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April 5, 2007
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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Catechesis for the Easter Season
Only a few more days and we celebrate Easter, the greatest feast day of the Christian year. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Easter is not just one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’…” (CCC, #1169) Following the grand day itself, we have the Easter season, 50 days to celebrate and reflect on what the Easter event means to us. How do you celebrate the Easter season in your parish?
Most of us have all sorts of good ideas about how to evangelize and catechize for Lent. We follow the directive of the General Directory for Catechesis very well, using the baptismal catechesis as an inspirational model for our catechesis (GDC, #90). We incorporate the biblical and liturgical symbols (purple is everywhere). We include the larger community through the celebration of the various rites of the RCIA. Special educational or devotional offerings also include the whole parish and offer a comprehensiveness that supports the integrity of formation (GDC, #91).
Using the same criteria, here are a few ideas about how you can celebrate the Easter season in your parish.
  • Make sure the symbols and liturgical colors of Easter are clearly evident throughout the seven weeks of the Easter season. Replace the purple with white and gold. Accent with red as a reminder of Easter and the fact that we are heading toward Pentecost.
  • Include the whole parish and use this season effectively to catechize people about the meaning of the Resurrection and the outgoing thrust of a season that culminates with Pentecost. Since spring is a notoriously busy period, offer faith leaning opportunities that are enticingly fun.
  • Celebrate this “feast of feasts” with a party that rivals your parish’s Christmas celebrations. You can either plan parties for every age group or one big intergenerational party.
By hosting a well-planned intergenerational gathering you can include all three of the above suggestions. Pick a date in early May and spend the last two weeks of April getting ready. Ask various religious education classes to help make placemats, decorations, games, refreshments, etc. Decorate the party area using lots of white and gold with a few hints of red (the liturgical color that begins and ends the season), and have table centerpieces of candles and water.
Keep in mind the themes of Easter when planning activities: new life, the paschal movement from slavery to freedom, outreach and the promise of the Spirit. Have an Easter egg hunt for younger children and a freedom run for older children and adults. Have cooperative games for families: building a house of cards, jump rope, etc. You might even invite folks to bring some flowers to plant around the church and ask volunteers to plant that day.  
Finally, for daily ideas throughout the Easter season, link to from your parish Web site so folks can click on “From Easter to Pentecost” and receive updates every day of the Easter season. (Click here for preview.)
A Magazine for the Whole Family
For an excellent view on family and the Easter season, you are invited to read Susan Hines-Brigger’s column, “Faith Filled Family,” in St. Anthony Messenger magazine. (Click here for last year’s Easter column.) Every month, Susan offers some great ideas and wonderful reflections for families. On the second page of Susan’s column you can find a special sidebar for teens as well as the much loved cartoon “Pete and Repeat.”
I can’t remember a time when my family did not subscribe to St. Anthony Messenger magazine. I remember in grade school (almost 50 years ago) leafing through the pages to find “Pete and Repeat” and trying to spot the differences in the two panels. It was a contest each month to see who could get to the magazine first. I knew that if my sister Janice, almost five years younger, got to it first, she would try to circle all the missing or different things and inevitably mess up the whole cartoon in her efforts.
When I was in high school, I used the articles in the magazine as references for my school work. I picked out the subject matter for English essays from the past issues of the magazine. I especially liked articles on movie or TV stars who were Catholic.
As the years passed, I have come to appreciate more and more of the magazine’s content. Along with the articles, I love the short stories and poetry. I refer to the opening pages for movie, TV and DVD reviews, as well as the special sections called “The Church in the News” and “News Briefs: National and International.” I still enjoy “Pete and Repeat,” and I still have to check the answer page to find the two or three missing things I can’t come up with.
As I travel around the country giving talks and missions, I’ve noticed that a number of parishes offer the magazine to their parishioners. What a great way to evangelize and catechize our adults as well as our children!
Electronic Media Resources on Catechumenate as Model
Every year I hear sponsors of our catechumens and candidates for full communion remark that “Everyone should be a sponsor sometime.” These sponsors have discovered that there is much to be gained from this involvement.
The RCIA process has a lot to teach us about faith formation for the rest of the parish and is a key vehicle for adult faith formation of both new and established members. The General Directory for Catechesis says that the baptismal catechumenate is the inspiration for all catechesis (#90). Those involved in formation for initiation sense the truth of that statement. The challenge is in bringing the characteristics and spirit of the catechumenate to the broader community and in integrating these into our time-worn models and practices of catechesis.
The key seems to be in adopting a mind-set of formation, a gradual process of formation, rather than strictly sharing information. It involves that 13-inch trip from head to heart (and then to hands in service) that is so vital in helping faith to come alive in people’s lives. That’s what RCIA does. (Actually, many in RCIA seem to start with the heart and seek a Church that gives structure to and helps them make sense of their experience.) RCIA participants are in touch with a hunger and seek us out. The trick is in helping busy adults who are already Catholic to identify their own hunger for more. Being Catholic has been a “head” experience for too many of us.
The formation and welcome of new members to our Church family is the responsibility of the entire Church community. How can the formation of new members enliven the faith formation of existing members? Get them involved in some way with the RCIA. The community forms its new members in a variety of ways: Some are immediate and direct (Breaking Open the Word, RCIA sessions, liturgical rites) and others are less directed to new members yet have a great impact on them (liturgy, social outreach, social events, prayer and study groups). All are integral to helping new members embrace and feel the embrace of the parish community—to learn what it means to “be Catholic.” Involvement (with awareness) in any of these efforts can help Church members be more conscious of those joining the community and connect with their own need to keep growing in faith.
Several years ago, the late Bishop Ken Untener directed that, for three months, all meetings in the Diocese of Saginaw begin with the same question: How what they were doing would affect the poor. It was an effective way to bring the poor and their issues and concerns to the consciousness of those making decisions in the Catholic community. What would happen in your parish if, at the beginning of every meeting, this question were asked: How does what we do here affect those seeking to join our Church?
I think that doing something of this nature could raise parish awareness of the needs and gifts of new members. It may help individuals and groups within the parish to learn about their role in forming new members. It will lead to a greater and more effective effort to integrate new members into the faith community. And, through the witness of new members, it has the potential of helping those already Catholic to get in touch with their own hunger and need for ongoing faith formation.
I’ve selected a video clip from the DVD Becoming Catholic: An Adult’s Faith Journey to share with you (Windows Media | RealMedia). This program can be used with RCIA participants and parishioners to help them grow in understanding of the elements of the RCIA process.
May God bless your efforts to both form and feed Catholic adults.
Listening to the Spirit
With Easter comes the celebration of new life, the fruits of our Lenten renewal and the “promise of the Spirit.” We’ve heard it year after year, and with each new Easter season—each spring—we look forward to the entry of the Spirit into our lives. But just how does the Spirit enter our lives? How will we know the coming of the Spirit when it does happen? Will we be able to respond to the Spirit’s movement?
Peter and Debbie Herbeck have just published a simple new collection of stories that aims to help us recognize the activity of the Spirit in our lives. When the Spirit Speaks: Touched by God’s Word unfolds with story after story of how subtly, how quietly and how miraculously the Spirit works in our lives. Time and again, these stories show how the Spirit moves us, compels us and directs us in the ways of God—not in a dramatic way, as the disciples experienced on that first Pentecost, but in quiet ways that can only be discerned in hindsight. When viewed through the eyes of faith, the ordinary occurrences of daily life begin to reveal the underlying reality: God is calling us, moving us and shepherding us. These stories open our eyes to God’s loving care in our everyday, ordinary lives. The key is to be open to the Spirit—to be open and to listen from the depth of your heart and be ready for the unexpected encounter—when the Spirit speaks.
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