Baptism calls us to life-long faith formation

Complete the circle
By George Evans
Elsewhere in this issue of Mississippi Catholic you will find coverage of educational opportunities offered by the Office of Faith Formation of the diocese covering all aspects of lay ministry and lay formation.  One does not need to have a title in the local parish, be a teacher in a Catholic school, an employee on the parish staff or have any designation whatsoever other than being an adult Catholic to participate in many of the offerings. In fact, by baptism we are all called to formation throughout our life by the Gospel of Jesus.
Many if not most Catholics have sold themselves short for years with the understanding that what they learned from their parents and families or the good Sisters in the parochial schools was and is enough for their spiritual formation for life. When we think about it and compare that understanding to what we do in every other aspect of our lives something doesn’t compute.
The lessons, prayers and devotionals we learned in our youth are invaluable. Without them it is likely that there is no foundation on which to build further spiritual formation. However, if we quit our spiritual growth, devotional life and understanding at 12, 18, 25 or whatever age, is there any reason we shouldn’t get bored, disinterested or turned off by our religious experience as the rest of our life continues to grow, develop, and mature?
We complain a lot about the consumerism, secularism, self-indulgence and selfishness of our current society. If we quit meeting God in a progressively adult way always being formed in our knowledge and spirituality as we are in our other education, work, social development and skills are we not responsible, at least in part, for the darkness of which we complain?  How can an education which stops in our youth serve our religious and spiritual development needed as a parent, head of a household, spouse and teacher?
Pope Francis in his extraordinary exhortation “Joy of the Gospel” admonishes us that the new evangelization he calls for not only requires a faithful acceptance  of the kerygma, the first proclamation that Jesus loves us, saves us and lives at our side, but “also calls for ongoing formation and maturation.” (Par. 160)  “Education and catechesis are at the service of this growth.” (Par. 163)  Our pope understands and challenges us to be prepared to impact and challenge a world more diverse, technological, sophisticated and multicultural than ever before. We cannot effectively do this with a lack of knowledge and spiritual formation.  He makes it clear:
It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation.  It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love.  Along    with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”(Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament  authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbor: “The one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the whole law…therefore love of neighbor is the fulfilling of the law”(Rom 13:8,10) (Par 161)
Again, it’s up to us to be the Lord’s hands and feet, his messengers to those who have not heard his word and to a world aching for the love, peace and joy which only He can bring. First, as the pope tells us we need to be as formed and transformed as we can be in order to do the best job possible.  Does not the Lord deserve this if he entrusts evangelization to us?  Do we not owe it to ourselves to know the Lord as fully and as intimately as we can?
The diocese and many parishes offer great opportunities for “formation and maturation” as Pope Francis calls it in his challenge. May we all take full advantage so that we grow in faith and love to better love and serve our Lord and neighbor.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)