Catechists urged to be men, women of prayer

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Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde encouraged diocesan catechists to be men and women of prayer, to strengthen themselves with the sacraments and to live as joyful and faithful disciples of Christ.

"What a privilege and responsibility you have in passing on the faith," the bishop said.

He recognized that the work of catechists can be difficult and challenging at times, but "you do it because you love God and your neighbor. You realize that He alone can fulfill the deepest longing of the human heart."

More than 350 religious educators gathered in Reston Nov. 14 for the annual Diocesan Catechetical Conference. This year's theme was "Safeguarding the Dignity of Every Human Person."

Bishop Loverde was the celebrant and homilist at the opening Mass, while Timothy J. O'Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, delivered the keynote address.

In his opening remarks, Bishop Loverde prayed for the victims of the deadly terrorist assault in Paris Nov. 13. "I offer the Mass for all of you in a particular way for the work you do in passing on the faith," he said.

In his homily, the bishop said that Jesus knows that every human person seeks inner fulfillment, what we call happiness.

"The Beatitudes tell us how to be happy, how to search for something else," he said. "In the Beatitudes, Jesus is telling us what we should be searching for."

The bishop told the catechists that they need to have a "right relationship" with God and others, and that they need to preserve and strengthen these relationships.

Some people get preoccupied with rules and regulations and miss the beauty and joy of a relationship with God and others, he said.

"All they see are the precepts," the bishop said. "I urge you to put relationships above rules. Without faith and love, learning the precepts can become dry and lifeless. We must teach relationships before rules."

When we live in a right relationship with God, then we safeguard the dignity of every human person, he said.

In his keynote address, O'Donnell said, "There was so much darkness in the world before the coming of Christ." Even today, there are so many broken and wounded people in the world, he said.

O'Donnell called the catechists "beacons of light" who have been given the duty of passing on the faith.

"Are we willing to die for that truth?" he asked. "Christians in Iraq, Syria and North Africa are dying every single day for the faith."

Today's world needs simple truths, he said. It needs to know that faith is a light, a light that illuminates every aspect of human existence.

"How precious our faith is," he said.

O'Donnell said that modern man's perceived indifference toward faith shows a lack of intellectual maturity.

"Who are you? Where are you going? These questions are so essential and important to modern man.

Unless you believe, you will not understand."

Even though every human being has depth, our culture has become superficial and shallow, focusing on the latest diet fad and technology trend, he said.

"We're starting to lose our humanity," O'Donnell said. "We're trying to fill the emptiness, the gaping holes."

There is a great chasm of emptiness in which we've lost the vision of the horizon, of seeing beyond ourselves, he said.

"Without God there is no meaning in the universe," he said. "Christ alone gives light, meaning and purpose. Christ alone gives man his God-given dignity.

"What a glorious and noble commission you have as catechists," he said.

O'Donnell warned the catechists about falling into a "pious coma" in which we hear the Scriptures, but don't really listen to God's word.

He told them to move their students from darkness into light.

"We all experience a strange stirring of grace, when we realize that everything is a gift," he said.

O'Donnell said that even the early pagans expressed this melancholy, a deep sense of longing.

"We're all going (from this life)," O'Donnell said. "None of us are staying. It's a simple truth. But with our faith in Christ, we know we're on the road and where the road leads."

O'Donnell said we have to battle against three enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil.

"Life is warfare," he said. "It's important to know what victory means.

"Heaven is not a fable. Heaven is a reality. It is one of the most profound truths revealed by Christ. We must think about it. We must long for it."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015