THE MISSION OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE BROTHERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY TODAY
5. BY CATECHESIS
5.1. From a church perspective and by following Brother Gabriel
- In presenting the mission of the Institute, the Constitutions say: “…sharing the charism of their Founder, the Brothers remain open to the needs of the local church. They are inserted into its pastoral work mainly by Christian education, catechesis and liturgical animation.”
In an ecclesiology of communion, underlined by Vatican II, the whole Christian community has a unique mission. Each special charism contributes to the building up of the one Church. Nevertheless in certain instances, tensions can arise between attention given to the local Church and that given to the universal Church, between the pastoral work of the whole and respect for the identity proper to different groups. One must always remember the recommendation of St Paul: “There is diversity of ministries, but the same Lord…..and to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…There are many members but the one body.”
- Brother Gabriel lived in himself this same tension. Nevertheless, we must advance together along the path of unity with the necessary respect and support of the different charisms, especially when these have been recognised by the successor of Peter, as is the case with Congregations of ‘pontifical right’. The Church herself proclaims that the foundational charisms of the different Institutes must not remain on the margins when religious take part in catechetical tasks, but that the charisms of different religious communities ‘enrich the common task with their own proper emphases, often of great religious, social and pedagogical depth. The history of catechesis demonstrates the vitality which these charisms have brought to the Church’s educational activity.’
- The Church convokes consecrated persons expressly, by a particular invitation, to participate in catechetical activity and wishes that “religious communities dedicate as much as possible of the ability and means at their disposal to the specific work of catechesis”. The reason for this special invitation lies in the gift for the whole Church that is the very particular state of the consecrated person; neither priests nor laity can take the place of its specific contribution. “This original contribution is born of public witness to their consecration, which makes them a living sign of the reality of the Kingdom.”
- Gabriel willingly proclaimed that the Brothers and catechists teach in the name of Jesus Christ, having received their mission from the authority of the Church. Our venerable Founder had great esteem for catechesis. He wrote: “There is no more beautiful, honourable and meritorious role than catechesis for the one who does it out with faith.” He declares that “to understand all the greatness and the importance” one must consider the content to be communicated: what we believe, what we celebrate, what we live, what we hope for. “The Brother catechists will esteem this title more than any other human dignity. They will consider this role as being truly apostolic.” There is a profound Christological reason here: “They teach what Jesus himself came on earth to teach.”
- Gabriel is speaking from his own experience. At 18 he was already a catechist in his native village of Belleydoux; later on we see him exercising this ministry in several places, generally ahead of teaching and liturgical animation. He took particular care of preparing youth for first communion. He was also an itinerant catechist. We quote from the Positio: “I joyfully carried out the role of itinerant catechist in the region of Brénod…” Gabriel wrote in his autobiography: “I gave myself over to this holy exercise with a kind of happiness”. He had such regard for this service of the Church that he asked for and obtained from Pope Gregory XVI the title of “apostolic catechist”.
- For all these reasons our Constitutions declare: “In their apostolic roles the Brothers give priority to catechesis, following the example of their Founder. In the name of Christ they proclaim the message of salvation and the call to conversion. ”The goal of catechesis is truly attractive: to help the Word of God to penetrate hearts, to not only put the person in contact with Jesus Christ but even more to facilitate communion and intimacy with him.
- Our Founder asked the Brothers to teach catechism to children, to young people and to everybody; in this way, the good they do will spread from one family to the next and from generation to generation. And he concluded with enthusiasm: “What Brother of the Holy Family, after these considerations…would not give himself with zeal to this sublime role, through which he could so much good…
- Brother Gabriel distinguished between two kinds of Brother catechists, according to where they exercised this ministry: the school or the parish:
– The catechists in the schools teach Christian doctrine to the children confided to them and do this in the school itself.
– The parish catechists…who can undertake to give catechism in the churches or the chapels, not only to children, but also the faithful of both sexes.
Promoting catechism in the schools, parishes and other places is for the Brothers a necessity which stems from the love of Christ and the young.
5.2. In the school
- Among other subjects, our schools give religious formation, systematically and explicitly, as a necessary means promoting equilibrium between profane culture and religious culture. But also they strive to obtain not just intellectual adherence to the truth but especially a personal contact of the whole person of the student to the person of Christ. For this “the importance and need for catechetical instruction in Catholic schools cannot be sufficiently emphasised. Here young people are helped to grow towards maturity in faith”.
- The ministry of the word can be carried out in the school in four ways: primary proclamation, scholastic religious instruction, catechesis and homily. The General Directory for Catechesis states that two of these forms are particularly important: scholastic religious instruction and catechesis.
- As far as possible our educational centres promote the creation of groups for the deepening the faith and for the catechumenate. The experience of faith can mature there and the needs of each young person be met. While the group experience is offered to all the boys, their freedom to participate or not is respected.
- Preparation for Eucharist and Confirmation are understood as times of exceptional educational and catechetical value. They are not seen, however, in isolation but as part of an uninterrupted process which begins in childhood, is followed through into adolescence and young adulthood and finishes in the adult Christian community. In the course of this process, as well as weekly meetings, there are certain high points such as the life in the Christian community, the Easter celebrations, camps….
- We create and animate groups of Christian students, ex-students and parents. We follow a programme of formation with these groups as a means of assisting their own harmonious and on-going development.
Our schools prepare the catechists and animators of these different groups, basically through the respective pastoral departments, and accompany their life and growth. Coordination of the plan of catechetical animation should be set up, at least within each Province.
5.3. In the Parish
- The parish is called to be the family home, the welcoming brotherly home where Christians can feel that they are the People of God. In our day, the parish is undergoing profound transformation in many countries. In spite of all, it is still the privileged place for catechesis, although it is not necessarily the centre of gravity for all catechetical activity, and must be complemented by other institutions.
From its beginnings the Institute has been closely linked with parishes. Today also, there are Brothers and communities who are catechists. So that our catechising and all our parish work may be truly efficacious in its evangelising mission, we stress the following lines of action:
– Place great importance on the catechesis of adults by developing a “post-baptism catechesis, in the form of a catechumenate, taking up some of the elements of the Ritual of Christian Initiation for Adults, with the intention of helping them understand and live the immense richness of the Baptism they have received.”
– Profit from pre-sacramental meetings (preparation for marriage, baptism, first communion of children…) as a means of outreach to the lapsed or estranged, and of evangelisation of those who live in indifference to religion.
– Establish an uninterrupted programme of education in faith, from childhood to adulthood.
– Take care of the formation of pastoral care workers and give value to the ministry of the laity, existing or possible.
-Demonstrate a preferential option for the young and the poor. Encourage solidarity and seek solutions to the needs that arise.
– Enrich the parish community and its different groups with elements of Nazarene spirituality.
– In a parish which lives in conformity with these lines of action, catechesis of the children, adolescents and young adults will greatly profit.
5.4. The role of the catechist
- Among the roles to be developed for the catechists we give significance to the following:
– To integrate and to animate. As catechists we are sent by our community of origin with which we remain closely united. We devote ourselves to the sector to which we are assigned, children, young people or adults, knowing that we are not alone but that we must be attached to our sector and to the whole. Our task as Brother catechists is beautiful:
– to encourage other Christians to take up this service;
– to accompany them in their formation and in the development of their mission;
– to integrate them into their team of catechists and into the Christian community.
– To initiate into the faith. Catechists are real ‘coaches’ when they are initiating into the Christian faith. Very often, the children, young people or adults to whom we are sent, need a purification of their negative experiences, a clarifying of what they understand, or stimulation to counteract the effects of the secularisation which surrounds them. We maintain an attitude of openness and welcome which enables interpersonal encounters.
– To form Christian life. For those who are interested in Jesus Christ but have not yet been baptised, as well as for those who were baptised as infants, it is fundamental that they be educated in attitudes which make possible the experience of faith in its personal and communal dimensions. The catechist gives prominence to the vitality of Christian values and the following of Jesus.
– To transmit the Christian message. As catechists, we take on the task of instructing, of teaching and of communicating the content of faith; of helping the catechumen to give meaning to his hope. We are the transmitters of the faith which we have worked to assimilate, to systematise and to elaborate.
– To educate in symbolic expression. We initiate our catechumens into ‘mystery’, not so as to remain there, but to help them become attached to this fascinating reality which surpasses and transcends us all. For that we educate them in the symbolic dimension, by awakening their sensitivity to all that escapes the tangible and palpable. We help them to seize the transcendent reality which surpasses them but which, especially, puts them in touch with all that is most human. In this way we direct them towards prayer and the sacraments.