The more time we spend with another person, the more we get to know them – their interests, hobbies, personality, humor, family or habits. Just like our relationships grow with time and intentionality, so too does our relationship with Christ. We have the great privilege of introducing Jesus Christ to our young people throughout the diocese. Our parishes and schools are continually partnering with parents to bring the life, teachings and message of Jesus into the lives of our youth where they can experience him in a personal relationship.
One of the many tools the parishes, schools and the diocese uses to monitor a student’s growth in coming to know Jesus is through the ACRE national assessment, which attempts to take a small portion of the student’s knowledge of Jesus, along with the teachings of the church, and place it into a larger context. This isn’t the only — nor should it be the only — assessment or evaluation tool for a religious education program or school, but it serves as one way in which to assess, strengthen and improve catechist formation, teacher training, evangelization, catechesis and discipleship.
The ACRE isn’t meant to be a comprehensive evaluation, but rather it provides us valuable information regarding the growth of our students in their relationship with Christ and his teachings, and identifying what can be improved in a parish or school, what could be clarified about Jesus, and how to continue to grow in relationship with him as disciples.
The objective of ACRE is to measure one’s knowledge of Christ, knowing that the more we really know someone, not just know about someone, the more we will yearn to grow in relationship with them. This is the essence of discipleship. Topics such as the creed, prayer, community life, morality, sacraments and liturgy, and missionary spirit are measured in a way that allows a parish or school to evaluate its own approach and methods in evangelizing and catechizing young people.
This assessment can prove to be a useful tool just like any evaluation can be. For instance, tools such as the ACT, SAT, employee performance evaluations, temperament/personality tools, and interviews can prove helpful in gaining an understanding of people or situations. That is why I ask that each parish and school administer the ACRE assessment in fifth, eighth and 11th grades — so that each institution or ministry can continually have a baseline to see what they are doing well and what they might need to improve. In March, I ask that all parishes and schools administer this assessment to their grade levels so that we can receive the results in a timely and useful fashion.
When we stop evaluating and asking questions, we often settle for the status quo and fail to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When we use tools like this in a positive way, the Spirit can inspire, move and prompt us to move forward in bringing more young people to Christ by new methods, ardor, and expressions. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Test everything; retain what is good” (1 Thes 5:21). What a hopeful journey we are on together — to continue improving the way we bring Jesus into the hearts of our youth! May we continue together as disciples on the way!