Catholic Herald Staff
“Teach me your ways, O Lord” was the theme for the 2018 Diocesan Fall Conference, which took place Friday, Oct. 26, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and School in Rice Lake.
Featured keynote speakers Bishop David Ricken and associate director for Evangelization and Catechesis Michelle Nilsson were from the neighboring dioceses of Green Bay and Madison, respectively.
The audience of school staff and catechists were addressed by Bishop Ricken as learners and teachers during both his homily and morning keynote address.
The bishop began by commenting that the readings gave vital insight into the understanding of missionary discipleship – loving the name of the Lord and becoming his servants.
He shared his experience of finding the mission field in current circumstances – he worked a manual labor job every summer throughout seminary, after spending a full year learning to pray in a Trappist monastery.
“After spending all this time learning to love and respect the holy name of Jesus, I wound up right next to a man who used the name of Jesus, too,” the bishop paused for the crowd’s laughter; “every other sentence … and not like I was using it.”
Besides learning mental toughness, patience and perseverance, Ricken saw his mission that summer was “to pray to holy name of Jesus into him and that situation.”
Ricken added, “That’s what you do as evangelizers, as catechists – you meet people where they are, and you don’t judge them, you don’t inflict all of our teaching upon them right away, you learn to walk with the people and accompany the people, learn to help them and introduce them to the love of God.”
The bishop said an estimated 70 percent of people in the pews cannot describe a personal relationship with Jesus. “They know they know Jesus, they know they love the Church; but a personal friendship love with Jesus – they can’t articulate that,” he said.
Then explaining the sharing of faith needs to be more “kerygmatic” – focused on the basic message of the Gospel of God’s love – he gave the example of Mother Teresa’s work of evangelization, which centered on seeing Christ in the people she served.
Quoting the saint, he continued, “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of the Third World. You in the West have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness, and emptiness – they feel unwanted and unloved. These people are not hungry in a physical sense, but there are starving in another way … what they are missing is a living relationship with God.”
Ricken said this spiritual poverty is all around, in our own families and parishes, and it needs to push Catholics to be “more missionary in our attitude and actions – let people know ho much they are loved by God, how much they are treasured by God.”
“The personal love Christ has for you is infinite,” the bishop said. “I want you to take this very personal – you are special to God. He’s waiting for you to come to Him in prayer. He wants to honor you with his presence. Jesus loves you tenderly.”
With greater emphasis, the bishop continued, “You are precious to him. Turn to Jesus with great trust and allow yourself to be loved by him.”
He echoed the Gospel message of the vine and the branches with the call to those present to allow themselves to be disciples first, to grow in their own relationship with Jesus, and from there, “may all of us recognize that incredible gift of love … each one of us and all of us together and respond by trying to satiate his thirst for souls.”
Bishop James P. Powers introduced his brother bishop with customary humor. He brought special attention to his involvement with the mission catechesis at a national level and his work to gain Vatican approval of the 1859 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Sr. Adele Brise. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion is the only approved apparition site in the United States.
After noting the concurrent 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s publication, Bishop Ricken asked for a show of hands of who had a copy in their home. Most of those present raised a hand, but only a fraction raised them when he asked who had read it cover to cover.
Covering what defines a catechism and the precursors to the current edition, started in 1985, the bishop quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, calling the work an “indispensable tool … one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council.”
Bishop Ricken shared his own experience of liberation once he acknowledged it wasn’t his responsibility to figure out how to explain the Church’s teaching – he placed himself at the feet of the Church as teacher and learned from her.
He emphasized the catechism as a formational text, a tool for catechists, reviewing its four-pillar-structure of the creed, the sacraments, the commandments and Christian prayer. He explained how catechesis is different from religious education.
“Catechesis is broader, deeper, it involves that personal encounter with Christ … (Where a religion teacher imparts information), a catechist is someone who knows how to take the information and touch the heart.”
The bishop acknowledged he was imparting an overwhelming amount of information, but he invited conference attendees to bite it off in chunks, to break it down and digest bits at a time, whether individually or as as ministry teams.
Ricken shared available complimentary resources such as the Catechetical Directory, the Companion to the Catechism with all source references and the adapted United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.
Affirming a characteristic of the catechism, he spoke of the importance of consistent language and passing that on. “If you lose the language, you lose the concepts and the content,” he said.
He said that memorization still has its place in the transmission of faith, helping to assimilate doctrinal beliefs and to have the correct words to share when asked. But he clarified that the goal is catechesis, “imparting those beliefs and helping people to make them their own – understand with their reason and sink it down into the heart.”
In the final portion of his talk, Bishop Ricken laid out the “discipleship map” he and a team of collaborators have developed for the Diocese of Green Bay. He called it a “complete shift of thinking.”
“Not the content – the content stays the same, the content is Jesus,” he clarified. “But how do we change up the way we express it and live it in our lives to be more outward centered and not just inward focused…
“Connect with people out in the marketplace of the world. Connect with people and help them hear the Gospel. Our culture needs the Catholic Church now more than ever – it’s really important we take this challenge seriously.”
Ricken’s discipleship model is made up of four elements that build upon each other: discover Jesus, follow Jesus, worship Jesus, share Jesus.
He concluded by speaking about the collaborative needed among the priests and laity. He addressed his audience as key leaders in their parishes and local communities on whom bishops and priests depend to spread the Gospel.
In this sense, he said, “This is the age of the laity, really, really. Through your baptism and confirmation, you have already been charged to do it. And I think our job is to give you the tools to carry it out in yourselves, your homes and communities.”