By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
JACKSON – Catechetical Sunday, an annual event in the church that sets the theme for the year of faith formation, was observed last Sunday. This year’s theme is from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “I received from the Lord what I have also handed on to you.” Out of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, St. Paul speaks emphatically that what he received from the Lord, is both the Eucharist and the content of the faith. All the baptized are invited to stir into flame the gift we have received, handed on to us through faith formation in our homes and in our churches. We are grateful to God for all catechists who embrace the church’s mission of faith formation and evangelization.
The recently promulgated Directory for Catechesis advances the Lord’s Great Commission with clarity “to make disciples of all nations.” It states that catechesis must be at the service of the New Evangelization so that every person may have a wide-open and personal access to the encounter with Jesus Christ.
St. John Paul II zealously taught that “the purpose of catechesis is communion with Jesus Christ.” The fruit of this communion is mission, a life well lived in service of the Gospel. Catechesis requires that we accompany those entrusted to us in the maturation of the attitudes of faith. “The church’s closeness to Jesus is part of a common journey: communion and mission are profoundly interconnected.”
The Directory for Catechesis further expounds that the church is called to proclaim and teach her primary truth which is the love of Christ because the essence of the mystery of the Christian faith is mercy incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Catechesis can be a realization of the spiritual work of mercy, “instruct the ignorant.” Catechetical action, in fact, consists in offering the possibility of escaping the greatest form of ignorance which prevents people from knowing their own identity and vocation in Jesus Christ. St. Augustine affirms that catechesis becomes the “occasion of a work of mercy” in that it satisfies “with the Word of God the intelligence of those who hunger for it.” By virtue of our baptism, the family, the church community and catechists are charged with the task to awaken that hunger.
The recently celebrated feast of St. Matthew on Sept. 21 illustrates this vision for faith formation. His first encounter with Jesus Christ was nothing less than a hunger awakened that was satisfied. The Venerable Bede, an English Saint of the 7th century, writes movingly. “Jesus saw the tax collector and because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said “follow me.” This following meant imitating the pattern of his life, not just walking after him. There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. By an invisible interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, Jesus instructed him to walk in his ways, being summoned from earthly possessions to the incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.” For the catechist and the catechized, we pray for a heart and mind open to those inner impulses, prompted by the light of grace, that enables one to respond to the merciful gaze and call of the Lord.
Amid the pandemic far too many are not experiencing catechesis and evangelization in the accustomed gatherings in the parish community. This is a challenge for families and programs, but it is not insurmountable. The domestic church in collaboration with parish leadership can cultivate the treasures and content of our faith in life-giving ways. The merciful gaze of Jesus Christ is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name.
Of course, the cornerstone of the treasury of our Catholic tradition and content of faith, is the Mass. The dispensation of the obligation to attend Mass in person is still in place, a necessary accommodation. Yet, all families and individuals are encouraged to attend Mass if health allows, either on the Lord’s Day or during the week. Rightly, we are vigilant to keep the virus on the outside looking in for the sake of our physical health. But even more so we must remain vigilant to nurture our relationship with Jesus Christ to remain strong spiritually and mentally to engage all that life throws at us.
With St. Paul we are committed to the mission that he articulates. “I received from the Lord what I have also handed on to you.” “May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other in accord with Christ Jesus.” (Romans 15:5)