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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories Religious Formation: What Do We Teach?

September and every year at this time, the relaxed summer routine is set aside and life grows busier. The rhythm of parish and community life picks up. This year is particularly striking. Our world is now more than 2 years into the Covid-19 pandemic. Our parishes and communities have experienced a time of limited contact and much reduced activity. More recently, thanks to vaccinations as well as the use of masks, tests and contact tracing we are beginning to see a light at the end of this long tunnel.

We now see some resumption of fuller parish activity. This shows up first in Eucharist that welcome more people back. But perhaps, most notable is the resumption of a fuller array of faith formation programs. A lively parish or faith community is more than the Sunday Eucharist. Especially significant is the level of ongoing faith formation for all member of every age.

Nurturing of faith is a concern not just for children or youth. It is in fact part of being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus no matter what our age or circumstances. As has often been said and as our Catholic Church asserts – religious formation is a life-long project for every Christian.

This formation is not the task or the call of a few. It is not limited to priests and pastoral workers. Nor is it only the task of catechists, facilitators or mentors. Sharing our faith is the call of the whole community. We are in this together and together we take responsibility to assist each other as disciples. It takes a community of faith to nurture and grow disciples for a lifetime.

All this formation for a lifetime – what is it we share? The heart of Christian faith is Jesus Christ. He is the core and center of our faith. Many things are part of our faith and helpful for living it. Among them are our scriptures, a history of doctrines, a body of moral teachings, the sacraments, even the Church itself. These are important, but they are not the core. The heart of our faith is Jesus Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 426 is very clear about this when it tells us: “At the heart of... [religious formation] we find a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father.” In that one statement from our Church’s catechism we find an expression of all that lies at the core of our faith. What does this mean for us, seeking to grow a dynamic, life-giving faith?

We believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus that we hear of in the Gospels. We are disciples of this Jesus who was born of Mary and whose message and mission took him throughout Galilee. It was this Jesus who taught his disciples and continues to teach us as his followers today.

His message announced the reign of God and taught that love was more than an emotion. It is what moves His mission and ours – to love all, every single person, no matter who they are. The love that he lived and taught is love in action. It is reaching out to those most vulnerable and in need. It is a reflection of God’s love that is unconditional. It reaches those who cannot reach us, the marginalized, the outcasts, those who have been left out or even excluded. It is a welcoming love for all. This is the Jesus who shows us the Way and that we see so often in the Gospels (e.g. Mk 9:30-37).

We also believe in Jesus, the Christ of faith, Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity. In him we have the promise of fullness of life, eternal life. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and we live in the hope of God’s promise to us all. By living faith we share this promise with all humanity.

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