This summer Laurie and I had the pleasure of representing Family Formation at the St. John Bosco Conference for catechists at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. It’s always a wonderful time of fellowship with other religious educators, but more than that it’s a retreat, education, and inspiration all rolled up in just a few days. (Highly recommended!)
This year the inspiration largely came through workshops given by Sherry Weddell talking about experiences that led to her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, and the thought that there are so many people out there (many in our pews) who may describe themselves as Catholic, but at the same time not even think it’s possible to have a relationship with Jesus.
This got me thinking about the gap between knowing stuff about Jesus and actually knowing Jesus. Family Formation is really good at catechesis and the materials have led thousands of people to a greater depth of faith through the witness of family members to one another, family prayer and an ever-increasing knowledge of the Faith. But because we want to make it just a little more obvious, we’re going to spend some time this year making sure we understand the connections to Jesus that are at the heart of each and every lesson, no matter what the topic. In the words of one of the Bosco Conference professors, “Write at the top of each lesson - What does this have to do with Jesus?“
Our founding pastor, Fr. Tim Nolan, used to joke with the kids that if they ever did not know the answer to a question in Family Formation class to just raise their hand and confidently say, “Jesus!” Compare this with the words of Pope Saint John Paul II and you’ll see some pretty profound connections:
The fourth general assembly of the synod of Bishops often stressed the Christocentricity of all authentic catechesis. We can here use the word “Christocentricity” in both its meanings, which are not opposed to each other or mutually exclusive, but each of which rather demands and completes the other.
In the first place, it is intended to stress that at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, “the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth,”(9) who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever. It is Jesus who is “the way, and the truth, and the life,”(10) and Christian living consists in following Christ, the sequela Christi.
The primary and essential object of catechesis is, to use an expression dear to St. Paul and also to contemporary theology, “the mystery of Christ.” Catechizing is in a way to lead a person to study this mystery in all its dimensions: “to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery…comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth …know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…(and be filled) with all the fullness of God.”(11) It is therefore to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by Him, for they simultaneously hide and reveal His mystery. Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.
(Catechesis in Our Time, paragraph 5, emphasis mine)
Whether we’re learning about angels or virtues or indulgences or Old Testament prophets or any of the other many topics we’re going to tackle this year, Jesus is the ribbon that ties them all together and gives them meaning and purpose! In the Family Formation world it really is all about Jesus!
So anyway, this is my longish way of reminding everyone that the goal of Family Formation is NOT to prepare you to win the Worldwide Catholic Trivia Championship. (Although if such a thing existed, our families would take the trophy!) Our real goal is to bring you closer to Jesus every week as you do your lessons, every day as your bring the Faith into your homes through family prayer, reading scripture, and establishing meaningful traditions, and every minute as you rely on His grace and increase your desire to love Him better. And we’re so grateful for all of you who have joined us on that adventure!