Martin Luther Would Be ProudWritten by Gary Shirley
Not again, thought Tom Parker. Not another homily about how we should embrace life from conception to natural death. Not another reminder that God is Author of all life. Please don’t warn us again about evils of contraception and abortion. Is all this really necessary? Why does Church feel this overwhelming need to invade our private lives?
Driving home from church, Tom complained to his wife Linda, “Don’t these priests understand harsh reality of living in today’s world? They stand up there and tell us to welcome children into our lives, but they don’t have to face difficulties of raising them nor foot any of bills. Do they have a clue what college costs these days? Why is Catholic Church so out of touch with American life? When will these guys wake up to how society has changed, thanks to great social programs, progressive laws and quantum leaps in technology? Catholics don’t need to hear this stuff over and over again.”
While he drew his next breath, Linda managed to squeeze in a solicitous, “Yes, dear.” She hoped that if Tom knew someone was actually listening, he would be satisfied and let it ride. Only a moment of treasured silence occurred. A different response soon came from back seat. “So, Tom, you think Church is out of touch with times, eh? You actually believe that good Catholics don’t need to be reminded of truths of faith,” came return volley from his brother Jeff. Both Jeff and his wife Rose had been listening attentively to Tom’s spleen venting.
Jeff always loved to antagonize his older brother all through their boyhood, especially when Tom went off on one of his tirades. Visiting from Colorado, Jeff and Rose were only in town for weekend. He wanted visit to be a pleasant one but Jeff couldn’t resist chance to spar with his big brother like they used to do. Since he had been certified as an RCIA catechist in past year, Jeff had some insights into faith that he was anxious to share. Tom would be a tough sell, because Jeff knew his brother’s faith formation pretty much ended with eighth-grade CCD program. Baiting his brother, Jeff asked, “So, Tom, what’s incredulity?”
The response from Tom was more treasured silence. Carrying torch, Jeff responded, “The Catechism of Catholic Church teaches us that, ‘incredulity is neglect of revealed truth or willful refusal to assent to it.’” He added, “Incredulity is just this side of outright heresy, Tom.” Not quite making connection, Tom said, “So... I go to Mass every Sunday, but because I complain about homily I am a heretic?” “Of course not,” said Jeff, “ but think about priest’s message. He was trying to remind faithful that, agree or not, we must follow Church’s teachings. To do otherwise makes us, in effect, Protestants.”
Jeff continued, “Remember, so-called “Reformation” in fifteenth century was born of protest against Catholic Church. That mindset of protest has infected Christianity ever since. It has essentially morphed into an attitude of, ‘I’ll believe what I agree with and discard rest.’ Many Catholics accept Church teachings that they agree with, like maybe Mass, Eucharist, or certain rites and traditions. Then they secretly or even flagrantly protest against things that have not earned their agreement. Think about it, Tom. Personal agreement is now de facto standard by which we measure our faith life. Disobedience has become norm. It’s wrong and it is cause of many good Catholics going astray. ”
Seeing that he had everyone’s rapt attention, Jeff went on. “Contraception is a classic example. Millions of Catholics think they can freely engage in contraceptive practices while still living a sacramental life. They pretend that they do not know what Church teaches or act as if some unwritten latitude exists as they brazenly dissent. Believe me, brother, I’ve heard all rationalizations in my short time as a teacher - ‘Oh, I don’t agree with Vatican on that,’ or ‘What does Pope know about married life?” or ‘The Church is just trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant.’ Meanwhile these very same people line up for Holy Communion every Sunday, resolute in their sin. I sit in pew and watch in amazement. Are they Catholics going forward to receive Lord in Eucharist or are they Protestants who simply find Eucharist acceptable theology?”
“Wait a minute,” snorted Tom, “You are really hammering your fellow parishioners awful hard. Being a catechist doesn’t make you judge and jury.” Experienced with underlying meaning in Tom’s tone, Jeff responded, “Listen carefully, big brother, because I’m not hammering people but their actions. Only God holds judgment seat on each person, but we must not be afraid to judge actions and to address those actions that are sinful.” Before Tom could respond, Jeff continued, “The Catechism nails this very attitude when it states in section on mortal sin, ‘Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, voluntary character of sin.’ By pretending not to know or by obstinately refusing to find out truth, we think we are fooling God,” said Jeff. We might fool our priest, our friends and our family, but we cannot fool God. In reality we are actually deepening our state of sin. Imagine civil parallel: if I pretend to be completely ignorant of paying income tax, then do I really believe that IRS will let me slide in end? Of course not! In reality, for every year I avoid paying taxes penalties grow exponentially. Should God operate with different logic? Why do we think God went to all trouble to teach us right way through Moses, prophets and Christ himself only to assume that he’ll let us slide in end? For this to occur we would have to re-mold God so that he becomes a Being of pure mercy devoid of justice. It’s logically and theologically absurd.”
Navigating the CatechismWritten by Gary Shirley
In 1994, Holy Father authorized publication of a new Catechism of Catholic Church. This was a cause for great joy for it had been over four centuries since last catechism had been promulgated. At that time Church was trying to reconcile impact of Protestant “Reformation” and needed to clarify her teachings for those in spiritual turmoil. Fast forward to twenty-first century and, once again, Christians face challenges for which they need deep insights and clear answers. This wonderful book has answered call.
From nuclear war to stem cell research, modern Catholics wrestle with issues that are simply not addressed in Sacred Scriptures and far removed from our childhood CCD classes. The new Catechism fills void by carefully delineating teachings of Church and source reference of those teachings. The second edition of Catechism (green cover) was released in 1997 and contains improvements from first edition such as inclusion of a comprehensive index and glossary.
Reading and studying text, however, can be a bit daunting to average Catholic. A catechism is a reference text and should be read as such. Small forays into its depths with subsequent time for reflection is more productive than attempting to read it like a novel. Like Scripture, it presupposes a certain understanding of Sacred Tradition. Without this grounding, readers may have difficulty unearthing great wisdom in its pages.
Perhaps a short review of some key building blocks of Catholic faith will assist in this regard. The Magisterium is teaching authority of Church which, guided by Holy Spirit, seeks to safeguard and explain truths of faith. Magisterium comes from Latin magister meaning “to teach.” All world’s bishops united with Pope comprise Magisterium. Their singular goal is to protect authentic teachings of Christ until end of time.
The Deposit of Faith is body of saving truth entrusted by Christ to Apostles and handed on by them to Church to be preserved and proclaimed. This deposit has numerous components, such as oral tradition of Apostles, Sacred Scripture, writings of Fathers of Church, documents of twenty-one Councils of Church, testimonials of Saints and Doctors of Church, and pontifical “teaching letters” (known as encyclicals). As evidenced by list, Roman Catholic religion runs deep and wide.
As with any component of Deposit of Faith, however, Catechism does not stand alone but is part of a vast mosaic. Like hyperlinks on Internet, new Catechism presents a teaching and then leads us on to other references so we can pursue supporting Scripture passage, theological writings or conciliar document. Those who contend that Bible is sole reference for faith life miss out on these profound resources.
How is catechism structured? It begins with Apostolic Letter from Holy Father which describes evolution of text and authorizes it as a valid reference for teaching faith. A review of Contents page shows that catechism is set upon four “pillars” which form framework of entire text. These pillars, and doctrines they present, are as follows:
Profession of Faith - This part of Catechism discusses man’s relationship with God and unfolding of God’s revelation to man. God chose to reveal Himself slowly over time as Father, Son and Spirit, and reader begins to see deep mystery of this relationship. The text carefully lays out importance of Old and New Testaments and their value to Christian. The reader is then taken on a journey through twelve articles of Profession of Faith, creed that summarizes key truths of Catholic religion. In summary, this part of Catechism explains:
A. Divine Revelation
B. Apostolic Tradition
C. Relationship between Scripture and Tradition
D. Sacred Scripture
E. The Profession of Faith (referencing Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds)
Celebration of Christian Mystery - In this part of Catechism, we plumb depths of seven Sacraments. Many of us received Sacraments in our youth but never understood how deeply they are grounded in Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and teachings of great Fathers of Church. The new Catechism opens up each Sacrament and carefully explains layers of meaning for each of these powerful gifts. Living among many “Bible-only” Christian groups, this exposition is most valuable in helping us defend these profound moments of grace. The text also gives us an understanding of sacramentals, those physical objects which serve to excite pious devotion and remembrance of holy people or events. In summary, this part of Catechism explains: