The very life of the Church centers upon the Word of God. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the bishops of the United States have chosen "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" as the theme for this year's Catechetical Sunday celebration.
Each year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asks the Church in the United States to pause on the third Sunday in September to consider the catechetical ministry and its unique place in the Church's life and work.
This year, the bishops have chosen to set as the Catechetical Sunday theme the same as that chosen for the upcoming Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome during October. Coming together from the four corners of the earth, the representative bishops of the whole world will spend three weeks reflecting, praying and considering the place of sacred Scripture in our life as a community of faith.
The bishops will be discussing how the work of Scripture scholars touches the lives of Catholics and their understanding of the Old and New Testament. They will reflect on how the Bible is used in prayer and worship and in personal study, and also what particular approaches throughout the world are most successful in making Bible study effective in the lives of Catholics.
But when we speak of the "Word of God," it means more than the printed word contained in the Bible. While it does signify the sacred Scripture, its meaning is much deeper than that. It also refers to the sacred tradition of the Church that continues to echo God's Word from one generation to the next. Most important, it refers to Jesus Himself, the living Word of God revealed to us as the Second Person of the Trinity.
Among the very first words of the Gospel, according to John, we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn. 1:1). It is this Word of God on whom we focus the effort and energy of the catechetical ministry. This ministry of the Word should serve to draw those whom it seeks to serve into nothing less than a living relationship with Christ, the living Word of God.
It is appropriate, too, that this is also the year in which the Church has focused in a special way on Saint Paul, the most prolific of all the New Testament writers, whose mission and ministry should serve as an example of the power and energy with which catechists today are called to exercise their ministry.
Like Saint Paul, it is given to the Church and to catechists to be faithful in passing on God's Word by teaching completely and faithfully what the Church has received: the Apostolic tradition.
It is the catechetical task of the Church to take the Word received and make it understandable and relevant to our world by applying it faithfully to the situations of daily life. It falls to the catechist and the parish catechetical leader (PCL) to assist the pastor in each parish setting and to the principal and religion faculties in our Catholic schools to carry out this commission.
This ministry springs from Baptism "through which all believers come to share in the prophetic ministry of Christ and the evangelizing mission of the Church. Their commissioning by the Church is a participation in the divine calling to teach as Jesus did" (NDC 54, 8).
On Catechetical Sunday each year, we pause to express gratitude and to celebrate that commission in prayer by blessing and dedicating the generous men and women who serve in this ministry.
The archdiocesan Catechetical Office serves to assist the Church of Newark in carrying out the awesome responsibility of supporting catechists and their ministry. One of the principal tasks of the Catechetical Office is in the recruitment and formation of catechists. The office assists pastors in finding and hiring qualified professional PCLs to serve parishes as directors of religious education and pastoral associates for catechesis and supports catechetical leaders through regular programs of orientation and ongoing formation opportunities.
Throughout the year on a regular schedule, new catechetical leaders are gathered together for programs to introduce them to the catechetical structure and process as it is carried on in the archdiocese. Programs concerning catechist recruitment and formation, safety issues, the catechetical curriculum, sacramental preparation as well as, the use of media and the Internet and administration in catechesis are introduced. In addition, experienced catechetical leaders receive on-going formation and training programs to keep them up to date with new and helpful strategies.
One of the most important events each year presented by the Catechetical Office is the Catechist Convocation occurring this year on Saturday, Nov. 15 at Paramus Catholic Regional High School, 425 Paramus Rd. (see related article on page XX). Many workshops in both Spanish and English will be offered for catechists and parish catechetical leaders at the convocation. An opportunity to pray and enjoy fellowship together as catechists, see the latest materials from the various catechetical publishers and be recognized for their critically important contribution to the life of the Church will all be a part of this major event.
The Catechetical Office also presents many opportunities for adult faith formation and catechist certification and enrichment throughout the four counties of the archdiocese as well as convening regular meetings and programs throughout the year with catechetical leaders, like our annual "Gathering" event, which will be held Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Archdiocesan Center, 171 Clifton Ave., Newark.
Along with offering formational and professional programming, the Catechetical Office is called upon to collect data on the various catechetical programs offered in our parishes, oversee and provide resources for the selection of catechetical texts, materials and audiovisual resources, offer advice to pastors and PCLs who call for assistance and help parents and families with their concerns and questions.
Finally, the Catechetical Office represents the archdiocese with other diocesan and national catechetical leadership entities and organizations.
May the observance of Catechetical Sunday this year be an occasion for each Catholic to express gratitude for the Catechetical ministry and for the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church.
(Editor's note: Ronald L. Pihokker, M.A., Ed., is the director of the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of Newark.)