I have had the blessing of having served the diocese as pastor for 22 years. Stationed in three different pastorates, I know first hand the efforts that parish catechetical leaders invest in procuring catechists, the men, women and young adults who volunteer their time to share the faith with our children and teens. On behalf of all pastors who, as extensions of the bishop, pledge to teach, preach and sanctify the flocks entrusted to their care, I say “thank you” for saying “yes” to this mission in evangelization.

As we celebrate Catechetical Sunday on Sept. 17, I would like to offer some “tips” for you as you embark on this meaningful and wonderful journey. Please keep in mind that many of your students are with you this academic year because they are in sacramental preparation for reconciliation/Eucharist or confirmation. Within this category, many of the students come from homes where parents, who according to the Church, are the primary teachers in the faith of their children, do not have clear understanding of what we, Catholics, believe. Most of these, however, have very good intentions and want their children to learn their prayers and basic doctrines of the faith.

I always made a point of teaching religious education to our public and private school children, to show that they were just as important to me as those enrolled in the Catholic schools. In the process, it became evident to me that most parents, regardless of which schools their children attended, thought of faith as a type of knowledge that we acquire from teachers. No doubt, there is some truth to this. St. Anselm said that theology is “faith seeking understanding.” This faith seeks clarity through reason. Even the First Vatican Council taught that we can know that God exists from reason alone. But the truth of the matter is we, humans, are living in the supernatural order of grace. This means that the call to salvation is universal because God offers his gift of eternal life connaturally through “Love,” which in the Catholic Church, we have come to identify as Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Catechists, your challenge is to expand the definition of “faith” from a type of knowledge to first and foremost a re lationship, with God and each other who are the Church. Keeping in mind that many of your students do not attend Mass on a regular basis, please do not hound them every week about their absence from the liturgy since itis their parents’ responsibility to bring them to church to worship with us. Instead, keep in mind that the one hour or one day you spend with these children is, for most of them, their only experience

of being Church. As a former pastor and catechist, I believe that this should be a positive not a punitive experience.

In planning your classes, try to implement time for prayer, an explanation or, better, exploration of the chapter you are covering, ample time for discussion and questions. Finally, set aside the last 10 minutes for an activity that is fun. You want your students to leave class feeling enlightened about what we, Catholics believe (knowledge) and good about being Church (relationship). Whatdistinguished the early Christians from surrounding religions was the emphasis on faith as relational. It is not a personal affair but something that engages an entire community. As Church, we share a common understanding of God. We strive to live out what we believe about this God and each other through our creeds, summaries of key doctrines pertaining to Christianity. How we live this faith out is guided by a code of moral conduct as contained in the Gospel and Tradition (the teaching, preaching and life of the Church). As catechists, try to familiarize yourselves with these “tools” of evangelization. To do this, I recommend having a copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church in your possession at home. This compendium is a treasure trove of everything we believe as Catholics.

Finally, it is at Mass where we, as Church, make known what we believe through the proclamation of the Word, the reception of the Eucharist and the fellowship which we exchange with each other as we commit ourselves to building the Kingdom of God in freedom and love through service Catechists, you make a difference in the lives of our children. May our Lord reward you for your kindness and our families appreciate your willingness to serve those who are the hope and future of the Church.

Father Comandini is the advisor to The Catholic Spirit.