Friday, September 16, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am
If we were brought up Catholic, we have the memory of at least one person — outside of family — who taught us the faith. Maybe that person drilled us in the catechism questions and answers. Or made sure that we understood the different parts of the Mass and the correct responses. Or that we knew our prayers and could begin and end them: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
For example, I am a Felician sisters’ boy. I was taught by the sisters when I was at St. Stanislaus Elementary School in Ambridge. I remember so well Sister Mary Richard in fifth grade, a master teacher and a stickler for details. She insisted that we learn our grammar and learn it very well. She stressed those all-important prepositions and to know them as well as we knew the Hail Mary!
Then there was Sister Charitas, who taught me in sixth and seventh grade, then Sister Esperentia in eighth grade. They were sisters — both by blood and vow — who focused on the high rules and regulations of grammar properly used. I probably diagrammed thousands of sentences for homework under their tutelage.
But beyond just prepositions and diagrammed sentences, the Felician sisters who blessed my childhood taught me faith. I learned the Mass. I learned the Baltimore Catechism. I learned my prayers at their instruction. So many years later, I cherish how critical they were to my knowledge of the faith, growth in the faith and my love for the faith.
We all have that someone — or many someones — in our lives who were our catechists. And we need to thank them, pray for them and celebrate them.
Teaching the faith
This weekend, parishes across the diocese will observe Catechetical Sunday. This is a day that we set aside each year especially to honor all those wonderful people who share in the teaching ministry of the church. The work of catechesis involves every aspect of parish life. Truly, it is at the center of parish life. Because it is the responsibility of the entire church community to hand on the gift of faith to future generations. And that is the heart of the catechetical mission.
A little Pittsburgh story:
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Church of Pittsburgh had a serious problem. The flood of immigrant labor and the explosion of the mining industry in small communities outside of Pittsburgh left many Catholic families isolated. There were no churches to serve them. No schools to catechize the young.
Enter the “Missionary Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.” Fanning out from Downtown Pittsburgh, they were lay volunteer catechists who traveled to the most remote areas of the diocese every Sunday. They would hold classes everywhere — from private homes to miners’ halls. They were teaching the faith to the children in these outlying missions. Eventually, the numbers of believers grew so rapidly that Archbishop Canevin (the bishop of Pittsburgh at that time) established 27 new parishes.
That’s what we celebrate together on Catechetical Sunday. That kind of faithful mission is carried out every day of every week in every one of our parishes and schools — to children first learning the faith, to adults wanting to know their faith better, to those wishing to become a part of the faith.
The theme for this year is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.” It reminds us that the first way to deepen our relationship with Jesus, to know and to take to heart our faith, is through regular prayer.
In prayer, we share with God our joys and triumphs, our sorrows and failures and fears — every aspect of our lives. We listen for God’s voice. He listens for our voice. Prayer leads to deeper moments with God — to blessing, to adoration, to meditation, to worship, to gratitude, to forgiveness.
Pope Francis calls prayer “the first task in life.” He speaks of the prayer of the heart, “gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord.”
Catechists open the door to the living Jesus. Just think of all they do — deepening of the life of prayer, passing on knowledge of the faith, understanding of the liturgy and the sacraments and moral formation, teaching us to live in solidarity with a missionary spirit of sharing and spreading our faith. Catechists inspire everyone on the continuum of life — children, youth and adults — to enter into the mystery of Christ as we discover ourselves and the meaning of our lives in Jesus.
Say a prayer for them
There is no doubt: the work of catechists is critical to the life of the church. They continue to be a great and necessary gift to the Church of Pittsburgh. They are the heirs to the Missionary Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, serving throughout Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties. I could not fulfill my sacred responsibility as chief shepherd of the diocese without them. Nor could you embrace discipleship of Jesus without them.
Catechesis falls to our priests, deacons, those in consecrated life, catechists, teachers and religious educators. And it also falls to every parent and grandparent, loved one and neighbor. To all the parish faithful. If we have breath in us, we are all called to the ministry of catechesis in one way or another.
So, if I could â » offer a suggestion. Say a little prayer of thanks this Sunday for those catechists — maybe that special catechist — in your life, as Sisters Mary Richard, Charitas and Esperentia were in my life. Join me in prayer this Catechetical Sunday — as well as every day — for all those called by the church to teach in her name. Through their efforts, and our efforts together, others may come to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.