Monday, September 27, 2010

We’re All Catechists (Commissioning Sunday)

While I was in San Diego last week for the meeting of the International Catholic Stewardship Council I met a priest who worked at Disneyland for 25 years before being called to the priesthood.

When I remarked that his former career must have been fascinating, he replied "Yes, it was, but now I've gone from working for the Magic Kingdom to working for the Eternal Kingdom!"

At Mass today we're reminded that we are all called to work for the Eternal Kingdom. This Sunday is "Catechetical Sunday" or "Commissioning Sunday" in our parish, and at the 10 o'clock Mass we will commission some 40 women and men as catechists or catechist assistants—as teachers of faith in our parish community.

And earlier in the month, the staff of our parish school were also commissioned for their ministry of teaching the faith to their students.

Our catechists aren't at work only in the classrooms of our school and parish religious education program. They include those who share the faith in the RCIA program for inquirers, in the RCIC program for children preparing to become Catholics, and in the youth ministry program.

They include those who work with fellow parishioners attending our adult faith formation programs, and with new parents preparing for the baptism of infants.

40 catechists is a large number—and the number is larger still if you add the teachers at the school. And yet they're just tip of the iceberg.

In the first place, Catholic parents are catechists, commissioned by their very vocation to teach and explain the faith to their children. The efforts of our school, PREP program, and youth ministry all depend on parents who support at home what goes on at the parish.

In the second place, every one of us is called to be a catechist to family members, friends, and neighbours. We hear a lot about the duty to evangelize—to share the good news of Christ with those who don't know Him—but not so much about the duty to catechize.

But the fact is: even your Catholic friends may need help understanding the teachings of the Church. They may be at Mass every week, but if their own formation in faith is weak, they'll have questions that you can answer—if you're willing and prepared.

And that's not all. In his homily at the centennial celebration at St. Patrick's parish last night, Archbishop Miller said "all of us... in every parish throughout the Archdiocese know those who have drifted away from the practice of their faith. They are in our families and among our friends and acquaintances ... We meet them in our workplace. They stand next to us in the grocery line and at the bus stop. They are in the car next to us as they pick up children from sports and band rehearsal and as we go about our daily and weekly errands."

The archbishop challenged us all to reach out to these good people. He said our mandate—our commission—is "to witness to others so that they may reawaken to and rediscover the peace and life brought by friendship with Jesus Christ."

"Of course," he said, "you must practice what you preach, but you must also preach what you practice. ... The Holy Spirit is inviting you to speak about your Catholic faith, to have the courageous and sometimes awkward conversation."

One of the reasons we promote our parish adult faith formation programs so strongly is that they get us ready for those courageous conversations. We don't learn more about the faith only for ourselves. For every parishioner who gets a better knowledge of Church teaching from one of our programs, there are probably half a dozen who benefit second-hand.

As the old saying goes, you can't give what you haven't got. Even if your own faith is strong, you need to be ready with reasons for the hope that is within you, as St. Peter said (1 Peter 3:15, NAB).

All this applies with extra force to young Catholics. Next month we are launching a new program called IT2/Life Teen. It will offer high school students plenty of social activity and fun, but with a core of solid Catholic teaching that will equip them not only to live the faith but to share it with others.

I2T/Life Teen expands last year's pilot program for high school students, which we called I2T: Information 2 Transformation, by introducing the well-established Life Teen youth ministry program.

The first event takes place October 17, with something called "Lights Out Dodgeball." I wish I could tell you what that is, but I was afraid to ask! Or afraid they'd ask me to participate!


I'd like to end with a story that shows what powerful teachers we can be to one another.

You all know of the tragic death last month of a young woman in the parish. And many of you know how wonderfully this parish community rallied around her family, and how a number spontaneously gathered in the church for prayer.

But if you weren't at the funeral, you probably don't know that a parishioner volunteered to speak at Mass so that the large crowd, which included many who were not Catholics, would be able to understand what was happening and to enter into the liturgy in the most meaningful way possible.

I won't ask where he got the confidence to stand up and do that—it was surely a matter of grace. But where did a layman get the knowledge he shared?

Part of the answer is the parish RCIA program of some years back. What he shared so powerfully he had first received through study and reflection.

As we commission our dedicated staff and volunteer catechists today, let's think also about the commission we've all received in baptism. And if anyone needs more information or knowledge to share the faith wisely and well, our adult faith formation programs, including the Evangelium course on the basics of our faith, and the Jeff Cavins' Bible Study on the Letter of James, are waiting for you.

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