VICTOR — "This is a time for action, and my friends, the catechetical ministry is precisely the action the Lord is asking from the whole church."
That was the rousing call to action that Bishop Frank Caggiano issued to the nearly 200 catechists, priests and parish staff members gathered Jan. 23 at St. Patrick Church. Auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Caggiano is one of the primary authors of "The Catechetical Leader in the Third Millennium," a document written by New York state’s bishops in collaboration with the state’s Council of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education and promulgated in September 2012. Bishop Caggiano was invited to the Diocese of Rochester to help local catechetical leaders gain a deeper understanding of the document and implement it in their own parishes, said Maribeth Mancini, director of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis.
"He’s an articulate messenger of something we all need to hear. We are engaging in a critical mission that is important to the life of the church and the life of the community," Mancini said.
"The Catechetical Leader in the Third Millenium" outlines evangelization, the changing parish landscape, the family, cultural realities and technology as five areas in which catechetical leaders require proficiency. These areas, each with their own challenges, are currents in the life of the church, but there are cross-currents powering all of these, Bishop Caggiano said.
The first of these cross-currents, he said, is the fact that many Catholics have a hard time articulating exactly what it means to be Catholic or answering the question, "What is the truth?" Second, our society no longer holds common values the way it used to, and institutions created to uphold and further those values are weakening, leaving many people feeling homeless. And third, Bishop Caggiano said, many people today have a strong sense of entitlement or a me-first mentality. Some identify as spiritual but not religious because it is easy to be spiritual and have a personal relationship with God, but more difficult to be religious and have to maintain relationships with other people as well, he said.
Although these cross-currents at times may seem to threaten to overturn the ship of the Catholic church, catechists need not fear, Bishop Caggiano said.
"We’re not the first generation in the life of the church to meet these challenges. Think of the early church. It was a crime to be Christian, and the punishment was death," he said. "And yet, the largest period of the church’s growth was precisely in that age."
The church’s early leaders looked these challenges squarely in the eye and rose to them, he continued. They sang even as they were being martyred, and they provoked a materialistic, secular, self-centered, pagan world to ask what the Christians had that the rest of the world didn’t.
"It’s not a what. It’s a who, and the answer is Jesus Christ the Lord," Bishop Caggiano said. "And as they did, so will we do."
And catechists are not alone, he added. They have been chosen to lead the catechetical ministry, but every single baptized person shares in some sense in the catechetical ministry, which is about encountering the "truth with a capital T" and inviting others to encounter that truth as well, Bishop Caggiano said.
"The truth with a capital T is a living person in the name of Jesus," he said. "Catechesis provides the answer to the first great challenge. Truth is someone waiting to love you."
That leads into the second cross-current, which leaves people feeling homeless. Love can combat this sense of homelessness, and Jesus charged his disciples to love everyone, even when it was difficult, Bishop Caggiano said.
"The third cross-current evaporates when we address the first two, because if you and I have met the Lord Jesus and we love him and continue to fall in love with him and allow him to lead us to the truth … that way of life that is all about me is a waste of my time," he said.
It’s important for catechists to always work at deepening their own relationships with Jesus. A catechist who knows every skill in the book but doesn’t have a deep relationship with Jesus won’t achieve anything of lasting value, he said.
Bishop Caggiano’s talk was very inspiring, noted Rose Bennett, an adult faith-formation director from the Catholic parishes in Elmira.
"One thing that he said that really caught me was about making the person more important than the program," Bennett said.
It’s easy for catechetical leaders to try to fit people into existing programs, but instead they should be trying to adapt the programs to fit the individuals, she said. One way she said she’s attempting to do this is by developing more programs for people with special needs.