Life-long learning in the faith
By BISHOP GERALD F. KICANAS
One of our diocesan priorities this year is to inform people in the faith.
We need to work to deepen understanding of what we believe as Catholics, as well as to intensify commitment to the faith we profess.
Faith formation, like all learning, is a life-long process. When I was in Chicago, I wanted to learn Spanish to be able to speak with the parents of students I was teaching. At first, I had to learn the fundamentals. It was not easy. I fumbled with trying to form sentences. I was tentative, wanting to say things correctly. Later, a more intensive Spanish immersion program in Mexico helped my speaking skills by surrounding me with the language, but even after all that, there still is so much more to learn. Today, I am concentrating on learning subtleties of the language to express myself more effectively.
My point is this: It is not enough to know vocabulary and verbs to speak a language. The basics simply do not provide the depth needed to truly convey what I mean in English with the same precision in Spanish unless I know the idioms, the phrasing, metaphors and so forth that echo my English thoughts into proper Spanish. To know a language, that language must become part of you. Learning a second language is a life-long process that involves study, the assistance of teachers and exemplars, a deep desire to learn and the determination to stay the course.
Learning our faith follows the same committed process.
As disciples of Christ we strive to learn and live a faith; it is a way of understanding life grounded upon the teaching of Christ.
Formation in the faith begins by learning the fundamentals. This happens in our Catholic schools, religious education classes or perhaps in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Teachers and catechists strive to teach their students the fundamentals of the Scriptures — the words to prayers, what we believe, and how Christians conduct their lives. We cannot thank these catechists and teachers enough for handing on the fundamentals of the faith. Passing on the faith is one of the most important ministries of the Church.
But too often our faith learning stops after basic training. One of the biggest challenges we face in our Diocese and in the Church today is keeping people motivated to stay engaged in learning about their faith.
Some people are hungry to deepen their formation in the faith. They go to Scripture classes wherever they can find them. They come to adult faith formation classes, they read theology, attend lectures and symposia. Regretfully, these knowledge seekers are small in number. We all know that after Confirmation many discontinue their formation; some never proceed past receiving the sacrament of Communion.
I wish we could motivate more people to want a deeper faith life. Growth in our understanding of the faith begins with our desire, our longing to know more.
The responsibility for instilling deeper faith also lies with our Diocese and our parishes; we must provide quality opportunities for learning that entice people to participate.
We need to learn how best to make these offerings available. What are the best times and locations? What types of opportunities are our people looking to attend? How often should the programs or events be offered? I want our Diocese to do more and answering these questions may help us accomplish that goal.
Here are some areas we can use better now to increase faith education:
-Provide information sessions, materials and events for parents and grandparents. These family leaders become more interested in their faith because they want to teach their children. We can assist them with their need to know more.
-Provide support materials and information to sponsors for those being baptized, receiving their First Communion or being confirmed or attending RCIA. Sponsors especially want to be good Catholic role models and so may desire to intensify their knowledge of faith.
–Better promote Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, the Christian Family Movement, Christ Renews His Parish and retreat opportunities as intensive ways to broaden understanding of an increasing faith.
-Better reach our young people with retreat opportunities such as Kairos, Search and Arco Iris experiences that are specifically designed with their ages in mind. We have seen these retreats change the lives of many young people.
-Promote our Year of Faith events as well as list parish educational opportunities on our diocesan website, the New Vision newspaper or elsewhere within diocesan communications to assist people with finding programs they will find useful in their own faith searches.
Lastly, I want to remind all of us that our faith learning begins when we recognize that it is up to us to continue to look for opportunities to enrich our knowledge of the faith. Your life will be the richer for your engagement.
I have seen that enrichment happen especially with those who have participated in a Cursillo. They leave that weekend experience intent and on fire to learn more about their faith and to get more engaged in their parishes. The Ultreas (post Cursillo gatherings) encourage Cursillistas to keep building on the life changing events that happened during their Cursillo.
I have seen that enrichment happen in the certification programs and parish renewal programs and programs sponsored by Jordan Ministries in so many of our parishes.
I have seen that enrichment happen in youth retreats like Kairos, Arco Iris or Search where some young people realize for the first time that they can do something significant with their lives by choosing among other possibilities priesthood or religious life.
I have seen that enrichment happen in our four year common formation program involving deacon and lay ecclesial minister candidates who over four years grow and change profoundly by putting aside misunderstandings of their faith to embrace the Church’s teachings and live them through their ministries.
When we deepen our understanding and living of the faith, our life is enriched.
Check it out.