For a few weeks now, the "back to school" ads have been signaling the waning of summertime (for which I, a cold weather aficionado, am very grateful this year - apologies to you heat lovers out there!)
Our Catholic schools are revving up for another great year of serving our young folks and their families as communities of faith, knowledge and service, integrating the light, joy and hope of the Gospel into every nook and cranny of the schools' culture and curriculum. Students entrusted to our schools will enjoy the gift and privilege of growing as disciples of Jesus Christ even as they buckle down to their studies in English and math, social studies and science, language, music and art and so much more. The STREAM curriculum, highlighted this month in the Western New York Catholic newspaper, will continue to challenge and thrill students with ways of learning that my generation of students could never even have imagined.
We are truly blessed in the Diocese of Buffalo to have such excellent schools at elementary, secondary and higher education levels. My responsibility as bishop is to ensure that they are all true to their identity and mission as authentically Catholic schools. I believe our schools are doing a good job in that regard. Of course, we can always do better, grow stronger. Our reason for existing, after all, is to make disciples. Serious business.
As the schools open for another academic year, so do our parish programs of faith formation. Remember when we used to call parish catechesis "CCD" (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine)? That term has pretty much fallen out of use, and for a good reason. For most Catholics of a certain vintage (mine, for example, at age 70), CCD meant religious education from First Communion preparation up to Confirmation in the teen years. Period. Nothing much after that.
There are also many Catholics trying - or not - to live mature, adult Catholic lives in a complex world with a religious education that came to a screeching halt when they were confirmed. Not good. Not enough.
St. John Paul II of happy memory is remembered for many wonderful reasons. One of the most significant of those reasons is the emphasis, the priority he gave to the ongoing faith formation of adults. He went so far as to say that "the catechesis of adults ... is the principal form of catechesis, because it is addressed to persons who have the greatest responsibilities and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form." Adult catechesis promotes mature adult faith. There is the goal, challenge and opportunity.
In our diocese, we speak of lifelong faith formation. We are committed to handing on the faith with serious attention to the parish and family contexts. You will see this family accent growing ever more prominent in the months and years ahead.
Back to school (better, continuing formation) for all of us! As our young folks go back to school, let's the rest of us commit ourselves anew to ongoing catechesis in our faith - scripture, doctrine, moral teaching ... all of it. The resources abound: "Evangelii Gaudium," "Laudate Si," "Amoris Laetitia," the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, solid Catholic publications, diocesan and parish programs. (If your parish does not offer anything for adult faith formation, ask why?) In addition, there are many wonderful Catholic novelists to explore such as Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor and Jon Hassler - just to name a few. Quality "Catholic fiction" can heighten our sacramental perception that God's grace is mysteriously at work in many wonderful ways throughout our human experience.
I have a stack of books and journals always awaiting my attention. I need to grow in my understanding and living of my faith. Will you join me?