Monday Message, January 23, 2023

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The meetings of Bishop Caggiano with parish leadership began on Saturday. On a personal note, the idea that catechists haven’t heard about it (or EMHCs and Readers) is, to put it nicely, nonsense. Since the end of November, these invitations have been in this message, emailed directly from LEAD, directly from Outlook, in the Fairfield County Catholic, and sent to all parish leaders for you to share directly. So if your catechists or liturgical ministers haven’t heard, make sure they do please. No more passing the buck.

We have a Parish Leader Check In tomorrow. We’ll hear from a new team member on the JPII Fund team so you can learn of new grant opportunities.

We have been asked to share information about the Trinita Retreat Center in New Hartford, CT. Their retreat center is open year-round, has the ability for day functions or overnight retreats.  They not only host groups, but also have staff that facilitate confirmation retreats, youth group retreats, first communion retreats, leadership retreats, catechist retreats, and more.  They already have a couple of groups from the Bridgeport Diocese that have utilized them, but asked us to spread the word. Like them on facebook and visit their website.

You can learn more about new features in LEAD by joining Carmela (Zoom link) and her next open office hours on Wednesday at 2:00 pm.

Save the date. Ministry Day – Saturday, September 30th – All Saints School. Suggest workshop topics or presenters here.


Reimagining Faith Formation – The HOW, Continued

Welcome back to our series on faith formation. This week, we are diving into a second way we aid the young person’s personal relationship with Jesus – approaching it as a lifelong process vs. stages of study that conclude with Confirmation. How often do our Church leaders lament that young people leave after Confirmation? Perhaps Confirmation became a ransom paid by young people after being held captive in a program that did not engage the head and the heart. Surely, our young people deserve more.

Let us look at three ways we can transition to a lifelong faith formation process:

From Annual Registration to Fluid Formation

Every summer, many parishes announce that “registration is open” for religious education. However, if faith formation is life long, why do we constantly give people an excuse to leave?

This paradigm shift must include the practical. Why not create a system that accompanies the family through every life phase and sacramental preparation – Baptism, early childhood, Confession, Eucharist, adolescents, Confirmation, adulthood, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and even Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites?

To change the Church, perhaps we should look at some of our processes and finally ask the question, “Is this really the best we can do?”

From Confirmation as a Prize to a Passport

In the coming years, the age of Confirmation in the Diocese of Bridgeport will shift. Younger children will not have to wait until high school when it is clear they need the grace of the sacrament much earlier. If disaffiliation begins at age 13 (which it does, according to Going, Going Gone by St. Mary’s Press), then we must engage young people whilst they themselves are still engaged.

“But won’t they leave earlier?” you ask. The answer is yes, if the parish has done nothing to invite them to stay. What if, instead of graduating from religious education, the parish offered a plethora of opportunities to encounter the person of Christ in deeper, more meaningful ways? What if the passport to these opportunities started with Confirmation?

Bishop Caggiano has challenged all parishes to work together to offer opportunities for young people in middle school and high school. Some parishes are already ahead of their neighbors. Some have created teams while others have begun to ask for assistance. In the Bishop’s words, “We must engage on all fronts – from social to theological, from works of mercy to pilgrimages and retreats, we must create the reality in our parishes such that a first grader or second grader looks at the older children and says, with great pleading, ‘I cannot wait to be Confirmed, so I can be a part of that.’”

In truth, we must begin earlier than middle school to foster such encounters, but let us commit to walking before we run.

Young people do not necessarily feel that they are bound by the limits of a religion’s traditional edges. They take what they perceive to be true, just, and good, and integrate it into a wider worldview. They struggle to identify truth at an early age. The church must accompany that by creating a community that is welcoming, where young people are valued, heard, and involved.

When we turn formation for Confirmation into a two-year process, or even a one-year program, we cheapen the sacrament into a checklist. Confirmation can be part of the plan, but it cannot be the plan.

From Service to Works of Mercy

When we combine service hours with sacramental prep, we run the risk of having that service become a burden – one more thing on the to-do list before young people are released from their formation. By the very nature of our Baptism, we are all called to serve one another. Throughout the last generation, even the word, “service” has become associated more with what we have to do and less than what we are called to do.

Catechesis involves teaching through loving works of mercy. To be holy requires the giving of one’s love through the service of others.[1]  Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”[2]  The truth that Jesus spoke of is both the ultimate end and the way in which to reach it; the way of Christ requires action. At the time of the early Church, to follow Jesus was sometimes referred to as the ‘Way.’[3]

We must help parents and young people learn that to serve God, they must serve others, and by literally doing so through works of mercy – large and small – they can experience how relieving others of hardship in the name of Christ is mystagogical, resulting in both the children and the recipients of their good deeds being led into the Mystery of Christ.[4]

Imagine a Church where young people are eager to learn about their faith and serve others. Imagine a Church where parents are eager to teach their children about the love story that is our salvation. Envision a parish where this can happen because we work together, pray well, and dedicate ourselves to continuous formation that helps others encounter and know the person of Jesus.

This dream can become a reality!

Next week we will explore the WHO and what structures can help accomplish this new Catholic culture.

[1] David Regan, “Experience the Mystery: Pastoral Possibilities for Christian Mystagogy,” p. 133.

[2] John 14:6.

[3] Regan, “Experience the Mystery,” p. 129, 134.

[4] Regan,  p. 129, 135.