The task of the Catholic school is to teach its students to behold reality, to make sense of what they encounter around and within them. Beyond simply presenting the breadth and depth of human knowledge to its students, it must preach the Gospel, integrating that human knowledge into an authentically Christian worldview and forming its students to be disciples of Jesus. The result ought to be “a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life” (The Catholic School, §37).
“When is our class going to sign the Book of the Remembrance?” asked my first period of sixth-grade students. It was now several days after All Souls Day, and they were concerned I had forgotten our plan to pray for loved ones who had passed away. “Friday,” I answered, “so that we are not interrupting morning Mass at the cathedral and will have more of an opportunity to pray.” Their nods of approval showed they both understood the delay and would not be forgetting the new plan.
In Catholic parishes, the sacraments give rhythm to our lives, along with the days, weeks, months, and years of the liturgical calendar. Yet, even as the liturgical calendar punctuates our daily lives, the forward movement of time can feel deeply impersonal. Parish life, however, offers ways of accompanying universal experiences—even ones as complicated as death and grief—with tender rituals and personal touches. Throughout the month of November, we focus on death and grief as common human experiences through which God and parish companion us. Ministers and fellow parishioners accompany each other through moments that matter, even when those moments are hard.
Ministry leaders are working hard this year to adapt programs to new formats, including online and hybrid models. It can be tempting to “copy and paste” old programs into new formats, to put old wine into new wineskins (see Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37–38). For example, we can email parents a lesson plan and tell them which pages to cover in the religious ed textbook, or we can gather the teens on Zoom to watch the youth minister give a talk and send them into breakout rooms for small group time. These solutions are fine, but they fail to respond creatively and take into account the reality we are all experiencing.
Catholics shy away from talking about preaching. An elderly woman shuddered when she told me, “I couldn’t talk to Father about his homily!” One catechetical leader said, “There’s no conversation. It’s the elephant in the room . . . No one is willing to talk about it.” (Connecting Pulpit and Pew, 8). The subject of preaching is a difficult conversation.