Catechetical Sunday: Safeguarding the Dignity of Every Human Person
Today, all across the country, parishes are celebrating Catechetical Sunday. In many parishes, it marks the beginning of a new season of religious education and sacramental preparation. This year, in the Archdiocese of Washington, we will mark this significant day in a very special way by commissioning our gifted and dedicated catechists and also all parish leaders, whatever their ministry, who are witnesses of what it means to be faithful and joyful missionary disciples.
Blessed Pope Paul VI once said the modern man “listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). How true this is. Our favorite teachers have been loved more for their living the faith, their obvious love for the Lord – than for how smart they were!
What the best of our catechists and parish leaders reveal is a great love and respect for every person they encounter and it is this quality that is being highlighted in the theme of Catechetical Sunday: “Safeguarding the Dignity of Every Human Person.” We are reminded that our primary responsibility in any ministry of the Church is that of love. We are called to be witnesses to love – to the love that God has for every human person, to our love for God and to our love of one another (cf. Matthew 22:37-40). God entrusts us to nurture our children, to lift up their inherent dignity whatever their particular abilities, so they can become the people God created them to be.
Moreover, love being the primary purpose of Christ’s coming, then love is the ultimate purpose of religious instruction, explains Saint Augustine. Thus, he instructs catechists, “give all your instructions that he to whom you speak by hearing may believe, and by believing may hope, and by hoping may love” (First Catechetical Instruction, 8).
This responsibility is not just the responsibility of specialists, but of the whole parish community, beginning with the family. As we prepare to welcome Pope Francis to the United States for the World Meeting of Families taking place in Philadelphia, we are reminded that parents are the first and primary teachers of the faith in a child’s life. This is one of the reasons that we call the family, a “domestic church” recognizing that family life is a school of love and a witness to the primary community in a person’s life. To help families reflect on their lives and mission as a domestic church, the archdiocese has prepared this resource, “Be Families of Holiness,” which I encourage you to read and share with others.
Our Holy Father calls families to be witness to love outside the home as well, to see themselves as missionary disciples who give testimony to the rights and responsibilities of the family. This kind of witness can be as simple as shared meals together on a regular basis, and being mindful of seeking forgives and giving forgiveness. Pope Francis also suggests that families make a commitment to make Sunday a day for the family, going to Mass together and spending time together.
In this work of forming disciples to carry on the work of our Lord, given the culture in which we find ourselves, we know that we need more than just one day to reflect on how to best promote the dignity of the human person and make our parishes places of welcome for all people. This requires an on-going effort, and on Saturday, November 7, we will gather as an archdiocese for the biannual Archdiocesan Catechetical Day. On this day, dozens of workshops in English and Spanish will be offered to study and reflect on the teaching of the Church, best practices and new ideas for being protectors of God’s gifts. You can learn more here.
Our challenge is to be a Church of welcome and defender of every person in every stage of life. As we #WalkwithFrancis this week, we can learn from our Holy Father’s embrace of every person he encounters, celebrating the dignity of each human person as a gift from God.