By SUZANNE HAUGH Special to the Bulletin | Published August 29, 2013
ATLANTA—Embracing more of the faith through study begins anew in every parish on Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 15. Amy Daniels, the director of the Office of Formation and Discipleship in the Atlanta Archdiocese, spoke at the beginning of this important milestone in parish life about the vital importance of lifelong dedication to growing in the Catholic faith.
What should Catholics know about the importance of faith formation?
Our faith is about a person. Our faith is about God becoming man—Jesus Christ—in order to teach us in a tangible, fleshy, life-giving way that God, who created us, loves each of us dearly. Faith is not a feeling. Faith is not a checklist of dos and don’ts. Faith is a free gift offered to all—a gift of being able to trust that Jesus’ love for us remains, even when we disappoint ourselves, or when others disappoint or hurt us, which happens all the time, of course, people being people. Jesus means “God saves.” Jesus is real, and we can know him intimately. Religious education is only relevant once one has encountered Jesus Christ.
Is it true that people who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s did not receive a solid education in Catholic social teaching?
I do not believe this can be true across the board. Catholic social teachings have not changed. Maybe the question is: why aren’t Catholics aware of Catholic social teachings, or why aren’t they living out an awareness of Catholic social teaching? Again, I think in order for religious education to have meaning or take root that education has to follow a personal encounter with Jesus. For example, let’s assume an education in Catholic social teaching was delivered. Without a witness of the teachings lived out, without a personal experience of these principles, there is little chance of that education becoming part of my Catholic identity.
There were a tremendous number of changes in every aspect of life in the United States in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Not all of the changes were negative. But in these decades, and since, we know that the family unit has suffered mortal blows. It is a great challenge to integrate the sacredness of the “life and the dignity of each person,” (one theme of Catholic social teaching), when respect for one another is absent in the home. It is a tremendous challenge to integrate “care for God’s creation” or the “call to family, community, and participation” (two other themes) when radical individualism and “I’ve-got-mine-now-you-get-yours” is the attitude of the neighborhood. It is also difficult to integrate “solidarity”(a fourth theme) if one has never ventured away from the comfort of the United States. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, “When a people become comfortable, spirituality dies.”
What can adults do if they did not get a good catechetical foundation?
There are great resources available today. Many are free or low cost. One I really like is “Read the Catechism in a Year”—powered by Flocknotes.com and featuring the YOUCAT (Catholic Catechism for Youth). Each day, I receive in my inbox a brief note about some part of the Catechism. It’s easy reading and makes the connection to today’s world.
There are excellent free resources available through Busted Halo.com, designed for young adults. There is also a Video Catechism for Teens. I am not a teen or a young adult, but personally I find these creations engaging and educational. “Pillars of Catholicism” is a free, 13-part, online “crash” course in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith produced by John Paul the Great Catholic University. There are comprehensive online programs, too.
I also like the Catholic Answer Bible. It includes feature articles among its pages that highlight particular aspects of our faith—the why of a Catholic teaching or practice and where it is referenced in Scripture. It is a good resource for the home. Another great resource for the home is “Faith Charts: Catholicism at a Glance” and “Faith Charts: The Bible at a Glance,” and others in this series.
In addition, there is the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults that is very accessible and includes small group discussion questions as well as a companion journal. I encourage adults to check out the formation opportunities at your parish. Adults learn best when new knowledge is combined with an opportunity for faith sharing. Connecting with others in your parish is part of growing in the faith and learning how to support one another.
It is a blessing that there are many wonderful resources available today—too many to name. My best recommendation is: never hesitate to say to your child, or to a friend who asks a question about our faith: “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” A life of faith is a journey—to encounter Christ and follow Him who knew you and loved you before you were born!
What are the goals for the Office of Formation and Discipleship?
The Office of Formation and Discipleship is an archdiocesan office dedicated to equipping pastors and their leaders with the support, training, and resources necessary to fulfill the pastoral mission of catechizing and evangelizing their faithful, ever conscious of the diverse needs of each parish.
The OFD is a service office. We exist solely to assist the pastors in loving their people and in showing that the Church loves them and wants the best for them. The ministries we serve are: religious education and sacramental prep for children, youth, young adults, adult faith formation, marriage, family life, and pastoral care.
Our overarching goal has been to gain the trust of pastors and of their leaders whom we serve. The number one task here is to identify and build relationship with the parish leaders who are involved in each of the ministry areas. This is a very large task—yet enormously fulfilling as our team members partner with these parish leaders.
Our specific goals are to: resource with leaders with training processes, formation models, national speaker opportunities, suggested strategies, practices, and tools for ministry; support leaders through training, consultant services, collaboration and conferences; communicate opportunities for the development of leaders, diocesan initiatives, guidelines, and best practices among deaneries, the archdiocese and the nation; and connect these leaders through coordinated networking, regional leader and ministry groups, and through the use of the Internet and social media.
What are you most happy about?
I’m most happy about the team of experienced, joyful, service-focused staff who comprise the Office of Formation and Discipleship team.
In terms of initiatives, we are very pleased about the Certificate in Pastoral Theology program in Spanish that OFD piloted in early 2012. Students from throughout the archdiocese are participating in a three-year online certificate program in Spanish through a partnership we formed with the University of Dallas’ School of Ministry. The students were nominated by their pastors and are being formed for service through their studies and through practical application projects. We began with 73 students and will begin the second semester with 70—an unheard-of retention rate. (We entrusted the initiative to the Blessed Virgin Mary!) We developed a system of regional support designed to keep the students encouraged and to provide for a critical personal connection among the students.
Another initiative we are very pleased about is our first Rural Parish Catechetical Conference held this past spring. We had a terrific response. The connections made with the pastors and leaders of these parishes were important. The needs are so very different from parish to parish. This initiative will become an annual effort.
What is your continuing focus?
As we identify the leaders and build relationships, our continuing focus is to build the database of leaders in all ministry areas and to learn the unique needs of the parish leaders so that our service and support match actual needs.