Diocese of Brownsville
Welcome to the Diocese of Brownsville's landing page for Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute.
The Institute offers online workshops leading towards Diocesan Certificates for our Parish Catechetical Leaders and Catechists. These workshops can be completed individually or in group settings and are designed so you can start and stop them and work at your own pace.
These workshops, led by professors at the university and other experts in the field, are ideal for parish leaders, catechists, youth ministers, RCIA teams, parents, and teachers, as well as those wishing to deepen their faith and grow in love for Christ and the Church.
If you have any questions, please contact your parish catechetical leader or you may contact me directly by phone or email.
May God bless your journey of ongoing formation.
Office of Evangelization and Catechesis
Diocese of Brownsville
700 Virgen de San Juan, San Juan, TX 78589-3030
What is our purpose and goal as ministers in the Church in an RCIA process? To make new Catholics? To spread the Gospel? To run a good process? Our purpose and goal must transcend the “how” of RCIA and begin with the “why.” The restoration of the catechumenal process is a reflection of the Church’s wisdom in going back to a tried and true practice in order to lovingly bring people into Her fold. It is a restoration of grace for those who are seeking Christ and His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. This workshop inaugurates the necessary vision to develop excellent parish-based RCIA ministry, beginning with a call to trust the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in Her discernment to gift the modern world with a way of Christian initiation unparalleled in its beauty and power. Only in the light of this trust and deep understanding of the RCIA process, as the Church intends it to be implemented, does the full purpose and potential of the initiation journey become clear and attainable.
It is into the great mystery of the Father’s saving love through Christ Jesus that all believers are called. And it is this great mystery that all the institutions of the Church, each and every one of them, exist to serve. The OCIA has no other purpose than the service of the holy mystery, the saving sacrament, of Christ present and active in His living Body. The renewal of the process of Christian initiation stands as one of the most important and successful features of modern liturgical renewal. Since its promulgation in 1972 and its further elaboration under the auspices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1988, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has been among the most pastorally effective features of Catholic life in the United States. And yet all is not well. The very fact that the challenge is conversion, the conforming of imperfect men and women to Christ, means that the process will never be perfect. Initiation is, after all, the beginning of a process which has its ending in eternity. However, there are problems that are more concrete and, for that reason, can more readily be corrected. In general, three models of OCIA are operative today in most Catholic parishes using the Rite. Each of the models conceives of, and practices, Christian initiation differently. This workshop describes these models, discussing their strengths and weaknesses in terms of catechetical, liturgical, and pastoral dimensions. The result is clarity on how best the OCIA can serve the great work of immersing participants into Catholicism through a process of learning and interiorizing the sacred Scriptures, doctrines, sacraments, prayers, moral traditions, spiritual readings and rich communal culture of the Catholic Church, in order to serve the Father’s provident love in calling each soul to the living Body of Christ on earth.
From the ancient Nicene Creed we proclaim that “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.” The mystery of the Second Person of the Trinity is the God Who comes to us to save, redeem, instruct, give us hope and lead us to our promised glory. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We do not have a God Who is distant, but a God Who comes to us in the most intimate way. We enter into the mystery of Christ through a living Word, transforming sacramental grace, evangelizing catechesis, and evangelical communities. This workshop will explore how a rich understanding of the means by which souls enter into Christ’s life can be fostered in our approaches to ministry. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to call each soul to God’s loving plan and sure hope in Christ. This talk describes the means to participate in that life.
This workshop will explore the necessary connection of catechesis to the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church in our work as catechists. The liturgy comes from the “living memory” of the Church, that is, the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1099). Through the Holy Spirit working in the liturgy, the truths of the faith are passed on like a special family memory, from generation to generation, down to the present day. Each time we participate in the liturgy, we receive the treasure of the Deposit of Faith. But the liturgy is more than a family heirloom – it is reality. It is the place in which “Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings” (Catechesi Tradendae, CT, 23). As catechists, we have a call: the privilege of ensuring that those we catechize understand and grow in appreciation for this encounter with God. We bring others into God’s saving work in the liturgy so they too can be transformed by the One Who loves us fully. We teach about the liturgy to pass on the magnificent inheritance of faith to the next generation, echoing the action of catechists from the centuries before us. This workshop's creation was made possible through a generous grant by William H. Sadlier, Inc.
“. . . [T]he liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium 10). The liturgy proclaims, celebrates, and actualizes the Father’s loving plan for His people. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), or catechumenal process, has three aspects: liturgical, catechetical, and pastoral, of which liturgical is prime. The Church has designed these aspects to promote deep, long-lasting conversion to Christ and a love for the Church. This workshop will focus on the stages of the modern catechumenal process, which derive directly from the ancient order of catechumens, and the way liturgical graces build and crescendo through the four periods of the RCIA process to make possible the plan of goodness born in the Father’s heart for each believer.
“That which was from the beginning . . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you…” (1 John 1:1, 3). St. John Paul II proclaimed that, “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ . . .” (Apostolic Exhortation "On Catechesis in Our Time," Catechesi tradendae 5). The work of catechesis is not just “education,” but “intimacy with Jesus Christ.” God wants to make Himself known, to communicate His own divine life to us and make us capable of responding to Him. God gradually “pulls back the veil” (See 2 Corinthians 3:14–16) by words and deeds, but especially in Jesus Christ, the Mediator and fullness of all Revelation. By His Revelation, God has answered all the questions of the human condition. God wants all to be saved, so He arranged that His Revelation remain in its entirety and be transmitted to all generations. This workshop focuses on the apostolic work of passing on the truths of the faith in an organic and systematic way. This is done to make disciples of Christ and to initiate them into the fullness of Christian life through an encounter with the communion of believers and with Christ the Teacher. “‘The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 25)
This workshop explores adult catechesis within the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) baptismal catechumenate. Each period of the RCIA process has a distinctive catechetical objective in serving the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion, and so each period of the RCIA will have a different “feel” catechetically. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults itself gives us the guidelines for what participants need to know, and what we need to teach, thereby allowing the catechetical aspect of Christian initiation to become teaching in the service of leading others into the Father’s eternal embrace, a love beyond all telling.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux joyfully exulted that, “‘If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn't lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. And I realized that this love alone was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. LOVE, IN FACT, IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT'S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE — IT'S ETERNAL!’” (quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 826, emphasis in the original). We know that this love is the golden thread that binds all we believe, this love which has God as its source and which we know as the theological virtue of charity. It is the love of God that gives us truth to speak in gentleness and clarity, and life-giving concern to reach out sacrificially to all those souls around us. It is the love that makes us adopted sons and daughters. It is our beginning and our gifted destiny. This workshop delves into the vital nature of the love of brethren — the virtue of charity that helps us to love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves — that is to be the mark of any community calling others to join Christ’s Body.
The pastoral aspect of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) signifies the means by which we form and accompany souls, person-to-person, to a deeper relationship with the Trinity through the Body of Christ. Many who do not stay with the Church after going through the RCIA process leave not for lack of knowledge, but for lack of care. The pastoral components are the people who participate, some intimately and others from a distance, in Jesus’ graced work of conversion and discipleship of souls. It is the surpassing calling of becoming a gift to other souls, and receiving others freely as a gift from the Lord. This workshop addresses how the pastoral aspect of the RCIA process leads us to be sacrificial witnesses — the Lord’s chosen means to authenticate faith and relationship with the Trinity, to support conversion in lives, and through God’s saving message draw all people into the loving embrace of the Father and His People.
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Revelation means to pull back the veil. It is God’s method of manifesting a bit of Himself, allowing us time to absorb it and respond, before He shows a bit more; and the process repeats. Because the work of catechesis is oriented towards conversion, the catechist needs to understand clearly how a person gets faith and grows in faith. This workshop delves in the sacred pattern of God’s methodology — how He reaches out to us, and how He calls us and enables us to freely respond.
“Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1069). Through the liturgy, the grace that flows from Jesus’ saving work is made available to us so that we may grow in intimacy and communion with the Blessed Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the sacred liturgy, we are reminded of all God’s blessings: from creation, to the cross, to our re-creation in sacramental grace. God initiates, we respond, and we will continue responding until Jesus comes again. This workshop offers us an opportunity to learn how the liturgy is an encounter with the Holy Trinity and the primary means for us to live in right relationship with our Lord. This workshop's creation was made possible through a generous grant by William H. Sadlier, Inc.
“The rite of Christian initiation . . . is designed for adults who, after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and freely seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults 1). The Order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA) is the process by which men and women respond to the Lord’s movements in their lives and enter the Church. The OCIA Rite Book, also referred to as the OCIA Ritual Text, is the guiding light from the Magisterium for the entire OCIA process. In this workshop, we will learn about the origin and importance of this resource that is so integral to the process of the OCIA, as well as gain an overview of the major components of the OCIA Rite Book. It is vital that this liturgical document be understood by pastors, OCIA leaders, OCIA team members, and others involved in forming those who seek to enter Holy Mother Church. This text provides the liturgical prayers, major and minor rites, and the rubrics that are to be used during the OCIA process. It also provides essential pastoral and catechetical guidelines, which aid a parish OCIA process to develop and operate as the Church intends, thereby properly serving the men and women in the OCIA process.
How do I know what to teach? How do I know what is essential? What can I not leave to chance that my students will get on their own? Many catechists are never helped and trained to go beyond pre-written outlines. They never discover how to take a piece of God’s revelation, a doctrine, and break it down in a way that answers these critical questions. This workshop explores how to identify the premise, essentials, common misunderstandings, related doctrines, and foundational Scriptures for the truths all catechists are called to pass on, so that each catechist can develop teachings that flow from his or her own deep grasp of the saving truths.
This workshop will introduce participants to biblical catechesis through an ancient catechetical technique: the use of the Story of the Bible. The most important historical events of the Bible can be briefly described in one Story, connected by one common theme: union with God. The Story of the Bible portrays the drama of God’s love for every soul and the whole human race: how God created us to be united with Him in a relationship of love; how we lost union with God through the original sin; how Jesus re-united us with God in a relationship of love through His passion, death and Resurrection; and how the Holy Spirit fosters a continuing unfolding of those saving events in the life of Church, as the Lord’s Bride. Often in a catechetical setting we fall into the habit of teaching individual topics without reference to the greater context of salvation history. In order to draw others into the life of God and the Church we have to help them make this Story of the Bible their own. Everything that the Church teaches, her doctrines, disciplines, worship, and morality makes sense when delivered within the context of the Story of the Bible. The Story of the Bible tells us of our spiritual roots, our dignity, our destiny, and daily vocation to follow Jesus Christ, providing peace and authentic hope to those we seek to teach and evangelize.
“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it,” (St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter The Redeemer of Man, Redemptor hominis 10). The love that we are meant to "participate intimately in" is the love of God. God first loves us, and this love enables us to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John Paul II offers a reflection and teaching on human love in the Divine plan through his work called the Theology of the Body. This workshop explores that work, and offers insights on our vocation to perfect love and its relationship to the vocation of marriage and family life. This workshop's creation was made possible through a generous grant by the Our Sunday Visitor Institute.
“No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process. The charism given to him by the Spirit, a solid spirituality and transparent witness of life, constitutes the soul of every method” (General Directory for Catechesis 156). This workshop discusses the surpassing importance of the catechist as a witness and how to wisely and effectively incorporate witnessing into the work of formation. To the degree that this is poorly understood by catechists, their efforts will fall on deaf ears in our secular culture, as Pope St. Paul VI reminds us: “. . . ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses’” (Apostolic Exhortation “On Evangelization in the Modern World,” Evangelii nuntiandi 41, quoting St. Paul VI's Address to the Members of the Concilium de Laicis on October 2, 1974).
Mother Church, in Her wisdom, tells us that “. . . the entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults 9). The RCIA team is an essential element in an effective RCIA process, because the RCIA team represents the Christian community and is often the first real “Catholic community” many RCIA participants encounter. The members of a well-formed RCIA team play a fundamental role in fostering the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion, through their personal witness to the faith and their commitment to fostering authentic relationships with those considering entering holy Mother Church. They support those in the RCIA process and accompany them on their journey of faith, modeling for them what the life of a Christian looks like. Most importantly, the RCIA team loves those who are in the RCIA process. This workshop delves into how to find, form, and faithfully lead a team that can help create a strong environment for conversion.
“. . . being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The role of sponsor or godparent is an essential aspect of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process. It is a work of grace that is certainly challenging and demanding, yet also extremely rewarding. The RCIA process calls for godparents and sponsors to be part of each participant’s journey into the Catholic Church. Who is appropriate for this role? How can we find and train them well? What does canon law require? Guiding individuals in the process of choosing sponsors and godparents, along with helping the sponsors and godparents understand the great dignity of these roles in the heart of Mother Church, can help effectively attune the entire RCIA process to each individual being served. In this workshop, we will explore the value of the roles of sponsors and godparents and some keys to making this pastoral element decisive in the overall work of conversion.
RCIA is conceived of by Holy Mother Church as a collaborative work, under the leadership of our clerical shepherds. The ritual book specifically describes catechists and other members of the laity as individuals who “work with priests and deacons” (RCIA 7). This phrase recognizes the mutual dependence of the clergy and laity upon each other; it does not offer an option for either clergy or laity to “go it alone.” The most noticeable areas of collaboration described in the ritual book are in catechesis and discernment, extending, for example, from sponsors/godparents up to the bishop of the diocese in the chain of accountability that unfolds in the Rite of Election. This workshop explores these complementary roles through the RCIA process. Only when every role is fulfilled does the Christian initiation process properly accomplish its part in the exalted mission of evangelizing and initiating adults into the mystery of Christ and the communion of the Catholic Church.
In regard to the catechumenate, Mother Church teaches us that an individual’s motives for joining the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) “. . . should be examined, and if necessary, purified” (Ad gentes, “Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity” 13). This examination and purification requires mutual discernment between the individual and the Church to ensure that a person is freely choosing to become Catholic, ready to pass through the liturgical rites that occur in the RCIA process, and that he or she is authentically becoming Christ’s disciple. This workshop gives an overview of why discerning readiness for the rites is a critical aspect in the RCIA process, why it is important to conform our minds and hearts to the intentions of the Church in this regard, and it demonstrates ways for the RCIA participants and team members to mutually discern an individual’s readiness.
Mother Church teaches us about the importance of the precatechumenate by saying it “is of great importance and as a rule should not be omitted. It is a time of evangelization: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, RCIA, 36). We, as pastors, catechists, directors of RCIA, and members of the team, are meant to deliver the Gospel message during this time, in order to lead men and women to initial conversion. This workshop will help us understand the purpose of the precatechumenate, remind us of the importance of giving individuals the time and space to respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, and offer practical advice on catechizing effectively.
“The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love” (CCC 25). Catechesis in the catechumenate is meant to be directed to the Love that never ends and to help catechumens grow in faith, hope and love. This workshop helps all those involved in the RCIA process come to a better understanding of the significance of the theological virtues, how they are Christ’s life in us, ways in which to grow in them, and how to incorporate the theological virtues into catechesis.
Before RCIA participants receive the sacraments of initiation: “...the elect must have the intention of achieving an intimate knowledge of Christ and his Church, and they are expected particularly to progress in genuine self-knowledge through serious examination of their lives and true repentance” (RCIA 142). This workshop provides the Church’s pattern for the period of immediate preparation prior to sacramental initiation. This is not a period in which to teach new doctrines; it is a period for a new depth of encounter. It is a time to inform and develop the life of prayer, the call to holiness, the sense of repentance, the yearning for healing graces, the anticipation of Jesus’ saving embrace in His sacraments. With its unique liturgies and spiritual focus, this period is a time of retreat, making straight the way of Lord to come anew to hearts well prepared for His coming.
“The distinctive spirit and power of the period of postbaptismal catechesis or mystagogy derive from the new, personal experience of the sacraments and of the community” (RCIA 247). The time between Easter and Pentecost is spent in expanding the understanding and appreciation for the sacramental life – to stoke an authentic pursuit of sainthood in new Catholic hearts. In this period of the RCIA process, the deepest meaning of discipleship must be examined, leading to a greater trust, a firmer hope, a more generous love, and the call to mission – to give to others the treasure that has been so freely given.
Those who journey through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) face many obstacles on their way to RCIA and their way through the process. During the time of initial inquiry to the Rite of Acceptance “priests and deacons, catechists and other laypersons are to give the candidates a suitable explanation of the Gospel. The candidates are to receive help and attention so that with a purified and clearer intention they may cooperate with God’s grace” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults 38). The “help and attention” that an inquirer is to receive is pastoral accompaniment. This workshop explains how we pastorally accompany those in RCIA, support them on their journey of conversion, and walk with them as they become fully initiated into Christ and His Church.
As Lent approaches, so does a major liturgical gateway: the Rites of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion. As the period preceding this gateway draws to a close, participants should “have undergone a conversion in mind and in action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching as well as a spirit of faith and charity” (RCIA 120). RCIA participants should have become increasingly involved with the local community, which can wholeheartedly acclaim their readiness because it knows them. This workshop unfolds the elements of pastoral care leading to a deepened conversion, mature discernment, and God-willing, an encounter with the apostolic shepherd of the diocese calling each soul forward to the sacraments of new life.
Of course, the story of the RCIA team and parish community’s role in the Christian initiation process does not stop after the candles of the Easter Vigil have been extinguished. Each child who arrives in a family changes it forever, and these Catholics, who have become a “new creation” (Gal 6:15) in the Spirit, change the parish family into which they have been born or received. From the decision to receive the sacraments of initiation through the first year as a Catholic there are many challenges. The role of the parish, the clergy, the RCIA team, the godparents and sponsors during this crucial time will be examined in this workshop. Special attention will be paid to stemming the tide of recidivism.
A Catholic school has the mission to be a communion of persons that seeks to give a sacred gift. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone summarized our Catholic vision in this way: “In Catholic schools we teach virtue and truth, and we hold out holiness as the Christian vocation of all students. The core mission of the Catholic Church is to provide an integrated education to young men and women, that is, knowledge and virtue combined. The connections between the two are provided by Catholic practice and teachings. We believe this is the formula for forming outstanding disciples of Jesus Christ” (Address to San Francisco Catholic High School Teachers Convocation, February 6, 2015). This workshop aims to develop an understanding of this mission in light of the critical role of each teacher, since, “The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior. This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other” (The Catholic School, Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education 43).
“From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. . . . In a Catholic school, everyone should be aware of the living presence of Jesus the ‘Master’ who, today as always, is with us in our journey through life as the one genuine ‘Teacher,’ the perfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection” (“The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School: Guidelines for Reflection and Renewal” 25). The beauty of a Catholic school comes from its mission, because it shares in the mission of the Church to create disciples of all nations. The Catholic school has a unique ability to help students and staff in their process of ongoing conversion, a continual turning toward our Lord and His ways, because the Catholic school can lead others into a deeper relationship with the Blessed Trinity. This workshop explores key elements of an environment that fosters conversion in a Catholic school, giving highest attention to the formation of the educators, pastoral staff, and leadership, who bear witness to and bring to life all that the Catholic school has been created to foster.