|The twentieth century is the most critical in the history of
Christianity. The decades since 1900 are more than so many years that
might just as well apply to any other period of history. They mark the
beginning of a new age in human civilization and correspondingly, of the
What does this have to do with our subject, "Understanding the Catechism
of the Catholic Church?" Everything. Unless we realize the
gravity of the crisis through which the Church is now passing, we shall
look on the Catechism of the Catholic Church as just another
book, or just another piece of religious literature. Which is not true.
This Catechism is of historic importance. Depending on how seriously
we take it, the future of the Catholic Church will be shaped
accordingly. No one who has any knowledge of our age should have any
doubt about the contemporary crisis in Christianity. A crisis, by
definition, is a turning point in the course of anything. The course of
the Christian religion will, in large measure, depend on whether we see
this Catechism as an act of God.
He is providing us with the opportunity of helping to make the
twenty-first century the most glorious since the coming of Christ, but
on one condition: that we capitalize on the gift He is giving us in the Catechism
of the Catholic Church.
There are three aspects of this subject as follows:
Understanding the content or the what of the Catechism of the
Understanding the importance or the why of this Catechism.
Understanding our obligation to put this gift of God into
apostolic use, or
the how of the Catechism.
UNDERSTANDING THE FAITH TAUGHT BY THE CATECHISM
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not a mere collection
of doctrines. It provides the groundwork for understanding what we
Catholics believe. On this level, the Catechism is unique.
The Holy Spirit guiding the Church knows that the modern world is the
most academically sophisticated in history. In America alone, over five
million students go to college every year. We are trained to the hilt in
every humanistic subject under the sun. But most Catholics are
undereducated in their faith. The result is predictable. By the time
they finish even high school, they find themselves in conflict in their
own minds. If anything, they are overeducated in science, history, and
world literature. At the same time, their minds have been, to say the
least, undereducated in knowing the religion they profess. What happens?
They abandon their Catholic faith as a remnant of childhood.
The Catechism provides the beginning of what should be considered the
single greatest Catholic need in the world today, namely, to understand
what we believe.
Recall the sower parable of Our Lord as narrated by St. Matthew. The
sower in the parable sows all good seed, but on four different kinds of
ground. Only the last soil produces any yield. It is especially the
first fruitless soil that applies to these reflections.
In the words of Christ, as the sower sowed the seed, "some seeds
fell on the edge of the path; and the birds came and ate them up."
When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable, He told them,
"When anyone hears the words of the Kingdom without understanding,
the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart. This is
the man who received the seed on the edge of the path" (Matthew
This is both simple and tragic. The seed of God's revealed truth has
been sown into our hearts at Baptism. But that was only the beginning.
We must do everything in our power to grasp the meaning of what we
believe. Otherwise the devil will come along and steal the faith from
There has never been a substitute for understanding our Christian
religion. There is no substitute today. But now, this understanding is
absolutely imperative. The world in which we live is hell-bent on
stealing from our hearts what we believe.
That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church is such a
providential Godsend. It provides the believing Catholic not only with
information about what to believe. It also gives us an explanation of
the meaning of what we believe.
Of course, the Catechism is only a start. But it promises to be a
powerful initiative for waking up a sleeping Catholic world to the duty
we have, to know:
What we are to believe on the revealed word of God
What the faith we profess is all about
That Christianity is the most credible religion in the world and,
Christianity, that the Catholic Church has the fullness of the
That, as a result, we Catholics have a grave responsibility for
world that is wandering in darkness and the shadow of death.
UNDERSTANDING WHY THE CATECHISM IS SO IMPORTANT
It is one thing to know theoretically what Catholics are to believe.
It is something else to know where to find the true faith expressed in
straightforward and unambiguous language.
The confusion among Catholics on even the most fundamental doctrines
of faith and morals is widespread.
Part of my work for the Church requires that I read books by
professed Catholics, which show how deep this confusion really is. Just
two examples out of a thousand. In the first example, the author is
speaking of the Mass as a memorial of the Last Supper.
The Church recreates the Last Supper by bringing followers of Jesus
together and recalling through readings and prayers what God has done
for His people. Then the priest announces what Jesus said and did at the
Last Supper and himself offers bread (and on some occasions wine) to the
people to eat.
Then to explain just what this means, the author asks, "How is
Jesus present at Mass?" He answers that Christ is "present in
a real way in the bread and wine that symbolize His body and
There is no such ambiguity or heterodoxy in the Catechism of the
Catholic Church. People may not want to accept what the Catechism
teaches. No problem. Not everyone wants to be a Catholic.
The second example just came to my attention. A large circulating
national Catholic newspaper carried a full-page advertisement released
by the Seamless Garment Network, Inc. The ad is signed by scores of
prominent people, and a corresponding score of national organizations.
The basic theme of the ad is to equate such moral issues as abortion and
capital punishment, claiming that both issues are part of the same
seamless garment fabric. This is not true. But how is the average reader
to know, when he sees Catholic bishops and prominent professed Catholics
placing the murder of unborn children in the same category as justly
Someone, somewhere in the Church founded by Christ must be in a
position to tell the faithful, "this is true, and that is
false;" or "this is morally good, and that is morally
bad." Otherwise, the very existence of Christianity is in danger
and the survival of the Catholic Church in any given country or locality
is in jeopardy.
In many dioceses of America, attendance at Sunday Mass is down to
some twenty-five percent of the professed Catholics in a diocese. Some
Church officials are scrambling for a solution and recommending the most
bizarre solutions. It never seems to dawn on these "experts"
that the heart of the problem is the massive uncertainty in millions of
Catholic minds about what is unchangeable doctrine in faith and moral
That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church has not been
released one month too soon. It is the hope of restoring unity to a
pathetically dismembered Christianity.
UNDERSTANDING HOW TO USE THE CATECHISM
There is still one more important aspect of this subject to explain;
it is also the most important practical question that needs raising. How
is The New Catechism of the Catholic Church to be put into
Before going any further, certain things should be made clear.
This Catechism is no mere reference work that we may occasionally
consult, like a standard dictionary or encyclopedia.
This Catechism is no mere summary of religious ideas or ideals
a readable handbook on how Catholics think.
No, the Catechism is an indispensable arm of instruction on every
level of the teaching apostolate.
We now have a one-volume reservoir of Catholic truth and practice for
everyone who wants to bring others to Christ, if they are not yet
Christians; to solidify the faith of those who have been baptized; to
defend Roman Catholicism in a world in which the Church has been
abandoned by so many once-believing Catholics and is being betrayed even
by some of her ecclesiastical leaders.
The question, however, still remains: How to use the Catechism in the
apostolate of evangelization and catechesis? I have five
Know the Catechism
Trust the Catechism
Adapt the Catechism
Live the Catechism
Share the Catechism
Each of these recommendations deserves detailed explanation. We shall
be satisfied with just a short comment about each of the five.
Know the Catechism. Our most fundamental duty is to know the
Catechism. How do you come to know anything? By reading, by discussing,
by hearing it explained by competent persons.
Speed reading of the Catechism would be self-defeating. If anything,
the Catechism should be not only read but prayerfully meditated. Spend
some time set aside for reflecting, in God's presence, what the
Catechism teaches through more than 500 pages of print.
How much time people waste in reading fiction, or worse. Is it too
much for Christ to expect us to spend a few hours a week in reading,
alone or with others, what promises to be the food that feeds the soul
on revealed truth?
Trust the Catechism. Already, critics have appeared who discredit the
Catechism on both sides of the spectrum.
Some criticize it for being outmoded and out of touch with the
Others criticize it for giving in to Modernism and therefore
discredit what the Vicar of Christ is offering the believing faithful
for their spiritual sustenance in a world that is dying out of hunger
for the truth.
Pay no attention to these critics. To distrust the Catechism is to
play into the hand of the devil, who fears nothing more than security of
doctrine among the followers of Christ.
Adapt the Catechism. The Catechism is not simple reading. But neither
is it sophisticated and out-of-touch with the vocabulary of the people.
In any case, the Catechism contains all the essentials for Catholic
faith, morality, and divine worship.
In using the Catechism to teach others, adjust the language to the
mentality of those you are teaching. Adapt the ideas, without watering
them down. Accommodate what the Catechism says, to the mental and
spiritual level of those with whom you are sharing God's truth.
Live the Catechism. This is no pious platitude. Teaching the true
faith is unlike any other form of pedagogy.
The purpose of teaching the Catholic faith is to enable those you are
teaching to practice the virtues which Christ expects of His followers.
Very well, but how do you enable those you teach to practice what they
have learned? You don't! Only Christ can give them the grace they need
to practice what they believe. So how do they get the grace they need?
From Christ, of course. But through you, their teachers.
What are we saying? We are saying that God uses holy people as
channels of His grace to others. In the measure of our own union with
Him, He will communicate to those we teach the light and strength they
need to live the Christian faith. God uses humble people to give others
the gift of humility. He uses chaste people as conduits of His grace of
chastity; patient people to inspire patience; prayerful people to make
In a word, if we live the Catechism, we become instruments of divine
faith to everyone whose life we touch. This, we may say, is the law of
spiritual generation. Sanctity is reproductive; holiness is procreative.
Share the Catechism. One final point should be made: On the last day
we shall be judged on our practice of charity. How we hope that when
Christ appears, He will say to us, "Come, blessed of my Father, and
possess the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I
was hungry, and you gave me to eat; thirsty and you gave me to drink;
naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me."
What does this have to do with the Catechism of the Catholic
Church? Everything! This masterpiece of sacred wisdom provides us
with all the resources we need to meet the spiritual needs of America.
But we must be convinced that these needs are desperate, and that we
have at hand the means of saving the soul of our society.
"Lord Jesus, you have given us the Catechism of the Catholic
Church to bring light to those who are walking in darkness and
supernatural life to those who are sitting in the shadow of death.
"Enlighten our minds with your revealed truth and inspire our hearts with
your divine love so that by our courageous witness to
your Name here on earth we may bring countless souls with us to that
heavenly Kingdom for which we were made. Amen."