Catechetical Sunday 2017: 'Living as Missionary Disciples'

This fall, tens of thousands of children, young people, and adults in the archdiocese will resume participation in faith formation in their local parishes. Faith formation refers to the lifelong process of continually growing closer to the person of Jesus Christ and living as his missionary disciple. It includes religious education, youth ministry, young adult ministry, adult faith formation, small group discipleship, faith sharing groups, Bible study, and more.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has designated Sept. 17 as Catechetical Sunday, a day on which catechists involved in all types of faith formation throughout the archdiocese and the nation are called to be commissioned for the important work of forming others in the faith. The theme for this year's Catechetical Sunday is "Living as Missionary Disciples," in keeping with the new document with that name from the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

Catechists are called to be missionary disciples and help those they are catechizing to become missionary disciples. It is vital that catechists continually pursue a strong relationship with our Lord and that they actively help others to do the same. Pope Francis reminds us that the faithful are called to give witness to the joy that their relationship with Jesus brings them and to share that joy with others.

One task of every catechist is to determine how those that he or she is catechizing understand their relationships with Jesus and to help those relationships to flourish. Sherry Weddell, on page 54 of her book "Forming Intentional Disciples," encourages us to consider three spiritual journeys: 1. the journey of active practice (attending Mass, participating in parish life), 2. the journey through the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), and 3. the personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ.

It is important that catechists not assume the status of someone's relationship with Christ based on their participation in the other spiritual journeys. Many participating in catechesis may not yet know that a lived relationship with Jesus Christ is possible.

Sister Pat Boyle wrote in this space recently about the method of formation "Living as Missionary Disciples" describes: encounter, accompany, community, send. This method is the way in which Jesus formed disciples himself and is designed to foster participation in all three types of spiritual journey. It is designed to form disciples of Jesus Christ who are also able to be sent out to help form other disciples -- to form missionary disciples.

Catechists are tasked with following this method by: providing opportunities for others to encounter Jesus; accompanying them in order to demonstrate through their own lives how to live out a response to an encounter with Jesus; providing authentic Christian community for those they help form as disciples; and sending those disciples forth to embrace their baptismal call to become missionary disciples.

Encounter is the first step. Evangelization -- proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ -- must precede catechesis and be interwoven with it. In his Apostolic Exhortation "Catechesi Tradendae" ("On Catechesis In Our Time"), Pope St. John Paul II wrote that, "there is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization ... catechesis is one of these moments -- a very remarkable one -- in the whole process of evangelization" (18).

The process of helping someone become a missionary disciple must begin with creating an opportunity for him or her to meet and develop a relationship with Jesus that becomes the most important relationship in that person's life. The building of a relationship of trust between persons, authentic encounter with the catechist, helps foster a fruitful encounter with Christ.

We catechists are called to renew our own encounter with Jesus through prayer, study, and regular reception of the sacraments. Then we share something of our own relationship with Jesus with others to bring others to encounter him. In so doing, we hope to foster in others a desire for lifelong faith formation, ongoing catechesis, so that we might all grow in our discipleship and go out to fulfill Jesus' commission to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). When we follow this path, described further in the new USCCB document, we are "living as missionary disciples."