This Sunday, parishes across the country will celebrate Catechetical Sunday. On this day, the church honors and commissions those men and women who volunteer their time and talent in the ministry of catechesis. All catechists, whether volunteering in the children’s faith formation programs, RCIA, sacramental preparation, adult enrichment, support this vital ministry of the Word in each parish.
The U.S. bishops have chosen the theme: Stay With Us for this year. These three simple words hold a profound message for all of us, not only in the catechetical ministry, but for all of the faithful. This simple phrase reminds us that there is more to faith formation than just “showing up.” Saint John Paul II reminded us that the purpose of catechesis is to put one into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. This type of formation involves the whole person. In 2005, the bishops of the United States published The National Directory for Catechesis, a blueprint for diocesan and parish faith formation. This document speaks of faith formation as an apprenticeship, involving all aspects of life. Here, the bishops remind us that faith formation involves the whole person, is lifelong, and is the responsibility of the entire parish, not just the pastor, parish catechetical leader, the parish religious education program and/or the Catholic school. While catechists, under the direction of a parish catechetical leader, have a more direct role in parish faith formation, they cannot do it alone. They need the support, first of the family, and then of the entire parish community.
Many years ago, Dr. Maria Harris, in her book, “Fashion Me a People,” explained that the curriculum for a parish faith formation program must go beyond printed, graded textbooks. Rather, she says, the complete faith formation curriculum is found in the parish: “The parish is the curriculum for faith formation.” The bishops, in writing the National Directory for Catechesis (2005) also emphasize the importance of the parish community in faith formation. It states here that the “Parish is the preeminent place for the catechesis of adults, youth and children.”
Given what our bishops tell us, how do we assess a strong catechetical initiative in our parishes? What elements are essential? The bishops go on to explain “that the most effective catechetical initiatives are rooted in the vibrant Christian life of a parish community.” In addition to this, our bishops say that “The single most critical factor in an effective, parish catechetical program is the leadership of a professionally trained parish catechetical leader.”
So, yes, today we commission, honor and give thanks for the many individuals who have generously accepted the call to be a catechist. These generous and faith-filled men and women have enthusiastically responded to their baptismal vocation to be missionary disciples, accompanying others on their journey of faith. As we acknowledge these catechists, let us also support and strengthen them by our willingness to be missionary disciples, living the Gospel with enthusiasm and passion.
Sister Kathy Burton, SSJ, is co-director for the Offices of Faith Formation, Family Life and Lay Ministry Formation, Diocese of Camden.