Bishop offers 10 points for transmitting faith today

| August 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Culture, family and parish life interact together in complex ways that affect the quality and depth of faith formation for children and adults, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, told Catholic educators during his keynote address Aug. 21 at the Minnesota Catholic Education Association conference in Rochester.

The bishop, who is chairman-elect of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, outlined 10 points during his talk on the gathering’s second day that he said are key to nurturing faith and understanding the challenges of transmitting it in today’s world.

1. We are dealing with a complexity of cultures in the world we are living in right now.

The church in the United States is comprised of Catholics from many cultural backgrounds, Bishop Flores said. The U.S. bishops have subcommittees focused on the needs of Catholic Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, the Asian-Pacific community and itinerants and migrants.

“There are a number of countries of origin that are affecting how the church expresses itself in the United States. All are important,” he said, adding that it is incumbent upon Catholics to be hospitable to immigrants and try to understand better the expressions of faith they bring with them.

2. Culture is also a reality in the home.

“The family culture is basically how, in that particular family setting, the faith is transmitted or not,” Bishop Flores said. The wider culture can pose significant challenges to families, particularly recent immigrants who often feel they are competing with it.

“Parents feel they have less and less influence over their children because of what they hear on television, what they see on the Internet, what they may or may not hear in school,” he said.

Children in immigrant families quickly learn to speak English better than their parents, reversing the authority dynamic. “This affects the family dynamic profoundly,” Bishop Flores told the educators, “and you need to be aware of that.”

One suggestion the bishop offered for all teachers and parents: read what today’s young people are reading — books, for example, like the “Percy Jackson” novels and the “The Hunger Games,” which feature young people striving to be noble and heroic amid difficult or desperate realities.

“I think reading children’s literature is a very important thing to do if you’re a teacher or if you’re in any way involved in education because it gives you an idea about what is out there . . . and gives us a sense into what our family culture nationally is trying to grapple with,” he said.

3. Parish life and school life are a kind of culture.

“Parish life and school life is either hospitable or it is not,” Bishop Flores said. “Among the Christian virtues, hospitality is the most important when it comes to evangelizing, in witnessing and in any way making church a place where people feel welcome.”

“How hospitable are we?” is a question we must ask ourselves, he said. “I always say the most important person in the parish is the one who answers the phone, or opens the door, or greets the person at Mass on Sunday morning.”

Creating a culture of hospitality, he added, is especially important in cultivating an inviting parish community for immigrants and moving beyond the fragmentation that happens in parishes among various groups.

“I think we have to ask the church to be a witness to a Catholic reality, which basically says we may speak different languages, we all have different cultural experiences relating to the faith, but we are all Catholic,” he said. “We all believe in the Eucharist, we all believe in the incarnation of the Son of God, we all believe he was crucified and rose from the dead. And so there ought to be some time when we’re all there together and the language thing doesn’t matter so much…. We can all be one in faith, hope and love without losing our identity.”

4. We live in an extremely secularized culture.

The secular culture “is robbing the faith of our children without us knowing it,” Bishop Flores said.

“There is a cultural dynamic — it’s kind of the air we breathe — that basically proposes to our young people and to adults that human life can be happily lived without a connection to a religious body or belief, that religion is purely a private matter, that in this culture we don’t really need God,” he said.

“That’s not us” as Catholics, Bishop Flores said. “Anyone involved in the education mission of the church must ask themselves, “How necessary is Christ to me?” Christ is our savior and we must live our lives in ways that show that, he said.

5. In what sense do I think belonging to the church is necessary?

“What is the urgency in belonging to the church, in announcing the Gospel?” Bishop Flores asked. “Are we just announcing something to people so they can be a little bit happier in what already is a happy life, or are we saying this is the remedy for what ails the human race?”

If we believe the latter, we must live our lives accordingly, he said.

6. Without Christ, we are lost.

“Pope Benedict XVI writes about why faith must be active in the culture,” Bishop Flores said. Sooner or later, in a world devoid of faith, “the powerful devour the weak, self-interest triumphs over selflessness, and it basically becomes a culture of ‘do whatever you want as long as we don’t hear the scream.’”

“When John Paul II warned us about a culture of death, he was basically saying that if a culture is evacuated of the influence of the Gospel, then what’s left is a very stark reality,” he said.

He challenged the educators to think about this question every day: In what sense is Christ needed in my life as Savior? “Without him,” Bishop Flores reiterated, “we are lost.”

7. A culture of believers must be sustained on something more than Sunday Mass and catechetical sessions.

“I think sometimes that American Catholicism has gotten extremely cerebral,” Bishop Flores said. “We need to recover a sense of the physical contact with the Mystery — the Incarnation, the cross, the Eucharist.”

Part of the educational element of the church includes processions, music, meals together on important feast days — such as the feast of Corpus Christi — that touch the lives of people, he said.

“It’s an expression of faith that puts flesh and blood on what we say we believe,” said Bishop Flores, who added that the church needs to recover a sense of the celebratory, processional life of the church that pulls in diverse groups of people.

“I had many Polish families tell me in Detroit [where he served as an auxiliary bishop] at an Our Lady of Guadalupe procession, ‘Bishop, I didn’t understand a word they were singing, but I know what it is to love the Blessed Mother.”

“We have to connect to the gut more,” Bishop Flores said.

8. In the complexity of family situations, simple things matter.

“I grew up with [an image of] the Last Supper over the dinner table,” Bishop ­Flores said. “Why? Because you need to make a connection between the meal you have as a family and the meal you have on Sunday. Jesus is there in the middle of it.”

Having religious images, art and a crucifix in one’s house, praying the rosary and saying grace before meals are important ways to encourage and strengthen faith in families, he said.

“God became flesh. What a great thing,” Bishop Flores said. “Let’s put a cross in every room. Let’s put an image of the Blessed Mother somewhere or the Sacred Heart because you grow up and see that, and it reminds you we’re Catholic and that’s a great thing because God came to visit us. That’s the whole Good News. And he’s still here.”

Another simple thing not to forget is to give time to our children. “Time is the most important thing we give to our youth,” Bishop Flores said. “It’s the only thing you can give that communicates in the very giving that what happens to
you matters to me. If you ask me what I think our youth most want to know, it is: Does what happens to me matter to you?”

9. The devil’s end game is despair.

When youth are in desperate circumstances and indoctrinated to believe that what they do doesn’t matter anymore, that’s despair, Bishop Flores said.

“The only defense they have is to actually believe [what they do] does matter. It matters how you treat people, it matters how you respect people, it matters that you believe that in the end goodness wins. Because if you believe that goodness doesn’t win in the end, then it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

The church needs to put more resources in its work with 11- to 14-year-olds because that’s when many youth are making decisions about whether to give up on the goodness of life or not, he said.

“Between Christ and despair, there is no middle ground,” he said. “The proclamation of the faith, the teaching of the faith, is the only real substantial antidote to that attitude [of despair].”

10. What we want.

“What we want is to love and teach and practice our faith with joy,” Bishop Flores said. “We want to have a sense of the beauty of a Catholic identity that is expressed in art and music and processions and in a variety of different cultures that express themselves and take joy in being together. . . . We want to see Christ in our midst — see his Gospel and his grace — because we know that without [him] we are lost. But, with [him], we have everything.”

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