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You Are Invited
by Marlene Sweeney
Teaching about the Sacraments is not a stagnant activity.
Teaching about the Sacraments is not a stagnant activity. I have engaged in this adventure for over 30 years. I love to brainstorm with other DREs from different parishes to compare notes and share stories. In that process, I have learned much from my own failures and successes and those of others.

Yet, with each passing year I feel more like a beginner—and I actually do not object to being a rookie. Being new invites humility, creativity, and openness to lead the way into this year’s planning.

For example, I may not need to be reminded that old multi-paged handouts, long bibliographies, and favorite VHS tapes are all in the past. But I do need to remind myself to explore websites for content and appropriateness if I plan on referring to them. I don’t need to labor over resources or where I will send inquiring minds—because now we all have Google.

The Invitation

As a minister in our church, the most important thing I need to do is hear the stories of others and become aware of their needs. So I don’t feel that e-learning is the answer to sacramental prep. In fact, I no longer feel that if I can just teach them this or if they learn only that, then they’ll have everything they need to celebrate a Sacrament. Rather, through the years, I have come to appreciate the invitation.

In the months ahead, you will encounter those whom God has invited into your community. Many of these families are going to want to celebrate a Sacrament. Perhaps you’ll meet those parents who want to bring their infant to the waters of Baptism, a school-age child preparing for First Penance and Reconciliation and First Eucharist, a teenager seeking to be confirmed in the faith. These families are asking God’s Church to accompany them through life’s milestones. As a leader in your parish, you are privileged to walk with them and make sure they hear the invitation.

Jubilee Year for the Family

When I meet with families preparing for Sacraments, I emphasize the ancient practice of Jubilee as found in Leviticus and fulfilled in the New Testament. This spiritual vision translates well for those seeking Sacraments.

I explain how this time of preparation will be a “jubilee year” in their family. This year of good news invites forgiveness, healing, and restoring of a right relationship with community and God—tasks that every modern family can easily understand and work toward. Participants come to know that “jubilee” is a gift to their family rather than something the local Church mandates or holds them responsible for bringing about.

As Church leaders, we can facilitate opportunities for families to come together and reflect on God’s ongoing jubilee. We can offer sacred time. We can provide a place to restore, refresh, and recoup from the usual demands of family life.

Sacramental preparation can become a sacred beginning rather than the completion of another chore or responsibility. In this age of overscheduled children and workaholic adults, our tradition teaches the possibility of another way of being. Because of the openness and generosity of the parish family, those seeking Sacraments can experience the jubilee spirit and enlarge their perspectives and hearts to God’s calling.

The Role of Community

The invitation to every Sacrament begins with the Sunday assembly. Worship provides the context in which the family hears God’s word and discerns the invitation. A warm, hospitable community effectively reaches, teaches, and nurtures its members on many levels.

I am reminded of a new family in a community where I ministered. “This parish really gets under your skin,” one of the parents observed. This observation was not meant in a negative way. Rather, it described how the family was touched by Sunday worship.

Coming to church every week was a new routine for this family who had enrolled in the parish sacramental preparation program. In their months of allowing the community to “get under” their skin, they had come to know other families, learned the form and content of the Mass, experienced an array of emotions as life and community events unfolded during the liturgical year, and—most significantly—started recognizing and naming God’s presence in their lives, individually and as a family. By the time they brought their daughters to the Eucharistic table, I knew these parents understood the beauty of “the family table” in a way that no book or curriculum could possibly teach them. Sharing their story years later still brings life to my own understanding of the Body of Christ, further deepening the ability of worship to teach.

As you continue to minister alongside those seeking Sacraments, embrace their jubilee invitation that will open their lives to grace and new beginnings. Marvel at all that God accomplishes and give thanks that you are called to partake in God’s goodness.

Marlene Sweeney, M.Ed., MA, is a Certified Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Marlene is a writer and poet whose works have appeared in numerous books and periodicals. E-mail Marlene at

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