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Giving witness to the Gospel

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

September 16, 2020

Sunday, September 20 is Catechetical Sunday. Traditionally, this is the day we formally commission our catechists for ministry to our parish community. We are so grateful for their commitment to this extremely important service to the Church. This is, also, an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the role that each baptized person plays in handing on the faith and giving witness to the Gospel. This Sunday we rededicate ourselves to this mission as individual baptized persons and as a parish family of faith.

This year’s theme, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” captures beautifully the mission you and I received on the day we were baptized. Each of us has the vocation to share in the Church’s mission of discipleship. The intention of our catechesis must be to help form life-long disciples in mission.

The recently published, Directory For Catechesis, tells us that our parishes need to examine the type of catechesis that they offer today in light of the new social and cultural contexts in which we find ourselves. Do our catechetical efforts, the privileged place of education in our Catholic faith, possess the dynamism and flexibility necessary to touch the minds and hearts of today’s people?

I found the Directory particularly helpful in its reminder of catechesis in, with and of the family. We must minister to individuals in different life stages and settings: Pre-adolescents, Adolescents, Young People, Adults, the Elderly, Persons with Disabilities, Migrants, and Emigrants (such as our friends in Latakia). This coincides well with our Diocesan Priority of Strengthening Faith Formation in Family Life (all types of families).

In its treatment of “Marginal Persons,” the Pontifical Council noted that “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care. It’s important that the catechist have the capacity to meet people in the situations in which they find themselves, have the willingness for unconditional acceptance, and the capacity to relate to them with realism and mercy.” (#280). Clearly, this reflects well Pope Francis’ desire that the Church be a field hospital, meeting our people where they are, accompanying them with the Good News of the Gospel.

Another area of the document that has particular significance for the Church of the North Country concerns catechesis and evangelization in our prisons, places that the Council referred to as “authentic mission territory for evangelization.” (#281). The Diocese of Ogdensburg is blessed to have several prison chaplains who dedicate themselves to ministry to the incarcerated in the prisons located within our Diocese.

These chaplains make God’s presence visible in their unconditional acceptance and attentive listening to the imprisoned. The Directory stated that the relationships that our chaplains establish with the imprisoned “manifest to the incarcerated the mother face of the Church, which often receives precisely in prison the conversion or rediscovery of faith of many of her children, who ask to receive the sacraments of initiation.” (#282). I have personally officiated at several baptisms, Confirmations and First Holy Communions in some of our prisons. We are grateful to our prison chaplains and volunteers who provide pastoral ministry in our prisons, noting particularly this Catechetical Sunday, their catechetical and evangelizing efforts.

Our Diocese continues to pay particular attention to the ongoing formation of our catechists. We know well that the Holy Spirit uses their valuable experience, knowledge and faith in their ministry of accompaniment. We encourage our parishes to provide a catechetical experience that facilitates growth in knowledge of our Catholic faith as well as enhancing the life-long conversion experience of all members of our families.

The Directory For Catechesis concludes: “Communion with Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, who is living and always present, is the ultimate end of all ecclesial action and therefore of catechesis as well” (#426). Indeed, we have received from the Lord what has been handed down to us. Let us together continue to address our Priority of Strengthening Faith Formation in Family Life. Catechesis is an action for which the whole Church is responsible. These days of safe-distancing, sanitizing and wearing face protection make our catechetical efforts extraordinarily challenging. However, at this time and in this place, it has never been more necessary or more fulfilling! Thank you for your attentiveness and joyful witness to discipleship.

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