We call this Sunday “Catechetical Sunday,” because most parishes are beginning classes in religion this month and we’re asking God’s blessing on young people and teachers and all who are involved in religious formation programs. Passing on our faith to the next generation is one of the important challenges we face as a church.
Let’s remember, though, that children and young people are not the only ones who need to grow in faith. We all do. We may be able to recite the Creed at Mass and respond to the prayers pretty well, though some of us may still be learning the new wording that came out last year. But learning the words isn’t enough. We need to know what they mean and how they apply to our lives; that’s a life-long task
I can still recite answers to questions from the catechism years ago. “Who is God?” “Why did God make you?”
But is that enough? For one thing, the Second Vatican Council, which took place 50 years ago, gave some important new directions for growing in our faith. It told us to know God and love with our neighbor using the bible and the liturgy as guides.
For example, there’s a longer and fuller answer to that catechism question “Who is God?” in the scriptures today. (Luke 15, 1-32) God is like a woman who doesn’t want to lose what belongs to her and keeps searching for a coin she has lost. God is like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep. God is a wonderful father whose son–representing the whole human race–finds himself far from home and the place where he should be.
We are God’s children; we belong with him. God is the One who welcomes us, searches for us, waits for us, wishes the best for us, because we are his own.
No catechism question and answer could describe God better than Jesus does in the story of the Prodigal Son and in his parables. The scriptures give us a way to know God that’s never exhausted. At the heart of scripture is Jesus Christ, God’s Word to us. He lives what he teaches. We know God through him, and with him and in him. The more we know him, the more we know the One who sent him. The more we know him, the more we know how to love our neighbor.
Faith is not a private affair between ourselves and God. We don’t live it in a bubble. Knowing and loving God means knowing and loving our neighbor, for God and our neighbor belong together. “No one has seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4,12)
The Second Vatican Council made clear in its Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, for example, that faith leads us to life in our world, however complex that world may be. The scribe in the gospel asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He doesn’t ask Jesus “Who is God?” Perhaps that’s because our relationship with our neighbor is more immediate and complex than our relationship with God.
We can’t reduce loving our neighbor to a few things like lying, or cheating or killing one another. I was looking recently at the US Bishops’ site on the internet–a wonderful resource site about our faith, by the way– and noticed the many “neighbor” questions there. Questions like income inequality, immigration, housing, restorative justice, …They’re social questions, “neighbor” questions, dealing with a complex world that changes all the time.
The Second Vatican Council also opened the window to new cooperation with others who do not have the faith we have and urged us to work together for a better world.
Living our faith today is a challenging, life-long task. We’re all still in school.