Tag Archives: Catechism of the Catholic Church

Divine Design

2 Jun

CCCThis Sunday, St. Paul reminds us that the Gospel he preached was of divine origin. As it was true for Paul 2,000 years ago, it is true for the Church today. Nowhere is this point more relevant than in the current cultural debate about marriage and human sexuality.

While there is much misunderstanding over what we believe as Catholics, an essential point is that we do not have the power to change what we did not create. Marriage certainly is a human institution, but it has a divine design. Like most things, if we do not understand an aspect of Catholic teaching, it is good to sincerely seek the authentic teaching rather than the caricature that popular culture perpetuates.

“The intimate community of life and love which constitute the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws” (CCC 1603). In other words, marriage is not an accident. If you have legitimate questions about what the Church believes about marriage and want to go straight to the source about it rather than through the filter of someone else, a good place to start is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, starting at paragraph 1601.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

God Himself Is the Author of Marriage

18 May

Happy Ordinary Time! The color of this liturgical season is green because it is a time of growing in our faith. In keeping with this time of growth, the Marriage Minute for the next few months will examine what we as Catholics believe about marriage so that we can live out our vocation more fully.

CCC“God himself is the author of marriage” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1603).

No one knows a story like its author. In like manner, no one knows marriage like God, who created it. We look to God for the definition of marriage, and especially for direction in what our own marriage should look like.

  • How much do we allow God into our marriage?
  • What prevents us from allowing God to have a greater influence?
  • How can God be more central in our marriage?
  • How can we better understand God’s true vision for marriage?

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

The Book of God

30 Sep
St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

One of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Liber (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving works of Christ. Dei Verbum, no. 9 therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate today, that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible…?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated. Continue reading

Catholicism “Lite”: Less Fulfilling?

31 Jan

Catholic liteBack in the 1990s, when I was the editor of Lay Witness magazine, we were creating an ad for the (then) new Catechism of the Catholic Church, opposing it to a fictitious “Catechism ‘Lite.’” You know what I’m talking about: only half the commandments of the regular Catechism, and one-third the doctrines.

Over the past couple decades we’ve seen countless variations of this humorous (and, to our sorrow, often accurate) description of an approach to Catholic faith and life that is watered down, minimalistic, and largely uninspiring. In fact, we might say “Catechism lite” or “Catholicism lite” and not have to complete the thought. One goal of the “Year of Faith” is that all of us would embrace the fullness of the faith with renewed zeal and joy.

At the same time, I’ve found that while most practicing Catholics would take the “Catechism” over “Catechism lite” in theory, the real-life situation can seem unduly complicated. As I discussed earlier this week, those who want to believe, celebrate, and live the Catholic faith in its fullness are often labelled, sometimes pejoratively, as “conservatives” and not simply as “Catholics.”

I realize this is a game played largely by dissident Catholics who are trying to legitimize their own brand of Catholicism or political agenda. Yet not only do political terms like “conservative” and ”liberal” not fit in Church discussions (really they’re only alienating stereotypes), but there′s something else: Calling the full embrace of the Catholic faith “conservative” makes it seem as though it’s only one of a spectrum of equally acceptable ways of being Catholic.

In fact, it suggests that the goal would be somewhere between the extremes of “conservative” and “liberal.” Let’s split the difference and go with eight of the ten commandments (I think many would suggest the 6th and 9th for exclusion!) and three-fourths of the doctrines. For some, that may not be “Catholic lite,” but surely Catholic “enough.” Continue reading

Catechesis on the Seventh and Tenth Commandments

13 Dec

stealToday in our catechetical series on the commandments, we turn to the Seventh Commandment:

You shall not steal.

But just as the Sixth and Ninth Commandments work together to shape our approach to human sexuality, the Seventh and Tenth Commandments work together to shape our approach to the goods of this world, recognizing that we “cannot love God and money” (Mt. 6:24). The Church isn’t satisfied with our simply not taking what doesn’t belong to us (though that’s a good start!), but wants us to approach worldly goods in a spirit of stewardship and detachment. So we also include here the Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The Seventh Commandment forbids theft, which is the unjust taking or using of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. This can be done also by paying unjust wages, speculating on the value of goods in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others, or by forging checks or invoices. Other acts forbidden by this commandment include tax evasion, business fraud, willful destruction of private or public property, usury, corruption, the private abuse of common goods, work deliberately done poorly, and waste.

Early in its treatment of the Seventh Commandment, the Catechism talks about the “universal destination of goods,” a principle which acknowledges that God entrusted the earth’s resources to all people. This speaks not only to our sharing resources with others who are less fortunate than we are, but also being good stewards of creation and the earth’s resources for future generations.

At the same time, the Church affirms the right to private property, so long as it’s justly obtained and used. The purpose of private property is to guarantee the freedom and dignity of individual persons by helping them to meet the basic needs of those in their charge and also of others who are in need.

As Vatican II, citing numerous saints and social encyclicals, teaches:

“[M]an should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others. On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 69).

One can readily see that the Church finds in this commandment the basis for her rich social teaching, which guides our approach to economic, social, and political life, the right and the duty of human labor, justice and solidarity among nations, and love for the poor. Over the course of 2013, we will survey the various dimensions of the Church’s social teaching in more detail.

The Seventh Commandment requires respect for the goods of others through the practice of justice and charity, temperance and solidarity. In particular it requires respect for promises made and contracts agreed to, reparation for injustice committed and restitution of stolen goods, and respect for the integrity of creation by the prudent and moderate use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe with special attention to those species that are in danger of extinction (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 506).

The Lord truly does hear the cry of the poor and identifies with them. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the many charitable institutions formed throughout the centuries are a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes Christian disciples (Compendium, no. 520). We need look no farther than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for evidence that we are called to love the hidden Jesus in the poorest of the poor (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).

As we interiorize the Seventh Commandment, we come to see Our Lord as our treasure, and we hear the call to abandon ourselves to His providential care.  The Tenth Commandment continues this work upon our heart, as it calls us in particular to work against the vices of avarice and envy.

Avarice involves an excessive, disordered desire for riches and power.  In other words, we “covet” our neighbor’s good and may go to the extreme of unjustly taking these goods for ourselves.

Envy, meanwhile, involves sadness at another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for ourselves by whatever means we can.

We combat these vices of avarice and envy–and thus observe the Tenth Commandment–by fostering in ourselves a spirit of goodwill and humility, and by rejoicing in other’s blessings.

For more on these commandments, check out Catechism, nos. 2401-63 (Seventh Commandment) and nos. 2534-57 (Tenth Commandment).

Catechesis on the Fourth Commandment

19 Nov

This week we transition from the first three commandments, which set forth our responsibilities to God, to the last seven commandments, which specify how we are to love our neighbor. The first of these commandments is:

Honor your father and your mother.

It’s no accident that our duty to honor our parents comes next. In the first instance, we must honor those to whom we owe our very lives. St. Paul goes so far as to say that human parents are a reflection of God’s fatherhood: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15; cf. Catechism, no. 2197).

The Fourth Commandment is the only commandment dealing with love of neighbor that is not expressed in terms of “Thou shall not.” Rather, the commandment points how we should act to foster life-giving relationships in the home, which has been called a “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature” (cf. Catechism, nos. 2204-06).

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully summarizes the duties of children toward their parents:

“Children owe respect (filial piety), gratitude, docility, and obedience to their parents. In paying them respect and in fostering good relationships with their brothers and sisters, children contribute to the growth in harmony and holiness in family life in general. Adult children should give their parents material and moral support whenever they find themselves in situations of distress, sickness, loneliness, or old age” (no. 459).

Meanwhile, there is a beautiful section of the Catechism (nos. 2221-33) that describes the duties of parents toward their children. I think every Catholic parent would find guidance and even food for meditation in that section. I would only highlight here the parents’ role as the “first heralds” of the Gospel to their children as well as their ongoing responsibility to form their children in the faith and Christian virtue.

When children become adults, parents should welcome and joyfully respect the Lord’s call to one (or more!) of their children to the priesthood and religious life. Sure, parents should also rejoice should their children be called to Christian marriage or the single life, but in today’s social climate calls to the priesthood or religious life are too often opposed or even thwarted by Catholics parents who don’t fully appreciate the beauty and goodness of such vocations.

The Fourth Commandment does not only apply to family relationships.  It calls upon us to honor and respect all who hold positions of lawful authority.  Examples would include our bishop and pastor as our spiritual fathers, as well as our secular leaders. Only God’s authority is absolute, but we are to respect all those with authority in our lives, and obey legitimate exercises of such authority.

Authority should always be exercised as a service, putting the community ahead of one’s own interests.  It should respect:

Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God.  All citizens should collaborate with public authorities for the sake of the common good (see Catechism, nos. 1905-12).  This moral obligation on the part of all citizens includes these duties, among others:

  • Pay taxes
  • Exercise the right to vote
  • Defend one’s country
  • Voice just criticisms in defense of others or the community

While citizens are generally called to submit to lawful authority, a citizen is obliged in conscience not to obey the laws of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral code.  “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Catechesis on the First Commandment

30 Oct

Jesus said to the rich young man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mt. 19:17). Even though Jesus came to give us a new law and a new covenant, He makes it clear that His followers must keep the commandments. He did not come to abolish the Ten Commandments but to fulfill them (cf. Mt. 5:17-20).

Our Lord invites us to discover the Ten Commandments anew. He lived them perfectly and revealed their full meaning. Even more, He now gives us His Holy Spirit so that we can keep the commandments, despite our fallen nature. He also has left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that He can pour out His abundant mercy upon us whenever we fail to live according to the commandments.

He interpreted the Ten Commandments in light of the twofold commandment of love: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:36-40). Traditional catechesis divides the commandments accordingly, first covering those that pertain to the love of God (nos. 1-3), and then addressing the commandments that pertain to the love of neighbor (nos. 4-10).

Another word for the Ten Commandments is the Decalogue, which means “ten words” (Ex. 34:28). These “words” summarize the law given by God to Moses as the blueprint for living a good life free from slavery to sin.

These “words” are perennial valid. For that reason, Christians must keep the commandments. They express our fundamental duties owed in justice toward God and neighbor. Upon this foundation, the virtues of faith, hope, and especially charity are able to flourish in us.

Over the course of this recurring series of blog posts, I will try to provide a contemporary catechesis on the commandments, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with the First Commandment:

I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. (see Catechism, nos. 2084-2141)

The first part of this commandment exhorts us to praise and adore God, acknowledging Him as the Lord of everything that exists. Practically speaking, this commandment calls us to cultivate the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity:

Through faith we believe all that God has revealed through Christ as proclaimed by His Church, as we reject sins such as deliberate doubt, heresy, schism, and apostasy.

Through hope we place all our trust in God’s goodness and promises, and we reject the sins of despair and presumption.

Through charity we love God above all things, and we reject sins such as indifference, lukewarmness (cf. Rev. 3:14-16), and ingratitude.

The second part of this commandment instructs us not to worship other gods. What does that mean for us today? The Catechism identifies some sins that are violations of this commandment:

Superstition and Divination: Any deviation from the authentic worship of God. Some extreme forms would include calling upon Satan himself or conjuring up the dead. This also includes consulting horoscopes, astrology, tarot cards, and various “New Age” practices.

Idolatry: This involves more than mere pagan worship. Anytime we put money, power, or any creature in the place of “God,” we have committed idolatry.

Irreligion: The failure to give what is due to God. This includes the sins of putting God to the test, sacrilege, and simony.

Atheism and Agnosticism: The former is the outright rejection of God’s existence, the latter is a persistent uncertainty that can easily give rise to indifferentism and practical atheism.

The full biblical text of the First Commandment includes the command: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image . . .” (Exodus 20:4).

The Catholic Church is known for its promotion of sacred art, and many Catholic homes have crucifixes as well as statues, icons, and paintings of the Blessed Mother and other saints. Is that a violation of the First Commandment?

There’s a big difference between an image that reminds us of the one, true God and our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and an image that actually takes the place of God. Catholics understand, for example, that the crucifix is a reminder of God’s saving act on Calvary. We don’t worship the crucifix as though it were God.

It’s a good question, though. In fact, it’s such an important question that the Church formally addressed this very issue at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, over 200 years before the Eastern Schism and over 700 years before the rise of Protestantism. The Council affirmed that the veneration of sacred images is rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation and is not contrary to the First Commandment.

Stay tuned next week for a look at the Second Commandment!