Forming Catholic faith to live in faith

September 9, 2014

HOUSTON — As Catholic Christians, we are taught that the preparation and celebration of the Sacraments are an important and privileged encounter with God's grace. We believe that our Christian lives are a lifelong journey to the Father, and in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston's Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, which is supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), provides support for sacramental catechesis in the areas of children's catechumenate, Infant Baptism, First Reconciliation and Penance, First Eucharist, and Adult Confirmation.

"As part of the efforts of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, our work in sacramental preparation involves the ongoing formation, training and support of Parish Catechetical Leaders and Catechists involved in sacramental formation teams," said Juan Moreno, associate director of the Ministry of Sacramental Preparation. "This is a very important ministry for the faithful in our Archdiocese, since these catechists are tasked with leading people to an encounter with Christ in the Sacraments." 

Moreno said the Adult Confirmation process has been updated recently after consulting with pastors, parish catechetical leaders, and with the help of an educational consultant. 

"The new process aims to be evangelizing in nature, Christocentric in focus, infused with Scripture and more closely based on the Rite of Confirmation," Moreno said. "We piloted the process last spring, and will start training parishes on the new process very soon." 

The Church's focus is to make the faith come alive so that each person gradually enters into intimacy with Christ, according to Janet Hafernik, the director of Religious Education at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Houston. She has been involved with sacramental preparation for more than 30 years, Hafernik believes the role of the catechist is not only about imparting information about Christ and the Church, but helping parishioners and students to be in relationship with the living God.

"We want them to not only know about Christ, but to know Him," she said. "We want them to know that apart from God, life does not make sense and only makes sense when we walk in harmony with God who created us. As someone once said, without God, we are no more than actors in a play."

Hafernik said the Sacraments bring us into that living relationship with the Trinity. They mark us with the identity of Christ, as part of the family of the Kingdom of God. They keep us nourished by feeding our souls, as well as heal and restore our relationship with our Father and each other.

Since we are living in a time-driven culture, a major challenge that most parishes face is finding enough catechists to serve the growing number of Catholics that enter the Church each year. 

"I am convinced there are many talented parishioners who go untapped, and we must do a better job of tapping into these rich gifts given by God to help them share them with others," Hafernik said.

She said that one of the most important catechists are parents, which the Church believes are the primary educators of their children. She believes faith must be lived in the home if we want children to stay Catholic.

"What is important to mom and dad will be important to the child, who needs to see his or her parents in relationship with Jesus," Hafernik said. "This is the time to motivate parents to make prayer time intentional, to see it as our lifeline to heaven and a necessity in successfully raising our children. An important part of the marriage covenant also means helping each other get to heaven."

Hafernik has seen many parents come to the Church for sacramental preparation for their children, but they may not be catechized themselves or attend Mass on a regular basis. Hafernik believes Church educators are beginning to realize this and are attempting to evangelize parents to keep the youth active in their faith. 

One way is to reach out to parents during sacramental preparation for their children when educators have a captured audience. 

Hafernik said they have only a few hours to light a spark and challenge parents to participate actively in their children's faith formation, as well as their own. She has seen parents grow closer to God as they learn working through their children.

"Especially for our Baptismal classes, which should not only be informational, but about faith building formation, sharing, witnessing, small group discussion, as well as giving parents some easy, effective tools, such as great Catholic websites and Bible verse finders," Hafernik said. "The classes should motivate parents and have them think about important questions, such as, what does it really mean for me, as a parent, to reject Satan on behalf of my child? What does it mean on a practical level?"

She said these efforts have led to in-depth discussions with parents and have helped move them beyond living on the surface of life. This is also a time to challenge parents to begin praying together as a family, even when the child is still in the womb.

At the Archdiocesan level, the Ministry of Sacramental Preparation has evolved to meet the changes in society.

"The Church recognizes the primacy of adult catechesis, and so we honor parents as first catechists by offering training and resources to form not just children, but parents as well," Moreno said. "The Church in recent times has called for a new evangelization, and our ministry has responded by forming catechists adept in offering an evangelizing catechesis." 

Ultimately, when it comes to evangelizing our youth, parents, and others who need to know Christ, it is up to every Catholic to be a catechist by example, word and deed.

"Whether you are a parent, catechist or parishioner, there is nothing more worthy of your time than using the gift of yourself to lead someone else into relationship with Jesus," Hafernik said. "The world is dying for lack of Christ, which is evident in what we are seeing happening around the world to our brothers and sisters who refuse to deny their Catholic faith. Never has our mission been so great, our time, perhaps, so short, and the need for our love to be inexhaustible."

In short, she believes it is a great time to be Catholic.