Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Keep on learning"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Another school year has begun. In some ways, we look upon this time, rather than Jan. 1, as the beginning of New Year, as school activities and parish life ramp up. School life has considerable impact upon family and our communities in general. Societal life looks to the operation of a school year as something very important, and well it should. We see concern about the effectiveness of our educational institutions. How can we do better? How can we make them more effective? That concern expresses our responsibility to make them the best possible with the resources we have. The gifts of our children and youth are precious to us.

Recently I saw three main goals of one of the other dioceses in our country.

The first goal was the need for faith formation of parishioners. Given the rich tradition and heritage of our Church, we too should be very concerned and interested in growing in our knowledge of that heritage and tradition. We want our children to be well prepared for the secular world in which they will live. As adults, we have the responsibility for the stewardship for ourselves and our children in the process of faith formation. That sensitivity and awareness are not easy, given the complexity and busyness of the modern world. Responsibility demands good and wise decisions, a generous and wise heart, and a real knack for knowing what is important in our lives – an ability to set priorities.

Some parents in the diocese have the opportunity to send their children to Catholic schools. By far, most do not. Religious education classes outside of a Catholic school setting are very important and must be taken seriously by all of us as a concern of the faith community. As we look to the faith formation of ourselves, as well as – and especially – our children and youth, this is a long, ongoing process. Since we in the diocese have restored the original order of the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, faith formation must continue with a sense of vigor and enthusiasm after the celebration of Confirmation and First Eucharist. Parents of children have the special obligation and responsibility of educating their children in the ways of faith, within the context of our secular world.

Religious education classes in parishes parallel our school system, and parishes should strive to make the best possible opportunities available for the children to learn. In some of our larger parishes, that project is pretty massive. I think of St. Patrick Parish in Pasco, which prepares over 500 children every year for confirmation and first Eucharist. Resources of the Church must be expended to help make all of this happen. Parents need to support their children in giving them the opportunity to learn in these classes, but also to back them up by their own witness of faithful living and learning about the faith. Faithfulness to Sunday Mass would be one example. I have often wondered that the struggle we have sometimes with our religious education classes is primarily an adult challenge: we need to grow and develop our own knowledge about our faith and its practice.

I am deeply touched by and profoundly grateful to the many catechists and volunteers in the diocese who are dedicated to the educational ministry of the Church. Frankly, this is missionary activity in which we should be engaged with a hopeful and enthusiastic spirit. Some teachers have been in this work for years, but we also need to be aware of the need to invite and encourage new teachers to come into the system. This spirit of service is a great witness. Just recently a group of our young people, along with their chaperones, returned from Waveland, Miss., to work on service projects there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Putting faith into action can also be a powerful and meaningful learning experience.

Adult faith formation and education continue to be important for all of us. There are several reasons why that is so.

First, we need it. I continue to need it, with all of the opportunities I have had over the years.

Second, by engaging in our learning opportunities, we give witness and example that inspires and encourages the children and youth.

Third, there is a spirituality behind the attitude of learning that is important for all of us. St. Paul talks about “putting on the new person.” In almost any human endeavor, it is important to learn, to keep learning, and to keep practicing what is learned. Just yesterday on the way home, I sat next to a lady on the plane who was studying studiously an article on golf swings. Good cooks are never content to rest on their laurels.

So the challenge is with us. Our continued approach to learning will help us even better to connect the proverbial dots of life into an example of a faithful disciple of Jesus who keeps working at it. May we all do that together in support of one another on our mutual faith journey.

Blessings and peace to all.

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