By Father John J. Ames

Special to The CS&T

Catechetical Sunday will be celebrated on Sept. 21. The theme for 2008 is “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” the same theme that Pope Benedict has chosen for the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

For most Catholics, the phrase “the Word of God” usually refers to Sacred Scripture, God’s inspired Word. However, the phrase has many meanings. The phrase also refers to: the pre-existent Word, the Second person of the Trinity; God’s Word at creation through whom everything that exists came into being; Jesus himself, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us; Church tradition which faithfully echoes the Word of God to every generation.

The Word of God is central to the public worship life of the Church. That is why God’s Word is proclaimed at every Eucharistic gathering, at every celebration of the sacraments and during the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Old Testament foreshadows the coming of Jesus, and the New Testament teaches how God’s universal plan of salvation has been fulfilled in Jesus. Through both the Eucharist and Scripture we come into intimate relationship with the risen Christ in our midst.

The Word of God is also essential to private spiritual life. In addition to revealing universal and eternal truths, Scripture is a way of conversing with God. “The Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two edged sword, and able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). For this reason, the Word of God in Scripture is core to our inspanidual prayer lives. Through Scripture, the living Word of God comes and speaks with us personally and intimately. Praying with the Scriptures should be a central part of our daily prayer.

The Word of God is given to the Church to be shared with others. The Church is sent on mission to teach the Word so that others might come to know the Truth. We are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth so that all might experience the fullness of life.

This process begins at home. Parents have a primary role in teaching their children about the Word of God. They are the most influential agents of catechesis for their children. Through word and example, they nurture both the physical and spiritual well being of their children. By their own commitment to the faith, parents provide a context where their children might be formed by the Word of God.

Under the guidance of their pastors, catechists assist parents in this important role. Deacons, religious sisters and brothers, Catholic school administrators and faculty, parish religious education personnel, youth ministers and campus ministers teach about Jesus, the Word made flesh. They promote a greater knowledge of the Word of God. They mine the riches of the Word of God contained in the Scriptures and teachings of the Catholic Church. They encourage a younger generation to develop a deeper love of Jesus and make a firm commitment to follow Him as members of the Church.

Catechetical Sunday marks the beginning of the catechetical year. During the catechetical year, we are invited to meditate on the fullness of the meaning of “the Word of God,” to reflect upon our own relationship with the living Word and to examine our role in bringing the Word of God to others. We are to explore ways in which the Word of God can have a more central place in our lives, families and parishes.

The Year of St. Paul is a special opportunity to study the writings of and about St. Paul that are contained in the Sacred Scriptures. The account of his dramatic conversion and the message contained in his letters are an inspiration for readers of all ages.

Catechetical Sunday is also an occasion to celebrate the vocation of catechist. We renew our gratitude for these faithful women and men who persevere in the labor of passing on the faith.

They are ambassadors of the Word of God in its fullness. They faithfully transmit the teachings of the Catholic Church, for she proclaims and embodies the fullness of the Good News of our salvation. They are tireless in engendering in their students faith in Jesus, hope in eternal life and love for God and others.

The Office for Catechetical Formation offers support to the catechists of the Archdiocese through a variety of programs. Courses of instruction, seminars and days of recollection promote their intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and personal growth.
In the past few years the office has collaborated with St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to develop the Catechetical Institute. The office is currently involved in research and development of a program to provide religious education to junior and senior high students.

Young people who desire to know more about their Catholic faith would be offered that opportunity at regional sites. The office is eager to assist pastors and parents who seek religious formation for young people after they have received the sacrament of confirmation.

Catechetical Sunday is an opportunity to offer encouragement to catechists. The vocation to be a catechist is challenging. They teach values and a lifestyle that is often in contrast with the secular culture. It would be easy to be discouraged by lack of immediate results. Catechists find strength by developing a deeper relationship with the Word of God in the Eucharist and Scripture.

Catechists find strength in the example of Mary, in whom the Word became incarnate. Like Mary, they are formed by the Word and become “Christ-bearers” to their students. We pray that their good work will bear abundant fruit.

Finally, on Catechetical Sunday we remember the duty and honor of all the baptized to witness to the Word of God in every aspect of our lives. All believers are to be catechists, those who echo the Word of God in our homes, places of work and occasions of leisure.

May we be faithful witnesses to the Word of God who created us, redeemed us, calls us, loves us, nourishes us and guides us on every step of our life’s journey.

Father John J. Ames, S.T.D., is Deputy Secretary for Catechetical Formation.