At this year’s Catechetical Conference offered to parish formation leaders, Fr. Justin Kizewski, Director of Intellectual Formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis, shares how sacraments evangelize those receiving them. (Photo by John Teggatz)

Make no mistake about it — sacraments do evangelize youth and adults by their very nature.

Saint Francis de Sales Seminary professor Fr. Justin Kizewski made this point as a keynote speaker at a three-day Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catechetical Conference, attended by parish Christian formation staff and volunteers to encourage them as another year of formation kicks off.

“We just want them to come and be loved on and get good formation,” said Doug Ulaszek, Associate Director of Evangelization and Catechesis/Adult and Family with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The conference, held Aug. 24-26 at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center, offers people active in formation at parishes the chance to learn, reflect and grow in their own faith as well as equip them with new tools and perspectives.

Christian formation — also known as religious education — is about changing hearts in addition to teaching about scripture, prayer and Church teachings.

“We want people to know, love and serve Jesus,” said Andrew Schueller, one of the event’s masters of ceremonies for the conference, “Stepping into the Mystery.” Schueller heads the archdiocese’s campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Parish staff and volunteers working in catechesis strive to help youth and adults encounter Jesus and continually build a relationship with God, he said.

Sacramental preparation is an important opportunity to engage families who may not come to church at other times, Schueller said.

As the very first speaker, Fr. Kizewski set the stage for the rest of the conference that included break-out workshops, short quick-hit presentations and small group discussions about how to apply broad ideas to engage children and parents. Breaks, meals and Mass also allowed time for prayer, reflection and fellowship at the conference.

Fr. Kizewski, Director of Intellectual Formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis, spoke on “Invitation and Encounter: Evangelizing Through the Sacraments.”

He said he wanted to “push back” on the idea that the sacraments and evangelization are somehow separate paths.

Fr. Kizewski repeatedly returned to a phrase taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians — that Jesus’ grace is “lavished upon us,” especially through the sacraments. (Ephesians 1:8)

“Each sacrament is an encounter with him. He shares his life with us,” he said. “While it’s true the sacraments are not magical … they do affect salvation.”

Fr. Kizewski read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1131): “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”

“It’s a mouthful, but it’s so rich,” he said. “Efficacious” means that the sacraments make grace present.

Fr. Kizewski said people instructing others in our faith must have confidence that divine life is given and will bear fruit. To have “the required disposition” is a low standard, he added.

The conference has focused on “what do our parish leaders need?” for the past two years.

“We want to take care of our parish staff,” Ulaszek said. For example, the conference’s last day takes place on a Saturday so that parish formation staff can participate alongside their volunteers who have work commitments on weekdays. This is a rare opportunity for parish staff who are typically involved with the logistics of formation events at their parishes.