Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Listen up, you Catechists (and parents, too): This is what you should be teaching!

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Coadjutor Archbishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, according to the ubiquitious Rocco of Whispers, over the weekend the addressed the diocese's catechists:

The work before us is very human and very ordinary but it also shares in the divine work that began when the Virgin Mary wrapped her divine son in swaddling clothes, started to teach him the language of hope and joy by singing him a Jewish lullaby and softly cuddling him in her arms. With these lessons learned, he would wrap the world with his outstretched arms on the cross and we would come to recognize his glory.

More than just teach the faith, we are called to teach the practice of the faith. It is the practice of the faith, the habit of the faith that brings us and our children into contact with the living Jesus. By our work we continue the marvel of the Incarnation. Jesus continues to incarnate his divine love, wisdom, and ways into our humanity and the humanity of those who come to us for instruction.

When we read the scriptures, especially the prophets or the psalms, the words we say were once on the mouth of Jesus. When we read the gospels and take a lesson from Paul we are being inspired by the same message with which Jesus first inspired them. When we participate and share in the sacred rituals of the sacraments many of these words and gestures were those of Jesus. When we care for the poor or visit the imprisoned we are standing right where Jesus use to stand. When we stand with those who are oppressed and speak for those who are forgotten we risk knowing the same scorn afflicted on the Lord.

All this does not have to be extraordinary or exceptional for us. When we truly understand the Incarnation, we will see that it should not be. Far better - more in keeping with Christ - that it should be learned, practiced, and habitual. We should be in the habit of following Christ. As we imitate his humanity we also begin to reflect his divinity.

For this reason, I would encourage you to do more than teach the faith. Please practice the faith and teach those under your instruction to do the same. Practice implies repetition, doing things over and over again, repeating words over and over again, making routine the rituals of our faith. At first this may appear clumsy but with time it brings grace and makes our lives graceful. More than just a cognitive grasp of the faith, we must be grasped by our faith. The customs and manners of Jesus take hold of us. They become habitual so that we truly walk the talk. We walk in the ways of Jesus.

What are those graceful habits that we should practice and that we should teach?
  • The habit of prayer. Along with such prayers as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Act of Contrition, I also encourage you to teach grace before meals. Help the children and young people learn how to do a good examination of conscience.
  • The habits of the commandments. Along with knowing the commandments, help your students see how they can practice the positive admonitions of the commandments and avoid committing sins against them.
  • The practice of charity. Use any opportunity to encourage works of charity and justice with your students.
  • The habit of sacrifice. Teaching penitential practices during Lent should be expected but, more than this, encourage sacrificial acts - abstinence and fasting - on Fridays as a healthy Christian practice throughout the year.
  • The common meal. Many families have lost the habit of regular meals in common. This is detrimental not only to the family. It also harms the faith life of the Church. This is a challenge in the busy world in which we live but these ordinary moments of family life can be occasions of saving grace. [A pal of mine with three teenagers ended up making breakfast the common meal because after-school activities didn't allow for supper. And it worked fine.]
  • Keeping the Lord's Day holy, especially by attending the Sunday Eucharist. It should not be limited to just attending Mass. There is so much more we can do to recover a sacred regard for Sunday.
  • The practice of meditation, especially through the recitation of the Holy Rosary.
  • The rituals of reverence. Children and young people need to be thought the rituals of reverence in a Church or other sacred spaces: kneeling, genuflexion, the reverential bow, the postures for receiving communion, maintaining a reverential silence in Church. Along with this, many students would benefit from understanding the Christian value of common courtesies that we extend to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As bishop, I look forward to Confirmations. There is a great deal of excitement about the ceremony and ritual that accompany the arrival of the bishop to the local parish. As bishop, I enjoy the momentary and whimsical encounter with each young man and woman who approaches me for the anointing of holy chrism. There is a curious instance when I match the name of a saint with the young person in front of me. Why did this young man choose the name Francis of Assisi? Why did she choose St. Cecilia? What was the reason that he would choose Saint Toribio? What is there about St. Francis, St. Cecilia, St. Joan of Arc, St. Maximilian Kolbe, or St. Sebastian that might be in this young person's heart? Whatever that may be, or for whatever the reasons, it is clear to me that the faith is lived. Young people do not choose a doctrine or a commandment, or a lesson they learned. They choose a life, a particular life that was lived following Jesus. The Christian life is more than a summation of all that is taught and learned about the Catholic faith and tradition. It is a life of discipleship, a life given to imitating the Lord Jesus. As I anoint each young person, this is my fervent prayer that their life too might also take on Christ, that they might be Christ for others.

As the Holy Father, Benedict XVI told us, in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (DCE, n.1) This encounter with Christ needs to be more than occasional or accidental. This encounter must be habitual. It must be ritual. As Jesus taught us in the gospel of Luke, daily we must be in the custom of meeting him.
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