My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This Sunday we will celebrate Catechetical Sunday. This year’s theme is “Prayer, the Faith Prayed.”
Catechetical Sunday is always celebrated at the beginning of the academic year because this is when our programs of catechesis begin in earnest. Several years ago, the Bishops of the United States published the National Catechetical Directory, which set out several tasks or goals for what catechesis should produce.
First, catechesis must promote knowledge of the faith. It goes without saying that unless we know our faith, we will not be able to live out our faith. Second, catechesis must promote knowledge of the meaning of the liturgy and the sacraments. This is because our faith as Catholics is tied to the sacramental system, which allows us to live our faith in worship.
The third goal is that catechesis promotes moral formation in Jesus Christ, which always is a teaching based on love and respect for the human person.
Fourth, it teaches the Christian how to pray with Christ. In conversation with Christ and in communion with Him, Christ becomes our companion in life, one to whom our life is directed.
Fifth, catechesis prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church. We cannot be Catholic Christians as individuals alone. We must participate in the life of the community and come to understand our relationships with others that bring us together with Christ.
And finally, catechesis promotes a missionary spirit that prepares the faithful to be present as Christians in society. Certainly, the spirit of the New Evangelization is exactly this: the new evangelizers are those who live their faith in the midst of the world. All of these goals presume an understanding of the faith, which we learn in catechesis, the learning of our faith.
On Monday, Sept.12, the diocese had a Catechetical Summit where I presented to all of the pastors and administrators, as well as the catechetical leaders of the diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, a plan for the year to come. This plan emphasizes the importance of catechesis and how it must be part and parcel of our parish life. I outlined some of the goals that our own diocese is trying to fulfill.
This was developed several years ago by the bishops of New York for the formation of catechetical leaders in the third millennium. Without catechetical leaders, we cannot catechize. We need people who are prepared and who are informed about our faith and are able to communicate this faith to others. Although this is the mission of every Catholic Christian, it is a particular responsibility for the leadership in our parishes who must have the requisite training and education to accomplish this catechetical task at an optimum level.
I, as chief pastor of the Diocese of Brooklyn, have the overall responsibility to make sure that catechesis is happening in the diocese. This responsibility is shared with the pastors and associate pastors, as well as with the vast number of catechetical leaders, DREs, catechists and others who minister and teach the faith in our parishes.
Today, we recognize that this formation must take place in new ways. We have made effective use of the Internet and the many programs available to us to help catechists learn and improve their knowledge of the faith. We provide the methodology that is useful, especially in classrooms, to communicate the faith to those in our religious education programs and in our Catholic schools and academies. It is so important that today we adapt to the teaching of the faith in a world that is much more influenced by the media and social media than by what can be taught in a homily or in religious education programs, be they for children or adults.
At the Catechetical Summit, I outlined and presented the 10 components that should be part of every religious education program.
First, our safe environment mandates must be followed so that especially our children are safe in our religious education programs. Our family life program for students and parents, especially for grades five through eight, is truly important because it assists parents in communicating with their growing children about the necessary human and religious formation.
Our diocese has increased its efforts to meet the special religious education needs of children who cannot benefit from regular classes or who need proper assistance to be mainstreamed into regular classrooms. It is also important that our catechetical leaders and catechists live their faith and have support in doing so.
One of the more important aspects of our catechetical program is the sacramental preparation programs which include parents and children, bringing them together in a unique opportunity to reach out, especially to those who are not practicing their faith. It is important that our religious education program assesses the various needs of students at various grade levels. We should have a program that is graded and which at the same time increases enrollment. Our catechetical program for the diocese cannot just be based on First Communion, Penance and Confirmation. We have also encouraged that at least 30 classes per year, at 90 minutes for each class, be the norm in our religious education programs. Also, it is important that the calendar and textbooks conform to our national catechetical standards. This seems to be a rather long list of components; however, each one of them is truly important if we are to have a real catechetical program. It is so important that this responsibility is taken seriously by all of us.
Often, I have mentioned to our pastors and catechetical leaders that we are missing many children in our religious education classes. According to some estimates, 80,000 to 100,000 children are baptized each year in Brooklyn and Queens and then receive no further formal religious education. It is not just the quality of our program that we need to maintain, but also we must look at the quantity of children that we are catechizing. It is a great responsibility to seek out these children who live in families that are not practicing faith. It is a task of the New Evangelization specifically to make sure that we are reaching out to those who somehow are not practicing their faith. The Catechetical Summit was a great experience and I am sure that everyone who attended benefited from the detailed explanations of our catechetical program.
Catechesis is an operation of trying to reach people in the depths of their being. We must gear ourselves up for doing whatever is possible to put out into the deep waters of catechetical ministry. This Sunday hopefully you will hear about the catechetical program in your own parish. Remember this year’s theme, “Prayer, the Faith Prayed.” Please join me in praying that the principle prayer of the Church, the Eucharist, will be the means by which we catechize our adults and our youth.