Faith Formation for All

Two weeks ago, I wrote of my confidence in our wonderful Catholic Schools throughout this archdiocese, as tens of thousands of our students were getting their backpacks ready to return to our renowned schools—elementary, secondary, colleges and universities.

Yet, the educational endeavors of the Church extend even beyond our acclaimed schools, and today I want to salute these other valuable and essential components of the Church’s response to the final mandate of Jesus, "Go, teach all the nations!"

Our Catholic people cherish the Church’s efforts in education and faith formation. Not only do you prize our Catholic schools, wanting them to remain excellent, while being accessible and affordable, but you appreciate all the initiatives and programs of catechesis, religious education and faith formation. You want these to be first-rate, led by competent, trained, professional catechists and formators, faithful to the Church, available and attractive from childhood to retirement.

Let’s survey the terrain here, and get a sense of the hard work and devotion of those teachers, directors of religious education, catechists and faith formation leaders who give leadership, energy and heart to the Church’s vast array of programs which usually gear up this time of the year.

We start early, as each Sunday thousands of our little ones can gather for simple lessons, song and prayer while parents and older brothers and sisters can worship at Sunday Eucharist. These brave catechists give up a chunk of their Sundays to introduce our pre-schoolers to Jesus.

Jesus has told His apostles to "Let the little children come to me," and they still do as His Church conducts dozens of day care centers, nursery schools and after-school programs where our little ones are nurtured in body, mind and soul.

Our parishes reach out to our grade school students unable to attend a Catholic school with intensive programs of religious education. Like it or not, we must be realistic: 75 percent of our grade and high school students do not attend a Catholic school. We cannot neglect them. Our catechists fight hard to make sure these students—105,000 strong formed by 10,000 catechists—have at least an hour and a half of solid religious training each week, as they contend with sports, TV and other distractions on weekday afternoons, evenings and weekends. Some creative, promising alternatives, such as family-based religious education, offer hope to our teachers and parents who are always striving for more effective ways to instruct our children in their religion. Our catechesis centers around the sacraments, yes—especially preparation for confession, first holy Communion and confirmation—but cannot stop there. Nor can we forget dozens, perhaps hundreds, of families who have decided to "home school" their children, and who make religion a daily part of their curriculum. These programs of religious education for our children do not just occur from September through May, but often include the summer months.

Thousands of our high school-age young people are enrolled in religious education sessions as well. These students especially enjoy retreats and apostolic opportunities to put their faith into practice.

On the campuses of our colleges and universities, Catholic student centers or Newman Clubs welcome collegians for fellowship, prayer, enlightening programs of formation Christian service and the sacraments.

Our young adults find outreach at parishes, and refreshing initiatives such as "Theology on Tap" to be helpful. As many of them get ready for marriage, they benefit from the diocesan preparation classes.

And our adults of all ages tell us that they realize that faith formation never stops. They ask for solid instruction in the Bible, in prayer and spirituality, in the essentials of Catholic doctrine and in the Church’s moral theology. They enjoy classes, faith-sharing groups and adult faith formation programs. I was so pleased recently to find classes in the Faith in our prisons, and to find a "faith discussion group" in one of our assisted living centers.

Then, every parish rejoices that each year adults respond to the constant invitation of Jesus and His Church and enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This ancient and beautiful process of conversion and enlightenment forms not only those who will come forward at the Easter Vigil, but also their sponsors and the entire community.

As we all "get back to school," I want to praise God for this breathtaking array of religious education, and especially thank those devoted leaders, catechists and faith-formation directors who work so hard.

I realize we can do better. A constant challenge to the Church from the day our Lord returned to heaven until right now is how more effectively to obey his final order "to teach." There seem pointed challenges in religious education for our high school youth, young adults and in the Latino community.

This archdiocese does it very well. Thank God we’re blessed with a wonderful catechetical office led by Sister Joan Curtin, C.N.D., and her devoted staff. We can do it better. I sit in a lot of living rooms and at kitchen tables. I listen at a lot of meetings. Unfailingly God’s people will ask for better religious education, to prepare our children and adults for a world that challenges faith and discipleship, to see that our religion is understood and interiorized. They tell us we need to pay more attention to young adults, and that formation in the faith does not stop with graduation from eighth grade or high school. They want the archdiocese to help prepare men and women who can teach the faith with competence, cogency and credibility. We can’t let them down.

Welcome back to school!