Bishop's Column

Open the door of faith

Last week, I traveled to Imperial, Neb., to proclaim Jesus Christ. I was there to bless and dedicate a new thrift shop and chapel for Catholic Social Services under the patronage of Saint Isidore; and to speak at a youth rally, called "Catechism Kick-off," that began catechetical programs for the young people of our diocese’s western border.

Caritas in veritate—charity in truth—is the way we proclaim Jesus Christ. They always go together if we want to be credible witnesses in the world.

I spent time with young people from many of our western parishes, including McCook, Grant, Curtis, Benkelman, Trenton, Palisade, Indianola, Wauneta and Wallace. We prayed together, I shared my experiences from World Youth Day in Brazil, and the young people shared their lives with me. I was there to proclaim Christ—and in our gathering, Christ was present to us.

This past Sunday, the Church celebrated Catechetical Sunday—an annual day of prayer for catechists and students. The theme this year is "Open the door of faith."

"Catechists are specialists, direct witnesses and irreplaceable evangelizers," said Blessed John Paul II, "who represent the basic strength of Christian communities, especially in the young churches."

Catechists are absolutely essential to the mission of the Church. And theirs is a mission we all share. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of catechesis, and its importance in our world, where so few people seem to really understand the Catholic faith.

The Catholic Church is the pillar and foundation of all truth (1 Tim 3:15). It is said that today more people have questions about faith than ever before while, at the same time, there are fewer people to answer those questions than ever before. This is why we are all called to be evangelizers.

We tend to think that catechesis is the practice of teaching about the Catholic faith. It should be much more than that. Teaching a factual account of Catholicism is important—it explains the substance of what we believe, and why, and how we can live as Christ commands. When Catholics don’t know the substance of our faith, the world suffers. But we’re mistaken if we think that we can transmit the Gospel by teaching only facts about the faith. We need to begin catechesis by winning souls for Christ. Evangelization comes before catechesis—witnessing before teaching.

Nearly four decades ago, Pope Paul VI observed that "modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." This is what is meant by kerygmatic catechesis.

To be effective catechists, we must demonstrate the truth of the faith by our charity and the way we live our lives. We must demonstrate that we have been set free. When we give evidence that God has transformed us, the most authentic kind of catechesis can begin.

Last year, Pope Francis said that catechesis begins with "an interior renewal, a profound transformation that is founded and relies on a Presence, who one day will call us to follow him and who today becomes a way, so as to transform our fears into ardor, our sadness into joy, our confinement into new visitations."

In a word, catechesis begins with grace.

This past Sunday, the Church prayed for catechists and their students. On Sunday, Sept. 29, the Church invites all catechists to spend the day in prayer. The Holy Father will celebrate a Mass in Saint Peter’s Square for catechists and their mission. Catechism must begin with an invitation to Christ, and a commitment to follow after him.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, I ask all catechists to spend an hour in prayer Sunday, Sept. 29—to make a Holy Hour for their students, and for their mission. I pray that each of our churches will be open for the Holy Hours of our catechists. I will pray for catechists in a special way on that day as well.

Catechesis begins with grace. On Sunday, Sept. 29, let’s ask the Lord—together—to transform us all by grace. Let us open the door of faith to a world that is hungering for truth and love.

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Bishop Conley

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