St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral
March 11, 2017
A few moments ago, we heard these words from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy:
This day the LORD, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice.
Five years later, ten years later and more, how did the people of Israel know what those “statutes, commandments and decrees were?” How did the people know what it meant “to walk in God’s ways?” They had to be repeated, taught, explained; they had to be “handed on.”
Catechesis, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has reminded us, is “the act of handing on the Word of God intended to inform the faith community … about the teachings of God and the prophets; of Christ and his Church. Catechesis involves the lifelong effort of forming people into witness of the Lord Jesus Christ (USCCB, “Catechesis”).
That is my responsibility as Bishop and “chief catechist” of this local Church. But it is not my responsibility alone. It is a responsibility I share with you, the catechists of the Diocese of Trenton, and I do so with great trust and confidence in you. But neither you nor I could accomplish much in this regard without prayer, study, reflection and personal witness to the faith and grace of our Baptism. Neither you nor I could accomplish anything at all without “the gift of God through the operation of the Spirit of the Father and the Son (General Directory for Catechesis, no. 288).”
The most important thing that the Church --- and we ARE the Church --- can do is the transmission or handing on of faith to the next generation. It is faith that gives rise to hope and hope that encourages love. Faith and hope and love make connections among people, draw them together, unites them to seek the common good. Our audience, for the most part, is young people, eager to learn but not willing to admit it. If our Catholic faith is not connected to real life as something essential; if faith is presented merely as an “add-on,” one among many other things of equal or competing value; if the young do not see faith lived by us who have been entrusted with their care and instruction as a source of meaning and purpose in life, the relevance of truth given us by Christ in the Gospel and taught by the Church, will continue to drift and wither away.
The societal and cultural environment today is simply anti-Catholic and anti-Christian; listen to the latest rap-song with words that kids commit to memory and recite effortlessly; check out what kids are watching on the internet or the computer games they play; listen to what kids talk about when they’re not glued in isolation to their iPhones or texting. Not only are our Catholic values and morals absent --- they are actively opposed; in these days in our country, even the very freedom to believe is at risk!
Family life does not support a life of active faith; just look at surveys conducted in recent years about Church attendance and participation and about Church beliefs and practices; what are we handing on to the young? What is the old saying, “Children live what they learn?” I would paraphrase, “Children learn what they live!”
The news is not all bad, however. You are the “good news.” Your dedication and commitment and readiness to teach the true faith of Christ in its fullness as proposed by the Church can create an energy --- an evangelistic energy --- that will confront these challenges with strength and steadiness. But you cannot back down. You cannot give in to discouragements although you must identify them as I have tried to do. The catechist teaches out of conviction not out of convenience. And conviction is often not convenient. Lead by example with truth at your side. Jesus Christ is our salvation. His Word is truth. His message is freedom. His way is our path to eternal life but also to the fullness of human life here and now. Be a witness to Christ and inspire the young to do the same. That is the goal of evangelization. That is the purpose of catechesis.
In the end, it falls to us not merely to hand on to the young “what” we believe. We must witness in our catechesis. We must give them a Church to believe in!