Bishop Hying

Religious apprenticeship: A handing on the faith as it has been handed on to us

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on January 29, 2017


     Catholic Schools Week is an opportune moment to rededicate ourselves to the formation of our children as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. A fundamental component of the Church’s mission is education, helping our youth to grow into their beautiful potential as children of God so that their minds, hearts and wills put on Jesus and they can readily fall in love with God. Through our schools and religious education programs, our diocese dedicates considerable resources to this fundamental task of handing on the faith.

      I joyfully thank Dr. Joe Majchrowicz, our director of Catholic Schools, Kemberly Markham and Marilyn Tomko, his assistants, our pastors, principals, teachers, staff, parents, students and benefactors who sacrificially give themselves to this transformative task of personal growth in our schools.

      I also thank Sean Martin, who heads our Office of Evangelization and Formation, as well as the parish directors of religious education, our catechists, parents and students who make heroic efforts to create an effective environment of faith, prayer and study for our young people in parish-based religious education programs.  Our communities of faith must be schools of discipleship.

      Long before there were universities, technical schools or educational systems, the most popular and effective way to learn a trade, craft or specialized knowledge was a lengthy tenure of apprenticeship.  Young people seeking to be a mason, weaver, painter, farmer, teacher, philosopher or priest attached themselves to a master of that profession, learning the intricacies and wisdom of the craft from a knowledgeable expert. 

      A personal friend of mine spent years as an apprentice to a master woodcarver in the Austrian Alps and now is a talented artist of wood himself. This hands-on experiential approach passed down hard-earned knowledge from generation to generation, keeping alive the remarkable skills of crafts, arts, husbandry and religious life. The word “profession” actually originates from the deeply-held conviction in the Middle Ages that all human work “professed” the glory and artistry of God.

      The narrative of the Gospels intimately reveals the nature of the apostles’ apprenticeship with Jesus.  For three years, this motley collection of fishermen, zealots, tax collectors and laborers came to know the Lord. By living with him for an extended period, they could listen, watch and ask questions while learning the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, feeling the mercy of the Father, coming to know the identity of Jesus as the Messiah and absorbing the talents of preaching, teaching, healing and loving.          The apostles witnessed the miracles, heard the parables, marveled at the crowds, saw close-up how Jesus performed ministry with humility and generosity. When Jesus ascends to the Father, he leaves behind a well-formed band of apostles ready and able to continue the saving work of his mission.

      Our schools and religious education programs serve as apprenticeship experiences as well. We want our young people to learn the practice of the Catholic faith - its liturgy, spirituality, prayer, morality, love and belief. Students will absorb the teachings and life of Jesus if they are immersed in a religious environment where catechetical content, consistent prayer and participation in the sacraments, growth in virtue and maturity and a generous love of God and others find a powerful convergence, both at home and school and where adults, serious about their own discipleship in the Lord, serve as effective mentors.

      In his letter on evangelization, Pope Paul VI reminds us that the contemporary world is more apt to listen to a witness rather than a teacher, someone who practices the faith, cares about others and can show by the example of a life given to the service of the Lord that religious belief is not naïve, erroneous or irrelevant. 

      All of us - parents, godparents, confirmation sponsors, teachers, catechists, clergy, lay ministers -serve as role models for our young people. 

      Are we sinners? Yes. Do we fail to practice what we preach at times? Yes. Can we all grow in our own practice of the faith? Yes. Mentoring the young in the ways of Jesus does not require perfection; only, an open heart, a desire to love God, a seriousness of purpose regarding prayer, sacrament, virtue and service, a humble acknowledgement of weakness.

      Who are the people God has placed in our lives who we can mentor in the ways of faith? If you are young and in school, how can you witness Jesus to your friends and peers?  Who are the people at work who really need your understanding, compassion and help? 

      We all have family members who are a little lost and are searching for God, whether they know it or not. Think of the heroes, teachers and role models who apprenticed you in the ways of faith.  How can you pass on the gift to others?

      As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we honor St. John Bosco, whose feast is January 31.  A 19th century Italian priest, John Bosco dedicated his life to serving, educating and forming boys whose poverty and lack of family structure put them at risk.

      Like this wonderful saint, we dedicate our lives to the challenging but rewarding task of religious apprenticeship, handing on faith in the Master as it has been so generously shared with us. 

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