This year, September 18 (and the vigil of September 17) has been designated by the Catholic Church in our country as “Catechetical Sunday,” the annual celebration of our common baptismal mission as Catholics to hand on our Catholic faith and witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is a great occasion for the Diocese of Trenton through its parishes to acknowledge and commission those who have been entrusted with teaching in our parish religious education programs throughout the four counties.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has chosen as the theme for Catechetical Sunday 2016, “Prayer: the Faith Prayed.” This beautiful focus inspires all of us in the Diocese to emphasize the believing community as a “community of prayer.” Prayer is not an extension of the faith we profess and hand on to others. It is our faith’s central purpose: to lead us to God! Isn’t that why we believe: to experience and encounter God? I am reminded of an ancient Latin phrase expressed by the Church in its earliest centuries: “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” “the law of praying IS the law of believing.”
When the Apostles observed the Lord Jesus so often immersed in prayer to his Father, they asked him one day “Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11: 1).” Notice that they asked to be “taught” to pray. In other words, they wanted the Lord Jesus to help them, to instruct them how to give expression to their experience of Christ in their midst. And the Church has continued to respond to their request to the believers who followed them to the present day.
There is an old saying familiar to all of us: “the family that prays together, stays together.” The Church is a family of Catholic faith. The Diocese is a family of the same Catholic faith as are the parishes. What keeps us together in our family of faith is a life of prayer. Prayer gives voice to our deepest beliefs, to our faith.
As young children, we first learned from our parents the words to prayers: the sign of the Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, Grace before meals and so on. How proud our parents were when we recited these holy words from memory, words they taught. We went to Mass, received the Sacraments, learned more prayers which, in turn, helped us learn to pray in our own words.
Prayer comforts us in times of trouble, strengthens us in times of struggle, joins us together at times of worship, encourages us to be grateful in times of joy. Christ gave us the words; the Church gave us the words; life continues to give us the words and even moments of meaningful silence in God’s awesome presence. I remember reading somewhere, when we can’t put our prayer into words, God hears our hearts.
And, so it is good for us to celebrate the Catholic catechetical experience this year with the theme “Prayer: the Faith Prayed.” As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I invite all those who serve as catechists and teachers of our Catholic faith to children, to teenagers and young adults, to those preparing for the Sacraments, to adults deepening their faith, to create communities of prayer as you nourish that faith. Help others listen and speak to the Lord in whom they believe.