Monday, July 26, 2021

Catholic Institute to Teachers, Catechists: Use the Sacraments to Evangelize Students

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Suzanne Hammons
Suzanne Hammons is the editor of the Voice of the Southwest and the media coordinator for the Diocese of Gallup. A graduate of Benedictine College in Kansas, she joined the Diocesan staff in 2012.

For the 2018 Annual Diocesan catechetical conference, teachers and catechists from across the Diocese focused on the theme of “Sacraments”, presented by the Sophia Institute.

According to lecturer James Pauley, a focus on the Sacraments allowed the presenters to delve deeply into a topic that sits at the heart of Catholic teaching.

Pauley teaches at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the Sophia Institute brings him in for lectures and workshops they host throughout the country.

“I was talking about the importance of people who are receiving the sacraments actually coming to know the Lord, and align themselves with his teaching. So it’s about being sacramentalized but also evangelized, and becoming a disciple of his,” Pauley said.

Pauley believes an full appreciation of the Sacraments is essential not only to those who are preparing to receive them, but for students in Catholic schools as well.

“Because anyone teaching in a Catholic school – the primary aim and objective is that we’re inviting people into life in Christ. And it’s so hard today to do that. It’s so challenging today. And I’m just a big believer that we need supernatural grace. We need God’s help if we’re gonna be fruitful and effective with this. And the only way that really happens is through the Sacraments – it’s the vine and the branches.”

James Pauley speaks to diocesan teachers and religious educators.

He also emphasized how every aspect of Catholicism is tied back to a specific Sacrament, and how to evangelize students through even the simplest gestures.

“In the first workshop, I talked about two different way to understand the sacraments that I think make all the difference. The first is understanding sacramental language, that when we are at Mass, or participating in any Sacrament, then the words and the gestures and the signs and the symbols, all are supposed to be representing our interior love and desire for God. So when we genuflect, that can be a prayer, and that can change our life, if we’re not just following into a hollow ritualism, but if we’re investing ourselves into those prayers. That’s how God treats us as well, because he gives himself to us through bread and wine and water and oil and those sorts of things.”

The Voice also got in a quick interview with Deacon Todd Church, who oversees religious education throughout the whole Diocese.

Voice of the Southwest: What was the significance of having the Sophia Institute?

Deacon Church: For one thing, they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at putting together catechetical materials. And the thing I really like about it is how very Catholic they are. They also have great presenters. And it’s a good opportunity for catechists and DREs to get together, to see each other, talk to each other, to feel a part of that same community. And Sophia has been able to interact.

The theme was on the Sacraments this year, and so they talked about the sacraments, not just so that our teachers and catechists would understand it, but so that they could take that, build on it, and return it to the students they have.

What Dr. Pauley did was talk about the theology of the sacraments of initiation, and he did it using artwork. And it was really good because he had them comparing different depictions of the same event, like the crucifixion and the calling of Matthew, getting them to look at what these are depicting to kind of help us understand a little better where these sacraments come from – where we find these sacraments in sacred scripture and in Christ’s teachings.

Deacon Todd Church (left), James Pauley, and Fr. Isaac Ogba (superintendent of Catholic Schools)

Can you define – what does “catechesis” mean?

The word catechesis itself means “to echo”. And what we echo is Jesus Christ. That is our job as catechists, is to echo Jesus Christ – it’s not Deacon Todd’s teachings, it’s not so-and-so’s teachings – it’s the teachings of Christ.

Why is it important for teachers?

Because often teachers have to act as catechists. They are in the classroom with these kids – and we’re talking about teachers in Catholic schools. A kid isn’t just going to wait and ask their religion teacher a question. But it’s also important for developing our own faith, you know? The more we learn, the easier it is for us to be drawn in.

One of the themes that was running through this seminar was that kids are getting catechized, but a lot of the time they’re not getting evangelized. One of the things we’re hoping to do is help these teachers and these catechists understand and know their faith better so they’re not just catechizing but evangelizing as well.

Can you define the difference there?

Well, catechizing is knowing, “okay, these are the seven sacraments”, “these are the 10 Commandments” and “these are the prayers that we pray during the rosary”. That’s catechesis. Evangelization is drawing them into this relationship with Christ, it’s drawing them through the sacraments, because through the sacraments we meet Jesus. It’s through the sacraments we meet the Holy Spirit. So to evangelize means to bring them into a relationship with Christ.

The thing is, we can catechize them all we want, but if we can’t get them to fall in love with Jesus, then we’re not doing our job, and they’re just gonna walk away when they’re done. And what we want to do is keep them in their faith as long as we possibly can.


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