Uncovering the Aha of the Epiphany – by Scott Mussari

The story of the Epiphany is arguably one of the most widely known of the Bible. But because it is so familiar, there is a tendency for us to overlook and therefore oversimplify its full meaning. Even the word Epiphany has dual definitions. It denotes the manifestation of Christ, yet in addition, it connotes a moment of sudden revelation.

Perhaps the unexpected insight of the Epiphany narrative is how well it exemplifies the entire Gospel message. The Church recognizes this, since we hear these same Scripture lines from Matthew regardless of what liturgical cycle we are in. If it is so important that the exact reading be read year after year, then clearly it is worth our efforts to unpack it.
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Catechetical Sunday Opens the Door to a Formative Process for Catechists – by Anita M. Foley, MA

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At this time of year, catechetical leaders communicate many details about the upcoming year to their community of catechists, such as grade assignments, class lists, and program procedures. This type of information is important to share with catechists and teachers. There is, however, a major event that should be highlighted within our entire faith community: Catechetical Sunday, which is celebrated on the third Sunday in September.

On this day, parishes and schools commission those members of their faith communities who actively serve in the ministry of catechesis. Catechists respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to serve the Church by echoing God’s Word and the Church’s teachings to children, young people, and adults who participate in the faith formation process of their parish. Catechists nurture people’s growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and our Church considers this service to be a vocation. It is vital that catechists are recognized, commissioned, and thanked publicly on Catechetical Sunday so the entire faith community can give witness and support to their calling. Catechetical Sunday also offers pastoral leaders an opportunity to emphasize the role that each baptized person holds to be witnesses to the Gospel as disciples of Jesus Christ.

After the celebration of this ministry on the third Sunday of September, an ongoing process of formation for catechists should be in place within our parish and school communities, for both new and seasoned catechists. It is important for catechetical leaders to assess the unique needs of the catechists serving in their particular setting in order to develop a well-balanced, engaging, and appropriate plan for formation. Providing catechists with options for topics, dates, and times of gatherings can lead to a higher level of participation from the catechist community. Here is a checklist of some areas that can be integrated into an effective process:

  • Workshops that address the religion curriculum, offering approaches for effective methodology and updates in theology
  • Days or evenings of reflection so catechists can reflect on their faith journey and their call to discipleship
  • Online catechist certification courses that can meet the needs of busy catechists
  • Community gatherings for catechists and their families, such as appreciation suppers, family picnics or brunch
  • A resource display where creative ideas for use in the classroom can be shared
  • Grade level planning meetings so catechists can swap ideas and strategies that work with a particular age group
  • Pairing together a seasoned catechist with a new catechist, which can lead to growth in faith between both partners
  • Provide information about diocesan sponsored congresses and workshops

Remember that prayer and hospitality are essential elements whenever catechists gather together.

Supporting catechists by offering an ongoing formative process can help build a community of committed, confident, and capable catechists who are passionate about sharing their faith as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Anita Foley is a senior sales representative for RCL Benziger, serving the Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Metuchen and Paterson, New Jersey.

Anita holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Religious Education from Seton Hall University. She has also attended Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange for continuing post-graduate education and formation. Before joining RCL Benziger, Anita taught in Catholic elementary and high schools, served in ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, in parish ministry as a Director of Religious Education, Pre-K Religious Education Program Coordinator, and Director of RCIA and Adult Faith Formation. Articles written by Anita have been published in “Today’s Parish”, “Catechist Magazine”, and “Word on Worship”. She is currently a workshop and retreat facilitator, and serves a member of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Newark.

 

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Back to School – By Lois DeFelice

back_to_schoolAs we begin the new academic year, it is worth our while to know what issues parents think are most problematic. According to Elisabeth Wilkins, editor of Empowering Parents, the top five concerns of parents as the school year approaches are: (1) Unmotivated children; (2) Paying attention and behaving in class; (3) How to get kids out of bed in the morning; (4) Homework problems – teaching kids to bring it home, do it, hand it in on time, and not hate it; (5) Bullying behavior – from both sides of the fence – as victim or bully.

Parents play an essential role in the development of their children’s faith and life. Looking for ways to collaborate with them to addressing their concerns provides an excellent way to begin the school year. As St. John Paul II taught in Familiaris Consortio (no.17), every “family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love.” One of the significant challenges every teacher and catechist has is encouraging and supporting families in their important role.

Here are a few suggestions you can use to assist families:

  • Invite families to pray together each day and eat meals together as often as possible. When they gather together for meals, suggest that each person bring their needs to the table to share in prayer. Create a special prayer box that can be placed on a table at home or in the classroom for specific prayer requests
  • Encourage parents to give positive messages to their children each day. The best times for these conversations are in the morning, when parents and children return home from school or work, at meal times, and in the evening at bedtime. Little messages of encouragement, especially text messages about the positive qualities shown during the day, are very effective ways to help children grow in character and faith
  • By specifically addressing parents’ concerns about bullying, teachers can provide the necessary skills parents and children need for dealing with the issue, including knowing when to get help from teachers and other trusted adults

The theme of Catechetical Sunday this year is “Safeguarding the Dignity of Every Human Person.” It is certainly a topic of interest that could spark many conversations on how we live the Gospel message in our daily lives, as well as what we can do to bring hope and joy to the world. Today’s students are frequently referred to as “Generation M” because they have never known a world without mobile devices. It would definitely be worth the time to discuss how to use these tools to live out the message in Matthew 25, for example.

Finally, Pope Francis’ letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, provides many ideas that you can use to engage students in caring for the earth. Introduce your students to the patron saint of ecology, St. Francis of Assisi, and encourage them to consider ways they can follow his love for the earth and all its creatures. Every small step taken in our classrooms can make its way into the family home to create better stewards of all.

Here’s to a wonderful academic year!

Lois DeFelice has served in the Archdiocese of Chicago for more than 40 years, primarily in liturgy and faith formation on the parish, diocesan, and national level. She is a wife, parent, and grandparent.

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Models of Discipleship – By Anne Campbell

models-of-discipleshipDiscipleship is at the heart of the Gospel. As catechists, we seek not only to form others in the foundations of the faith, but also to model for them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in today’s world.

In the gospel reading for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Jesus instructs his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” (Matthew 28:19-20). These words hold great meaning for me as a catechist, and I often reflect on them in light of how I can best help those I teach become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

One thing that is on my mind as the school year comes to an end is how to improve next year’s catechetical session. I reflect back on my experience this year working with a group of children going through the RCIA process, and evaluate how well this work has gone. What have I done to prepare my class to live as disciples of Jesus, and what improvements could I implement for my next group?

In the gospel of John, chapter 13, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He demonstrates service to others, deep compassion, and mercy with this gesture. In verses 14-15, Jesus tells the disciples, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” With this, Jesus shows us that our love for him must extend to service for others, in what we say and in what we do.

Forming young disciples is far more than instruction: It must also change their lives. We must help those we teach to come to a lived experience of Jesus’ new commandment, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” (John 13:34).

Pope Francis is a contemporary model of discipleship. In his first papal encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, the “Joy of the Gospel,” catechists will find a clear picture of what it means to live as a disciple in our time. In this apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis gives the example of Mary as the first disciple and model for us. Mary’s “interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization,” (288). Evangelii Gaudium closes with a beautiful prayer honoring Mary, challenging us to have the courage to “seek new paths….bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice, and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth…”

As summer begins and we begin to plan for the upcoming catechetical year, let’s reflect on the following questions:

  1. How does the gospel passage of the Washing of the Feet relate to my task as a catechist or teacher?
  2. How does Pope Francis’ life model discipleship? How can I incorporate this in my teaching?
  3. What areas of growth are needed in my role as a disciple? As a catechist or teacher?

Anne Campbell is a Senior Sales Representative for RCL Benziger.

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