Kneading our faith
By Fran Lavelle
On Sept. 20, parishes around the country celebrate Catechetical Sunday. In 1935, the Vatican under the leadership of Pope Pius XI, published On the Better Care and Promotion of Catechetical Education, a document that asked every country to acknowledge the importance of the church’s teaching ministry. The church also asked that we recognize those who serve in our communities as catechists.
This ministry of teaching in the name of the church has a profound importance, which is why catechists are formally commissioned. It is, therefore, fitting that we set aside a day to highlight this ministry and invite the entire church community to think about our responsibility to share our faith with others. Be assured of my gratitude and prayers as you begin anew.
Since the early 1970s the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has had a role in preparing materials, including a theme, for Churches in the U.S. to focus our attention on a particular subject. This year’s theme is “Safeguarding the Dignity of all Human Persons.”
Not so jingoistic, nor does it roll off the tongue like a slick Madison Avenue advertising slogan, but don’t let that stop you from really discovering the richness and significance of this statement. When we move beyond slogans and really open ourselves up to the challenge this theme presents, the gifts and graces for each of us are untold. If people of faith, especially Catholics, took seriously the call to safeguarding the dignity of humanity, coupled with Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy we could transform the face of the Earth. These two directives simultaneously and intentionally practiced have the power to end war, defeat hatred, create lasting peace and transform societies.
Safeguarding the dignity of each human person comes from Genesis and is the primary foundation for all human understanding of self. Genesis 1:26-27 teaches us that all people of all lands, of all languages, of all faiths and all time are made in God’s image and likeness. We, despite our best efforts to act in the contrary, cannot assume that in God’s eyes our own worth is greater than the worth of any other people, culture, or generation. Sadly for many of us, we never come to know the reality of our own creation in God’s likeness and image.
The concept is overwhelming. Psalm 149:14 reminds us, “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.” Let us take up the challenge to see ourselves as wonderfully made and allow ourselves to see others as wonderfully made as well.
It is a high order and difficult task especially in light of the hatred we witness around the globe and in our own neighborhoods on a daily basis. The challenge is to remain at once centered on your own dignity while recognizing that “the other” was created in God’s likeness too. I was reminded of a 1985 song by Sting entitled, “Russians.” In it he says, “We share the same biology, regardless of ideology. What might save us, me, and you, is that the Russians love their children too.” Isn’t that still true today? Replace Russians with whomever the other is in our lives and the reality is still the same. We do share the same biology, but more than that we were all born imprinted with the perfect love of God. Yes, all of us.
Our Catholic faith tradition is rich with examples of mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us in Part Three: Life in Christ:
2447. “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we cosme to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
What must we do as members of the Body of Christ to inspire, uphold, encourage and engage ourselves and others to take seriously these directives? If not us, who?
In 1972, Dorothy Law Nolte wrote, “Children Learn What They Live.” My favorite axioms of this piece are:
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
We cannot give what we do not possess. Let us then learn to embrace our own dignity so that we may defend it in others and may we know mercy that we may show mercy. It is an exciting opportunity to transform these words into action. Amen? Amen!
(Fran Lavelle is Director of the Department of Faith Formation.)
Kneading our faith