Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The necessity of learning"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Sept. 10, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

As summer draws to a close, another school year begins. This is also the time when parishes gear up for their religious education programs. We should not underestimate the importance of opportunities to increase our knowledge of our faith tradition and the teaching of the Church, and then to integrate what we have learned into our lives. Our tradition is rich; the development of that teaching continues in a number of different ways. In a rapidly changing world, with its tremendous growth in knowledge and information, the grounding in our own faith tradition becomes even more important.

For most, the thought of religious education often leads us to think only of formation for our children and youth. Of course, that is very important and part of our mutual responsibility as parents and Church Ė to provide the best we can for our children. Religious education materials continue to be improved, and itís up to us to continue to seek out and use the most effective teaching materials available. When I was a child, religious education meant two weeks every summer. That was it for my formal catechetical training. We have come a long way since then! Itís common knowledge today that when it comes to educating our children in the faith, we must utilize our best resources and personnel.

Some of our parishes have paid staff to assist in this endeavor, but many others rely on the goodness and generosity of volunteers. I have admired tremendously the dedication of so many men and women who have given years of dedicated service to directing a class or overseeing a program. For their part, parishes should make a special effort to provide the best materials and facility for such education. I admit, finding enough qualified teachers and program directors can be a challenge. I encourage those who have gifts in this area to offer their services to the parish. And I encourage parents to take seriously their responsibility of enrolling their children in the parish program and encourage the children to take seriously this opportunity.

Parents are the primary educators of their children. Faith formation in the home is absolutely critical to the development of the faith life of a child. The example and witness of a parent, all the way from unconditional love to the faithful practice of the faith, leaves its mark on children, who grow so rapidly in mind, body and spirit. I doubt that parenting has ever been easy! Today is no different from days gone by. Parental witness and example are as critical today as ever. The vacuum created when there is no witness also leaves its mark. My prayer is that the church can find even better ways of affirming and assisting parents in this all-important role.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion nationally about the great need for faith formation and fidelity of sacramental practice in the Church. In fact, one of five main priorities of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops is to address this area. The general feeling is that we are not doing enough in the Church to provide effective, solid faith formation. There is also the perception that adults are in just as great a need as the children. There is a twofold aspect to this: one, that as an adult I need that kind of growth in knowledge about my faith and the Churchís tradition; and two, when we adults continue to learn, we provide a valuable witness to our children and youth.

We cannot allow ourselves to get into the mode of thinking that once we have finished religious education classes, we have completed all that we need to do in learning about the faith. Not so! Some in the Church today indicate that our biggest challenge in faith formation is not at the level of children or youth, but for us adults. Homilies should be (and are) helpful, but something more is needed. Many times I have heard from sponsors of catechumens in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program how they have greatly appreciated journeying with their candidate through the program, learning so much. In fact ,last fall, as the bishops and Religious superiors from the Northwest gathered at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center to listen to a prominent theologian speak about evangelization and faith formation, he suggested that we as Church take a strong look the RCIA model. Clearly the program has been very effective, and we need to search into the possibilities of using this model of education and formation for the future.

For all of us to do this seriously demands commitment and time, both at the moment and long term. I would hope that as we begin this new catechetical season, we can look seriously and personally to our own hearts to see how we can do all of this better. That effort should be a mutual journey with a sense of urgency, good energy and hope.

May God bless all of you and give you peace.

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