The famous orator, Cicero, once said that “to not know what occurred before you were born is to always remain a child.” Part of maturing and having a strong identity is to know where you come from, your culture, your values. No one starts from scratch.
This quote from Cicero can be applied to Catholics regarding their faith. I have encountered many people young and old who say they are Catholic but really don’t know their faith. Some don’t kneel during the consecration at mass because they really don’t know what is going on. Some don’t feel the need to go to confession, or to mass on Sunday. I once asked a man who said he was Catholic if he went to mass every Sunday. He told me, “I said I’m Catholic, not a fanatic!”
The funny thing is that even though they don’t know their faith, the teachings of the Church, the meaning of the liturgy, they allow themselves to make rash judgments about these realities. For some, the last time they studied Catholic doctrine was their preparation for confirmation in their early teenage years.
One of the major reasons of all of this is the fact that in the past 40 years or so catechesis has suffered tremendously. Back in 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed the following:
“Since theology can no longer transmit a common model of the faith, catechesis is also exposed to dismemberment and to constantly changing experiments. Some catechisms and many catechists no longer teach the Catholic faith in its harmonic wholeness – where each truth presupposes and explains the other – rather they try to make some elements of the Christian patrimony humanly ‘interesting’ (according to the cultural orientations of the moment). A few biblical passages are set in bold relief because they are viewed as being ‘closer to contemporary sensibility’. Others, for the opposite reason, are set aside. Hence it is no longer a catechesis that would constitute a comprehensive, all embracing formation in the faith, but reflections and flashes of insights deriving from partial, subjective anthropological experiences.” (Ratzinger Report, ch. 5)
As a result of this shattered catechesis many Catholics have become “incapable of a comprehensive view of their religion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the necessary instrument to achieve this necessary comprehensive view. In a Synod of Bishops convoked by Pope John Paul II for the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, the Synod Fathers stated:
“Very many have expressed the desire that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals be composed, that it might be, as it were, a point of reference for the catechisms or compendiums that are prepared in various regions. The presentation of doctrine must be biblical and liturgical. It must be sound doctrine suited to the present life of Christians.”
Pope Benedict in his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, affirms that, “the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith.” He goes on to say that:
“In its very structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the development of the faith right up to the great themes of daily life. On page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church. The profession of faith is followed by an account of sacramental life, in which Christ is present, operative and continues to build his Church. Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy, because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness. By the same criterion, the teaching of the Catechism on the moral life acquires its full meaning if placed in relationship with faith, liturgy and prayer.”
Seriously reading the Catechism and appropriating its content is truly an efficient means to give mature Christian witness.