The Catechism of the Catholic Church – Course Notes – Wednesday 27th September 2023
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The reading we have just heard points to the fact that there are four pillars supporting the Catholic Church, the creed, sacraments, commandments, and prayer. The four main parts of the Catechism are devoted to a study of each of those four topics. In my book, Encountering Jesus, which is about evangelization, I suggested that there was a threefold crisis of head, heart, and hands in modern Catholicism.
• The crisis of the head is about knowledge. Many Catholics are unaware of the core teachings of the Christian faith, what we call the kerygma, all of which are about the person of Jesus and the salvation he offers us. We mentioned the six basic tenets of the kerygma in our first programme.
• The crisis of the heart has to do with experience. Even if some Catholics know a good deal about the person and love of Jesus at an intellectual level, many of them have not yet experienced the liberating and transforming power of God’s mercy and love in their heart of hearts.
• The faith crisis of the hands has to do with Christian action. If the truth of the gospel has not fallen from the head to the heart, it is not surprising that Catholics often fail to act in a way that would be consistent with the ethical teachings of Christ and his church, for example in the areas of sexuality and financial honesty.
1] The contents of the creed, e.g., in the Nicean or Apostle’s Creed, respond to the need of the mind to know truth. Hopefully they evoke belief, i.e., the assent of the mind and will. This kind of belief begins to end the crisis of the mind.
2] The seven sacraments are intended to mediate the truth of the creed in an experiential way to our hearts. This happens as a result of experiencing the length and breadth, the height and depth of Christ’s incomprehensible love as a result of a spiritual awakening, what is referred to as baptism in the Spirit. Charismatics argue that the sacraments only come fully alive when the graces received in a sacramental way in baptism are released in an experiential way in the life of the person. Speaking about baptism in the Spirit Pope Francis has said that he wants everyone to receive it because, “it facilitates a personal encounter with Jesus, who changes lives.”
It is worth mentioning in this context that there is a difference between mental belief and heartfelt faith. For example, if you quoted the following promise of Jesus, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” and asked a person whether he or she believed it or not, the answer would probably be yes. Then if you said, “in that case why don’t you pray that your mother-in-law will be cured of cancer?” the response would probably be something like this, “While I believe in my mind that God answers prayer, I’m not sure in my heart that he would want to answer my pray, right now in these particular circumstances.” It is worth noting that Jesus that while Jesus did say, “Your faith has made you well” he never said to anyone “your belief has made you well.”
3] When a person comes to know and experience the truth about Jesus and his gospel of merciful love, he or she needs to express that newfound sense of relationship in a hands-on, practical way by keeping the 10 commandments. A Christian does so, not so much as a matter of cheerless duty, as of loving conviction. Jesus summed up the commandments when he said in Mt 7:12, “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
The life of prayer animates the three points we have already looked at. It enlightens a person by helping him or her to understand the truths contained in the creed. Prayer also helps the sacraments to come alive in such a way that they enable the believer to move from belief that is in the mind to the faith and conviction that is in the heart. But that is not all, Prayer also helps a person to know what God wants while giving him or her both the desire and the ability to carry it out.
While the CCC is often hard to understand, you will notice that at the end of each section there is a brief summary of the truths contained in the previous paragraphs. Those summaries are really worth reading because they highlight the key points in a clear, concise way.
When all is said and done, the CCC is about Go’s unconditional love for us, a love that we neither merit or deserve. The Catechism shows how we receive that love, and how we can respond by loving God and our neighbour as ourselves. As St John of the Cross once said, “In the Evening of Life, We Will Be Judged On Love Alone.”