Catholic life in the age of coronavirus

img_0070Now that public Masses (that is, Masses with the lay faithful in attendance) have been cancelled throughout the United States, it’s a good time to think through the wisdom of this decision. Here is an article that may help: Why Cancelling Public Masses is the Right Spiritual Decision for the Faithful

… The crucial difference between the martyrs and the laity in the time of the coronavirus is this: we are not facing a decision to sacrifice ourselves; we are facing a decision which affects others. A single person may sacrifice themselves for the sake of a friend. They do not sacrifice their loved ones whom they are charged to defend, especially the weak under their protection.

Of course, I am not an epidemiologist, but the average layman has access to enough basic details about this virus to make a sound moral analysis. Consider what we know: this virus is highly fatal to the weakest among us; many experience only mild symptoms or may even be asymptomatic. This creates a perfect storm for accidental transmission of the virus, especially from the relatively young and healthy to the relatively elderly and/or sick. No one can be completely sure that they will not pass the virus on to others. In fact, right now it appears that very many will get sick and most (or at least a significant number of) transmissions may indeed happen without the transmitter even being aware that they are sick.

It seems to me that the decision of our bishops to cancel public Masses needs to be seen particularly within this context. They are decidedly not choosing a lower good over a higher good, i.e. preserving a particular set of individuals’ bodily health over their spiritual health. Rather, the bishops are helping us care for the vulnerable whose lives are ours to protect.

memories from my first trip to Europe

While attending the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I had the privilege of spending an entire semester studying and traveling in Europe. The spring of 1992 was the second semester of the inaugural year of the study-abroad program based in Gaming, Austria, at a thirteenth century Carthusian monastery in the foothills of the Austrian Alps. It was an unforgettable four months.

You can view the photos I took during the semester by clicking on the image below.

Europe - Spring 1992

The Kartause in Gaming, Austria: the monastery where we lived, studied and prayed

At the end of the semester, I made this entry in my journal:

Thursday, April 30th, 1992

There are only dim echoes in the Kartause today.
The rain lands gently
upon thirsty buds,
while the whole house sleeps
after a busy semester of life with family.

Many brothers and sisters left this morning;
“goodbye,” we said,
like we’d say any weekend,
conditioned for their prompt return.
But our time in Gaming is finished now.
They return to their homes and their lives —
many we may see again,
but never again will we walk the same paths
so closely and for so long…
It gives me a deeper hunger for heaven;
after all, this is a foretaste and a portion
of the family we will meet there…

My brothers and sisters:
we whistled a tune together while we we here,
a beautiful tune.
I want to whistle it often
so that I may always remember.
But I know that Brother Time has his ways —
and a day will come when I whistle that tune no more.
I will remember its beauty,
but it will be impossible to return to whistling it.
I must wait for heaven to whistle it again.
It is a song we whistled and sang:
We sang it at the noon hour,
when the bells rejoiced before the breaking of the bread.
We sang it in the evening,
when we joined together to adore our Eucharistic Lord.
We sang it as we traveled to Rome and Assisi,
in the churches and especially on the castle-crowned mountain in Assisi,
where the fire sparked joyfully before our song.
We sang it in our daily activities,
our daily drawing together —
our daily growth.
The song we sang may never again touch our lips in this world,
but it will be forever engraved on our hearts:
the song of our life in the Kartause.

Bless the Lord for the song that he gave us.

family-based faith formation

Holy Family iconOn this Feast of the Holy Family, I thought I’d publish something I wrote years ago about family-based faith formation.

***

Final Project:
Family-Based Faith Formation

Clayton Emmer
Pastoral Ministry in American Culture
PT 509 01
Sr. Katarina Schuth, O.S.F.
Tuesday, May 16, 1995

Outline

I. Introduction

II. Family-Based Faith Formation

III. Current State of Family-Based Formation

IV. Local Family-Based Formation Programs

A. Obstacles

  1. Lack of vision
  2. Lack of trained professional leadership
  3. Lack of ownership by parents
  4. Diversity of families

B. Responses to concerns

  1. Vision
  2. Parent involvement
  3. Diversity

V. Moving Forward with Family-Based Formation

  1. Communicating the vision
  2. Establishing a Catechetical Director
  3. Offering alternatives and support

VI. Conclusion

 

INTRODUCTION

The inspiration for this project on family-based faith formation began with a personal experience of volunteering as a teacher of eighth-grade religious education a year ago. The class, which met for an hour and a half each Wednesday evening of the school year, was to be taught using a textbook that will remain unnamed. The text on morality — in both its learner and teacher editions — employed a condescendingly “cool” approach that mistook a patronizing attitude for relevance. On the first night of class, I discovered how difficult it was to convey the material in a way that seemed appropriate to my audience of twenty-one eighth graders. By observing the acerbic reactions of students to the jargon and the illustrations in the text, I was reminded of my own experience of religious education, an experience that planted in my mind the notion that religion was a trivial subject hopelessly unrelated to my life. I remembered the torturous Wednesday night sessions in which, after I was asked to describe my feelings to a small group of individuals I hardly knew, the class would conclude with some sort of truism about the fact that God is love.

I wanted more for my students, so in subsequent class periods I moved away from the text, tried to develop a good relationship with the students, and planned out some sessions that were more engaging, more interactive and more substantive. I hoped that this would help them make a connection between catechesis and daily life.

Although I felt that I achieved some degree of success, I was frustrated by four further obstacles: a lack of student understanding of the most basic content of Christian faith; a lack of student concern about assimilating the material (unless, of course, they were being graded); a lack of student discipline; and the absence of support from parents. At this point, I began to think that the religious education program was in need of serious rethinking. In my estimation, the program in which I was participating had an impoverished vision of faith formation.

Then I happened to pick up a copy of Pope John Paul II’s recent Letter to Families. In the document, I was introduced to the notion that parents are the primary educators of their children: “Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents.”1 Moreover, I learned that the Pope specifically addressed the relation of the family to religious education:

One area in which the family has an irreplaceable role is that of religious education, which enables the family to grow as a “domestic church.” Religious education and the catechesis of children make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church…. Families, and more specifically parents, are free to choose for their children a particular kind of religious and moral education consonant with their own convictions. Even when they entrust these responsibilities to ecclesiastical institutions or to schools administered by religious personnel, their educational presence ought to continue to be constant and active.2

I was fascinated by the discovery of this rich understanding of the family’s role in the faith development of children. Certainly my own experience as a home-schooled student resonated with the Pope’s words: Most of my formative experiences in faith had taken place in the context of family prayer, discussion and daily interaction. I concluded that a vision of religious education with more family involvement would make the faith formation process more organic, integral and effective.

FAMILY-BASED FAITH FORMATION

What, then, is family-based faith formation? In the absence of any formal definition, family-based formation may generally be described as one mode of catechesis that recognizes the primacy of the family unit as a subject and vehicle for the inter-generational transmission of faith.3 This sort of formation presupposes the concept of catechesis which was present in the early Church — that is, catechesis understood as “the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ.”4 Family-based formation, as one means of catechesis, is based on three principles: first, the idea that parents are the primary educators of children;5 second, the understanding that development in faith is a process of mutual inter-generational growth and learning;6 and, third, the awareness that families and parishes are collaborators in the transmission of faith.7

A more particular definition of family-based formation might exclude many developing and existing models, thus failing to be a comprehensive definition. The family-based programs already in place are rather diverse in terms of structure. A brief examination of a particular local family­ based program may help establish some sense of how a family-based model might operate. In Eagan, Minnesota, the parish of Saint Thomas Becket provides a family formation program which includes: family retreat experiences; bi-annual peer-based and inter-generational formation sessions with catechists; and weekly in-home activities for the entire family. In this lectionary-based model, which utilizes Brown Roa’s Seasons of Faith curriculum, the weekly scripture readings and home activities correspond to the three-year cycle of readings for Sunday Mass. According to the publisher of the curriculum, the teachings in the text are correlated with the lectionary readings in such a way that during each three-year cycle of readings, all of the essentials of Catholic doctrine are covered.8 The curriculum is age-appropriate and includes adult workbooks to provide background material on the lectionary readings. The parish offers sacramental preparation courses that operate in cooperation with — but independently from — the Seasons of Faith program. This is simply one model, mentioned here for the sake of illustrating an incarnation of the family­ based formation model.9

The vision for family-based faith formation, which is rooted in contemporary Church documents, derives primarily from the Second Vatican Council’s discussion of the family as “domestic church.”10 A brief examination of these documents and, in particular, the Church’s teaching on marriage, illuminate the essential role which the family has in the transmission of faith. John Paul II has addressed the topic in several documents. In addition to his Letter to Families, which was an adaptation of Familiaris Consortio, he has written an encyclical on catechesis which stresses the important catechetical role of the family: “Family catechesis… precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis.”11 He describes an organic vision of family catechesis that recognizes the importance not only of a methodical catechesis, but of a sort of “inculturation” of catechesis in family life.12 Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes parents as the “first heralds” of the gospel for their children.13

The sacrament of marriage is the source of the catechetical role of parents. As Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Casti Connubi, the sacrament of marriage, by virtue of its indissoluble bond, provides in the best way possible for the education of children because “the care and mutual help of each [parent] are always at hand.”14 According to Church teaching, the education of children is inseparably tied to the procreative activity of marriage.15 In other words, the educational role of parents is an extension of the generativity that results from the communion of persons.

Sacred Scripture also suggests the importance of family in faith formation. For example, the Holy Family provides a model of parental initiative in the religious upbringing of the young. In the gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph take the initiative to present Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.16 In this passage, the Holy Family is, in a very concrete way, collaborating with the wider community in serving the spiritual welfare of the child Jesus. As another example, one may recognize in the parable of the Prodigal Son a story about the family as a privileged place for learning about God’s love through the witness of parental love.17

CURRENT STATE OF FAMILY-BASED FORMATION

An interest in family-based faith formation has been expressed recently by the Church on international, national and diocesan levels. Internationally, one can turn to the writings of John Paul II. The Pope has noted that family catechesis, an essential part of all catechesis, has a special role in places where religious faith is undermined by unfavorable cultural climates: “In places where anti-religious legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, ‘the church of the home’ remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis.”18 The Pope seems to be suggesting that family-based formation has a special significance in the contemporary cultural context.

On the national level, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has pledged to be an advocate for resources that will help parents in the moral and religious formation of their children.19 Moreover, the bishops encourage many activities that the family-based model uses as tools for faith formation, including family meals, rituals, education programs, and communal worship in the home.20 As far as the implementation of family-based models is concerned, however, there is relatively little being done at the national level. At a recent national conference on catechesis, only about ten percent of the participants were working on a family-based approach to faith formation.21 Particularly noteworthy is a 1992 study of Catholic religious education carried out by the Educational Testing Service in cooperation with the United States Catholic Conference Department of Education. An article by Catholic News Services billed the study as an indicator of the success of existing religious education programs,yet quoted a USCC representative who said that many of the 450,000 volunteers involved in these programs experienced a lack of adequate resources and institutional support. While Catholic schools and parishes were cited as partners in religious education, no mention was made of the role of the family in religious education.22

Within the Archdiocese, the interest in family faith development has been expressed primarily through the establishment of a number of “family-centered” programs. Although a list of “family-centered” programs has been compiled, the exact number and nature of these programs in the Archdiocese is unknown at present. However, a survey is currently being conducted by the Office of Catechesis to determine exactly what sort of family-based programs are being offered.23

LOCAL FAMILY-BASED FORMATION PROGRAMS

In order to get a sense of the state of family-based faith formation in the Archdiocese, I interviewed five parishes with family-based models, as well as Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, coordinator of catechesis, resources and services for the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis.24  My examination of the Archdiocese revealed three challenges in regard to existing family-based programs — namely, the need to articulate the vision of family-based formation, the need to create a sense of parental ownership of the faith formation process, and the need to respond to diverse family situations.

OBSTACLES

Lack of Vision

One major obstacle to family-based programs is a lack of comprehensive vision of faith formation as a holistic, inter-generational, all-encompassing process of faith development. A narrow and uniform model of faith formation — that is, a model which is based almost entirely on an academic approach to faith development — still prevails in many places. This model is seen as tried and true, which makes people hesitant to look at alternatives. The standard model of religious education (i.e. the “CCD” model) is perceived by some to be adequate and universally applicable.25 This leads to a sort of inertia that disinclines people to look seriously at family-based models.

Lack of Trained Professional Leadership

In local parishes that do incorporate a family perspective on faith formation, a lack of catechetical leadership often prevents the parish from implementing the vision in a coherent, integral way. In all of the parishes interviewed for this project, the head of the family-based program is either a volunteer or an individual responsible for a number of different areas of parish life. Professional, paid catechetical leaders are often viewed as non-essential members of parish staffs when a family-based program is established; Directors of Religious Education are sometimes laid off in such situations.26 This is a serious problem, for although volunteers often give generously of their time and skills, they seldom can provide the time, effort and qualifications needed to establish a comprehensive vision for faith formation and to offer adequate catechetical training to catechists and parents. The Church on the local level seems unaware of the important role of professional catechists in the parish, a role which is explicit in the Guide for Catechists which was released by the Vatican in 1994.27

Lack of Ownership by Parents

Another obstacle to family-based programs is a lack of a sense of ownership on the part of parents. Some parents are reluctant to devote the time and energy needed to a family-based program, in part because they may not see the benefits of the family-based model. Moreover, trying a new model of religious education involves the risks of change — risks that many may not be willing to take. The classroom model is more familiar and feels “safer” to parents. Many want to stay with the type of education that is based primarily on an academic curriculum.28

Oftentimes, parents are hesitant to embrace the family-based model because they  are concerned that the quality of the religious education will suffer in this model. In my interviews, those promoting family-based faith formation consistently observed that parents worry about their own competence as educators and fear that an inter-generational, holistic approach will not provide a comprehensive presentation of foundational Catholic doctrines and beliefs. Parents often feel that they do not have enough knowledge or skills to pass on the faith to their children.29 Perhaps in these situations the parish has not sufficiently communicated and demonstrated that it truly collaborates with the parents in the formation of children; without this understanding, the task of family-based formation can become very intimidating for parents, especially for those who do not have the training to carry out effective catechesis on their own. Without the support of the parish, parents can end up feeling just as isolated as the volunteers mentioned in the article about the 1992 study on Catholic religious education (see above). The tension that exists between highlighting parents as primary educators of the young and maintaining a vital parish role in catechesis30 deserves some attention within the diocese.

Diversity of Families

One additional obstacle to the implementation of the family-based model is the reality of a wide diversity of family situations within the Archdiocese. One cannot assume that every household will fit into a traditional mold: There are blended families with stepchildren; single­ parent families; interfaith marriages; dysfunctional families; and families in which one or more parent does not participate in parish life. No one model of faith formation will address all of the needs of this diverse population.31 When a parish offers only a single family-based model of religious education, problems may arise. In households which experience the trauma of domestic violence, the home may not be a feasible place for faith formation. Single parents may not have the adult support they need in the home. Differences in religious belief may create tension within an interfaith household trying to adopt the family-based model of formation. Parents who are not churchgoing may not take the initiative needed for the family-based model to work; moreover, when no connection exists with the larger community of faith, the collaboration between family and parish, which the Church holds up as an ideal,32 does not take place.

RESPONSES TO CONCERNS

Vision

In ordered to foster the development of family-based programs, the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis is providing resources and information about the theology of “domestic church,” the importance of parent involvement in religious education, and the need for catechetical leadership in the parish. On the local level, some parishes are providing orientation sessions to introduce interested parents to the family-based approach to faith formation. The Church of Saint Paul requires new members of the parish to attend two informational sessions about life in the parish as part of the registration process; at that time, they are introduced to the family-based formation program.33 At Saint Thomas Becket, orientation sessions are held on a regular basis during the year for interested parents.

Parent Involvement

In order to get parents involved in a family-based style of formation, some parishes organize parish-based family events as a springboard for family activity. At Risen Savior and Thomas Becket, special parish-wide programs take place during Lent and Advent in which the whole family participates. During these events, a mixture of peer-based and inter-generational activities take place. At Our Lady of Guadalupe, these programs happen on a monthly basis. At the Church of Saint Paul and at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the formation program involves one session a month at the parish to supplement the three sessions in the home. Similarly, at the Church of Saint Paul, monthly parish-based sessions involve both parents and children. Moreover, catechesis for parents is offered at the parish regularly in order to give parents the tools and encouragement they need to teach their children.34 These are a few examples of parishes that, through collaboration with the family, support the parents in their role as primary educators.

Diversity

Offering options in faith formation is essential;35 not only does this help to give parents a sense of ownership in the faith formation process, but it also respects the diverse needs of families. Guardian Angels in Lake Elmo offers three different programs: a home-based program; a program that involves neighborhood peer groups meeting in homes with parents as facilitators; and a program that involves two parish and two home sessions each month.36 This variety of offerings helps the parish to cater to a wide variety of family schedules and needs. Diverse family structures have unique formational needs; the parish of Saint Thomas Becket has recognized this and thus facilitates the development of “clusters.” Small clusters of parents who want to be involved in the faith formation of their children but who, for whatever reason, do not have the resources or support needed to carry on the formation in their homes, gather together with their children to take part in the family-based program.37 As an example, a particular “cluster” might consist of single parents and their children. The programs mentioned above are helping a wide variety of individuals to engage in the family-based approach to faith formation in ways that respect their diverse situations and needs.

MOVING FORWARD WITH FAMILY-BASED FORMATION

The following initiatives may be helpful in developing constructive family-based faith formation programs in a particular parish: first, communicating the vision of family-based catechesis; second, hiring a catechetical director to analyze the parish and develop appropriate programs; third, offering alternatives and support.

COMMUNICATING THE VISION

The first stage in developing family-based formation is to share the rich vision of the family as a privileged place for faith formation. This could be done by bringing in speakers from parishes that already offer a family-based program. In particular, parents who have been engaged in the family-based model should be invited to speak at the parish about their experiences with the family­ centered approach. The parents I listened to in preparing this project were very enthusiastic about taking an integral role in the faith formation of their children; they appreciate the opportunity to spend time with their children, to pray and learn about the faith alongside their children, to make connections between the faith of the Church and personal experience, to grow closer together as families, and to experience in a richer way the life and worship of the parish community. Letting parents share their enthusiasm about family-based formation is perhaps the best way to generate interest in the family-centered approach.

The witness of those already engaged in family-based formation should be coupled with a lecture or presentation on the “domestic church” vision as articulated in the writings of the Second Vatican Council and in a variety of subsequent Church documents. This theoretical groundwork will help parents realize that the family-based approach is not just a nice new idea, but actually is rooted in the Christian tradition and represents an important source and means of evangelization.

In addition, the pastor should capitalize on opportunities to share the “domestic church” vision with parents who come to the parish to prepare for the sacraments of baptism and marriage. At these key moments in the life of a family, the obligations of parents to children in terms of faith formation should be highlighted as an integral part of the commitment made in these sacraments. When preparing to have their child baptized, parents should be informed that they are committing themselves to raising their children in the practice of the faith; when a couple comes for marriage preparation, they should be catechized about the commitment they are making of openness to the gift of new life and the consequent responsibilities of the procreative good — responsibilities that include the education of children.

ESTABLISHING A CATECHETICAL DIRECTOR

After articulating the family-centered vision, the parish should establish the position of a professional catechetical director to develop a consistent catechetical thrust in all of the parish programs and to start to train parishioners who wish to help in developing family-based activities. If the parish already has a director of religious education, perhaps the job description could be modified as necessary in order to reflect the new holistic approach to parish catechesis.

The financial resources for establishing this paid position would hopefully be developed by parishioners who have been inspired by the family-based vision communicated by the leadership of the parish; ideally, the family-based vision would help create resources and, in turn, the resources would fortify the vision.

The first task of the catechetical director should be to analyze the parish structures, the demographics of the parish, and the needs of parishioners. After completing this analysis, the director would then articulate a way of inculturating the family-based vision in a way appropriate to the parish. As the family-based approach is fostered, the catechetical director should begin to find ways to improve the family dimension of existing programs instead of eliminating programs altogether; the main objective of the director should not be to develop new programs, but to highlight and foster the family perspective within the parish community as it exists.38 Plans and proposals for changes would need to be communicated clearly and publicly in order to generate a genuine partnership between the leadership and the parish as a whole.

OFFERING ALTERNATIVES AND SUPPORT

The final phase of the development of family-based formation in the parish would involve sustaining the vision. This should be done in two ways. First, the leadership of the parish should make sure that alternative means of religious education remain available so that parents are free to choose the form of faith formation they consider most appropriate for their families.  A failure to offer alternatives would be a violation of the family-centered vision, for the vision is not encompassed by any one program, but instead is characterized by a respect for the choices parents make in regard to the religious and moral education of their children. Second, parents who want to choose the family-based model should be encouraged and supported in their choice through the establishment of a “mentor” system. Basically, the “mentor” system would connect parents already involved in the family-based model with parents who are just becoming involved in this method of faith formation. A mentor family would pay attention to resources the new family might need in order to carry out its role as a “domestic church” and would then communicate the needed resources to the parish leadership. This partnership between families would help facilitate “like-to-like ministry” within the Church and would be an ideal way of supporting the diverse needs of the families within the community.

CONCLUSION

The family-based model of faith formation is one approach to catechesis that seems well-suited to the parish of today; the model helps establish a continuity between catechesis and daily life, as well as between parish and family. Moreover, the model holds up the dignity of the family as an irreplaceable source and means of evangelization. This relatively new approach to faith formation deserves serious consideration in the years ahead. Along with other models of catechesis, family-based faith formation will most likely play an important role in the spiritual development of individuals, families and parish communities in the years to come.

End Notes

1 Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, (Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1994), 16.

2 Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, par. 16.

3 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio: The Role of the Christian Family in the Modem World, (Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1981), par. 16.

4 Catechism of the Catholic Church, U.S. Catholic Conference, tr. (St Paul: Wanderer Press, 1994) par. 4.

5 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, par. 16; Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68; Catechism, par. 2225.

6 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, pars. 45, 68; Familiaris Consortio, par. 52; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to Families, (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1993) 9.

7 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, par. 53; Catechism, par. 2226.

8 Eleanor Suther and Jeanita F. Strathman Lapa, eds., Seasons of Faith: Home Resource Book (Dubuque, IA: Brown Roa Publishing Media, 1991) 2.

9 Orientation session at Saint Thomas Becket with Judith Batten, Pastoral Associate, March 23, 1995.

10 Austin Flannery, ed., “Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company. 1992) par. 11.

11 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68.

12 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68.

13 Catechism, par. 2225.

14 Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubi: On Christian Marriage, (New York: Barry Vail Corporation, 1931) 9.

15 Austin Flannery, ed., “Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modem World,” Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992) par. 48; Catechism, par. 2205.

16 Luke 2:22-24

17 Luke 15:11-32

18 Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, par. 68.

19 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way, 25.

20 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way, 22.

21 Interview with Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, Coordinator of Catechesis, Resources and Services for the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis, April 28, 1995.

22 Catholic News Services, “Test Results Say Religious Education is Doing the Job,” Catholic Bulletin, July 28, 1994, 1-2.

23 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

24 The five parishes were: Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake; Risen Savior, Burnsville; Guardian Angels, Lake Elmo; Saint Thomas Becket, Eagan; and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Paul.

25 Catholic News Services, “Test Results,” 1-2.

26 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

27 Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Guide for Catechists (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1993) par. 14.

28 Phone interview with Paul Deziel, Youth Minister, Our Lady of Guadalupe, April, 1995.

29 Phone interview with Gordon Dozier, Director of Youth Ministry, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake, April 23, 1995.

30 Pope John Paul II, Catechesis Tradendae, par. 67.

31 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

32 Pope John Paul II, Catechesis Tradendae, 67.

33 Phone conversation with Judy Busch, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake, May 11, 1995.

34 Gordon Dozier, April 23, 1995.

35 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

36 Phone interview with Katie Smith-Myott, Guardian Angels, Lake Elmo, April 20, 1995.

37 Judith Batten, March 23, 1995.

38 Sister Josetta Marie Spencer, April 28, 1995.

 

Bibliography

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Deziel, Paul, Youth Minister, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Phone interview. April, 1995.

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John Paul II, Pope. Letter to Families. Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media: 1994.

Markey, Barbara, Director of Family Life, Archdiocese of Omaha. Class presentation. April 3, 1995.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Families at the Center: A Handbook for Parish Ministry with a Family Perspective. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1990.

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Smith-Myott, Katie, Guardian Angels, Lake Elmo. Phone interview. April 20, 1995.

Spencer, Sister Josetta Marie, Coordinator of Catechesis, Resources and Services for the Archdiocesan Office of Catechesis. Interview. April 28, 1995.

Strathman Lapa, Jeanita F., and Eleanor Suther, eds. Seasons of Faith: Home Resource Book. Dubuque, IA: Brown Roa Publishing Media, 1991.

Swanson, Trudy, Coordinator for Family Formation Program, Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake. Interview. April 23, 1995.

Homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Paul Sirba

Father Joseph Sirba, brother to Bishop Paul Sirba and a priest of the diocese of Duluth, delivered this homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Paul on Friday, December 6, 2019, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Audio version:

 

Transcript:

Before I say a few words, I just wanted to mention one thing: there’s going to be a memorial Mass for Bishop Paul Sirba at Maternity of Mary Parish in Saint Paul where he served as a pastor. That will be this coming Monday at 6:30. So please pass the word to people in the Cities who may be interested in attending.

Archbishop Hebda, most reverend bishops, my brother priests, deacons, religious sisters, members of the various ecclesial communities present, and my brothers and sisters in Christ:

On behalf of my brother John, my sister Cathy and my mother Helen, we want to thank all of you for your outpouring of love and support to us at this time of loss, and also for the honor that you have paid to our brother by your presence here today. It means a great deal to us all.

I know that all of us here were stunned to learn that Bishop Paul had died this past Sunday. And, in fact, many of you have told me that when you learned of his death, you said, “There must be some mistake. It must be someone else who had died.” And others have told me that they heard what was said, but that the words didn’t register. My brother was on his way to celebrate the 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Rose in Proctor when he died. He had just left the rectory and was about to cross the parking lot when he collapsed, and the guys who were plowing saw him and rushed over to do CPR, and an ambulance was on the scene in less than 10 minutes. Bishop Paul was rushed to the hospital and the medical staff did all they could, but they were never able to get his heart beating again.

It’s very likely that he was dead the moment he collapsed. In the midst of the snowstorm, Father John Patrick was able to get to the hospital via a police cruiser and to administer the sacraments. And I want to thank both Father John and our wonderful police officers for that. They really do protect and serve.

Most of you don’t know that our bishop did have a heart problem. My sister, who has been a nurse for many years, told me that what it was called is a third degree heart block. If you want to find out more about that, you can ask her. Five or six years ago the bishop had a pacemaker installed to help correct this, but, obviously, you could only do so much.

My brother loved the Lord very much. Jesus Christ was the center of his life. In his private chapel – which I spent a little bit of time in a couple of days ago – he had three books currently that he was reading. One was the Holy Bible. Another was called In Sine Jesu, a book by a Benedictine monk subtitled The Journal of a Priest at Prayer. And also, he had Volume 2 of The Letters of Saint Teresa of Jesus. I presume he probably had already finished Volume 1.

And along with his books, I found his personal journal. And it contained some notes about what he had read as well as some of his own personal meditations. Here are just a few of his entries:

“Jesus said, ‘Tend the flock. Feed my sheep.’”

“Father, all things are possible in you.”

“We are called to be another Paraclete, like another Christ, so that we can console.”

Bishop Paul was a humble man. He never had any desire for accolades. He was not ambitious in the bad sense of the word, and he certainly never aspired to be a bishop. In fact, some of you may recall that when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, called him and said that Pope Benedict had chosen him to be the new Bishop of Duluth, he first replied, “You don’t mean my brother, do you?” To which Archbishop Sambi replied, “We are aware that he is there.” And I’m still wondering what the archbishop meant by that.

Bishop Paul, above all else, had a desire to share Christ’s love. He was a Catholic through and through. He was raised in a home by loving parents who shared with him their love for God through their example, encouragement, prayers, guidance and sacrifice. There were no compromises either in belief or practice. There were no deviations from what Christ taught through His church. And Bishop Paul embraced that faith; however, that is not to say that he did so blindly.

Quite the contrary: He had a very good mind. He was second in his class at Holy Angels Academy in Richfield where he went to high school. And he was trained by the best at Saint Thomas College: Monsignor Henri DuLac, Father James Stromberg, Dr. Richard Connell, Father George Welzbacher, Father James Reidy, and Dr. Thomas Sullivan taught him how to think correctly and to analyze arguments on his own.

Those of us who are graduates of Saint Thomas – or were graduates in those days – received a great gift from these great teachers, and I know it pains us all so much to see how far Saint Thomas has fallen these days.

Another great priest from Saint Thomas who was instrumental in Bishop Paul’s formation was and is Father Roy Lepak, who has been a spiritual director to many priests here in Minnesota and has guided many of us who are here today as we’ve sought to grow in our union with God. This Aristotelian-Thomistic foundation Bishop Paul received built on his Catholic upbringing and, coupled with his desire to serve God and grow in God’s love, allowed him to be an excellent spiritual director at both Saint John Vianney Seminary and Saint Paul Seminary, as well as a much beloved pastor at Maternity of Mary parish in Saint Paul.

I know that all the priests of our diocese were overjoyed to learn that Father Paul had been appointed pastor and shepherd of our diocese. As a former pastor of a parish, we knew that with his pastoral experience, he was never going to send us new directives to read or forms to fill out during Holy Week. We also knew that he would understand both the joys and the sorrows that come from being a parish priest and, for that, I know that we are all grateful.

I had a unique relationship with my brother the bishop, because my bishop was my brother. We had our own little joke when we talked on the phone. Often, instead of using our first names as we had done all of our lives, if I called him, I would say, “Hello, Bishop Sirba. This is Father Sirba.” Or he would call me and say, “Father Sirba, how are you?” I know that there are more than a few priests who have brothers who are bishops, but as far as we knew, we were the only two who served in the same diocese. Of course, I always reminded him that I was here first.

My vantage point as his brother did allow me to understand, in some ways, the life of the bishop. At least I got a glimpse of it. I deliberately stayed away from discussing diocesan business with him, and he also with me. Instead, we talked about our family, history, politics and other subjects of mutual interest. However, his role was different than mine. He was a successor of the apostles: He was a visible sign we Catholics have of that apostolic succession which goes back to Saint Peter himself. He was what made our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church here in our diocese apostolic. And that in fact is what every Catholic bishop is. That is a beautiful gift of God to us. Another thing is this: every bishop has the fullness of the priesthood. I used to joke when others were around that once he had been ordained a bishop, I was the only one who had persevered in my vocation. However, the reality was that it was he, through the grace of holy orders, that had received the fullness of the priesthood.

As bishop, he was a complete priest. Father Jean Galot, in his book Theology of the Priesthood, speaks about how the priest shares in the threefold ministry of Christ as priest, prophet and king. But he also goes on to say that, above all else, the priest is alter Christus in the sense that he is a pastor and that, of course, is a Latin word for shepherd. And Bishop Paul was that. In fact, all bishops are shepherds. They are the chief shepherds of their flocks. As Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” And Bishop Paul knew his sheep.

To be a bishop is a difficult thing that I saw. Do you ever stop to think that the task of a bishop is to do the very best he can to see that everyone in his diocese gets to heaven? And I mean everyone: Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To any bishop who takes his vocation seriously, that in fact is a daunting task and one that they could only succeed at with the help of God, and that is why all of us need to pray and sacrifice for our bishops every day.

Bishop Paul was a shepherd. He was a good shepherd, and there were a number of ways that that was apparent.

First, he was a father to his priests, and sometimes that requires a great deal of love and patience. If you think being a father to your children is hard, that’s nothing compared to being a father to your priests. There’s a Latin saying sui generis: It means “of his own kind.” Sui generis is really just a fancy way of saying we’re all unique. That’s certainly true for us priests. Our presbyterate knows me well. And they’ll appreciate this comment made by our bishop: Occasionally when someone would tell him something about me, he would pause for a moment, and he would say, “Yep, that’s my brother.”

But, in fact, we priests all want and need a spiritual father. Just like any son, we desire our father’s approval and we want to know that what we are doing is pleasing to him. We want his guidance, and we seek his support, and we want to be one with him in building up the church. I would even say this: We want to be corrected when necessary. This special relationship only breaks down when a bishop himself falters or speaks with a discordant voice or is unkind. As the scriptures say, if the trumpet sounds and the call is not clear, who will get ready for battle?

Bishop Paul was also a pastor and a shepherd to his flock. Many people have commented on his kindness and gentleness. Sometimes, when you are too close to another person, you don’t see the things others do until they’re pointed out to you. When he met people, they could tell that he cared about them. They were attracted to him because they could see in him the love of Christ. He was a channel of God’s grace. Those who were hurting were consoled because they knew he hurt with them. And those who were rejoicing knew that he was rejoicing with them. When people met him, they felt accepted. To them, he wasn’t just Bishop Paul; he was my friend, Bishop Paul. And if they were not necessarily living rightly, after they met him, they were inspired to strive to live like him.

Bishop Paul was also a leader. He knew it was his job to hand on the faith, to hand on what he had received. He was not going to wrap his talent up and bury it in the ground. Rather, he was resolved to make five and ten more with it. And, to that end, he never compromised with the faith, and he taught what the Church teaches – not only because he was a bishop – but also because he believed it. As Father Mike Schmitz said, “He was so much like Jesus: gentle with people and uncompromising with the truth.” A true shepherd and father.

One thing that we discussed often was the decline of Christianity in the western world. Bishop Paul foresaw – and I believe he was right, and time will tell… we shall see – that a harsh persecution is coming soon. There are many signs this may be upon us. That is why we need to pray even more for our bishops. They’re often under great pressure to give in to the demands of the world. And history has shown that, time and again, in times of great turmoil, many have done just that. So let us pray hard for our bishops and we must let our bishops know how much we need them, and how much we appreciate their care and concern for us, and the fact that they love us enough to speak the truth to us even when we don’t want to hear it. Bishops are human as are we all. They have hearts that break, they have trials they endure, and temptations they must fight. In the times to come, we must pray that they be great leaders and they do not conform to the demands of the world. No one remembers the bishops of England who, during the reign of Henry VIII, swore the oath of supremacy, which effectively meant they were renouncing and rejecting the spiritual authority of the pope as head of the church and successor of Saint Peter. But we all remember Saint John Fisher – the bishop of Rochester and chaplain to the King’s own mother – who refused the oath and was ordered beheaded by a vindictive king. But it is bishops like Saint John Fisher and Saint Charles Borromeo – and more recently, Cardinal József Mindszenty and blessed Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, who defied the Nazis –who are remembered and who are loved by their people for being fearless shepherds who were willing to protect their flocks even with their very lives.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye for now. Yet our readings today… in them, I found inspiration and comfort.

Saint Paul says to us, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” He goes on to say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

The Book of Wisdom also reminds us that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment will touch them. Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”

And finally, Jesus reminds us that unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. Our Lord goes on to say: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”

I recently read Saint John Paul’s book, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way. He wrote the book on the forty-fifth anniversary of his ordination as bishop in 2003 and he wrote it to and for bishops. In it, he tells us of his experience as a bishop, and how he found joy in his vocation. Bishop Paul had an inner joy that you could feel, and his love of God was attractive. I think he was inspired in his ministry by these great bishops I’ve just mentioned, and especially by Pope John Paul, who was so much an inspiration for his priesthood and for many priests of my generation. Pope John Paul began his pontificate by telling us and the whole world: “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to follow Christ wherever he might lead you.” Near the end of his pontificate, he again quoted Jesus: “Arise, let us be on our way.” Bishop Paul was about that very thing. He was on his way. These last few years were very difficult ones for him, and yet there was a serenity about him. He trusted in God. He placed all that he did in God’s hand, but first, by giving what he did to Our Blessed Lady, whom he loved very much.

He was on his way.

burialIn our Lord’s providence, once this task of the last few years was completed, God saw fit to call Bishop Paul from this life to his eternal home. Bishop Peter Christensen, his very dear friend, said to me: “I am jealous.” And he meant jealous because Bishop Paul’s work here on earth was done and his was not. And in that sense, we should all be jealous too, because we are still at work. We are on the way. So then, let us continue on the way. Let us rise and all be on our way, each one of us following Christ, the good shepherd until he sees fit to call us home as well.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

Amen.

And may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace

Amen.

Vigil for Bishop Paul D. Sirba

Bishop Peter Christensen of the diocese of Boise, Idaho, delivered this homily at evening prayer during the wake service for Bishop Paul Sirba of the diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.

 

The following song was sung by the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus at the wake service for Bishop Sirba. It had been sung originally during his ordination as bishop of Duluth on December 14, 2009, the feast day of Saint John of the Cross.

 

From the website of the diocese of Duluth:

We anticipate that many mourners, both from the Diocese of Duluth and from outside of our diocese, will wish to attend our beloved Bishop Paul Sirba’s funeral Friday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, and that the resulting crowd may well far exceed the available seating at the Cathedral. Therefore we are grateful to announce that WDIO-TV has graciously offered to have the liturgy livestreamed on the Internet, making it accessible to all across the region and beyond who wish to see it.

The stream will be available on WDIO.com.

We hope this will enable as many people as possible to be united in prayer for the repose of Bishop Sirba’s soul and for his family and our local church and all who mourn.

As a reminder: Public vigil for Bishop Sirba will take place from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Cathedral, which is another opportunity to say goodbye and pray for him. The vigil will then resume at 8 a.m. Friday morning and continue until the 11 a.m. funeral Mass.