Today in parishes all over our archdiocese, hundreds of men and women who serve as catechists in our religious education programs will be commissioned for service. This year’s theme, “Open the Door of Faith,” celebrates not only The Year of Faith but also how learning deepens faith and fosters an encounter with the risen Lord. The Archdiocese of Washington is fortunate to have highly dedicated catechists without whose commitment of time and talent our religious education programs could not function. It is important for all of us to remember, though, that catechists do not have sole responsibility for teaching and nurturing the faith of our children.
Celebrating Catechetical Sunday in our parishes reminds us that all of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called to be witnesses to the Gospel. Baptism gives each believer an apostolic vocation. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-19). The apostolate of “spreading the kingdom of Christ everywhere for the glory of God the Father” is not for clergy or catechists alone, but is carried on by the Church “through all its members” (Decree on the Laity, 2). All believers must proclaim their faith by the way they live.
Foremost, parents have a particular responsibility as the primary catechists for their children. In the Rite of Baptism, parents promise to raise their children in the faith both through active participation in the sacramental life and by instructing their children in the truths of the faith. It is the role of catechists to support the parents in forming their children in the faith. I hope that in the coming year, parents and catechists will continue to work as a team giving full support to one another as our children explore all aspects of our Catholic faith. Most importantly, weekly attendance at Sunday Mass is the best accompaniment to classroom learning.
In this Year of Faith we have been asked to reflect on how, like our catechists who “open the door to faith” for their students, we are called to share our faith – its teachings and our personal stories – in a way that offers others an encounter with Jesus. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council write that the lay apostolate “does not consist only in the witness of one’s way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to believers with a view to instructing and strengthening them, and motivating them to a more fervent faith” (Decree on the Laity 6).
Today, in a special way, we ask the intercession of one of our newest saints, Peter Calungsod (1654-1679), a Filipino catechist who was martyred for the faith and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI last October at the opening of the Year of Faith. Saint Peter Calungsod was a catechist who received the Gospel message with joy and remained always subject to it and obedient before it. He is a model for each of us and for our parish communities as a whole. The Gospel message is not a personal possession to alter or distort to our own liking. The faith to which Christ has called us, and which we are to hand on to those we love, has not been given in secret whisperings to each individual. However personal the graces by which God calls us to himself, He calls us to the publicly proclaimed Gospel which is to unite in one faith the whole family of God.
The more actively one works as apostle – perhaps as a parent or a catechist, or in some other capacity – the more important it is that one’s work be rooted in the obedience of faith, in full openness and assent to what Christ constantly teaches in his Church. Let us always ask God that as we open the doors to a new catechetical year, he will bless the work of our catechetical teams and shower our students with the gifts of knowledge and fortitude.