The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 27

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:  “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.””

Obiter Dicta:  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (A.D. 1881 to 1955), a French paleontologist and philosopher and Jesuit priest, taught that all creation, including human beings, brought into being by God and held in existence by God, is ceaselessly drawn to God.  Eventually all creation would be reunited with and in “the cosmic Christ”.  Once united, this “omega point” (end point) of all existence would be turned over to God by Christ “so that God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28; Ἵνα ᾖ ὁ θεός [τα] πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν (hee-na hay ho thay-os [tah] pan-tah ain pah-sin)).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 26

“We begin our profession of faith by saying: “I believe” or “We believe”. Before expounding the Church’s faith, as confessed in the Creed, celebrated in the liturgy and lived in observance of God’s commandments and in prayer, we must first ask what “to believe” means. Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life. Thus we shall consider first that search, then the divine Revelation by which God comes to meet man, and finally the response of faith.”

Obiter Dicta:  Without God (i.e. if God did not exist) there would be nothing, and necessarily on account of that absence, there would be nothing in which to believe.  Also, it is true that if human kind had not been created, there would be no belief; no faith.  Therefore, any discussion of faith and belief, must necessarily begin with a discussion of human kind.

Before human kind can come to know of God and have faith in God, human kind must first come to awareness of itself and a knowledge of itself.  Thus, The Catechism must begin with human kind, in general, and human kind’s ability to believe, in particular.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 25

“To conclude this Prologue, it is fitting to recall this pastoral principle stated by the Roman Catechism:  The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.”

Obiter Dicta:  The Roman Catechism is a product of the Council of Trent (A.D. 1545 to 1563) as part of the Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation.  It is valuable for us today, a half millennium later, to notice that the focus of that Catechism and the focus of The Catechism of the Catholic Church is love.  Correct knowledge, theology, doctrine; all of these are valuable but their value is secondary to their use in fostering love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 24

“By design, this Catechism does not set out to provide the adaptation of doctrinal presentations and catechetical methods required by the differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, and social and ecclesial condition among all those to whom it is addressed. Such indispensable adaptations are the responsibility of particular catechisms and, even more, of those who instruct the faithful:  “Whoever teaches must become “all things to all men” ( I Cor 9:22), to win everyone to Christ. . . Above all, teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety with one and the same method! Let them realize that some are in Christ as newborn babes, others as adolescents, and still others as adults in full command of their powers…. Those who are called to the ministry of preaching must suit their words to the maturity and understanding of their hearers, as they hand on the teaching of the mysteries of faith and the rules of moral conduct.”

Obiter Dicta:  Eight or more times in his Summa Theologiae/ica (“Summary of Theology”), Saint Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 to 1274) writes “That which is received is received in the manner in which the receiver receives it.”  This statement has metaphysical, epistemological, and rhetorical (motivational) meaning.  In the context of paragraph 24 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the relevance of this statement resides in the fact that whatever ideas the catechist or preacher/homilist may wish to communicate to her/his class/audience/congregation, the most important thing is for her/him to have a clear understanding of how the class members/audience/congregation hear and understand things which are said.  Necessarily, the catechist/preacher/homilist must know the work-a-day world, the everyday life contexts within which the class members/audience/congregation live and function.  This is necessary because all knowledge is known within its context.  This truth is similarly held by such disparate disciplines and philosophies as gestalt psychology, philosophical phenomenology, scholastic metaphysics, and hermeneutical exegesis.  Without a knowledge of the context within which the lecture or homily will be delivered, it is unlikely the catechist or preacher/homilist will be able to be heard and understood and motivate as she/he would wish.

A particular problem is presented the preacher/homilist.  The congregation at mass is made up of a wide range of persons of differing intellectual capabilities, cognitive maturities, education background, and life experience.  Quite often, there is a remarkable variety of cultural and linguistic differences as well.  One must consider how the desired ideas and content can be meaningfully and understandingly delivered and received by such a varied audience.  For after all, “whatever is received/perceived/understood is received/perceived/understood in the manner in which the receiver/perceiver/understand-er receives/perceives/understands it”.

A charism of communication must be involved.  The Holy Spirit can accomplish understanding in the receivers which cannot be explained by the sciences or philosophies.  Further, knowledge is received within a community.  One parent may understand the communication one way.  Another parent understands it a different way.  An older child in another way still.  A younger child in still another way.  And then through the interactions, and especially through discussion among family members, a common understanding is obtained.

For catechesis/preaching/homilies to be understood, dialogue is necessary.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 23

“The Catechism emphasizes the exposition of doctrine. It seeks to help deepen understanding of faith. In this way it is oriented towards the maturing of that faith, its putting down roots in personal life, and its shining forth in personal conduct.”

Obiter Dicta:  This paragraph asserts that knowing the teachings of our faith and understanding the meaning of those teachings are necessary for spiritual maturation.

Those who are not capable of cognitive understanding and knowledge, perhaps due to inadequate education or cerebral defects, can nonetheless, with the help of the Holy Spirit attain a mature faith.  As the Episcopal priest, Martin Bell wrote in his The Way of the Wolf:

“Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

“This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all – and so it will be necessary to color eggs in our hearts.

“This Easter there is hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

“And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

“At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified  wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then He simple raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs.” (pp. 81-82)

However, for those of us whom God has given awareness and reason, our spiritual maturation is dependent of knowing the teachings of the faith and understanding them.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 22

“At the end of each thematic unit, a series of brief texts in small italics sums up the essentials of that unit’s teaching in condensed formulae. These “IN BRIEF” summaries may suggest to local catechists brief summary formulae that could be memorized.”

Obiter Dicta:  In the episode “Darkest Days” of the National Geographic TV Series  Mars, the geologist and biologist Marta Kamen (played by Anamarie Marinca) talks about memory.  In so doing, she quotes words written by Saint Augustine (A.D. 354 to 430) which are found in his Confessions.  In Book 10, chapters 8 through 17, Augustine shares many insights about human memory.  These include an awareness of the wondrous ability of the human mind to remember, to forget, and the awareness of forgetting what we once remembered.  We can be aware of lost memories. 

There are Roman Catholics still alive today who remember memorizing many portions from earlier catechisms.  The quote above, from paragraph 22 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the value of catechists and teachers of the faith helping their students and audiences memorize portions of that same Catechism.

We wish to help catechumens, students, and parishioners have clear memories of the important truths of our faith.  We also wish to help them avoid the sadness of knowing they have been forgotten.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 21

“The quotations, also in small print, from patristic, liturgical, magisterial or hagiographical sources, are intended to enrich the doctrinal presentations. These texts have often been chosen with a view to direct catechetical use.”

Obiter Dicta:  Patristic sources (from the Latin pater, translated as “father”) refer to the “fathers of the  Church”; a period from the 2nd century A.D. to as late as 8th century A.D. and including individuals such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom and others.

Liturgical sources (from the Greek words meaning people, public, and work) refer to the official public worship forms of the Church.

Magisterial sources, from the Latin magister, translated as teacher, refer to the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Bishops of the Church acting in their role as teachers of the faith.

Hagiographical sources (from Greek words meaning holy and writing) refers to the writings of the saints of the Church throughout the history of Christianity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 20

“The use of small print in certain passages indicates observations of an historical or apologetic nature, or supplementary doctrinal explanations.”

Obiter Dicta:  An historical observation refers to some event related to the subject of the paragraph or which happened at the time of the formulation of the subject of the paragraph quoted.  For example, a discussion of a given creed may include an historical reference to a heresy some members of the Church believed, at the time of the council which formed that creed; perhaps in response to that heresy.

An apologetic observation refers to a defense of a given teaching or practice of the Church.  This apologetic observation may be in the form of a justification which takes the form of giving and explaining the reasons for the given teaching or practice.

A supplementary doctrinal explanation may also refer to explaining the reasons for a given teaching or practice, or may refer to other ideas or events related to the doctrinal explanation under consideration.  For example, if the teaching refers to eternal timelessness of God, a supplementary doctrinal explanation might include the statement that God did not and could not have exist”ed” “before” creation because, if God is timeless, then time must be something within creation itself; in which case, there would be no “before” creation since time (represented by a “before”) only exists within creation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 19

“The texts of Sacred Scripture are often not quoted word for word but are merely indicated by a reference. For a deeper understanding of such passages, the reader should refer to the Scriptural texts themselves. Such Biblical references are a valuable working-tool in catechesis.”

Obiter Dicta:  The twenty seven books/texts (gospels, letters, and other writings) which make up the New Testament are sometimes called the canon of the New Testament.  By canon is meant that these are the officially accepted and sanctioned books recognized to comprise thenew testament/convenant of God’s revelation to human kind.

The New Testament is valuable and important.  However, as valuable and important as it is, its value and importance can only be properly understood and used if the knower/user remembers that Church determines the canon; that ecclesial tradition determined the canon.

It is the lived life of the faith community which used a variety of communications between Chrisitan communities in their liturgical and catechetical activities.  In that liturgical and catechetical use of a large number of texts (many dozens, perhaps a hundred or more), the Christian faith community/ies eventually selected the twenty-seven which best expressed what they had experienced and knew about Jesus the Christ, Lord and Savior, Son of God.  Those twenty seven books/texts would become known as the New Testament.  That this is an obvious truth, we only need to recall that the Christian faith community was in existence and engaging in liturgy and catechesis and community and service for some thirty to seventy years before various canonical New Testament books/texts were written.  That is, the tradition of the Church existed prior to the formation of the New Testament and, in fact, it (i.e. tradition) formed the New Testament.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 18

“This catechism is conceived as an organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety. It should be seen therefore as a unified whole. Numerous cross-references in the margin of the text (numbers found at the end of a sentence referring to other paragraphs that deal with the same theme), as well as the analytical index at the end of the volume, allow the reader to view each theme in its relationship with the entirety of the faith.”

Obiter Dicta:  The undergraduate and graduate philosophy programs of The School of Philosophy of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. require the reading and dialogical examination of The Human Condition by the German born American philosopher, Hannah Arendt (A.D. 1906 to 1975).  Arendt’s writings contain a lucidity of expression, an organization of thought, and a comprehensiveness which make her an ideal introduction into the dialogical and phenomenological ways of learning philosophy.

Arendt used the phrase “thinking without a banister” (denken ohne gelander) to write about the phrase “groundless thinking” spoken of by a Stan Spyros Draenos.  Arendt used this phrase (“thinking without a banister”) as a metaphor to clearly express what it takes to think (and speak) clearly and effectively.  She invites us to think of walking down a steep narrow-step staircase.  To do so safely, we often feel the need to take hold of the banister, the railing as we descend the stairs.  If we don’t we might fall (i.e. fail in our attempt to descend the staircase).

Thinking is like attempting to descend a steep narrow-step staircase.  Without the use of an intellectual banister/railing, it is difficult to formulate correct thoughts and to express clearly whatever “thoughts” might be obtained.  In order to think clearly and to speak clearly, one needs to think organically and systematically.  One’s thoughts must exist within a substantive/organic whole in which the thoughts are systematically connected, one to another.  When such an organic and systematic structure exists, one is then able to use dialogue as the means to move from a possession of ideas to the production of knowledge.  In this regard, one might use the image of a piece of fabric as a way to understand the relationship of ideas and knowledge.  Ideas are like threads in a piece of the fabric of knowledge.  Dialogue about ideas creates knowledge.  The production of useful knowledge through dialogue becomes possible if the thoughts expressed are part of an organic and systematically related whole of knowledge.  When thought is expressed within an organic and systematic whole of knowledge, thoughts can be clearly expressed and manifested and evidenced as knowledge through dialogue.

Similarly, when religious/theological/spiritual thoughts are expressed with an organic and systematic whole of doctrine; the doctrines expressed can form a clear and productive catechesis.

A powerful aspect of Roman Catholicism is its organic and systematic nature which allows one the opportunity to think clearly about important ideas and to express the knowledge gained in a consistent and effective manner.