By Jaime L. Padro JD
Copyright 1999. All Rights Reserved.
In these times of so much dissent, emphasis on freedom of thought, and the "letís do it our way" mentality, the Catholic Church under the leadership of John Paul II, has been working hard on renewing itself genuinely in accordance with the teachings of Vatican II (rather than the 'spirit of Vatican II'). Like Jesus Christ himself, it has encountered opposition and resistance from without as well as from within. The completeness of the Catholic faith is one aspect that has been challenged by the most direct attacks to it, or in that it has been ignored by many, including a good number of priests and even some bishops.
Many Catholics have been noticing the inconsistencies and have complained about it. They are asking about what they can do in their own parishes where the wholeness of Catholic doctrine is not being taught anymore; where liturgical norms are being ignored, and where even the pastor in the parish seems to care more about being popular than about pastoring in accordance with the teachings of the Church for which the pastor is ordained.
All that is truly troubling, and it should be a serious cause for concern. But fortunately that same Catholic Church has been the great instrument through which the Holy Spirit has manifested Himself via the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This Catechism is the mighty weapon in these times of mighty need for instruction in the Catholic faith. It is certainly a providential document. The Holy Spirit has given it to the Church as a gift, John Paul II has said. Catholics must then not be ungrateful, and lovingly receive it, seriously study it, faithfully proclaim its teachings, and encourage not only each other but even their own parish priests to refer to it. Most importantly, Catholics are obliged to live the teachings contained in the Catechism. This article will attempt to provide Catholics that feel the need to become acquainted or better acquainted with the Catholic faith and also the need to do something to help the Church some encouragement to do so now, using the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). No one will ever regret it.
John Paul II, in the first pages of the CCC known as the "Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum", writes that the CCC "Öis a statement of the Churchís faith and Catholic doctrine, attested by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Magisterium." He then goes on to state one of the most important lines of that Constitution, which is that the CCC is a "SURE NORM" for teaching the faith. If the Pope has said this, then Catholics need not despair. Tribulation we will have, Our Lord told us, but He also said that He was to be with us until the end of time. The important thing for Catholics to know is that there is a body of dogma and doctrine to guide them in these perverse times. The CCC is light in the darkness. And if fighting is necessary to make that truth known and to defend it in love, so be it. Thatíll give us the chance to be more like Saints Peter and Paul, with joy in our hearts in the good and the bad times.
In the Apostolic Constitution, John Paul II also calls all Church Pastors and the laity as well to "USE IT ASSIDUOUSLY" in proclaiming the faith. That is, it should be used regularly, not just sporadically or if one happens to like its style or agree wholly with its content. Catholics who have not read the CCC entirely should make some time to do so, for their own good and the good of others. Some will argue that the CCC is too large and too complicated. Read a little every day, and meditate on the section you read. Ask the Holy Spirit for the gifts of Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding. For how can God refuse one who asks to love Him more by desiring to better understand His Divinely revealed Faith? Jesus tells us many times "ask and you shall receive" (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 21:22, John 16:24, 1 John 3:22, James 4:2-3).
What are the concrete benefits that will result from reading the CCC, someone may ask? Isnít a Catechism a thing for the elementary school years? Of course it is not. The CCC is of incalculable benefit for Catholics interested in knowing and practicing the faith. First, firm knowledge of the faith sharpens the Catholicsí gift of discernment because the more the faith is understood, the easier it will be to discern what is contrary to it. Also, it will help Catholics become better and stronger witnesses to the faith, since it will be easier to evangelize knowing what must be taught. It will not be long before Catholics feel that the Holy Spirit starts using their knowledge of the faith to lead others to the Truth. For example, if anyone ever asks some faith question, Catholics will be able to answer correctly and on the basis of reliable and competent authority.
To be more specific, a solid education based on the CCC will give the believer the tools necessary to analyze any, I repeat, ANY new program, evangelization strategy, belief, idea, alleged revelation, renewal ideas, that may come along. How? Because anything taught anywhere must be consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures, Apostolic Tradition, and the Magisterium. If anyone is not too clear on what was just stated in this last sentence, the Catechism will explain it. How is any lay person, for instance, going to be able to tell if any idea or belief that may not "sound right" is or is not consistent with sound Church teaching if that person has no clear knowledge on what the Church teaches in the first place? (Hosea 4:6 "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.") Many Catholics donít have a Catechism, and I am constantly hearing people that have it tell me they donít read it. I donít know about other places, but I seldom hear anyone in the parishes I attend regularly ever quote the new Catechism, not even from the pulpit. This needs to change. Catholics must demand it.
Let me move on to some specifics on how the reading of the CCC can enlighten a Catholic. I will quote a few out of thousands of paragraphs found in the CCC. For example, there are probably more than a good number of Catholics that don't know the CCC teaches the following:
When the Truths of the Church are being attacked, questioned, and belittled by so many not only outside the Church, but inside it as well, it becomes imperative that a new attitude of love of doctrine is fostered in the Church. Ordained Priests as well as Religious and the laity must stand together and declare war against ignorance of the faith and against false doctrine and half-truths. In the following lines I will provide some suggestions or strategies to be considered by Catholics who would like to see something done in their parishes to secure that sound doctrine is taught. No excuses should be accepted.
First: read the CCC and the Introduction written by Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Schonborn. This will give you the firm basis on Church teaching, and it may be done in a small group with the readings covered by sections for sharing after readings. I found these readings not only exciting, but also very enlightening. The Holy Spirit will bestow special graces upon those that commit themselves to do it.
Second: establish a CCC study and sharing ministry (perhaps call it "Small Faithful Communities" if interested in passing the word in small groups). To complain is not enough, for if we are not part of the solution then we are part of the problem. Do something for the Lord, for His Church, for the parish. Get involved and spread the word. The Joy of the Holy Spirit will soon come those who do it. If anyone objects saying that the parish already has an evangelization ministry, or a religious education department, or a bible study group, say that that is just wonderful, but that you want a ministry or group that will concentrate on the CCC. This will involve necessarily evangelization and lots of Scriptural readings anyway.
Third: Never forget you are an instrument. The Lord calls you only to toss the seed, but it is up to the Holy Spirit to do the rest. Look at first for people interested in knowing the whole of Catholic doctrine, not just bits and pieces, and lead them to the CCC and reliable materials later on. As people gradually become wiser in the faith, the Holy Spirit will require more of them and call them to do things they never thought possible.
Fourth: Plan some activity (e.g. retreat, seminar, "Sound doctrine day," "friends of the Pope weekend") to instruct people in the CCC, in magazines, organizations, even internet web sites that are fully Catholic. There are a lot of people interested in the true faith. I have talked to many people in my parish that "smell" something wrong going on in the Church today but can not point their finger at anything precise because of lack of knowledge, and as soon as I start just teaching them about the CCC and some of its teachings, they become excited and eager to learn more. They feel a great need for something, and then realize they have been thirsting for the truth of Christ, which is Christ Himself, whose person we find in the CCC.
Fifth: A red "loving" flag should always go up if you ever encounter someone who shows no interest in the CCC or exhibits some adverse feeling against its use. They either do not know what they are doing, or perhaps know it too well. The ones that do not know better must be the first to be educated in the importance of the CCC, and for those that knowingly reject it, they should be told lovingly but firmly that denying the CCC is contrary to what the Church teaches. Regardless of whether that is effective or not, happily continue promoting sound doctrine, like the Holy Father John Paul II does everywhere he goes.
Sixth: If opposition arises from the parish priest himself, then get together with a group of parishioners and write a letter to the Bishop. Ask for an appointment to see the Bishop with the group. Do not allow the spirit of discouragement to overcome a smart, well-planned strategy to deal with the problem. Itís ironic that in civil society people talk more about rights than duties, while in the Church itís the contrary, at least with Catholics faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium. Duties are often talked about, but seldom the issue of the rights of the faithful comes up. This needs to change. These Catholics must organize at the parish level and fight for and defend the Church. Theyíll be amazed at the amount of support theyíll get. There are probably thousands of Catholics in parishes across America waiting to see someone rise in their parish to speak up without fear to defend their right under Canon Law to be taught what the Church teaches, and nothing else. One will notice that the dissenters preach the "rights to choose." Don't let their choice of error force you into the same error. Canon 212 ß3 states:
"They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christís faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals."
Canon 229 ß1 states:
"Lay people have the duty and the right to acquire the knowledge of Christian teaching which is appropriate to each oneís capacity and condition, so that they may be able to live according to this teaching, to proclaim it and if necessary to defend it, and may be capable of playing their part in the exercise of the apostolate."
This last point makes me think about something I read in a book titled "The crisis of Dissent", written by a priest who used the pseudonym Gerard Morrissey. Referring to "loyal Catholics" (those faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium), the author says that the attitude of "the assumption of powerlessness" prevails. That is, the layman points at the priest and says that if the priest did his job, everything would be better. Pointing at the Bishop, the priest feels that only if his Bishop was a little tougher, dissent would not be so common. The implication is that lay people and priests are powerless, when the reality is the opposite. Good Catholics not only have power, they have the power of the Holy Spirit in them. And, as Canon Law states, at times they have the duty to help fix a bad situation. The important thing is to allow that power to work in them by planning an effective strategy to face, fight, and denounce dissent for the good of the Church.
"What a world we are getting into!" said once Bishop Fulton Sheen in one of his eloquent lectures, and he was right. However, it would be fitting in the midst of all the puzzlement to remember that itís time to act. Itís time for the laity to get involved and get organized at the parish level to plan an approach that will depend on the Holy Spirit and on their power as a parish group. Itís time to create "CCC Ministries" at the parishes to implement the CCC and promote literature faithful to the Church. Letís do it!
For questions or comments, you may send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.