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February 7, 2005
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Lenten Customs and Traditions
Lent is early this year, but I don’t have to tell you that. It probably seems you just pulled out the green cloths for your catechists and put away the Christmas wreaths. Now it’s time to dig out the purple and put away the “Alleluia.”
Ash Wednesday is just a day or two away. Ahead are 40 days of celebrating a season set aside for renewal and conversion—a season that brings with it its own traditional customs and devotions. For a new look at some of those old customs check out Fr. Lawrence Mick’s Catholic Update, “Lenten Customs: Baptism Is the Key.”
Fr. Mick begins his article with this sentence: “The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism.” He goes on to talk about everything from ashes to blessed palms, relating all of these traditions and devotions to the Sacrament of Baptism. For example, under “Scrutinies and Penance” Fr. Mick states:
Lent is the primary time for celebrating the sacrament of Penance, because Lent is the season for baptismal preparation and baptismal renewal. Early Christian teachers called this sacrament “second baptism,” because it is intended to enable us to start again to live the baptismal life in its fullness.
I also liked what Fr. Mick had to say about the “Stations of the Cross.” He tells us, “While this devotion certainly has a place in Lent, the overemphasis given to it in the past tended to distort the meaning of the season.…the impression was given that Lent was primarily about commemorating the passion and death of Christ.”
He goes on to remind us that the liturgy never focuses on the death of Christ without recalling his resurrection. He suggests always adding a 15th station to recall this central truth. He also talks about the importance of linking Jesus’ first-century suffering to the suffering in the world today. (If you would like to read the whole article and find out some other interesting information to share with the folks in your parish concerning Lenten traditions and Baptism, click here.)
If you are looking for additional Lenten resources for small group discussions, individual reading or additional content for your parish Web site, consider St. Anthony Messenger Press’s Web site, It offers quick and reliable information on just about any Catholic topic. Several Catholic theology professors have told me it is a favored Catholic reference site they suggest to their students. And it’s free.
When we decided to make “Baptism” the topic of February’s Faith Formation Update, I did what I usually do: I went to our Web site. I typed in “Baptism” and “Lent” in the top right corner (in the spot under “St. Anthony Help Me Find…Search for Articles”). Up popped a list of Catholic Updates, other newsletters and St. Anthony Messenger articles that discuss both topics. I chose the first on the list, and after one more click of my computer, Fr. Mick’s whole Update was on my screen.
To get my own personal copy of Fr. Mick’s March 2002 Catholic Update, I simply walked downstairs to our stockroom and pulled one from the shelf. If you would like to have this past issue resource in hand or order it for your catechists or parish, you can do that online, too. At the end of the article you are able to click to our online catalog and order it from there.
Happy Lent. May you find time to renew and re-energize in the busy, holy days ahead.
Baptism: Sacrament of Belonging
I remember when one of my sons told me he didn’t think he wanted to be Catholic anymore. He was 14 and preparing for Confirmation. I still remember the conversation we had.
I told him I was sorry, but he really didn’t have a choice about being Catholic. It was something he could deny, something he could live outside of, but being Catholic would always be a part of him. (I obviously remembered the “indelible mark” thing from my Baltimore Catechism.)
I told him it was sort of like being a Dunlap. He could move out, change his name and renounce his family, but he would always be a Dunlap. He was born into our family and would always be part of it. It is the same way with Baptism. He was reborn and became forever a part of the Christian family. And all of the above applies.
Baptism is the sacrament of belonging, and Lent is the perfect time to learn about and celebrate this aspect of the sacrament. Plan an intergenerational gathering. Make an extra effort to include the elders and singles of the parish who can form their own “family” groups at the gathering.
Use the intergenerational session, “Spirit of Belonging,” found in the “Leader’s Guide” of the God Is Calling series. This 90-minute gathering includes everything from the opening icebreaker to the closing ritual. Feel free to adapt it in any way you wish. (Click here to see the session.)
For the “Together Time Activity” you can either ask participants to bring T-shirts or do the activity using poster board. You can also substitute the activity offered in the Spirit With Us: Activity Book for families. (Click here for an activity that can be done using a handout.) You will also need to make copies of the story, “Spirit of Belonging” in the children’s book Spirit With Us: Faith Stories for Ages 11 to 14. (Click here for story.)
Consider ending the gathering with participants renewing their baptismal promises, or send families (and individuals) home with a copy of the promise to talk about during the remainder of Lent.
If you would like to find out more about the God Is Calling intergenerational catechetical series, click here.
Video Updates on Baptism
I am honored to be the Confirmation sponsor for two young teens in my life. One is my niece and goddaughter Brittany; the other is a neighbor and friend named Teresa. Both are in the 8th grade. Their parishes are each attempting to get Confirmation candidates and their sponsors to do some faith sharing as part of the preparation process.
Brittany’s immediate preparation for Confirmation is just beginning, and the first topic they covered in class was Baptism. I just finished e-mailing her my responses to several questions about Baptism. How appropriate that this month’s e-newsletter topic is also Baptism!
Baptism is the key to understanding Lent. Lent was originally a 40-day period of retreat, a final preparation for those who were preparing to be baptized at Easter. The Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars state that “the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices” (27).
Brittany’s questions reminded me of her Baptism back in 1990 as well as my own 40 years ago this April. The three questions she had me answer were:
1. How might your life be different if your family had not brought you to be baptized?
2. What are the responsibilities of being a baptized Catholic?
3. How do you meet those responsibilities?
None of these questions was easy to answer, but each of them forced me to reflect on my life in light of my Baptism. That’s what Lent is supposed to do for us. It’s a time for every one of us—preparing for Baptism at Easter, baptized in the last few years or baptized 40 (or more!) years ago—to reflect on the meaning of Baptism in our lives. How does/will Baptism make a difference? What do I need to do to be true to the responsibilities of Baptism? What do I need to change? What more can I do?
As we look to the new life of resurrection at Easter, let’s put some new or renewed life in ours as well. Challenge your parishioners to consider what needs to die within them in order to rise to new life with Christ at Easter. Baptism is a once-and-for-all-times event, but we need to grow into and live and renew our Baptism every day of our lives. Lent is a time to remember and refocus on who we are and what we are about.
Adult Baptism: Exploring Its Meaning is one of our best-selling Catholic Update Videos. Its four segments—story, witness, teaching and music video—present an exploration of the imagery and the meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism especially when celebrated in the initiation of adults. Click here (RealMedia | Windows Media) to see a video clip from the teaching segment of this video. While its most obvious use is with adults who are preparing to celebrate Baptism at Easter, it invites all adults to explore the meaning of their Baptism—whether that is a past or future event.
Baptism and You
Taking part in celebrations of Baptism is more than just a “one-time” thing. Yes, our own Baptism is something that happens just once—usually when we are too young to appreciate it. But year after year we have the opportunity to experience the Sacrament of Baptism as it is being celebrated with new members of our physical family—all those newly baptized babies—as well as with new members of our parish family—all those participants in the RCIA process. And each time we witness a Baptism, either formally (as a godparent or sponsor) or informally (as a family member or member of the parish assembly) we come to appreciate our own Baptism and its meaning.
St. Anthony Messenger Press publishes a nice little series of booklets to help us when we are taking a more formal part in the celebration of Baptism. This series, called “Handing on the Faith,” offers booklets especially written for the role that we are undertaking. Your Child’s Baptism gives parents wonderful insights into what it means to bring your child forward for Baptism in the Church and how you can begin to nurture the faith that you seek to give to your child. When You Are a Godparent is an equally enlightening booklet aimed at those people whom we ask to “stand up” for our children as we bring them forward for Baptism. This little booklet is full of helpful advice for making this role a meaningful part of our relationship with the newly baptized child, complete with stories from godparents and tips for appropriate gifts and practices for godparents.
For those who are journeying with older children, a helpful little book for parents and sponsors is When Your Child Becomes a Catholic. This book can help answer questions you may have about the process of Christian Initiation and how it fits in with the sacramental life of the Church. And for those of you lucky enough to journey through the RCIA with catechumens, When You Are an RCIA Sponsor is an excellent roadmap for your adventure to Easter Vigil and beyond.
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