The Catholic East Texas interviews Luke Arredondo, the Director of Faith Formation for the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Tyler.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Mississippi, although I was born in California. After high school, I studied trumpet performance at Florida State University before I left to attend the seminary. I received my bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, LA. I then continued to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for one semester before I left priestly formation to pursue a vocation to marriage. I stayed in the New Orleans area and taught high school theology while continuing work on my MA in Theological Studies. I was married in 2009 to my wife Elena, and we both worked in Catholic high schools and parish ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans until we left for Tallahassee in 2015. We were in Florida for a little over four years while I was earning my PhD in Religious Studies.
Elena and I welcomed our first three children while we were in New Orleans. When we moved to Florida, we had our fourth daughter and after we arrived in Tyler, we had our baby boy. So today we have four daughters, Faustina, Chiara, Therese, Karol (spelled in honor of John Paul II) and our son Fulton.
Can you explain your role as the Director of Faith Formation for the St. Philip Institute?
My job at the Institute is to do whatever they tell me! But mainly I am responsible for implementing the teaching structure outlined in the Constitution on Teaching from Bishop Strickland. That includes overseeing the programs used in faith formation for all different settings across the diocese, overseeing the RCIA process, sacramental formation, forming catechists, contributing to the mission of evangelization through essays and videos, and generally serving as an agent of the Bishop in regard to any catechetical or evangelical issues he needs help with. It is an absolute privilege and such a fun place to work!
What are some of your primary focuses as the Director of Faith Formation?
I think the most important part of the work I’m doing here is building relationships with those engaged in faith formation across the diocese. That work has been slow-going since the pandemic made travel impossible for many months, but I’m now finally getting to a place where I can travel throughout our diocese and start making connections with priests, catechists, and faith formation leaders at the parish level.
Putting a plan in place for catechists to receive basic theological and pastoral training, along with opportunities for ongoing formation, is a top priority and something I’m very excited to launch here in the near future. In addition, making concerted efforts to reach our Spanish-speaking population is one of my top priorities. We put a lot of time and resources into our recent program, From the Beginning, to have it available in English and Spanish at the same time. I’m focusing across all the different areas I manage to try to really serve both language populations with equal quality and resources.
What is your biggest challenge in this role?
I think the biggest challenge for me is the size of the diocese and the diversity of parishes. I’m called by the Bishop to unite people at all of the different parishes into a consistent and coherent vision for catechesis and evangelization, and the geographical scope of the diocese makes that challenging, as well as the wide variation between parishes in terms of size, linguistic needs, formation concerns, etc. Striving to implement the Constitution on Teaching, which calls for uniformity, but also allowing the necessary room for distinctive characteristics of different parish communities, is a complex task and one that I’ll have to continue working toward for some time.
What do you wish people understood about faith formation?
One of the big misconceptions about faith formation, catechesis, evangelization, and other ideas like this in the Church is that they’re things we only do for a brief part of our life. Maybe until we receive the Eucharist, or are able to receive Confirmation. I think the dominant attitude in most Catholics is not that learning about the faith is bad, but that after you’ve received your initiation sacraments, it’s not necessary to keep learning and keep growing. But that kind of thinking makes very few saints!
The vision that the Church has, especially since Vatican II, is that all of us are called to radical holiness and a lifelong process of discipleship. This means we never finish! We’re never done being formed in our faith. As we mature in years, we should mature in wisdom and virtue. My hope is that I can get this message into the hearts of not just those people who are involved in the life of their parish and are going to Mass, but especially to those who have wandered away. We need faith formation, always!
Covid-19 has helped us understand the need to support the domestic church. What is one piece of advice you’d give to families striving to build up their own domestic churches?
Why not try?! This is the advice St. John Paul II gives in his letter on the rosary when he is discussing the idea of praying the rosary with young people. But I love to give that advice to parents all the time. The primary difficulty with building up the domestic church is that oftentimes we don’t even try. It’s the same with any activity, vocation, job, hobby, etc. Going from doing nothing to doing something is often the hardest step.
Building up the domestic church is an incredibly important and challenging endeavor. But we need to remember that even small steps are important and will help. Pray together as a family whenever you can, even if it’s just a short prayer. Read scripture, tell stories about the saints, and above all go to the Eucharist and Confession as a family. Start where you are, and make a small step in the right direction. You don’t have to turn your home into a silent retreat hall with a full monastic prayer schedule. But we have to try something, and we have to keep trying. So, again: why not try?!
Who is your favorite saint and why?
I suppose if we’re sticking with strictly canonized saints, I’d have to say these are among my favorites: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, and St. Therese of Lisieux
Each of them are saints in their own way, and bring their own distinctive witness to the ways in which the Holy Spirit can set a soul on fire and change the world. One of the things I love about the saints is the way they show us the diversity of gifts and callings that God shares with the world. There are saints of all different backgrounds and vocations and talents and yet through all of these various channels, God can radically transform an individual and conform them ever more to his image and thus sanctify not just the individual, but all those who know their story.
I think of St. John Paul II as a sort of Catholic Forrest Gump. He was perfectly placed at just the right place and time to study and learn from the right mixture of teachers and lay faithful in his youth in Poland that he could go on to endure and overcome the oppression of the Nazis and the Communists. Through his love of poetry and acting, he came to appreciate the beauty of the human experience and this would influence his love for phenomenology. But he joined his phenomenology to a deep spirituality and also wrote a doctoral dissertation with perhaps the most famous Thomistic scholar of the 20th century. The more I read about and learn the story of John Paul II’s life, the greater I appreciate the gift he was to the Church and how much he lived with a spirit of true joy.
St. Faustina was a saint in a very different way; she was a humble and quiet soul, someone who lived a life that, from outward appearances, was very ordinary. The sisters who lived with her may have found her quirky and prone to illness, but they had nearly no idea the tremendous graces being given to her or the powerful messages Jesus was sharing with her. By reading her diary we see her calling as an apostle of Divine Mercy, and the ways she struggled with that journey. She never did get to found her own religious order, but she did succeed in bringing the world the message of Divine Mercy, which has been a tremendously important part of my life for the last decade. Faustina’s Eucharistic piety and radical devotion to Jesus gives us an image of what the spiritual life can look like when we learn above all to submit our will to the will of the Father.
St. Therese and St. Faustina are kindred spirits, and in fact, Therese even visited Faustina once in a mystical dream. What I love about Therese is her honesty and her humility. Therese knew she could not accomplish great things, yet through her little way, she became a Doctor of the Church! Her spiritual biography, The Story of a Soul, is also one of my favorite books.
I could go on about all three of these saints, but I think the best way to express how meaningful they are to me is that I named three of my children after them!
You can learn more about the work Luke does for the Diocese of Tyler by visiting the Department of Faith Formation page on the St. Philip Institute website.