24th Sunday Ordinary Time Sept. 17, 2006

Homily — 24th Sunday OT B (CCD Sun.) September 17, 2006

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Who do people say that I am?

We observe this weekend National Catechetical Sunday in parishes through the United States.

At the 10 a.m. Mass today, those who teach in our Religious Education Program received a blessing as they begin the School Year. CCD for Grades 1-8 begins tomorrow, Confirmation for Grades 9-10 begins two weeks from today.

In today’s Gospel, we kind of see the dynamics of a religious education program in action: on the one hand there is Jesus, trying to teach His disciples. On the other hand there is His disciples, trying to learn how to follow Jesus.

And Jesus begins by asking “Who do people say that I am?” When it comes to teaching the faith to a group of people, that question is a good one to start with: who does the average public school student think Jesus is? Who does the average teenager today think Jesus is? The average adult?

People both young and old come to CCD and RCIA classes with pre-conceived notions of who Jesus is. And just like the Gospel, some of them are mostly correct in their answers, like St. Peter was, others are only partly correct, like those who thought Jesus was a prophet, and still others are dead wrong about who they think Jesus is, like those who thought He was Elijah come back to earth.

The Challenge for the Catechist is to dispel the false notions of Jesus and to fill out the incomplete notions of Him, so that they may say with Peter: You are the Christ.

But even Peter, who knew who Jesus is, didn’t really know as much as he thought he knew. So even the best student disciple of Christ still like Peter has much to learn before he or she is ready for eternal life.
In addition to showing the kind of students must be taught, Jesus in the Gospel also gives various teaching methods which He used in teaching the disciples.

Our Lord used what’s called the Socratic Method of teaching, by asking the student questions, trying to draw the correct answer out of them: Who do they say I am? Is that right? No? Then who do you say that I am?

While Jesus every now and then used the Socratic Method, He more often used the Lecture Method, as He did in the Sermon on the Mount, and here in the Gospel when He lectures them on His passion and resurrection and later on carrying their cross behind Him.

And lastly, this Gospel shows that Jesus wasn’t afraid to teach every now and then by admonition. He rebukes Peter in front of all the other disciples. Certainly it’s not the first method Christ resorts to, nor should it be the first method of any teacher. But Christ shows us that sometimes it’s not wrong to teach by correction. (A priest mentor I once had said Christians should “encourage in pounds and correct in ounces.”)
Jesus also used at least three other teaching methods not mentioned in today’s Gospel:

Parables — Those stories where everything has symbolic meaning: The sower going out to sow; the man with the wine vineyard, the prodigal son, etc. I think Jesus taught frequently in Parables because to really get most of the parables, you have to sit down and really pray about them — there’s more to them than first meets the eye.

Jesus also used a method considered very passe and old school these days — Memorization.

When you pray, say “Our Father . . . . .” (He certainly expected them to memorize it). And at the First Mass, the center of our faith, Our Lord says: Do this in memory of Me.

While in years past, the Nuns probably went overboard on having kids memorize everything; There’s about a dozen basic prayers that every child and adult should be able to know by memory if they can, as well as the 10 Commandments, the 5 Precepts of the Church and the 14 Works of Mercy. And only the answer to the first question of the Baltimore Catechism. Everything else you don’t need to memorize.
And lastly, Jesus taught most of all by example. His example of mercy, forgiveness, humility, patience, trust in God, are seen on every page of the New Testament for us to imitate.

And so those of us who are called to teach the faith — Parents (the first teachers of the faith), Godparents, Clergy, CCD teachers — we should try to use all these methods of teaching that Jesus used to convey the faith, especially the last method of good example.

But how we teach, the methods, are only half of what makes a good religion teacher. What we teach, the content, is the other essential half. We could have great teaching methods and keep the students of ours interested and engaged the whole class, but end up giving them no content, no real knowledge of Who Jesus and His Church is.

Faith without works is dead, and good teaching methods without good content is dead also. Which means we Catechists — parents, clergy, teachers — we need to know what our Catholic Faith teaches, and then effectively convey the whole content of our faith to those entrusted to us.

I want to end by calling to your attention two new books that came out in the past few months to help us both learn the faith and teach it to others:

1) the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — (Compendium for short). Put out by the Pope for the whole Church, the Compendium is a summary of the Big Catechism of the Catholic Church in Question and Answer Form (just like the old Baltimore Catechism). It’s a little bit easier to read than the Catechism (which isn’t the easiest thing to read, but if you have a college education I think you could handle it). It’s a lot shorter too.

But also in the Compendium are about 20 beautiful color images: icons, paintings, mosaics, frescos that teach a lesson through artwork, with side notes on what the symbolism is in the images.

And also in the back, there’s a very nice Appendix of Prayers in Latin and English, and Formulas of Catholic Doctrine (the works of mercy, the capital sins, ten commandments, etc.)

2) And finally, literally hot off the presses, just out is this “United States Catholic Catechism for Adults”.

I’ve only read a couple of Chapters, but it really looks like a good book. Most every Chapter begins with the story of a famous American Catholic. It seems a lot easier to read than the Catechism or Compendium, but at the same time it’s just as faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

So I recommend you get both, plus the Catechism they are based on!

May Jesus bless our parish as we begin this new CCD year, and may all of us who are entrusted with teaching the faith grow more and more to know just Who Jesus really is.

One Response to “24th Sunday Ordinary Time Sept. 17, 2006”

  1. Mike Dubois says:

    Thanks Fr. Woolley for this sermon. I think in this time of year when CCD is beginning, we need to be reminded of WHO it is that we are teaching. But yet, you really hit home, for me, when you included everyone…not just those who are actually teaching CCD. I can teach just by talking to someone off the street and be that same witness as the CCD teachers…although I already knew this…your topic on “Who do you say that I am” really made me think…”Who do I believe Jesus really is”? Is HE a mean figure when I sin? Is HE a loving father as the parable of the Prodigal Son? Does HE always give “second chances” more times than I can count? Is HE the ONE I can always count on when things are at their worse…or even at their best? WHO DO I THINK JESUS IS TO ME?
    During the week, I really had to think about this and to be honest…it’s going to take some time to really answer that question…not because I don’t really know Jesus…but HE reveals HIMSELF in many ways to me that I end up changing my answers to this same question. But the one answer is certain…HE IS THE SON OF GOD AND SAVIOR OF THE WORLD! That answer will never change…I guess the answers are different for every walk of life…just have to know the person and where he/she is at in their relationship with HIM in order to find out WHO HE IS to him/her.
    I will be honest Fr. Woolley…I am still pondering this question even till present moment…and hopefully I can answer fully this question soon.