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Reorienting religious education

This column is adapted from a May 19 address that Archbishop Aquila delivered to catechists at the Leadership Appreciation Breakfast.

Consider the wake of a great ship, which begins in a point at the bow, but continues to broaden more and more, until it is lost in the horizon and touches the two opposite shores of the sea, the famous French poet Charles Péguy once wrote. Christ is the bow of the ship and when we meet him our lives are forever changed, like the sea is by the ship.

On Pentecost, I issued the pastoral letter Saints Among Us (www.archden.org/saints ), which began the five-year process of restoring Confirmation within the Archdiocese of Denver to its original place in Christian initiation. When children receive the graces of Confirmation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit sooner, then their encounter with Christ at a deeper level begins sooner. To use Péguy’s analogy, the wake of God’s grace will begin to wash across their lives and into their families and the world sooner.

This process also gives us a chance to recall the purpose of all Christian formation, to create authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, and to reorient every family, catechetical effort and evangelization endeavor toward that goal.

Families come first in this realignment because they are the place where love is first given and received, the human space where Christ is first encountered. The success of any catechetical or evangelization effort is fueled by the grace of God and built on the foundation of the family.

“In our time, as in times past,” Pope Benedict XVI told a 2011 gathering of the Pontifical Council for the Family, “the eclipse of God, the spread of ideologies contrary to the family and the degradation of sexual ethics are connected. And just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family.”

When our families experience and live the joy of Christ’s forgiveness, the outpouring of his grace and love, then we have already begun to evangelize the world, which is made up of millions of families.

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The devil understands this, and therefore is dedicated to undermining and dismantling the family in any way he can.

The Church’s history of evangelization also provides us with a valuable insight into who is being called to re-evangelize our increasingly godless society. In a retreat that he gave for the pope and Roman Curia during Advent 2011, papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa offered this helpful synopsis.

“Parallel to the appearance of a new world to evangelize, we have also witnessed a new class of evangelizers emerging each time: bishops during the first three centuries (especially in the third), monks during the second wave, and friars in the third. Even today we are witnessing the emergence of a new category of protagonists of evangelization: the laity. This obviously does not mean replacing one category with another, but rather adding a new component of the people of God to the other…” (Navigating the New Evangelization, p. 43).

Father Cantalamessa is talking about you. Yes, he is talking about well-known evangelists, but he is also talking about parents, grandparents, relatives and catechists. You are the people being called to carry the Gospel into the modern world, working side-by-side with your fellow parishioners, priests, consecrated religious, and me.

To help you in forming true disciples, I would like to share the model that Jesus used with his followers. Christ’s model for discipleship can be summarized in three words: Win, Build, Send. It looks like this.

Jesus first met the Apostles while they were engaged in their everyday activities – fishing, collecting taxes, or following John the Baptist. He won them over with his words and welcomed them into his company.

Over the next months and years, Jesus spent time building up the Apostles: teaching them, opening the Scriptures to them, healing people and casting out demons, and calling them to a deeper faith.

After he rose from the dead, Jesus gave the twelve Apostles an even more specific mission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” he told them, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19). He sent them out to live, preach and make present the Kingdom of God.

As we go about the process of restoring Confirmation to its original place, I ask that every person use this occasion to reorient themselves toward becoming and forming authentic disciples of Christ. During Pentecost, may you encounter Christ more deeply, and may the effects of that meeting echo like the wake of a great ship to the shores of the world!


Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

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