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:
Family Life in ChristWritten by Gary Shirley
God ordained Christian family to have a specific design - a man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children. The family is called domestic church because it is a community of faith, hope and charity. Within family, we first learn to respect sanctity of life from conception to natural death. This means welcoming children into marriage through birth or adoption but also learning to show reverence for life of others such as elderly, infirm, poor, disabled, and imprisoned.
Every member of Christian family has a God-ordained function. Though equal in sight of God, men and women have entirely different responsibilities. As stated so clearly in Catechism: “Divine fatherhood is source of human fatherhood...” which reaffirms importance of man’s function as head of family. Though equal (as God) to Father, Christ himself lived and died in supreme obedience to will of Father. Throughout faith history, men have been called to leadership roles by God, from Adam to Noah to David to Moses to Paul to Peter. This call to leadership does not necessarily infer perfection, capability or skill, but call is nonetheless intrinsic to manhood. Pervasive gender-role confusion in our society today makes it is easy to dismiss or compromise this primordial function of men to lead their families to God.
To carry out their responsibility, men are to be servant leader of all in their charge. Leaders provide a clear vision, set a solid example, and help others in their pursuit of holiness. Fathers must ensure that their children are brought up in faith, beginning of which is their own life being one of Christian holiness. Men who abdicate their leadership responsibility under some mistaken notion of “sensitivity” bring disorder into family and society. A simple review of crime statistics in our land reveals terrible impact of fathers who ignored or minimized their prescribed role.
Woman’s role as wife and mother differs from but complements that of man. St. Paul reminds us of God’s intent to provide a helpmate and partner to man, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”(1 Cor 11: 8-9).
Modeling themselves on Blessed Mother, women are called to support and honor their husband’s role asleader of family. In her function as wife and mother, a woman brings wonderful attributes such as nurturing care, tenderness and compassion to family life. As with her husband, a wife is called to a life of holiness and Christian example.
Children are called to proffer respect for parents out of gratitude for having given them gift of life (CCC #2216-2218)*. Respect is shown by docility and obedience to parents during one’s childhood. Obedience ceases with emancipation, but respect does not. Grown children are reminded to assist their aging parents as much as possible with material and moral support, as well as in times of illness, loneliness and distress.
Sacramental marriage is foundation of family. It is gift of self, a gift that is freely given and total in nature. The perpetual and exclusive bond of marriage creates sanctuary wherein security of family rests. The sacred covenant finds its physical manifestation in sexual intimacy of marriage act between man and wife (CCC #2360; also Tob 8: 4-9). Reflecting this covenant, spouses’ physical union honors twofold end of marriage, which is to serve good of spouses (the “unitive”) and to be open to transmission of life (the “procreative”).
Children are supreme gift of marriage, in contrast to our societal view which considers them a “right.” In our zeal to conceive a child at all costs, medical science offers us numerous techniques that attempt to produce a child by disassociation of husband and wife or involvement of a third party (such as donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus, or in-vitro fertilization). These actions violate child’s right to be born of a loving act of father and mother. All such techniques are morally unacceptable (CCC # 2376-77). It is impossible to live sacramental life while engaging in such practices, for we knowingly introduce other persons and processes into loving act of procreation, an act that belongs rightly to husband, wife and God.
The intentional spacing of children, if undertaken for just reasons, also demands that we observe moral norms. Periodic continence (methods based on self-observation and use of infertile periods, such as Natural Family Planning) respects individual spouses and offers a mutually supportive, natural means of spacing. On other hand, artificial birth control or any action which frustrates or thwarts normal outcome of procreative act defrauds God and falsifies marital act. All such methods are morally unacceptable (CCC #2370).