As we begin, the new academic year we also look forward a new start to Sunday School, also called Good News Classes. It’s a constant challenge to bring the Joy of the Gospel to children who have by nature a perfect disposition to receive the Word of God yet at the same time they are diverted by the many attractions of the world. Therefore, Catechesis today becomes more relevant and demanding in a world searching for meaning and stability.
Pope Francis draws us to the fundamental bedrock of Catechesis – the Kerygma in his exhortation Evangelli Gaudium by saying:
Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you (no.164).
The Church as a family has the task to pass on this Kerygma, which is in its memory. This task was given by Christ in his command—‘to make disciples’ of all nations and to teach them to observe all that He had commanded (Mt 28:19; Cf. Catechesi tradendae 1-2). The name of catechesis was given to the whole of the efforts within the Church to make disciples. In a time when formal education was at a premium the Church taught the mysteries of the faith through the stained-glass windows of Cathedrals.
Systematic religious formation was practiced even before the coming of Christ when the Jews remembered their glorious past through Catechesis. Moses exhorted the Israelites to “Put these words in your hearts and minds … teach your children that they might meditate on them, when you’ll sit in your house, and walk on the way, and lie down to rest.” (Dt 11:19)
This catechetical tradition of Israel was fulfilled and continued in the early Church as the New Israel. St. Luke says that, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).”
Sunday School Catechesis for children has naturally flowed out from such a mandate. The rationale behind catechesis is aimed at bringing Christians to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. Also, it is aimed at making them prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls them to account for the hope that is in them (Catechesi tradendae 20-22).
Unfortunately, today in a time of stiff competition, consumerism, media, technology and many other issues, parents have underestimated and diminished the importance of Catechesis. Some parents being unaware of their duties as first teachers and models of faith within their homes relinquish their responsibility to the Church.
The Church teaches that, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery-the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the ‘material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones” (CCC 2223).
The parish community completes the good work that has begun by the parents in nourishing and forming the faith of their children. The Catechism says, “Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents” (CCC 2226).
Pope Francis reminds us that the Church is God’s own family. All of us have a moral obligation to teach and guide the little ones. As we begin the new academic year, let us make concerted efforts to send our children to Sunday school. We also welcome new catechists who are inclined to bring the light and Joy of the gospel to all children of our parish. May you have a fruitful new academic year.
By Fr. Anthony Alphonso