My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we approach Catechetical Sunday and the open- ing of the academic year, we recognize that our Catholic Schools and Academies, Religious Education programs, and Faith Formation programs all have the ultimate goal of catechizing, of preaching God’s Word and making it understandable to its hearers. The theme this year is “Say the Word and My Soul Shall Be Healed,” which is familiar to us as these words are said before Communion when we respond with the words of the Centurion who went to Jesus with great faith seeking favor from Him.
These are the words the Centurion uttered when he stated that he did not need the presence of Jesus, but only His word was important. The Word of God in the Scriptures and the handing of that word is what we call tradition, not tradition in the normal sense of the word, something old that is passed on. Rather, it is the passing on of the witness to God’s Word in our lives.
The catechist is, first of all, a witness. Yes, a teacher, but more of a witness as the catechist conveys God’s Word and tradition, not just teaching, but rather by witness because of the catechist’s faith, which can then be communicated to others.
It is the responsibility of each baptized Catholic Christian to convey the faith because we have received it, and we cannot keep that faith to ourselves. We must share it with others. We must explain the faith to others. We must live that faith in a way that attracts others to Christ.
In the past, the teaching of Catholic doctrine was somewhat limited to the memorization of questions and answers. In many ways, this was effective as almost all Catholics who had been catechized knew the important answers to important questions. The first catechism question that was asked of us was, “Why did God make me?” The answer is, “He made me to be happy in this world and in the next.” This certainly is a statement that all can live by.
Today, unfortunately, memorization is not part of the teaching practice. Not too long ago, during a Confirmation ceremony, I joked with the Confirmandi speaking about past memorization of questions that one needed to receive Confirmation. I told them that the only thing they memorize to- day are their passwords, and they all burst out laughing because this is so true. The ‘times tables’ are not memorized anymore, as the phones are at the fingertips and the multiplication tables are computerized.
Catechesis is not a function of memory alone, as it is a function of deeply influencing minds and hearts so that the Word of God may permeate our minds and hearts. The Word of God needs to be transmitted by someone else. Yes, we can read the Bible and study the Catechism that we have at hand. But only a person of faith can give to another the witness of faith that is sufficient to spur them on to truly love God and neighbor.
The role of the Catechist is so important in the Church that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently said he intends to initiate the Ministry of Catechists. The intention is similar to what we had at one time ‘minor orders’ in the Church when someone was approaching the priesthood. They have been reduced, but each one of them had a special purpose. The person was clearly designated by the Church to represent the Church. I believe that this designation of Catechist as a Unique Catechetical ministry will be reserved for those who are engaged in teaching and committed to full-time faith formation. The final guidelines, however, are not yet available. It is evident that this ministry is important for the Church today.
In mission countries, catechists many times take the place of deacons and even priests. They are able to baptize, witness weddings, and instruct the faithful in the Liturgy of the Word when priests and deacons are not available. We are so fortunate in our area to have a sufficient number of priests so as not to rely on this necessity.
At the same time, we recognize the need to form our catechists properly so that they can fulfill their mission. I am so proud of the fact that over the past five years, by means of online training here in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, that we have had certification for over 5,000 catechists who teach in our academies and in our religious education programs. This training gave our catechists a better understand- ing of the faith, so that they can communicate the faith more clearly and more effectively.
Today, I take this time to salute our catechists, religious educators, and faith formation directors who struggled so hard during the time of the pandemic when many areas were limited to only online classes, which was very difficult. This year, we are going back to in-person classes, with the proper social distancing safeguards. It is our hope that this year we can do an even better job than last year of preparing our children for the sacraments and for life itself.
Catechesis evangelizes our children and gives them a better understanding of God. God draws, instructs, chastens, convicts, reshapes, and forms many of His people. It is never too soon to start to teach your children Catechism. Not necessarily having them me orize questions and answers, but teaching them how to deal with the life questions that are so important, starting with the simple question, “Why did God make me?” How important it is that each person seriously takes this mission. The teaching of the faith cannot only be delegated to those who are trained or certified; it is the mission of each one of us to pass on our faith; this mission belongs to all of us.
As we approach Catechetical Sunday, we put out into the deep mission of communicating God’s love and Word to everyone. It is our hope that this year our children will be able to return to in-person classes in high numbers, so that the next generation of Catholics in the Diocese will know their faith and practice that faith here in Brooklyn and Queens.