QUESTION: The feast of the Epiphany often describes the magi as three wise men — and even three kings, as in the old carol: “We Three Kings.” Yet we don’t find the word “kings” in the Gospel’s infancy narratives. Can you explain a proper understanding of who the magi were — and their significance — so I can teach my middle schoolers? — PAT W.
JONATHAN F. SULLIVAN Responds:
The wise men appear only in the Gospel of Matthew where they are described with the Greek word magoi, which in addition to “wise men” implies astrologers or even magicians. Little is known about them (the Gospel doesn’t even say how many there were!) except that they came from the East, where they may have been priests of Zoroastrianism or another religion in Persia.
Back in September I offered a breakout session on the relationship between the theological virtue of hope and Catholic education at our biennial Diocesan Teacher Day. The video of that session is now available:
The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and brought you to new life through water and the Holy Spirit.” With these words, spoken to the neophytes immediately after their Baptism at the Easter Vigil, the Church professes our belief in the unique power of the sacrament of Baptism.
Baptism has a special significance for catechists, since the truth it bears — salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — is the faith we proclaim in our teaching. Understanding our Baptism — and drawing on its graces as a source of inspiration and strength — is a necessity for all who proclaim the Catholic faith to others.
Last week I was interviewed by Brigid Ayer and Jim Ganley of the Faith in Action program on Catholic Radio Indy, talking about ways Catholics can grow in their faith. The show will air this weekend, but it’s already available as a podcast:
Last fall I had the pleasure of submitting an article to Catechist magazine exploring the pros and cons of the movement to restore the order of the Sacraments of Initiation for Catholic youth. The article is now online:
At the same time, moving the sacrament of Confirmation to an earlier age is not a panacea for the Church’s evangelization of young people. Simply moving up the age of Confirmation doesn’t address the need to evangelize young people — to proclaim the kerygma, mentor them in a life of faith, and accompany them in their growing relationship with Jesus.
On May 2 our diocesan Office of Catechesis hosted our biannual Parish Catechetical Leaders meeting. We host these gatherings twice a year as an opportunity for fellowship and ongoing formation for DREs, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, and other parish leaders.
This spring the theme of our meeting was “Education, Formation, and Catechesis.” I gave a presentation on the tasks of catechesis (as found in the General Directory for Catechesis); I’m happy to share the audio and slides of that presentation here:
The scenarios I gave to the groups to discuss were:
Your parish’s Altar and Rosary Society approaches you about helping them recruit young women. (The average age of the Society is 68.) They meet every Wednesday morning after the 8a Mass and are responsible for keeping the church clean and organizing the biannual parish rummage sale, which supports the parish school.
Your parish is building a new church hall; the pastor asks you to find out what kind of space various groups need and make recommendations to him for how the building should be set up.
Attendance at the annual parish picnic in your rural committee has been declining over the last 10 years. Your pastor asks you to come up with a marketing plan to get more people to attend this year.
The evangelization committee at your suburban parish is concerned about the number of non-practicing Catholics in the area. They ask for your help in organizing a “welcome back” event with the goal of getting these Catholics to return and volunteer in a ministry.
Your rural community has seen an increase in the number of people coming to the parish office looking for assistance with rent, utilities, etc. Your pastor asks you to put together a committee to find ways to get these people the help they need.
Your pastor asks you to review and recommend some DVD programs for adult faith formation in your parish.
Last Thursday I had the joy of gathering with over 100 faith formation leaders and diocesan staff in the Diocese of Joliet. My presentation focused on the characteristics of the emerging digital culture and the promise and challenges it holds for the work of the Church in the 21st century.
The participants asked great questions and shared their own stories and ideas for how the Church can be both hyperlinked and human!
The phrase “New Evangelization” is frequently thrown around today to describe a variety of programs, teachings, initiatives, and projects – so much so that sometimes we forget that the New Evangelization is at its core, in the words of Donald Cardinal Wuerl, “a mode of thinking, seeing and acting… a lens through which we see the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel anew.”
To help combat the “programmatization” of the New Evangelization it may be helpful to think in terms of a series of concentric circles, each with its own needs and requiring its own approach:
At the center of the circle is Jesus Christ, the ultimate end of the New Evangelization. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” That person is Jesus. The goal of evangelization and catechesis is to help individuals to know him – not just in an intellectual way, but through our lived experience in relationship to him.
The next circle from the middle consists of intentional disciples – those who have oriented their lives towards Jesus Christ and follow him in a way radically at odds with the ways of the world. It is important to note that intentional discipleship is more than just showing up for Sunday Mass. True discipleship flows into all aspects of our lives. Those who have reached this circle seek to emulate Jesus in all things.
The next circle out is seekers. These individuals are looking for more – and may be involved and present in our parishes – but they have yet to fully turn over their lives to Jesus. They are pursuing, to various degrees, a spiritual life and may well be on their way to true discipleship.
The “marginals” are those family members and friends that we may see at Christmas, Easter, or funerals, but who do not participate in the faith regularly. Many of them still have a personal prayer life and would bristle at being called “inactive” or “non-practicing.” However their religious activities do not include the wider Christian community, even if they continue to identify as Catholic.
Moving outwards we next encounter the “nones,” a rapidly growing group that identifies with no religious tradition. (They get their name because they mark “none” when asked about their preferred faith tradition on surveys.) Members of this group may or may not be hostile to religious faith, but they have no interest in organized religion, finding it to be irrelevant to their needs.
Finally, in the circle furthest from the center, is the culture. The Church’s teaching on the New Evangelization is clear that, in addition to reaching out to individuals in their communities, Christians are also called to evangelize the cultures in which they find themselves. This is accomplished through various outreach and service programs including Catholic schools and hospitals, and initiatives of the bishops such as Catholic Relief Services and advocacy for more just laws in the secular sphere.
The goal of the New Evangelization is to help people to come to know Jesus Christ – in effect, to help people to move from the outer circles to the center where we find, ultimately, union with Christ. What this looks like will depend on which “circle” we are dealing with. In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach will not meet the varied attitudes, experiences, and needs we will encounter in the people we meet. It is the work of our dioceses, parishes, and families to ensure that all people hear the Gospel and are invited to take that first step – no matter how small – towards Christ.