Monday, February 26, 2024

Conference Creates Time of Rest, Reflection for Diocese’s Religious Educators

With the current year of faith-based instruction at its midway point, the Diocese’s annual Catechetical Conference offered a timely opportunity for rest and rejuvenation for those who teach the faith in parish religious education programs.

More than 120 catechists attended the annual event, held at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg on Saturday, February 3. With the theme of “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened…” the conference focused on themes of rest, reflection and care for the catechists’ souls as they work tirelessly to bring their students to Christ.

“The competition is intense, as is the distraction from what we’re about in trying to teach young people, and it’s all the more reason why it’s important for the Church to support and help you do this work,” Bishop Timothy Senior said in his homily during morning Mass to begin the day.

“The ultimate goal is for our students to come to know Jesus Christ and to allow Him to be their primary catechist, to guide and form them in the faith. In order to lead them to Jesus, we all have to be about that relationship, and root all that we do in Him,” the bishop said.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Colette Lienhard, echoed the bishop’s sentiments at the start of her presentation, “Care for the Catechist’s Soul.”

“There is no greater act of charity than to lead others to Christ. That takes effort and dedication, and meeting challenges we’re up against in today’s society,” said Lienhard, founder and director of the Catholic Education Center, which offers catechist formation courses and resources for teachers.

Turning to the conference theme, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened…,” Lienhard said “catechists have the labor part down. We often wear a badge of honor for it. As catechists, we’re often doers by nature. We see a challenge, we see a need, we step up and we serve…. There’s prepping, lesson plans, classroom teaching, grading, parents to connect with. And many of us hold jobs outside of serving the Church, as well as having families to care for.”

“But do we ever want to admit that we’re burdened?” Lienhard asked.

Tasked with the immense responsibility of leading students to Christ, catechists can often feel urgent in wanting to teach them everything about the faith, immediately and at once. That leads to feeling burdened, Lienhard said.

“Look at the theme of this conference; the passage is for you. You are called to tirelessly labor and share the faith. It means that you will likely be burdened, persecuted, called names and made to feel bad,” she said.

“But that’s not the end of the passage,” Lienhard advised. “The rest of the verse is, ‘and I will give you rest.’”

She encouraged the catechists to make time for rest in Jesus – through prayer, meditation, reading, poetry, or continued formation. “Jesus’ promise of rest is more than just sleep or relaxation, it’s something that unites us with Himself,” she said.

The secret to our labor is that love makes all things possible, Lienhard said.

“Simple things, when done as an act of prayer and an act of love, have great value. Love does make all things possible when we live our daily lives through Christ,” she said. “In our lessons, if we teach with love, you will tirelessly give your best to your students, and your students will give their best to you. Your students will come to know Christ and encounter his love for them through you, and in this way you’re sharing the faith.”

Workshops on Wonder, Humanity and Rest

Throughout the remainder of the conference, a series of presentations on wonder, the human person and the Sabbath offered continued reflection for catechists as they heard from fellow religious educators.

Michael Creavey, a Theology teacher at Trinity High School in Camp Hill and a YouTube podcaster for the show, “The Gracious Guest,” celebrated the act of wondering and how it directs us to a deeper understanding of creation.

Openness to wonder is good for our souls, and a window for students to understand that we are part of a sacramental creation where God makes his presence accessible to us, Creavey said in his presentation, “Don’t Forget to Wonder.”

“We are in a spiritual warfare right now, and to even propose the Gospel to our students today is nothing short of a completely antithetical world view to the one they are inundated by 99 percent of the time,” he remarked. “Most of the influencers they follow religiously just don’t see reality the way it really is, or they want it to be something other than what it really is. Encourage your students to wonder, to be amazed, at what God has given us.”

Kathleen Alton, current principal of Sacred Heart School in Lancaster and a former Theology teacher and department chair at Lancaster Catholic High School, examined the first chapters of Genesis and St. John Paul II’s teaching on the Theology of the Body in her presentation, “Catholic Anthropology: The Full Story of the Human Person.”

Alton remarked that heresies – such as those that see the body as bad, or as something to be manipulated – cloud the correct understanding of the human person.

“St. John Paul II said we need an adequate anthropology, and he set out to tell the full story of who we are as men and women created in God’s image,” Alton said. “Getting the human person right is the foundation of all morality.”

“God created us out of love, to love, for love,” she said.

Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, closed the conference with her presentation, “Keeping the Sabbath Holy.” In her talk, the Diocese’s wide-area network coordinator, Director of Formation for Wives in the Diaconate Program and columnist for The Witness stressed the importance of rest – not only on the Sabbath, but every day.

“Our Sabbath day is the sign of the covenant that God has made with all of Creation,” she said. “Sunday should be a day of Sabbath, but every single day we should also take some Sabbath time, some extra time, to focus on who God is in our life. That’s the meaning of Sabbath rest…. We should understand that even our time is not ours. God is hungering for us, and the Sabbath rest – on Sunday and every day – is a time for us to worship and to love Him.”

The annual Catechetical Conference, presented by the Diocesan Office of Religious Education and Catechesis, also included the blessing of throats for the Feast of St. Blaise, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Penance, time for individual prayer in the chapel, lunch and vendors. The next Catechetical Conference is set for September 28, 2024.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

- Advertisement -spot_img

Submission Deadline

The deadline for submissions to the biweekly Notebook/Parish Obituaries listing is every other Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Please refer to the Publication Schedule for edition dates and deadlines.

Other News