New approach for diocesan education programs gets back to basics
FORT WORTH — When it comes to teaching a firm foundation in the faith, the Diocese of Fort Worth is relying on the tried and true: the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. By offering classes in more locations and a lower cost, the Department of Catechesis and Evangelization is hoping to cast a wide net and enroll more individuals in classes that prepare them to teach and defend the faith.
The diocese’s two programs of adult education — the St. Junipero Serra Institute and the St. Francis de Sales program — have revised their curriculum to focus on the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the first two years of a three-year plan. The third year, to be offered in the future, will allow concentrations according to ministry.
The reason for concentrating on the Bible and the Catechism, according to Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Catechesis Jason Whitehead, is simple. The Bible is the inspired word of God, and the Catechism is the “standard reference, the guide for one to understand what it is that the Church actually teaches and [believes]. Pope St. John Paul II [who commissioned the tome] declared the Catechism the ‘sure norm’ for teaching the faith,” Whitehead said.
The difference in the St. Junipero Serra Institute classes and the St. Francis de Sales program boils down to frequency. Classes in the St. Junipero Serra Institute are held weekly, and the St. Francis de Sales program offers monthly classes. Both programs allow participants to take them for a certification credit, which will require a final paper, or to audit the classes without homework.
First-year classes in both programs cover topics including revelation, sacred Scripture, the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, and the four last things. The weekly format of the St. Junipero Serra Institute allow those topics to be explored in more depth.
The courses are being offered at multiple times and locations, including at parishes in Wichita Falls, Weatherford, Burleson, Bedford, and Fort Worth. An online class allows the flexibility of asynchronous learning. Both programs offer classes in English and Spanish.
The cost for the St. Francis de Sales program is $50 annually. The St. Junipero Serra Institute divides its curriculum each year into four courses, which run $25 for a six-week course.
The diocese is increasing the availability of these programs while reducing the cost. Whitehead explained, “What I’m committed to is ensuring that people’s schedules, finances, and life doesn’t get in the way of them being able to learn more about the faith.”
TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
An increase in locations necessitated an increase in instructors. Whitehead said that all the teachers in both programs have “fidelity, unwavering commitment to handing down the faith, and an excitement to serve. They were the most zealous responders” to his request to teach.
Deacon Rigoberto Leyva, the diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry, recruited several deacons to teach the Spanish-language classes.
Dcn. Leyva said, “Deacons are well-trained to catechize. No doubt, they are pastoral and will connect with people. It’s a great opportunity for the community to get to know the deacons, and for deacons to get to know the people.”
Dcn. Leyva has found parishioners receptive and ready to learn more about the Catholic faith as he personally invites them to attend the St. Francis de Sales programs, which are being offered in Spanish in six locations.
Whitehead said the classes are targeted towards those who simply want to know more about their faith and those who teach the faith to children, youth, or adults interested in joining the Church.
In Whitehead’s visits to parishes through the years, he has encountered parishioners who would like to help with religious education but aren’t comfortable with their own grasp of the faith. He said these programs remedy the problem of “You can’t teach what you don’t know. You can’t give what you don’t have.”
Whether participants enroll in a course because they are motivated to teach or because they just want to learn more about the faith, an understanding of the Catechism is critical, according to Whitehead.
He said the new universal Catechism was written in the 1980s and promulgated in 1992 to communicate the faith wholly and systematically because of an ongoing “crisis in catechesis” which continues today. “The changes in our programs emphasize the systematic teaching of the faith. There are certain truths that must be understood first in order for people to effectively understand other truths.”
For example, Whitehead cites the first paragraph of the Catechism.
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in His own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all his strength….”
Whitehead observed, “It starts with ‘What is man’s purpose? Why are we here?’ The answer to that dictates absolutely everything else. If you don’t know why you’re here, you don’t know what your destination is.” Other truths build on that primary understanding.
Whitehead said a “working knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is particularly handy” for all Catholics, especially catechists and those discussing the faith with non-Catholics or fallen away Catholics.
“You don’t have to know all the answers,” he said, “just where to find them.”