By Fran Levelle
There is so much to celebrate in September, kids are back in school, it’s football season, cooler temperatures return, and formation programs in our parishes get re-energized. For those of us in formational ministries (RCIA, adult faith formation, religious education, youth ministry and campus ministry) we have spent the summer planning for the new academic year. And, like the first college football game of the season, we too memorialize the return to formation programs in our own special way.
In 1971, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) designated the third Sunday of September to call forth and commission catechists in our parishes. The Church in the U.S. has been celebrating Catechetical Sunday ever since. As part of the recognition of the role of catechist in the life of the Church the USCCB also develops a theme and other useful materials. This year’s theme is, “Living as Missionary Disciples.”
No doubt, the Holy Spirit guided the bishop in their discernment of this year’s theme. I can’t imagine a more timely and needed reminder of our call to live the good news of the Gospel. If you are like me I am certain this poignant message was not lost on you as images of East Texas filled the airwaves witnessing neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. In a catastrophic event like the massive flooding in Houston creed, color, gender, age and economic status are not factors in who gets spared by a storm or who gets saved. I am reminded that we can preach by our actions much more effectively than we can preach with mere words alone. Our response should be immediate and as generous as possible.
In the same way, our response to our call to live our lives as missionary disciples should be immediate (as in every day) and generous (as in not counting the cost). Our missionary discipleship should not be the best kept secret at our schools, our parishes or our homes. Our missionary call to lead, to teach, to proclaim and to live as disciples of Christ should be manifested in a way that others want to experience the joy we possess.
As your catechist are called forth to be commissioned and blessed this year, I encourage you to ask yourself what it is you can do in your own way to help them fulfill their role as catechist, RCIA team members, youth ministers, campus ministers, and directors and coordinators of religious education. No one is asked to do everything, but we can all do something.
My hope is that the USCCB’s catechetical theme becomes much more than merely a theme this year. My hope is that we can all see the many and varied ways we are called to live out our missionary discipleship.
In that spirit, the diocese invites everyone involved in faith formation to a day of spiritual and educational enrichment modeled after the new Pastoral Priorities. Faith Formation Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 30, at Madison St. Joseph School from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Keynote presenters include Jim Schellman, former Director at the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, who will speak on inspiring discipleship and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Father Joseph Brown, SJ, professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL will speak on diversity. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will round out the day with the closing talk on serving others.
During breakout sessions, Father. Jason Johnston, will present a session on youth liturgy; Jessica McMillan is offering a breakout called creative catechesis; Wes Williams, is set to speak on adult faith formation; Father. Joseph Brown will present, ”Plenty Good Room: Thoughts on Hospitality, Diversity and Being Catholic!;” and, Jim Schellman will present, “Evangelization the Mission, Initiation the Job Description.” A $10 registration fee includes lunch. To register or get more information, contact Fran Lavelle at 601-960-8473 or firstname.lastname@example.org
One of my favorite 45 records from my youth was “See You in September,” by the Happenings. I am certain I lifted it from my older brother’s collection. The lyrics express the hopes of a young man, who, facing separation from his girlfriend for the summer, reminds her that he’ll see her in September unless he loses her to a summer love. For sure, it is a love song, but the lyrics always made me think of the other reunions I looked forward to going back to school.
September, like January, can be a hard reset for activities and routines that we want to be more intentional about. It can be a time to recommit ourselves to living our faith in a more profound way. You may have taken a break from “active ministry” or you may be a pew jockey that comes to Mass on Sunday but has little involvement in the life of the Church. It’s not too late to see where your call to living missionary discipleship leads you. Wherever you find yourself, rest assured, we in formational ministries are looking forward to seeing you in September.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)