Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Catechetical Sunday:
Gospel – Lk 3:15-16,21-22

"
What Have I done, What Am I doing, What ought I do for Christ?"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 13th January 2013

Today we celebrate “Catechetical Sunday.”  While we specially affirm and salute the selfless services of our catechists, we are also more broadly celebrating the importance and responsibility of each of us believers handing on the faith to our children and future generations. Thus, today’s celebration includes every one of us.

In our Archbishop’s message for today’s celebration, which we will upload on our parish website this week, he emphasises how our catechetical programmes are not merely running programmes to “convert persons.”  It is important to remember that we are to live as a “Living Body” of Christ; we are called to create a culture of witness that concretely confronts the culture of crisis brought on by secularism . . .” This is because secularism promotes ever so subtly, but systematically and globally that God is not important in our lives and happiness can be found without God.

          

Thus, in this light, “Catechetical Sunday” is celebrating our need to recover, restore and reaffirm our commitment as Christians believers that God is absolutely essential in our lives . . . without God at the centre of our lives, we have no hope whatsoever of living a meaningful and fulfilling family life, a priesthood and religious life, a wholesome career and the strength to have the deep peace and direction that only God’s Spirit can give.

In St Luke’s account of Jesus’ Baptism, he does not focus on the details of how Jesus was Baptised, but on the Truth of how the Holy Spirit descends on Him in a visible form of a dove, and how at that very moment, a voice coming from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on You.”  In this Gospel scene, we find Jesus experiencing an interior confirmation of Himself being the Beloved Son of God at a new depth.

What about us believers?  We are each Baptised in the faith as sons and daughters of God the Father, and have received the power of the Holy Spirit during the Sacrament of Confirmation to live and witness the Good News of Salvation that Jesus proclaimed, lived and died for so that we and all peoples may have eternal life?

           

What has Jesus’ Baptism got to do with “Catechetical Sunday”?  It has everything to do with Catechetical Sunday and it has everything to do with every one of us believers regardless of our age and vocation.  Jesus who received the Holy Spirit was filled with inspiration and power to begin His Mission of proclaiming the Good News of Salvation to all peoples.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was also strengthened to face the trials and sufferings that were to come in fulfilling His Father’s Will.  What about us?

I have asked three of our catechists to share with me some of their experiences of being a catechist.  I only have time to extract some of what they have shared.  One person, let us call him James said, “In 2009, after 20 years of working and building up my career, I started realizing that there was more that I needed to do to build my faith.  I realized that I needed to be more than a “Sunday catholic” and felt a very strong call to serve the church.  I can’t really say exactly how the call came, but what I recall is that I just had a very clear desire to work with children and youths in catechesis – building up the church through her youngest members.

I recalled how whilst I was growing up I could never relate to the way catechesis was presented to us – to accept what was taught and to memorize stuff I didn’t understand; without the opportunity to ask questions.  Even at those times when I did manage ask these questions, answers were never effectively given.  I remembered being frustrated, but I persevered in the faith.  It was only when I met a seminarian during my young adulthood did I begin to get some of my questions answered.

However, another catechists, let call her Valarie said, “I have been a catechist in our parish for more than 20 years.  It has been a great joy and challenge. There are many reasons as to why we choose to keep serving as a catechist.  To me it is my faith in my God that keeps me going. It is the deep-rooted conviction and passion to pass on the faith to others, especially to the children in our community.  And as I mature in my faith, I also find that my relationship with my God and our parish family also become more wholesome.

Yet, another catechist, lets call her Michelle, shared, “I have been in this ministry since my eldest child was 8 years old. This year, he is 26 and that is 18 years of service.  I started in this ministry because I greatly value my faith and as a catholic parent I wanted to ensure my children would receive this gift not only from myself but also from a parish setting. What better way than to join the many volunteers who were serving God in this way.

I was a catechist for 11 years and a coordinator for 7 years.  As a catechist, I found that each session was not only uplifting but I learnt so much more about my faith. The opportunities to grow in my faith, learn new insights, and discover the richness of our faith was astounding. Till today I can pick up a Grade 1 Text and still walk away learning something new!  The work of Catechesis continues to inspire me as it gives my life its true meaning . . . words cannot describe His beauty seen in the lives of the children, youth and families who are truly touched by God’s presence.

                   

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are tempted to say to ourselves, “Catechesis is not for me and more for people who have much time in their hands and have little or no family commitments on weekends,” let us note that our 60 plus catechists for our Weekend local programme and our 25 plus catechists for our CCD expat programme are made up of married as well as young single adults and parents who are Engineers, Bankers, Doctors, Teachers, consultants, interior designers, architects, accountants, IT specialists and the like.

Every single catechist is as busy as you and I, yet they make the special sacrifices and share their talents with our children who so crucially need to be formed in their faith.  If they did not have such selfless and Christ-like service, our parish catechetical programme that serves about 500 expat children and 600 local children would grind to a halt and the future of our children’s faith and the church would be in crisis.

            

Valarie and Michelle are both mothers with children.  James a young professional even gave up his job to serve the church.  He shared me, “I felt called by God to serve Him in the Church at parish or archdiocese level.  Even as I feel called I had to face the reality of my future.  I had to ask myself the basic question, “How would I be able to continue to find the income to support my family and maintain a lifestyle I had grown accustomed to?  After a period of difficult discernment, I accepted that God had a plan for me and that I would allow myself to surrender to “divine providence.” A homily that I heard around the time of my discernment further confirmed God’s Will for me when I was touched at a weekday Mass homily of a priest who said that when we are doing the work that God wants us to, there will be the presence of joy.  I knew only God can give me such joy and that the job that I held in the secular world will never have such divine joy.

              

As I do not have the time in this homily to go into further details, I would like us to remember once again that “Catechetical Sunday” is celebrating our need to recover, restore and reaffirm our commitment as Christian believers that God is absolutely essential in our lives.  Without God at the centre of our lives, we will have little or NO hope of living a meaningful and fulfilling life: as parents and family, as priests and religious and in our career too. 

Our parish family is very blessed to have people like Valarie, Michelle and James and many others who are able to be so selfless and single-minded in their service as catechists; clearly because of their deep love for God.  What about the rest of us?  While we are clearly not all called to sign up as catechists, we are each called and challenged to as the Archbishop’s letter to us today says, “to draw all peoples into a deeper relationship with God, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to develop a mature conscience, to sustain our faith through on-going catechesis and to integrate our faith into all aspects of our life.

When we are each able to do this, there is real hope of our faith being imparted to our children and the future generations.  But, if we take these responsibilities lightly, then our present churches may be emptied within the next generation.  Do we want this to happen?  What is the Lord saying to you and me today?  What have I done? What am I doing?  What ought I do for Christ?.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

                         

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