Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The mission of education"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Sept. 11, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

For most people, the beginning of school in September almost has a feel of beginning a new year. For first-timers, this event is a great moment in their lives. For many, a transition to a new level occurs.

This is also a time when catechetical season gears up for our Catholic children who attend public schools or are home-schooled. Catechetical Sunday always falls on the third Sunday of September. We are reminded of the importance of this mission in the Church and how we address this mission in support of one another. The theme of this upcoming Catechetical Sunday is: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” This theme dovetails with that of the Synod of Bishops, which gathers for three weeks in Rome at the beginning of October.

Given the complexity of our world and the generally high level of education in our society, formation and education in our Faith is vital. In the secular world, we demand that our children are educated so that they can become productive citizens and support themselves and their families. Faith development is also very important, so that we can live in a world deeply aware of our relationship with Jesus and the kingdom of God, using values that assist us in making life-giving decisions as well as giving us a sense of balance and perspective in an ever-changing world. It’s easy to give in to the temptation of living only in the secular. Yet, as God’s people, there is another reality that speaks to the core of our being – why you and I have been created.

You and I must take seriously this mission of continuing education and catechesis in our lives. There has been significant criticism in recent years of our need to develop better catechetical materials and programs. The development of the various catechisms and compendia, along with guidelines for the various levels of catechetical formation, including recently those for high school years, should be a great assistance. The approval process for acceptable catechetical texts takes several years. It is challenging ministry, but all of this focus and effort indicate that the Church takes very seriously its responsibility to form and inform the members of the community, no matter how old.

One effect of the diocese’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy process was the slimming down of diocesan offices. Fewer personnel are employed. We had to close the diocesan office which oversaw catechetical instruction. That meant we also lost oversight of youth ministry on the diocesan level – at least, for the moment. That means that leadership of that ministry has to come from the local, parish level. Pastors are very important leaders as they give a sense of direction and foster the community’s understanding of our common responsibility to pass along the faith. Catechetics does not end after the celebration of the sacraments of initiation (Confirmation and First Eucharist). Learning about our Faith is a lifelong process. That’s why we adults (and I include myself) need to be good examples of the desire to learn and continue our formation in the Faith.

Such witness demands our time. Family life can be very busy. Choices have to be made. For adults, life constitutes a balancing act: job, family, and a host of other activities; some necessary, some less so. But we must look seriously at our responsibility of setting time aside for both our children and ourselves. Coupled with that is the serious necessity of keeping our families connected through good example and spiritual support. A terrible disconnect occurs when parents drop off their children for religious education classes (or a Catholic school) but do not themselves attend Sunday Mass. In that circumstance, we should look for gentle but firm ways of supporting folks and encouraging them to live up to their responsibility. Parenting is a challenging role, but it is a great mission as well. The entire community of faith must be about this aspect of our Church life. We have heard the expression that it takes a village to raise a child. No less true is the fact that it takes a community of faith to foster a vibrant and effective community of catechesis and faith formation.

I am most grateful to so many who have taken so seriously this responsibility of catechetics. You know them well in your parishes. They are generous with their time and are deeply committed to the mission. Some have done this work and service for decades. All of us owe all of them a great debt of gratitude.

One final thought about catechesis and deepening our knowledge of our Faith: Whatever we do must be centered on the Lord Jesus. St. Paul had great insight into this reality when he said to the Galatians (2:19): “It is no longer I but Christ who lives in me.” Sacraments, Church, and our continuing formation keep us in touch with that profound reality. May we live it out in our lives.

Blessings and much peace.

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