My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we approach Catechetical Sunday, we have an opportunity to reflect on this year’s theme — “I receive from the Lord what I handed on to you.” This is perhaps the perfect definition of what catechesis is all about; it is the handing on of the faith from one generation to another. The words of St. Paul that form this year’s theme recognize that he was handing on what he, himself, had received from the Lord to others. And so, it is the job of the Church today to pass on from one generation to the next a true understanding of our faith.
Today, each parish should have a designated Catechetical leader. Strictly speaking, the pastor is the Catechetical leader of the parish, but a delegation of others — either with the title of director of religious education (DRE) or certified religious education coordinator (CRE) also serve in this capacity. Sometimes it is the associate pastor who fulfills some of these responsibilities. We are so fortunate in our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens to have 182 DRE’s and CRE’s. We also have a wonderfully large number of Catechists, 3,600 volunteers who give their time and energy to pass along the faith to new generations.
The number of Catechists has tripled in the last 10 years. Our online learning opportunities have made it so much easier for people to obtain the proper training necessary to be in a classroom transmitting the faith in an understandable way to the many children under our care. In fact, the number of students enrolled in Religious Education today has surpassed the number of children enrolled in our Catholic Academies and Schools.
This reminds us of the great responsibility we have to those children to make sure that they have an understanding of the faith that will lead them to an adulthood understanding of the faith. A preliminary understanding of the faith through the Catechesis of First Penance and First Communion will not sustain them much further in life, and unfortunately, might cause them to abandon their faith. A special emphasis is now being focused on the Confirmation program. We are trying to involve our young people in a way that allows them to enroll themselves in the parish youth programs after Confirmation so that they will continue their closeness to the parish and develop an adult understanding of their faith.
Each year, Catechetical Sunday offers us an opportunity to recognize the importance of Catechesis for the student, for the Church, and to thank all who are involved in this ministry. The women and men who give their time and talent to instruct in the faith certainly need to be acknowledged on Catechetical Sunday. Teaching the faith is to hand down the truth of what we believe, and a Catechist is a witness to the faith and, by their very presence, is able to communicate something very important to our children.
Catechesis is important for the preparation of the sacraments. The involvement of the parents in these programs is of utmost importance today. Unfortunately, we know that many parents are not practicing their faith, so their own witness is lacking. Still, they wish to have their children learn the faith. In our preparation programs, however, when there is adequate time and care for the parents, they can re-enliven their faith, which might be lukewarm for many reasons. The parental preparation programs are not just a communication of information regarding time and dress for Communion or Confirmation. Rather, these programs are an opportunity to enliven the faith of our parents, whose primary responsibility is the communication of the faith to their children.
This point is so important to emphasize that the primary responsibility for the education and the religious education of children belongs to parents, as is our Catholic teaching. We cannot take this primary responsibility from them, nor can they shed their responsibility. We are in a collaborative relationship with parents, not only in our schools teaching religion but also in our religious education programs.
Because of the pandemic, we held two pastors meetings remotely speaking about the religious education program
for the coming year. For the most part, instruction until the new year, 2021, will be done remotely, with some hybrid modeling involved. What was communicated to the pastors is important for all to understand. First, there is a renewed emphasis on the Catechists themselves as the Catechist plays a decisive role in discerning and choosing a certain method of putting this witness into practice.
The practical wisdom and the creativity of the Catechist is a determining key, and so we must support our Catechists, making sure that they are properly prepared, remembering that the thanks they receive are the only reward that they seek.
The parish catechetical leaders must make decisions as to how to communicate, in the concrete situation, the catechesis that is appropriate. Language and cultural barriers or education limitations can affect the decision of the catechist, who always needs to have that opportunity to make sure that their witness is effective. Our pastors were urged to be involved in their religious education programs with virtual prayer services and virtual family activities, all of which can assist in the family-based catechesis. This re-involves the parents on a level that hitherto was not possible. The positive effect of the coronavirus is that we now must rely more on working together than attempting to catechize without
the assistance of parents.
Catechesis is an effort of putting out into the deep because ignorance of our faith can only be conquered by focusing on the truth and beauty of our faith in a religious culture for those who need to experience the faith. It is never easy to understand how we can do this; however, primarily as I said, it is the handing on of the faith, accomplished by witness, not so much by doing, but by being faithful Catholics. Join me as I pray this year for the success of our Catechetical effort in the Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens, both in our Catholic Academies and Schools, and in our religious formation program.