In one week I will be winging my way to Franciscan University for three full days of study during the St John Bosco Conference. I am blessed to belong to a Parish that wants their Catechists and Leaders to be formed in solid Truth rather than fallible opinion. I look forward to this trip and for the chance to study. I am a member of the Dominican Order. Put someone like me in a University setting and say, "take a class" and you have handed me the keys to the kingdom.
In preparation for that week I am re-reading a booklet I picked up there last year. Written by Dr. Petroc Willey (one of those Catholic Converts who has made an amazing impact on theology since coming into the Church), Reading the Catechism (How to discover and appreciate its riches) is a simple guide designed for people like me. It helps us to read this tremendous gift with the right mindset, so to speak, so as to reap much from the mine of Love and Truth it presents to the world.
For those not members of The Church there is much misunderstanding as to why us Catholics have 'another book'. Isn't the Bible enough for us? The short answer is, "No" and the reason is simple: God did not tell us to simply rely upon Holy Scripture. In fact, in Scripture itself, it is recorded that He set up something visible and real designed to guide us and help us traverse the world.
For those people who ARE Catholics it is a sadness that the rich and beautiful document offered to us by The Church in 1992 is not appreciated. I have had otherwise loving and devoted Catholics tell me that they were told by 'a good priest' that they only have to use it as a guide, implying that not everything written there carries authority and it is up to the individual to decide what is okay and what is not okay to hold as Truth.
They were not amused when I suggested to them that what they had just described was Protestantism.
Why DO Catholics have a Catechism of the Catholic Church?
Essentially, it is because we approach belief in God in much the same way as our Elder Brothers and Sisters in The Faith, the Jews. In fact, if you want to see how we (as Catholics) trace our Jewish Roots and see Catholic Christianity as a fulfillment of the Covenant with The Nation of Israel you can begin by noticing our reverence for Holy Scripture and our reverence for The Teachings.
Bishop Robert Barron, in a blogpost on March 22, 2016, writes,
"The Temple in Jerusalem was everything for ancient Jews. The Temple was the religious center of the nation, as well as political and cultural capital. To get some idea of its importance, we would have to think of the Vatican..."
The good Bishop goes on to use other examples - The United Nations Building is one - for those who are not Catholic; however, the point he is making is that The Temple was everything to the ancient Jew. It was the center of the universe because it housed the Holy of Holies: The Ark of the Covenant. It is not until Mary, through her acceptance of the Good News and the Will of the Father, takes into her womb and shares her flesh, her DNA with The Word that the importance of The Ark shifts from a thing to a being - she becomes, for Catholics, the Ark of the New Covenant for within her is all that the previous Ark held - The Word of God (the 10 Commandments), the Authority of God (the staff of Aaron) and the Food from Heaven (manna).
For Catholics, accepting Jesus into their lives as their Personal Lord and Savior means accepting ALL that Jesus has proclaimed to us - and He established a Church. To believe in Jesus means to believe in His Church. Dominican Theologian Romanus Cessario writes:
"From God and the blessed, to the angels, to the prophets, to Christ and his apostles, to the prelates and teachers and preachers of the Church, Aquinas claims a formal community in those who are taught, the things taught, and one universal causal ordering that moves from principal through instrumental or ministerial teachers." Cessario, Christian Faith and Theological Life, 68-69.
For an individual to declare their belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord of their heart, mind and soul without accepting their belief in the Church He founded is to love Him with conditions. For a Catholic to declare that they really like some things the Church declares to be true but not all of them is to be a Catholic with conditions - and so, by being a Catholic OR a Born Again Christian with conditions, one cannot logically declare that they totally love Jesus. What they have done is, effectively, made Jesus one more really cool spiritual guru. He is not God.
BUT WAIT - shout the Catholic Church Haters - what about (cue the endless list of dumb and suspect encyclicals written by every pope since Peter)!
Yes, we have had some rather ridiculous people sit in the Chair of Peter over the last two thousand years. In fact, probably no group has done more damage to The Church than her own members. The know-nothings might have burned out Churches, physically attacked our members in an attempt to keep those uppity Papists out of the American mainstream but they did not do nearly as much harm as the priests who raped and molested children, carried on active homosexual relationships while wearing the cape of the Cardinal or fathered children with women. If I, as a Catholic, speak out against slavery you can bet I will get an email from someone asking me about the Pope who supported the Confederacy in the Civil War.
To this I can answer simply that The Church has never been anything other than a hospital for sinners. I can acknowledge those sins committed by her children and humbly ask for forgiveness. I can try and teach the difference between infallibility and impeccability to those with an open mind and a willingness to listen. To deny our checked path would be not only foolish but dishonest.
What I can also do, however, is state that I as a Faithful Catholic accept as Truth all that the Catholic Church proclaims and declares to be Truth - and I do not even know all of it and probably never will.
My belief in Jesus is not based on what the rest of the world tells me is expedient and acceptable. As a result, I will always be the odd person out. To my shame, as a young person, I did not have the backbone or the strength to stand true and I fell into a life of sin. To my eternal gratitude, The Church never wavered and never told me to not come home; rather, she held me to a standard she knew to be impossible to achieve without her. And when I returned, she rejoiced as a Mother does when a child stumbles home, bloody and beaten and tired of trying to do it 'my way'.
I have the Catechism not as a guide to maybe follow if the mood hits me or my friends say it is okay. I have the Catechism to help me traverse the world as a Christian. I am the one who has to be willing to walk towards heaven and do so no matter how sore my feet get, no matter the blisters on my heels or the bruises on my knees from falling. The Catechism is a gift from The Church - it shows me the Way...and I follow it because He gave The Church HIS authority. His authority does not belong to presidents and kings - it belongs to His Church.
What The Church binds on earth is bound in heaven.....so I better get with it.