Families of disciples

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Bishop Ricken

Recently, I had the privilege of offering our September Jubilee Mass for our catechists and RCIA leaders.  We are blessed to have so many wonderful people who are dedicated to sharing the faith and it was an honor to be with them.

This Mass coincided with Catechetical Sunday, an annual celebration that blesses and recognizes the teachers of our faith. Catechetical Sunday also serves as the unofficial kickoff to our parish religious education programs. Our religious education programs are great assets to our diocese, as they help our young people and their families encounter Christ and grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus and the Catholic Church.

Religious education and Catholic schools are part of the new Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team. The naming of this team speaks to our mission of fostering households and communities of discipleship that will help people to discover Jesus, follow Jesus, worship Jesus, and share Jesus with others.

In order to fulfill this mission, I have asked the leaders of the Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team to evaluate our current religious education programs and identify ways that we can better help our families grow as disciples of Christ. In particular, I want to ensure that the ways we minister to families in our parishes embraces people’s hearts and helps them grow in friendship with Jesus.

One exciting development in this area is a greater emphasis on family-based ministry. For years, religious education has focused on children and offered little to parents, despite the fact that the church has long recognized parents as the first teachers of the faith. We know that the most effective place to form missionary disciples is in the home, yet too often we have not provided parents with the resources and guidance they need to grow in relationship with Christ and help their children do the same.

So we have begun to ask ourselves a critical question: How do we help parents discover, follow and worship Jesus themselves, so that they can then share Jesus with their children?

To answer this question, some of our parishes are participating in a pilot of new models for religious education. These include family-based programming, where children, parents and even grandparents can attend together. These family-equipping approaches typically involve family activities as well as age-specific breakout groups.

Other parish leaders have made it a point to go out and conduct home visits with families. This simple act of reaching out is a way that our ministers show a commitment to meet people where they are, rather than always asking them to come to us.

Still, others have developed resources for parents that help them build on the ideas that their children are learning in the religious education programs. These resources could be strategies to help families pray together, suggestions for making works of mercy a regular part of family life, or questions that help connect the Sunday Gospel readings to the practical situations that families face every day.

As I hear about these approaches, I am inspired by the creativity and passion our parish leaders bring to this work. Their talents give me great hope that, with the Holy Spirit as our guide, we will continue to make progress toward our mission.

At the same time, we need your assistance. In particular, we need to know how we can best serve you. How can we help you and your families grow closer to Christ? How can we help you navigate the many difficulties that parents and children face in the world today? How can we help you become families of disciples? I would invite you to reach out to your parish staff or our diocesan offices to help us learn the best ways to serve you.

Finally, please join me in praying for our catechists and for all the families of the diocese. May we be inspired by the example of the Holy Family and guided by the Holy Spirit to become families of disciples!