When it was time for me to start school, my parents decided to send me to public school. Near the end of my fifth grade year, my parents had to make a decision. So as the year was winding down, I knew that the next year I would be in sixth grade at St. James. I was nervous about the change, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. But there is another part of the story that is pertinent to today’s column. I remember my last Saturday morning of CCD. My father was working in the yard when I came home, and I told him, “I never have to go to catechism classes again.” Dad told me that I shouldn’t say that. “But Dad,” I said, “Religion classes will be a part of our school day next year. I won’t need CCD.” Dad said that he was well aware of that, but that I should “never say never.”
Years later, after my ordination, I was talking to my father about my visits to CCD classes, and I asked him if he remembered the conversation we had years earlier. He had forgotten, but he enjoyed hearing about it. Here at St. Malachy, CCD classes began last Sunday. Today we celebrate Catechetical Sunday, when we recognize the men and women who give so much of their time and talents to teach our CCD classes, as well as Baptism classes, RCIA catechesis and other aspects of our parish’s catechetical life. Since I have been here, I have tried to visit the CCD classes every week, and I will continue to do that until my move to the South Hills next month. I think it is important for the children to see their priest in the classroom.
While I mention my visits to the classrooms, there are some who could certainly try nitpicking my terminology. Notice that in my opening story, I mentioned “catechism classes.” I seem to remember that this was what we called them when I started. By the end of my fifth grade year, though, we were calling it CCD. Every once in a while in my priesthood, though not as often as you might guess, one of the students would ask what CCD means. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an organization designed to help parishes teach the faith. I eventually got used to calling it CCD, even now that the diocese no longer uses that name. In recent years, they have used the term “Religious Education.” And now they are speaking of “Faith Formation classes.”
I can certainly see why we call it “faith formation.” That term indicates that what we are doing is more than just education. Our faith is not an academic subject. We do not get into heaven based on a grade on a report card. Rather, we are trying to introduce them to the great love of God for their lives. As St. John Paul II wrote, “At the heart of our faith, we do not find doctrine or teaching; we find the person of Jesus.” We are not so much teaching a subject as introducing the students – and their families – to our Lord and Savior. As we prepare our second graders for First Penance and First Communion, and as we prepare the eighth graders for Confirmation, we are not just giving them a sort of “rite of passage.” In the Eucharist, particularly, we have the Real Presence of Christ. Each reception of Holy Communion is an encounter with Jesus in the closest sense. Christ promised to remain with us through the end of time, and we are helping bring these students to a deeper sense of Christ’s presence throughout their lives, something that will help them with every choice they make throughout their lives.
The term “faith formation” helps us see how important this Catechetical Sunday is for us. It makes me thankful that my father wouldn’t let me say that I never had to go to CCD again.