Many years ago as a junior high student, I discovered a love for performing in the theatre. The high point of my acting career took place when I was sixteen years old, and I was given the opportunity to play the part of the lame man healed by Jesus (John 5) in an Easter musical entitled “Love According to John.” It was an experience I’m not likely to forget.
The performance took place on the big stage where I’d previously seen Phantom of the Opera and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But we’d prepared for months to get there – learning the songs, learning our lines, the blocking, and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing.
Nearly thirty years ago saw the publication of a new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This had been an immense project, overseen by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the behest of Pope St. John Paul II. The great gift of an updated Catechism was to offer Catholics – and the world as a whole – a single place to bring some of our most fundamental questions: who are we as Catholics, and what do we believe? The challenge, of course, is how does one organize something like this?
The answer was found in an obvious place. Acts 2:42 states that, following the birth of the Church at Pentecost, early Christians “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”. The four pillars of the CCC are these very things: the Apostles Teaching (the Creed), the Breaking of the Bread (the Sacraments), Fellowship (the Moral life) and Prayer.
One of my youth ministry instructors explained these four pillars of the Catechism in a way that my days on stage helped make sense. The Creed summarizes the great story God has been unfolding from the beginning of time, and the Sacraments represent our opportunity to step in and be a part of this unfolding drama. The moral life: that’s our script, what were expected to do as we play our part in the story; and prayer is our relationship with the creator/director/producer.
Alongside a well-read copy of the Bible, a Catechism is one of those books that should be on every Catholic’s shelf – for those moments where we wonder for ourselves or are challenged by others on what the Church teaches. But the reality is that the CCC can be a bit of a dense read for many – which is why over the years, many have written summaries of the Catechism to make it more accessible. Two of these have been official Church publications: the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (published in 2006), offering 598 questions and answers in the same four sections in which the CCC was written. Later, In preparation for World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, the Church published the Catechism in a new language: that of young people in a handy yellow book called YouCat (the Youth Catechism.) YouCat is Written on the same four pillars as the full Catechism, and includes a beautiful introduction (and challenge) from Pope Benedict XVI:
I invite you: Study this Catechism! That is my heartfelt desire.
This Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands of you a new life. It places before you the Gospel message as the “pearl of great value” (Mt 13:46) for which you must give everything. So I beg you: Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance. Make a sacrifice of your time for it! Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the Internet. By all means continue to talk with each other about your faith.
You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination. You need God’s help if your faith is not going to dry up like a dewdrop in the sun, if you want to resist the blandishments of consumerism, if your love is not to drown in pornography, if you are not going to betray the weak and leave the vulnerable helpless.
A few years ago, I took advantage of this great resource and put together a series of posts going through the main topics found in the index of YouCat for further reflection. I hope that they serve as a help to you as you explore the faith:
Section 1: What We Believe
- Why Are We able to believe?
- Man is Receptive to God
- God Approaches Us
- We Respond to God
- The Christian Profession of Faith
- I Believe in God the Father
- I Believe in Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God
- I Believe in the Holy Spirit
Section 2: How We Celebrate the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments/Liturgy)
- God Reacts (Responds) to Us In Sacred Signs
- God and the Sacred Liturgy
- How we Celebrate the Mysteries of Christ
- The Sacraments of Initiation
- The Sacraments of Healing
- The Sacraments of Communion and Mission
- Other Liturgical Celebrations
Section 3: How We are To Have Life in Christ (Moral Life)
- Why Are We Put on Earth, What We Are Supposed to Do, and how God’s Holy Spirit Helps Us to Do it…
- The Dignity of the Human Person
- Human Community Part 1 (Social Justice)
- Human Community Part 2 (Law & Grace)
- The Church
- The Ten Commandments
- The First Commandment: Worship God Alone
- The Second Commandment: Respect God’s Name
- The Third Commandment: The Lord’s Day
- The Fourth Commandment: Honor your Father and Mother
- The Fifth Commandment: You Shall Not Kill
- The Sixth Commandment: You Shall Not Commit Adultery
- The Seventh Commandment: Don’t Steal
- The Eighth Commandment: On Lying
- The Ninth Commandment: On Lust
- The Tenth Commandment: On Envy