The Pope is calling upon all levels of the Church to foster an encounter with Christ through faithful witnesses and to promote a deeper understanding of the faith. So how should diocesan and parish leaders prepare for this celebration? Read the pastoral recommendations from the Vatican, to start.
However, busy parish and diocesan ministers might benefit from the "Cliff's Notes version." Here is a quick summary of the major themes on all levels of the Church:
- encounter with faithful witnesses (Saints as witnesses)
- understanding and renewing use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- understanding and celebrating Vatican II
- renewal of the Sacrament of Penance
- intensification of celebration of the Eucharist
- general renewal of and commitment to Catholic faith
- ecumenical dialog
- renewal of personal efforts to communicate faith (evangelization)
FAITHFUL WITNESSES: I have mentioned the concept of "faithful witnesses" before in this space (most recently in my post on how to choose new catechists). I cannot emphasize this enough. My own journey to faith in Jesus Christ and full engagement in the Catholic Church has been nurtured in the RCIA process and ever since by a number of faithful witnesses - and the memory of those people, living and deceased, is always with me every time I reflect on my faith journey. Their effect on me then and now has been to ground me in the beauty of a living relationship with Christ. Parishes might do well, in preparing for the YOF, to start discerning who the faithful witnesses are in their community - and scheduling opportunities for them to speak to the parish about how faith has impacted their lives. Catechesis about the Saints is also a great way to help people connect with examples of those whose very lives are remembered because they were all about witness to their faith in Christ.
CATCHISM: Making the CCC, the Adult Catechism, YouCat or the Compendium more available to parishioners by selling them at parish events or in the back of church to kick off the YOF might be a strategy. Other ways to do this would be to have speakers or sessions on the CCC, or engaging in group studies, such as Why Catholic?. Parish websites, blogs and social media pages should reflect on and post quotations and links to where to purchase these resources. Remind catechists that it is there for them to use in faith formation sessions... and show them how to use it. The point is to bring the CCC out of the shadows and remind - and teach - people to use it.
VATICAN II: Focusing on the history and some of the outcomes of the Council through presentations, study groups, preaching, websites, blogs and social media, and general discussion is also a good strategy. Twenty-Third Publications has a great group of inexpensive resources to do this in parishes.
PENANCE: The revised Rite of Penance suggests a renewal of catechesis on the sacrament - always the elephant in the room for Catholics. Parishes would do well to plan to provide catechesis through presentations, preaching, and ample resources on blogs, websites and social media... and ample opportunities for celebration. Busted Halo has a great video that would be good to embed on a parish website and/or direct people to from a social media page, for example.
INTENSIFICATION OF CELEBRATION OF EUCHARIST: OK, it's the dead horse we all love to beat: parish liturgy is the best thing we can offer people - and if it stinks, many people go away. Any energy a parish puts into improving celebration of the Mass is never wasted. Better training for ministers, better preaching, better music, more intentional liturgical planning... you all know the drill. We can never slack off on this. Liturgical catechesis through homilies. presentations and the bulletin on the Mass - many of us did this for the new Missal implementation. We really should never stop - this is a full-time initiative.
RENEWAL OF FAITH: Plan those parish missions now! Get the best, most inspirational speakers - and make this not just an opportunity for people to show up and listen.. but to engage actively in further discussion, small faith-sharing groups, and more. Be more intentional about adult faith formation - and more active in promoting it.
ECUMENICAL DIALOG: While this is the ongoing responsibility of the Vatican on a universal level, raising awareness of the ongoing dialogs and initiatives - and helping people claim a spirit of ecumenism is an agenda item for all in the Church. The very least thing parishes should do is to pray for unity among Christians on a regular basis. Catechists and leaders need to be formed about the ecumenical teachings of the Church. (More on that in subsequent posts in this space.)
COMMUNICATING FAITH: Encourage this by example through parish blogs and social media and public events and service in the community that invite others to experience the love of Christ. Teach those who take communion to the sick to spend time talking about Christ. Teach your parish food pantry minsters to give people a blessing and express to them that Jesus loves them, even though (especially because) they are poor. Talk about faith and the workplace in homilies, bulletin articles and presentations... the possibilities are endless.
Every diocese and local parish can all come up with ways to make the Year of Faith a good and effective experience of renewal of the Church. Don't waste the opportunity. Start planning now.