Let’s face it, the Catechism is a textbook in size and scope. But I prefer to think of it as a deep treasure chest of gems and nuggets that that will enrich our faith and our love of God and the Church.
The first question I’m usually asked is: Can I read the Catechism on my own? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is, at times you may feel daunted by the dense language of the Catechism, depending on the depth of your religious education regarding terms and doctrines. While the Catechism is suited for those who formally teach the Faith in the Church and in the classroom, John Paul II declared it is for all who wish to deepen their knowledge of salvation.
I recommend applying the same prayerful trust to the Catechism that we bring to reading the Bible. Even though the Catechismis not Holy Scripture, ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you as you read. (And remember it doesn’t hurt to look up unfamiliar words in the glossary or a dictionary!)
This space is designed to be a friendly introduction to topics within the Catechism in an easy-reader style. We’ll define terms as needed, and apply real life examples to what we read.
It is important to note that many books cover the Catechism in greater depth and with more excellent scholarship than a short article can provide. Again, the column will introduce and explore topics that I hope will draw you into deeper study.
This column stands on three principles: first, that God, in the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, is the source of all Truth and communicates by Divine Revelation in the form of Tradition and the Scriptures. Second, our task as believers is to respond to God in faith in the fullest way we can. Third, the Magisterium (the teaching authority) of the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is to be trusted as a worthy guide as to how we make that response in faith.
Therefore, as we better embrace the Catechism, Church teaching becomes an avenue for our Christian growth. And all of us are called to on-going conversion.
It is my hope that as you open the CCC more and more, you’ll begin to embrace its teachings in an ever-deeper way. As Catholics, we all need to “get our arms around” what the Church teaches, so that we can live it more faithfully. This is essential for every Christian, and vital for catechists. But, we must acknowledge that such growth is a process for each person. Some of us are ready to devour chapters of the Catechism at a time, or may have already. Some may have heard of it, but have never had a reason to open the book. All are welcomed here!
Even the Catechism itself declares that we should seek to embrace the truths of our Faith as we find in paragraph 2104 (also known as CCC 2104):
“All… are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it.” [Emphasis mine.]
The embrace of God
Now, human persons, we all know about the power of an embrace. When you love someone, it leads to a loving embrace. The love between spouses, or parents and children, or family members and friends, all find validation in a loving, warm, embrace.
An embrace presumes knowledge of one another. And there are degrees of that knowledge. The marital embrace, for example, represents the deepest of unions and the most complete knowledge of the other person. Such an embrace in a marriage presupposes a longer process preceding the embrace.
There was the first look and notice of each other. Becoming acquainted led to the first conversation, the first mutual understanding, and eventually, the first kiss. Slowly, as love builds, more is revealed… what the person believes, how they live, what they celebrate, and yes, perhaps even what they pray about.
When love leads to marriage, two people join as one. Yet they also join families. When I married, as I embraced the one I loved, I also embraced by extension his entire family.
A similar process took place in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I was baptized as an infant into the family of God, but it took me many years to grow up and get acquainted with Christ. As I teenager, I experienced a deep conversion to Christ. From there, a friendship grew—a meeting of minds and hearts—until finally, my life with Christ became an ongoing committed love relationship.
Over the course of my life, my love for Christ compelled me to know “more” of him. Like a lover wooed, I wanted to experience the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. (See Eph. 3:17-19.)
What I discovered was that, over time, I embraced not only Jesus Christ as Lord, but I also embraced his family—the Holy Trinity, his mother Mary, his foster father Joseph and all the saints in heaven, and his Church here on earth. My embrace of Christ and his family—and especially the Church and what she teaches—grew slowly by degrees.
The Catechism states that “a person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.” (CCC 236.)
Therefore, where Christ is concerned, it is best that we closely examine his actions. And let us be imitators of who and what He embraces…
As noted earlier, God revealed Himself to the world through Divine Revelation. As we read the story of God’s Revelation from the Old Testament to the New, we come to understand God’s deep and devoted love for humankind. God is most perfectly revealed in his Son, Jesus. When Christ took on flesh, he took on a form that, as a Bridegroom, he is permanently wedded to the Bride, the Church, the People of God. We find this imagery in the Catechism, paragraph 796 (CCC 796):
The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets and announced by John the Baptist. The Lord referred to himself as the “bridegroom.” The Apostle [Paul] speaks of the whole Church and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride “betrothed” to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him. The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.” He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her…
Returning to the image of the nuptial embrace of the marital union… we find that it images for us, if somewhat imperfectly, the union the Holy Trinity longs to have with us. Check out CCC 772:
It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: “to unite all things in him.” St. Paul calls the nuptial union of Christ and the Church “a great mystery.” Because she is united to Christ as to her bridegroom, she becomes a mystery in her turn.
Christ’s actions of loving the Bride (the Church) are worthy of our imitation. We are called to love all the Church believes, celebrates, lives, and prays. We are to embrace the Bride as we embrace the Bridegroom, Jesus. As we progress in our union with Christ, we will naturally desire to more perfectly align ourselves with His Bride (the Church) and what she teaches. And what she teaches is found most succinctly in the Catechism.
Embracing the Catechism means learning it, understanding it, and living it. Our sole motivation for doing so is love: that we may respond in faith and better embrace Christ and His Church in all its fullness. So that, one day, we may be embraced at last, by the Holy Trinity itself in heaven, as we find in CCC 260:
The ultimate end of the whole divine economy [God’s creation of the world and his salvation of the world through Christ] is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. But even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: “If a man loves me”, says the Lord, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.” [See John 14:23.]
©2010 Patricia W. Gohn
This article was adapted from a previous released article at Catholic Exchange.