The theme of Catechetical Sunday 2013, which will be celebrated on Jan 13, is Catechists as Agents of the New Evangelisation. This theme draws its inspiration from the Year of Faith which was launched on Oct 11, 2012, and which will conclude on Nov 24, 2013.
In this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI has invited all Christians to renew their understanding of the Christian faith and also to re-propose the faith to a new generation of Christians. This re-proposal of faith is new, not in its content but rather in its inner thrust; new in its methods that must correspond to the times; and new because it is necessary to proclaim the Gospel to those who have already heard it.
Pope Benedict XVI calls the Church to evangelise by entering into dialogue with modern culture and confronting the cultural crisis brought on by secularisation.
I want to highlight what I see as some of the key implications of the New Evangelisation for all those who engage in the ministry of the Word, especially parish catechists and RCIA teams. It is found in the Laborem Instrumentum (working document) that guided the discussion of the Bishop’s Synod in October 2012 on the New Evangelisation and the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
Christian faith as encounter with a person – Jesus Christ
Paragraph 18 of the document states that: “The Christian faith is not simply teachings, wise sayings, a code of morality or a tradition. The Christian faith is a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ. Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions which lead to this encounter between the person and Jesus Christ.”
In other words, if the content of faith is not merely theoretical knowledge but more of an encounter with the One Teacher Jesus Christ – it then requires us to re-think the way we plan and execute our catechetical sessions. How can we remain with a purely didactic style of teaching the faith?
I am glad that here in our archdiocese, we have already begun to renew the way we catechise over the last two years. I want to encourage the entire parish community to get involved in this process of redefining the catechetical process which will now involve other essential and enriching elements like parents, peers, church ministries and the sacred liturgy; in short the gifts of the entire parish community.
Transmission of faith – a communal event
Paragraph 39 of the document seems to reinforce this notion of the involvement of the entire parish community for effective evangelisation: “The need to transmit the faith is essentially an ecclesial, communal event and not singly or done alone. It should not result from seeking effective communication strategies or in choosing a certain group of recipients – for example, young people – but must look to who is entrusted with this spiritual work.
“The Church must question herself in this matter. This allows the problem to be approached not in an extrinsic manner but from within, involving the entire life and being of the Church.”
My dear catechists, together with the bishops of the world, I invite you to consider this statement: “Whether the lack of effects in evangelisation today, as well as in catechesis in modern times, is primarily the result of ecclesial and spiritual factors. This really concerns the (our) Church’s ability to live as a real community, as a true brotherhood and as a Living Body and not simply a human establishment.”
In effect what I am asking all of us to consider as Christians is whether our Christianity is really a way of life or is it just something we “teach” on Sundays?
Creating a culture of witness
Here then are some very important points that I want all those engaged in the Ministry of the Word (as well as the parish community) to take note of: How can we create a “culture of witness” in our parishes?
- Where we not merely run programmes to “convert persons” but rather we live as a “Living Body” of Christ that initiates and assimilates people of a variety of ages into a single community that gathers around the Eucharist.
- The New Evangelisation does not seek to invite people to experience only one moment of conversion but rather to experience the gradual and lifelong process of conversion: to draw all people into a deeper relationship with God, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to develop a mature conscience, to sustain one’s faith through ongoing catechesis, and to integrate one’s faith into all aspects of one’s life.
- The process of conversion and evangelisation that accomplishes the objectives above must include the witness of the Church through her members in the everyday living out of the Gospel.
- To create a culture of witness, we must live explicit lives of discipleship through apprenticeship. Apprenticeship links an experienced Christian believer, or mentor, with one who seeks a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church. In parish ministries as well as in the neighbourhood Christian communities, faith communities must be intentionally planned and grown that gradually become schools of communion and evangelisation.
- The prayers, popular devotions, and liturgies of the Church must be given priority in pastoral planning as they form the basis of “Catholic culture”; they allow for the community to pray together in a common language and nourish one’s continuing faith development.
- A culture of witness that grows in the parish has its roots in and through marriage and the family. It is through the example of mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings, and extended family members that one most concretely witnesses how to live a daily Christian life.
- Family members learn about the Christian life by observing each other’s strengths or weaknesses. Their shared wisdom and experience often constitute a compelling Christian witness.
- It is vital that multiple generations, including grandparents, are engaged with the informal moments of faith formation of younger family members. It is through the family that one journeying back to the faith can be awakened to, affirmed in, and encouraged by the love and mercy of Christ.
- A culture of witness also implies that we become a Church that is engaged in the works of charity and justice as well as the promotion of solidarity, justice, peace and stewardship of creation to build up the Kingdom of God.
- Increasingly, we recognise that generosity of spirit and commitment to charity and justice are vehicles to bring people into relationship with Jesus and His Church. Social justice and direct service opportunities provide powerful experiences with the person of Jesus, especially for adolescents and young adults.
Conclusion – mustard seed growth
In this Year of Faith, my brothers and sisters, we are all being radically called to the work of evangelisation and catechesis not just for the spiritual well-being of a certain group of young people in our parish but rather for the very existence of our entire Church in a society that is hurtling towards an increasing secularity.
Parish priests and their parish pastoral councils are going to have to intentionally build communities of faith that grow out of a planned vision of communion where all ministries work together and lead people to and from the Sunday Eucharist.
I invoke the Holy Spirit upon such a great work that of its very nature will be slow (and sometimes inconsequential) like a mustard seed but we pray that in years to come, it will become a large sturdy tree of faith that our future generations can make their home in!
Let us not be afraid to venture out into the deep for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are with us on this great adventure of faith! Please be assured of my prayers and God bless you all!
Archbishop Nicholas Chia