“Until young people realize that Jesus Christ is a real and living person, and until they enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and experience him moving in their lives, none of our teachings will make sense.”
This was the central message that Bishop Andrew Cozzens, keynoter at this year’s Diocesan Catechetical Conference, shared with those engaged in ministry to youth.
The conference, livestreamed to more than 450 participants on Nov. 14 from the Diocesan Center, was entitled, “Raising Up Holy Youth: Shaping Our Future Saints.”
Bishop Ronald Gainer and Bishop Cozzens, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, served as two of five speakers for the event, and underscored the significance of the sacraments and personal witness in engaging young people in the faith.
Speaking to the conference’s theme, Bishop Cozzens said “The most important thing we have to do in the Church today is focus our efforts on raising up saints.”
“None of us know what the world is going to look like in five or ten years; none of us would believe what it looks like today from even just a year ago,” he said. “What we do know, though, is that we’re going to need saints, holy people, to guide us through those times and be the strength and life of the Church.”
Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Bishop Cozzens linked to the Diocese’s livestream from his residence in Minnesota.
He pointed out two important truths we realize from an encounter with Jesus: I am a sinner, and I am loved.
“Both of these truths come together. In that moment, because I realize I am loved in that sinfulness, my whole life changes and I become a true disciple of Jesus,” he said.
Young people need encounters with Jesus in order to become his disciples, Bishop Cozzens said.
“Once they have that encounter, everything can change. They experience His love and they’re open to conversion, they’re open to truths, even the difficult and countercultural truths,” he said.
Bishop Cozzens spoke on three key ways of leading young people to this encounter: kerygmatic teaching, testimonials and the sacraments.
Kerygmatic teaching is the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel.
“When I show young people why Jesus Christ came to earth, that He died for their sins, rose from the dead and invites them to live a resurrected life, this is the kerygma. It’s the basic Gospel message that we’re all sinners in need of a savior, and Jesus is the savior who is the Way, the Truth and the Life,” Bishop Cozzens said.
Catechists can deliver the kerygma through testimonial.
“We can have great programs, great Christian movies, great music, but when one person shares with another why they believe that Jesus Christ is alive and is their redeemer, that witness of the Resurrected life and the power of the Holy Spirit changes hearts. We need to be prepared to share our own witness with young people,” Bishop Cozzens remarked.
The third key to leading young people to an encounter with Christ is through His living power in the sacraments, he said.
“I have seen the power of Adoration and Confession with young people. If you dispose young people to a personal encounter with Jesus through testimonies, explaining who Jesus is and what he wants to do in their life, and then you bring them before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Spirit works,” Bishop Cozzens said.
“Our young people have real struggles today. We all know that they get exposed to terrible things at early ages, we know the pressures and anxiety they’re struggling with, and we know that many of them decide to leave the Church at age 13,” he said. “The enemy is working overtime to draw them into sin, but when we invite them to the Sacrament of Confession, we release powerful graces in their lives.”
Retreat experiences often combine the three key elements of kerygmatic preaching, testimonials and the sacraments, and for that reason can be powerful ways for young people to have encounters with Christ, the bishop said.
“You explain the truth of who Jesus is, you offer testimonies, and then you expose them to the power of Jesus in Adoration and Confession,” he said. “Those experiences can be transformative for young people. When they have that encounter with Jesus, their hearts are open and they begin to be hungry for his Word. It all begins with that openness to the encounter.”
A Catechesis on Confirmation
Bishop Gainer’s presentation focused on “Confirmation: A Catechesis on Pentecost Ever-Present,” and offered reflections for catechists who are preparing young people to receive the sacrament.
Connecting Confirmation to Pentecost, he pointed to the fourth question that the bishop asks those who are about to be confirmed: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who, today, through the Sacrament of Confirmation is given to you in a special way, just as He was given to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost?
“The place of Confirmation, wherever it is celebrated, is the new Cenacle,” Bishop Gainer remarked. “The very mystery of the 50th day after Easter is present anew when the Church celebrates Confirmation.”
Turning to the text of the ritual homily that bishops can preach during the Rite, the bishop read: The bishops, as successors of the Apostles, possess the same power as the Apostles and they confer the Holy Spirit on those who have already been born again in Baptism. The Holy Spirit, which you are about to receive, will be a spiritual seal by which you will be conformed to Christ and will be made more fully members of the Church.
“What we’re telling those to be confirmed is, ‘Just as the Apostles were changed radically by the descent of the Holy Spirit, so will you,” Bishop Gainer stressed. “Get ready. Changes are about to come upon you. Just as the Apostles cooperated, you too must surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit and the gifts you are about to receive.”
The proof of one’s radical change and conviction is found in how it changes their lives, the bishop remarked.
“We see that dramatic, radical transformation of the Apostles, and we see the authenticity of their conviction to go out and change the world for Christ,” he said. “Their senses of sight and hearing are engaged by the tongues of fire and the sound of the mighty wind, and they experience a mystery that their physical senses cannot detect…. God engages us through our physical senses as a human person, and then we receive the grace, the sacraments, that are beyond the capability of our senses to detect,” he said.
“The effect of Confirmation is that we are more deeply rooted in the Divine affiliation,” Bishop Gainer said. “It unites us more firmly to Christ, increases the gifts of the Spirit in us, perfects our bond with the Church, and gives us special strength to fulfill the Divine Commission given by Jesus at His Ascension.
The object of Confirmation, he said, “is to make missionary disciples who take seriously the Great Commission of Our Lord: to go forth, teach, be examples, and be authentic witnesses to Jesus by the lives that we lead.”
The livestreamed conference featured presentations from three additional speakers. Sister John Sheila Galligan, IHM, a longtime Theology professor at Immaculata University, spoke on “Deadly Sins and Saving Virtues” in an engaging presentation that examined the ways we can quickly fall into sin, and the virtues that can save us.
Father John Szada, Exorcist for the Diocese of Harrisburg, gave an intriguing presentation on the occult, examining why people turn to occult practices, why they might not realize the dangers they’re dealing with, and the consequences that might result.
Kate Phenice, Director of Spiritual Life at Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, rounded out the presentations with “Wise Beyond Their Years: Young Saints for Young People Today.” She examined the lives of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Blessed Pier Georgio Frassati and Blessed Chiara Badano and the inspirational ways they can speak to youth today.
The Catechetical Conference, which is an annual offering of the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, also included music by the Caelorum band and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. A limited number of less than 12 catechists were present in person for the conference, following social distancing and masking guidelines.
“We are blessed in the Diocese of Harrisburg to have a bishop and pastors support and expect solid catechesis. We are doubly blessed with outstanding parish catechetical leadership from a great group of Parish Catechetical Leaders in our C/DREs and many hundreds of enthusiastic, holy, and dedicated catechists and staff in our Parish Religious Education programs and in many Parish Youth Ministry programs as well,” said James Gontis, Director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.
“I would be remiss if I did not thank our parents who entrust their children to our parish religious education programs in the hopes that their children and teenagers will become holy witnesses to Jesus Christ and to the great adventure that is Catholicism.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness