Many of the teens and young adults Dawn Burdick works with at St. Mary Parish regularly attend Mass, yet a number of them are surprised to learn that doing so is an integral part of their Catholic faith.
"They think, ‘I don’t need to go to church. I can go out to a field and find God there,’" said Burdick, director of youth ministry at the Canandaigua parish. "They’re right. God is everywhere, he is in a field, but when you think about what does it mean to be the Body of Christ, it’s more than just me and God."
Burdick frequently emphasizes the importance of participating in Mass and worshipping with a community of fellow believers, and this year she’s placing a renewed emphasis on catechesis in accordance with the parish’s comprehensive youth-ministry plan. Last fall she offered a six-week program on the Nicene Creed, and in January and February she offered another six-week installment of her Own Your Faith series.
"This time we’re focusing on the order of the Mass and what Eucharist means to each of us in our daily life," Burdick said.
St. Mary is just one of several area parishes to offer catechetical series this winter in order to help parishioners of all ages become more knowledgeable about their Catholic faith. Diocesan seminarian Peter Mottola offered a five-week series called Understanding the Mass at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva, where he helped parishioners understand the Mass and the new English translation of the Roman Missal. And Cris Wensel, pastoral associate and faith-formation director at Our Lady of the Lakes Parish, is hoping to help parishioners better understand their faith through her Catholicism 101 series.
Each month, Wensel holds similar sessions at three of the parish’s five churches, which are located in Penn Yan, Naples, Stanley, Prattsburgh and Rushville. The February session focused on what it means to be a Catholic in today’s world.
"It was a very good conversation. We just sort of started with the precepts of the church, not that they don’t know them, but the whole concept of how to live those precepts out in the world today," Wensel said.
The idea for Catholicism 101 grew out of Wensel’s own love of studying and sharing her faith as well as conversations she’d had with parents after they accompanied their children to sacramental-preparation classes. The parents enjoyed the classes because they learned so much they’d either never known or had forgotten, she said. Many of the participants in the February Catholicism 101 sessions, for example, were surprised to learn that their Sunday obligation to go to Mass is just that — an obligation.
"I think they know that but they don’t think about it," Wensel said.
In the March sessions, Wensel will explore ways Catholics can share their faith with others and will help parishioners understand that they’re called to evangelize.
"I think people just need to know that we’re responsible for doing this, just as we’re responsible for social justice and going to Mass. We are responsible for spreading the Gospel," Wensel said.
Evangelization is especially crucial now, at a time when Mass-attendance numbers are declining and many people are searching for some sort of deeper meaning in their lives, she added. Witnessing your faith can be a very powerful thing, Wensel said, but it’s not second nature to many Catholics. Many don’t feel secure enough in their knowledge of their faith to engage in conversations about it and articulate their beliefs, she said.
"Especially with evangelicals, (Catholics) are timid about sharing their faith with them because evangelicals seem so well-versed at Scripture and they seem to know a lot more about their faith. In reality I think (Catholics) know more than they think they know. They’re just not comfortable putting it in words," Wensel said.
Burdick hopes her Own Your Faith series also will help teens feel more comfortable with their faith, and better understand why they go to church and what happens during Mass. She chose the topics for both the fall and winter series months ago, and was thrilled when she learned that all diocesan preachers would focus on the order of the Mass in their homilies during the month of February.
"It was a happy coincidence. It fit right in with our plan, and the timing was perfect. It’s a great complement to the homilies they’re hearing on Sunday about the same topic," she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The next sessions of Wensel’s Catholicism 101 will be held March 6 from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. at St. Michael in Penn Yan, March 13 from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. at St. Januarius in Naples and March 27 at noon at St. Theresa in Stanley. For more information, contact Wensel at email@example.com.