By Bishop James Conley
The Pew Research Center recently released a survey of U.S. adult Catholics about their belief in the Eucharist. The report included the disheartening statistic that only one-third of all Catholics in the U.S. believe in the orthodox teaching of the Eucharist: that during Mass, when the priest takes bread and wine, says the words of consecration, the bread and wine change in substance, into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus.
While the percentage of Catholics who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist increases in Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week, the report is alarming.
I would not presume to know all of the causes that have led to this lack of belief in the Eucharist. After all, belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist requires the gift of faith. Nevertheless, for such a large percentage of Catholics to indicate unbelief in one of the core teachings of the Church points to poor or non-existent catechesis.
According to this PEW report, 47% of those Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are merely symbols of Christ’s body and blood either think that this is what the Church teaches or they are unsure of what the Christ teaches with respect to the Eucharist.
While this statistic is distressing, it also tells me that through good catechesis and the teaching mission of the Church, many Catholics can come to know the truth of the Gospel.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, I say without hesitation that we have excellent Catholic Schools that are faithful to this mission of the Church. Much has been invested into our Catholic Schools as they help to develop youth into faithful, Christian disciples. I am grateful to all who are a part of that mission.
I am also grateful for the many dedicated catechists and coordinators in CCD programs throughout the diocese, who help to form our young people. We should always strive for improvement, but I am confident that our Catholic Schools and CCD programs teach our young people the Catholic faith, show them the way of discipleship, and prepare them to shine Christ’s light in a darkened world.
There is much in place in the diocese to provide for our young people to grow in knowledge of the faith. But, it can’t and doesn’t stop there. Our growth in knowledge of the Catholic faith doesn’t end on the day that we receive Confirmation, or graduate from high school. Our knowledge of the Catholic faith must continue to grow throughout our whole lives.
In our diocese, we are blessed with many opportunities for adults to grow in knowledge of the Catholic faith. There are several opportunities at the parish and diocesan level, but allow me to highlight three of these adult faith formation programs, as we begin this new academic year: The Benedict XVI School of Catechesis, the Newman Institute, and the Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies.
The Benedict XVI School of Catechesis began in 2017, and is designed to help strengthen the intellectual and spiritual formation of Catholic adults. It consists of a two-year program of formation, consisting in courses one Saturday per month from September to April. The first year covers the four areas, or pillars, of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The second year will consist of Salvation History, Spirituality, Faith and Reason, and Church History. The program is led by Father Andrew Heaslip and Mr. Jeff Schinstock.
I established the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture in 2015 to form students in the humanities—in the great literary tradition of Western culture—and form them to have hearts, minds, wills, and imaginations for Jesus Christ. I am passionate about this Institute, as I personally encountered Jesus through the humanities.
The Newman Institute is directed by Dr. John Freeh. It is a partnership of St. Gregory the Great Seminary with the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Courses are offered to undergraduates in Lincoln, who can study at the Newman Institute, and apply their courses as transfer credits to their degrees at UNL, or at other institutions.
The Newman Institute will host three lectures this fall semester, which are free and open to the public. These lectures are intended to reflect the mission of the Institute and to engage the public academically, spiritually and culturally. They are held at the Newman Center.
The Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies seeks to create a biblically literate community of Catholics, enkindled with the knowledge and love of Christ, through a deepening understanding of Scripture and its centrality in the life and liturgy of the Church.
It will feature a core curriculum: “Creation to New Creation: Journey Through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation,” complemented by a variety of Scripture-centered courses, seminars, and other resources offered at a variety of levels and in various locations throughout the diocese, and beyond.
The Institute will launch this fall, under the direction of Dr. Vern Steiner and the oversight of a diocesan-approved board of directors. The Institute is self-funded, but will carry out its mission as an apostolate of the Diocese of Lincoln.
The Institute is open to a wide target audience: clergy, religious, laity, seminarians, parents, teachers and catechists, Bible study leaders, campus missionaries—any and all servants of the Lord devoted to loving God with all their heart, mind, and soul.
As we begin this new academic year, I invite Catholics of every age to know and respond to their faith in a deeper way. Pray about participating in these adult faith formation initiatives in our diocese.