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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27:30 - 28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults (Sirach 28:7).
The third Sunday of September has been set aside by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as Catechetical Sunday. In many parishes, it is the weekend that Catholic youth religious education programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and other adult education programs begin for another year. It is an exciting time in ministry. Parishes have the opportunity to form their people in the Catholic faith.
Second to the celebrations of the sacraments, there is nothing more important. The quote above from the reading from Sirach sums up the goals of Catholic education: think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor, remember God’s sacred covenant, and “overlook faults” or be patient with others. These are four great themes for Catholic education.
The commandments and the covenant are closely linked. The covenant is God’s sacred promise to His people: He will be their God; they will be His people. God will love them unconditionally. They will follow God unreservedly by obeying God’s commandments, most notably the Ten Commandments given to Moses. The covenant was sealed forever in the blood of Jesus Christ, the final Lamb of sacrifice.
Jesus is the Word made flesh whose passion, death and resurrection together form the defining moment of God’s love for His people. The Eucharist is the memorial of and our participation in the covenant of Jesus Christ.
It is imperative that our religious education programs at every level teach this message of God’s covenant and commandments. Our youth especially need to know that God loves them. How do we teach that? We help them realize that God created them in His image and likeness and that He has given each of them talents, gifts and abilities that they are to share with the world.
We respond to God’s love in following His commandments and living the life He has placed before us. We teach that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith and of our living of the covenant.
Loving one’s neighbor and patience with others are also important themes of Catholic education, for Jesus taught that faith cannot stay bottled up within the person but must reach out in love and service. Faith has an effect on every part of our lives. Upholding the dignity of all human life is an important aspect of what it means to be Christian. Treating others with dignity and respect is integral to Jesus’ message.
Overlooking others’ faults through developing patience is also part of what Jesus taught and necessary to living and working with others.
Teaching these themes and their connection to faith is a priority in Catholic education. Through His parables, healings and teaching moments, Jesus continually calls upon His disciples to look beyond themselves to the needs of others.
Connecting our youth to community service opportunities is one way of showing them the need to help others. However, community service must be connected to the Eucharist and one’s relationship with the Lord.
The covenant, commandments, loving one’s neighbor and patience with others are all important themes of Catholic religious education. As another year begins, let’s all pray for those who take up the work of teaching religious education at any level.
From personal experience, I know it to be one of the most important and rewarding ministries of the Church. Through it, we are handing on the Gospel, and thus we “make disciples of all nations” which Jesus asked us to do.

Originally published in the fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine. To receive the magazine at your home, donate $24 or more to the Bishop's Annual Appeal at bishopsappealvt.org/give

Teachers, catechists: models of mercy and joy

St. Peter Chanel, priest, teacher, missionary and martyr, lived from 1803-1841. One of his students was asked why he believed what St. Peter was teaching. The student responded, “He loves us.  He does what he teaches.  He forgives his enemies.  His teaching is good.”  Our Catholic school teachers, catechists in our religious education programs and homeschool parents are called to do the same thing for the young people entrusted to their care: to love, show mercy and joyfully teach the truth by example.

There are approximately 253 Catholic school teachers in the Diocese of Burlington, some 695 people who lead our parish religious education classes and a large number of homeschool parents, all striving to share the love and joy of Christ with their students.  At the Sept. 18 Jubilee of Mercy event, we will honor and pray for all of them. 

What are teachers of the faith called to do? Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel” states “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; He gave his life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’”   Quite simply, they are called to share and model Jesus Christ with the young people entrusted to their care.

Carmen Tarbox, of St. Paul’s School in Barton shares how much she loves teaching the children of God’s love: “How I introduce God is very important, and the best way I have experienced this task is to associate God with the word ‘Love….’ By the end of the year, the most satisfying feeling I have is…hearing the students say sincerely, ‘God loves all of me!’”


One of the goals of the Year of Mercy is to inspire people of faith to be “Merciful Like the Father.”  There are countless opportunities for teachers to share God’s mercy.  Eileen Kendall, catechist at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Springfield mentions, “I think as a teacher you are always required to show mercy….It’s part of the job description.”   For Mary Dove Herrera, a homeschooling mother in St. Albans at Holy Angels Parish, it is helpful to think about how God is merciful to her when she works with her children. “I try to think about how God teaches me in daily life in comparison to how I respond to my own children… when my children are tired, frustrated and confused. Do I act the same when God is trying to teach me through my life experiences?” 

Inspiring saints of today

Sharing the rich stories of the lives of the saints can help model the Gospel to students. As Tarbox notes, “The students and I read about the saints and discuss how we can be modern-day saints even as young children.”  Celebrating the saints is a way of teaching and living the faith in the Herrera home.  Her girls love St. Therese, so on her feast day, she buys roses at Costco and the children give out roses to random people. “The kids can choose to whom they gave the roses.  We have given roses to police officers, construction workers and even fast-food employees.” 

Prayer and Growth

The national theme for Catechetical Sunday (Sept. 18) is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.”  Catechists are both sustained by prayer and models of prayer. When the apostles watched our Lord pray, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Lk 11:1).  No doubt the apostles had been taught their prayers from an early age, but something in the way our Lord prayed, perhaps an intimacy with God the Father that they hadn’t seen previously, attracted them to His prayer.  Jesus responded by teaching them the “Our Father.”  In my years as a DRE, I was always encouraged when I saw my catechists spending time in prayer in the church either before or after their class.  And, like the students they teach, a teacher’s faith is always “evolving…constantly growing” Kendall said.  A note of thanks to all our teachers, catechists and homeschool parents for their tremendous efforts to pass on the faith and a prayer that they continue to grow in and live the faith they pass on!

Article written by Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington.

‘Prayer: The Faith Prayed’ Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 18

Each year in the month of September, the Catholic Church  in the United States celebrates Catechetical Sunday, a day on which we commission the various teachers and catechists who will be serving in our parishes. The work of these professionals and volunteers is so important in fostering the life of faith in our diocese, especially as we encounter a culture that is more and more non-religious, even atheistic in its foundation.

This year’s theme, “Prayer: The Faith Prayed” is one that touches the very roots of faith in Jesus Christ, that communion that we know in Him through our communal and individual prayer. Through prayer and the sacraments, we build up that relationship with Jesus that helps us to “know Him, to love Him and to serve Him.”  Many of us desire to add more prayer to our lives because we sense it to be the deep well that quenches our thirst for God. Yet, in our busy lives we often set aside prayer as something we will get to “later in the day” but then, sadly, never do.  And that’s a shame. Because once we do take the time to really pray and listen, we, like the prophet Elijah, are able to hear the voice of God as a whisper passing by the door of our souls and we are consoled and strengthened.

‘Once we do take the time to really pray and listen, we, like the prophet Elijah, are able to hear the voice of God as a whisper passing by the door of our souls.’

I recently returned to one of my favorite books on prayer, Emilie Griffin’s “Clinging: The Experience of Prayer.” I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but it never fails to draw me in, especially with the words of the first few sentences:

“There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying that is as dark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about prayer and really praying…. It seems, then, that the greatest obstacle to prayer is the simple matter of beginning, the simple exercise of the will, the starting, the acting, the doing.”*

 Heavenly Father, please help me to pray.

Yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne            

Bishop of Burlington

*Griffin, Emilie.  “Clinging: The Experience of Prayer.” 1983: McCracken Press, N.Y.
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