In thanks for the gift of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – Catholic World Report


In the early 1990s, as a young, aspiring graphic designer and artist living in Portland, Oregon, I began to encounter—more and more often and always disconcertingly—things and thoughts of a Catholic nature. . With hindsight, it is as if I repeatedly took mysterious paths that led me endlessly to the Catholic Church. My love for the writings of TS Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Flannery O’Connor, for example, increasingly prompted me to reflect more deeply on the Incarnation and a sacramental understanding of reality. Fascinating reading by Herbert Schlossberg Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture pushed me to start reading Chesterton seriously; I crossed The Man Who Was Thursday, Orthodoxyand The Eternal Man in a short time. Reading Chesterton marked a turning point, no doubt, for it rekindled the flame of joy and mystery about faith and orthodoxy that had been slowly building during my time at Bible college.

Other moments stand out: An unexpected phone call from a former Bible college classmate (now an atheist philosopher) introduced me to Walker Percy, whose fiction and nonfiction had me hot on my heels. and made me see modernity in a new light. Somewhere along the way, I ran into Russell Kirk. And then there were the early Church Fathers, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Newman, Thomas Howard, Peter Kreeft and many others. I vividly remember reading the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch in a bookstore in Portland and realizing – it seems kind of funny now – that whoever the Apostolic Fathers were, they were definitely not fundamentalists , Evangelicals or Protestants of any kind. St. Ignatius’ condemnation of the Docetes for their refusal to confess that “the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” was particularly fascinating; I recognized the gnosticism implicit in my fundamentalist upbringing, which was both anti-sacramental and anti-“Romanism.”

But the decisive moment, when the multiple and fascinating pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place, came with the reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After living in Portland for four years — the last year after we married in 1994 — Heather and I moved to her hometown of Eugene, two hours south. Shortly before doing so, I paid another visit (one of countless visits) to Powells, the “world’s largest used and new bookstore” (located a few blocks from the place where I worked for three years). Browsing through the Christianity section, I came across a copy of a book called Catholicism and fundamentalism. It looked interesting, but I hesitated, then started to put it back on the shelf. A young man standing a little further away glanced at me and said, “It’s a very good book. I recommand it.”

“Which one are you?” I asked.

He smiled. “I was a fundamentalist, he says, but I am now a Catholic. I get books on the Trappists; I’m thinking of entering a monastery.

I picked up Karl Keating’s book and we talked for a few moments. He then asked, “Do you have a copy of the new Catechism?” No I didn’t. He took one from the shelf and handed it to me.

Although I probably bought a few more books that day, these two stand out. As I told Karl years later, his book saved me a lot of time and came in handy when I finally had conversations, and yes, arguments, with friends and members of the family.

The Catechism, however, would have an even more profound effect. As an evangelical, I didn’t know where to start when it came to studying Catholic dogma and doctrine, practice and spirituality. The Catechismwhich was given to the Church on October 11, 1992, by Pope John Paul II (and had just been published in the spring of 1995 in English by Doubleday/Image), was an invaluable unique volume – not just because it was a book, but because the structure, approach, and footnotes opened door after door, leading deeper and deeper into the strange and wonderful mystery called “Catholicism.”

Over the years I have met many former Protestants (and certainly some former agnostics and atheists) who attribute to Catechism for helping them enter the Church. Several of them, some of whom have become close friends, simply said, “I read the Catechism from one end to the other, and I was ready to enter the Church. After buying it, I started researching specific topics: Mary, the Eucharist, Church authority, and salvation. Time and again, the citations led to documents that I also read; it was like “choose your own adventure” in Catholic theology and spirituality, but always with the same goal and the same end: the divine life of the triune God.

For me, the two most significant passages of the Catechism are the very first paragraph and, second, the most shocking paragraph. The opening paragraph states:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of pure goodness freely created man to share his own blessed life. This is why, at all times and in all places, God draws near to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his might. He gathers all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fulness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs to his blessed life. (CCC, 1)

This is, I think, about the most perfect and succinct statement of Catholic faith that can be found in a single paragraph, addressing the nature and work of God, the purpose of creation and our existence, the divine call to become members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the singular and sacrificial mission of the Son and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. It highlights a key subject – the nature of salvation – which is fleshed out in many places, but in particularly stark terms in paragraph 460:

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: that the man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine filiation, could become a son of God. “For the Son of God became man that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make gods of men.”

The quotes, strange as they may seem to some Catholics, are from St Irenaeus, St Athanasius and St Thomas Aquinas (I ultimately chose the latter to be my patron saint when my wife and I entered the Church in 1997). And this subject of participating in the divine nature – called theosis in the Eastern Churches – intrigued me so much that I ended up co-editing (with the wonderful Father David Vincent Meconi, SJ) an entire book on the subject, contributing chapters on the New Testament and – you guessed – the theme of deification in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I would be remiss if I did not also note, with deep appreciation, the wisdom and pedagogical prowess of Dr. Mark Lowery, whose Fundamental Theology course in my MTS program was a thought-provoking and thought-provoking study of Catechism. Dr. Lowery, a man of tremendous intelligence and sanctity (and fabulous humour), has repeatedly shown that reading and studying the Catechism, the doctrine and dogma of the Church and theology do not ultimately consist in knowing things or facts, but in knowing the living Christ, the incarnate Word, the Redeemer and the Saviour. True theology is an act of worship and prayer; far from being dry or dull (or rigid!), it is an encounter with the triune God, who creates, brings closer, calls, loves and invites. The Catechism is a tremendous gift that contemplates, explains and shares the greatest Gift of all.

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