and protects. But we also need the community of the Church, the family of faith.

It’s also not an accident that all of our parish programs of faith formation and development take place in groups. It would be very easy to replace the new CD rack with a wall of CDs on every topic for every age group—you could learn about Jesus at home, or on your Ipod.

But that’s not the way Jesus planned things. We’re all members of his Body, a body that grows together.

Faith is strengthened and grows in a community. Just like ours.

So let us work together in our parish to answer the question. Who is Jesus? What has he revealed to us through his saving word and his holy Church? Who do we say he is when we speak with others? And do I know him as he wants to be known?

1 comment:

  1. Msgr, you (and your catechists) might be interested in Danny Brock's recently released book 'Teaching Teens Religion'. Danny has been teaching religion to Catholic teens in BC and Washington State for the past 25 years or more.