Thursday, May 31, 2012
“The door of faith (Acts 14:27) is always open for us.” That is how Pope Benedict announced a Year of Faith, slated to begin Oct. 11, 2012, and end Nov. 24, 2013.
Now faith is two things: It is a relationship with God (trust in God and abandonment to God’s will) and it is accepting the truth about God (belief in the truths God has revealed). … Sunday we proclaim the Creed, which is a very brief summary of the core elements of our faith. … And to agree on something means we need to understand it (as best we can) and accept it. Pope Benedict highly recommends that everyone make use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is an excellent summary of the contents of our faith. … I encourage you to develop some study groups with your neighbors or friends to review the Catechism or some shorter version of it.
-- Bishop Earl Boyea in Faith Magazine, June 2012
Well. I couldn’t have said it better myself --- although I once did.
When the new catechism first came out in 1992, I saw it as a basis for clearing up questions people I knew had about the Catholic faith. Just what does it teach, and more importantly, why? So I sought to start a small Q&A class, questions we all had about the faith or faith matters, which we would research together using the new catechism and or other documents, such as approved study guides or encyclicals, to answer our questions. The reaction to my proposal at my local parish, however, was far from what I expected.
The pastor, although he had not read the catechism, declared it was for the use of bishops, priests, and teachers of the faith only. Words in the dedication at the front of the catechism which read “to all the People of God” mattered not to him, nor JPII’s words that “It is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation.” He would not attend nor sanction the parish Q&A class I proposed, nor advertise it in the parish bulletin. An appearance at one of the parish commissions (to get people to see my side) turned into an even greater sideshow of misinformation and confusion. “You can’t propose to answer questions of the faith unless you have a degree in theology,” one said.
Well, this was twenty years ago and I was as stubborn then as I am today. Like the blog I write today, I did not want to convert anyone with my teaching, but only wanted to look at things as God presented them to me, and to try and grow in faith and understanding of Him. So we did form a Q&A class and met for about a year, myself and a handful of others, researching our questions, largely in the catechism. And based on the underlines I see in my copy yet today, we learned much. And so it is with some delight that I see my efforts of twenty years ago are now being vindicated by Bishop Boyea (above). And it makes me want to start again, since there was much I did not read.
With all the many books I read and time I spend with God, (praise Him that I am blessed with such freedom), I have learned much of my faith and grown in my relationship with Him. It all seems to come together, and He seems to put more and more things in front of me which re-enforce things I had learned and meditated upon. My recent thoughts on the importance of the Gospel of John (btw the most-referenced scriptural document in the catechism), the thought processes of liberals vs conservatives, and the meanings of freedom and truth, have made my life, and how to live it, much clearer to me. And yet I yearn to learn and understand more. Perhaps this urging of the pope, Bishop Boyea, the call to evangelize and the Year of Faith are coming together in an urging to read and study the catechism. And so I shall.
The catechism is about 700 pages long, and is subdivided into about 85 major sections, of about six to ten pages each. For a weekly study group, that would not be much of a task to read and discuss. And learn --- a self-evangelization so that in knowing our faith we can effectively live it. The call the Church makes to us to evangelize does not mean we should stand on the street corner preaching --- although there are some who may be called to do so. For most of us evangelizing our faith means to know it, understand it, and live it. If we do those things in our daily lives, we will be preaching by our actions, and we will be evangelizing. The catechism’s four main sections deal with the Creed (275 pages), the mass and sacraments (150 pages), Life in Christ --- morality, sin, social justice and the commandments (200 pages), and prayer (75 pages). For my non-Catholic friends, it appears to be more of a study of Christianity than unique Catholic beliefs.
I plan to invite friends to my house one night a week for a couple of hours. My agenda would be to devote an hour to prayer, and then one hour to the catechism readings of the week --- although I would be open to adjusting that agenda after discussions with the friends. I’m sure there are a number of catechism study courses available, but I would propose to keep this simple (and cheap) and avoid the canned studies. And to make sure we got something out of our efforts, I would propose we all answer these 4 questions (also subject to change) each week about the catechism reading:
1. What do you think are the key points made in the text?
2. What did you learn? What was new to you?
3. How does this impact your relationship with God?
4. What’s next: Will this change how you act? Should we study this further (research)?
In addition to my small group, I will propose that my local parishes begin some organized classes in reading the catechism. I’ll propose a replacement of bible study groups in the parish for one year with catechism study groups. I’ll propose a weekly talk on the Sunday scripture readings be replaced for one year with a weekly talk on the catechism.
And if no one agrees with my proposals or my offer to meet weekly at my home, I’ll begin alone.
Certainly some things such as Scripture greatly aided by study guides to understand them most fully, but the catechism was intended to not leave any confusion about what was being said in it. Heavily cross-referenced to source documents, it “aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition. … It is intended to serve as a point of reference …” It is intended to teach definitively.
Perhaps now more than ever, and certainly in sheer numbers, many of the members of the Catholic Church (and Christians in general) do not understand their faith, and that’s why some can even stand in front of Congress and the nation and make statements totally contrary to the faith, and not believe they are mistaken in their words. And many people who hear them, believe them. As the Pope proposes, we need to evangelize Catholics and Christians in the truth, starting with ourselves.
This seems like a good year to do it. I’ve laid out my plan. What’s yours?