"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Year of Faith

Be Prepared!

Exploring the Catechism of the Catholic Church Part II 

9780225668674During the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that growing in our faith is a spiritual journey; if we’re not moving forward, we may get off track and even lose our way.  We must take time to nurture and strengthen our spiritual lives if we are to mature and deepen our understanding of our faith. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis of faith; belief in God and adherence to Christian principles of living is no longer something that we can take for granted.  It is therefore especially important that the joy and enthusiasm that we experience in our encounter with Christ be something that is evident for everyone to see.1 But what can we do to nurture our faith?  One of the ways is to read and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Structure of the Catechism

For many Catholics, the Catechism is an unexplored territory of faith, and a bit of a roadmap may help get you started on the journey.  If you open a copy of the Catechism (to read the online version, click on Catechism of the Catholic Church), you will see that it is divided into four main parts: the Profession of Faith (the Creed), the Celebration of the Christian Mystery (the sacraments), Life in Christ (the life of faith, including the Ten Commandments), and Christian Prayer (including the Lord’s Prayer).  Though divided up in this way, the parts are all interconnected, for we celebrate our faith through participating in the sacraments; and at the same time, faith is the basis of our prayer and helps guide and sustain us as we seek to discover what it means to live our lives as Christians.2 Let’s take a closer look at each of the parts.

Part I: The Profession of Faith

Every week at Mass, right after the homily, we stand together as a congregation and repeat the words of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed.3 Credo is a Latin word that means, “I believe,” and each week we begin our profession of faith with these words.

The Apostles’ Creed dates back to the earliest days of the Church and was originally formulated for the use of candidates of Baptism.  If you are familiar with the Creed, you may have already noticed that it is divided into three sections, each of which reflects a part of the Holy Trinity:  the first part speaks of God and His wonderful work of Creation; the second part speaks of Jesus, who redeemed us from our sins; and the third part speaks of the Holy Spirit, who works in our hearts to help us draw closer to God.4

Each statement in the Creed is further broken down into 12 separate “articles” of faith, which represent the fullness of faith as expressed by the 12 Apostles. Together, these articles faithfully summarize the tradition of faith that has been handed on to us by the early Church.  As you speak these words each week, have you ever stopped and wondered exactly what they mean?  The Catechism explains and discusses each article in detail to help us come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of our Catholic faith.

Part II: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery

Having established and explained the fundamental beliefs of our Catholic faith, the second part of the Catechism goes on to explore how God’s Salvation is made present in our lives through the Liturgy of the Church, especially in the seven sacraments.

The sacraments are divided into three types.  The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, which lay the foundation of our Christian lives, include the Sacrament of Baptism, the Sacrament of Confirmation, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.5 It is through Baptism that we become Christians and members of the Church, while Confirmation strengthens us and gives us the graces that we need to live Christian lives and to share the Gospel with others.  All along the way, we are sustained and nourished by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Bread and the Wine that become the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ every time we celebrate Mass. 

It is inevitable that during our lives, we will experience physical suffering. It is also inevitable that no matter how hard we try, at some point in time, we will fail God and others.  The Sacraments of Healing, through which both our souls and physical bodies are healed, include the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick.

Finally, the last two sacraments, the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Matrimony, are called Sacraments at the Service of Communion because they are directed towards the salvation of others.  It is true that they may contribute to our own personal salvation indirectly, but this comes about through the service that we offer to others.6 It may be easy for us to understand that the mission of a priest is to serve his congregation, but we may wonder why marriage is included in this category.  Perhaps the most important mission that a married man or woman has in life is to mirror the love that Christ has for His Church through their love for one another and to lovingly educate their children in the truths of the faith. Each day brings new opportunities to love and serve one another, to help each other along the path of our journey to our eternal destiny.  The Catechism explains and discusses each of the seven sacraments in detail and answers questions such as, “Who can receive this sacrament?” and “How is this sacrament celebrated?” 

Part III: Life in Christ

Like Christ, each one of us is invited to live in a way that is pleasing to God in order to be united to Him, so that we can reach the destination for which we were created.  But what does that mean?  “Life in Christ” discusses how Christians are called to live out their faith in the world today.  Topics such as freedom and responsibility, morality, conscience, and virtue challenge us to go deeper in our understanding of our dignity as persons created in the image and likeness of God.

This part of the Catechism includes a detailed discussion of each of the Ten Commandments, which Jesus summarized in two essential statements: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:37-40).  Issues such as the nature and responsibilities of the family, the duties of citizens, social justice, and some of the more controversial teachings of the Church on matters such as respect for human life (including abortion and euthanasia), pornography, homosexuality, and the occult are all discussed in this part of the Catechism.       

Part IV: Christian Prayer

What is prayer?  In its most simple form, prayer is nothing more than a conversation with God.  But we may not be familiar with some of the different types of Christian prayer, which include blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, praise and thanksgiving, and expressions of prayer such as vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer.  The Catechism closes with an in-depth discussion of the most perfect prayer of all, the one taught to us by Jesus Himself, the Lord’s Prayer.

Some Practical Guidelines

Before embarking on a study of the Catechism, a few practical pointers may help you navigate its contents more easily.  As you look through the pages of the Catechism, you will see that each short paragraph (article) is numbered in bold.  These numbers help to organize and pinpoint the location of material, as you will notice if you check out the citations listed in the footnotes below.7 There are also italicized numbers in the margins that provide cross-references to other articles in the Catechism that may help explain some of the concepts.  Passages from historical and other sources, such as the writings of the Saints and other Church documents and authors, appear in small print to help identify them; these writings help to expand and enrich the concepts discussed in the doctrinal text.  Along with the index of citations, there is a detailed index, a list of abbreviations, and an extensive glossary in the back that explains the meaning of words that may not be familiar to you.  It may sound complicated, but it’s really not.  Our Church fathers wanted to be very thorough in preparing this version of the Catechism to give us all the information we need to deepen our understanding of the faith.

As with many spiritual books, it is not necessary to read the Catechism from cover to cover, although we can certainly do that if we wish.  Itcan also simply be used as an essential point of reference and a resource on topics that are of interest to us.  Just like reading the Bible, parts of the Catechism may be hard to understand at first, but with prayer and study and an openness to learn, God will use it to reveal many truths to us.8 By deepening our understanding of our faith, we will always be prepared to give the reason for our hope (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), Jesus Christ, and to share the joy and beauty of following Him with others wherever we are, whether in the family, in the workplace, or in public life.9

–  Sharon van der Sloot

1 Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Letter Porta fidei (October 11, 2011), 2; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xvi_motu-proprio_20111011_porta-fidei_en.html; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.

2 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (October 11, 1992), 2; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_19921011_fidei-depositum_en.html; Internet; accessed 23 November 2012.

3 In Canada, it is common to recite either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed on Sundays. The Nicene Creed is more explicit and detailed and dates from the first two ecumenical councils – Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantinople (381 A.D.); it is common to all of the great Churches of both the East and West (CCC, 195).

4 Cf. CCC, 190.

5 Ibid., 1212.

6 Cf.Ibid., 1534.

7 The abbreviation, CCC, refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the word “ibid” means that the source is the same as in the proceeding citation.

8 There are a number of other catechisms that have been based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church – for example, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and Youcat, the official catechism of the 2011 World Youth Day – that may also be of help to you.

9 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Porta fidei, 13.

Be Prepared! 

Exploring The Catechism of the Catholic Church Part I

On October 11th, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the beginning of the Year of Faith.  His choice of this date is auspicious, not only because it marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, but also because it was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Catechism was written as a follow-up to Vatican II, and its publication was significant in that it was the first definitive Catholic catechism to be released since the Council of Trent in 1566.  Promulgated by Pope John Paul II on October 11th, 1992 (the 30th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II), the Catechism was the fruit of six years of intense labour on the part of twelve Cardinals and bishops, including their chairman, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI).1 In writing the Catechism, their aim was to respond to an important need in our world today: to make the faith more accessible to the Christian faithful and to help us understand the place of faith in the modern world.

When it comes to catechisms, we often think of elementary school religious textbooks such as the Baltimore Catechism.2These texts were often written in question and answer form, and they were primarily used in the education of young people. With the publication of the new Catechism, we saw a radical departure from this formula.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church was written with a totally different purpose in mind: it is meant to be a reference on which other catechisms can be based,3 a tool to provide real support for the faith.4

Unfortunately, if we polled all of the Catholics in Canada today, I suspect that we would find that only a small percentage of us are familiar enough with the teachings of the Catholic faith to feel comfortable sharing them with others.  This is unfortunate, for if there is one thing that we all agree upon, it is that there is a profound crisis of faith in the 21st century. Often we as Catholics do not know what we believe, but equally important, we do not understand the reasons for what we believe. It is not that we lack the ability to go deeper in understanding our faith.  After all, Canadians are among the best educated people in the world; a total of 51% of our population have completed their college and university degrees.5 Yet despite our commitment to higher education, we continue to be undereducated when it comes to the study of our Catholic faith.  It ought to be the mainstay of our being, a roadmap that helps illuminate and guide us as we go about our daily lives.  Instead, we often find ourselves struggling to embrace teachings that are at times difficult or controversial.

We are not surprised when our bodies deteriorate due to a lack of physical exercise, and in the same way, we should not be surprised if we lose our faith when we stop nurturing our spiritual lives.  “Use it or lose it” is an axiom that applies to both body and soul.  If we are to be able to know and defend our faith against the daily attacks in the media and the secular world, we need to come prepared!  The advice given to us by our first Pope, St. Peter, is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.  He said, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).

St. Jerome tells us, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”6 In the same way, ignorance of the Catechism may leave us in danger of being ignorant of the fundamental truths of our Catholic faith. The Catechism provides Catholics not only with information about what to believe, but it also provides us with an explanation of the meaning of those beliefs.7 The well-known American Catholic theologian, Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. wrote, “This Catechism is of historic importance. Depending on how seriously we take it, the future of the Catholic Church will be shaped accordingly.”8

Check back next week for an overview of the structure and contents of the Catechism. 

–  Sharon van der Sloot

1 There have been two editions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The first English edition was published in 1994.  This early translation was later expanded to reflect changes made in the definitive Latin text published in 1997.  The Second Edition also includes some things missing from the earlier edition: a glossary of terms, an index of citations, and in-brief texts on core teachings.

2 The Baltimore Catechism was originally published in 1885 and was used in Catholic schools in North America until the 1960s.

3 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Fidei depositum (October 11, 1992), I; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_19921011_fidei-depositum_en.html; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.  Several subsequent catechisms have been based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, including the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (2006) and Youcat (an acronym for Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2011), which was the official catechism of the 2011 World Youth Day.

4 Pope Benedict XVI, Porta fidei (October 11, 2011), 12; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xvi_motu-proprio_20111011_porta-fidei_en.html; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.

5 OECD Country Note: Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2012, Canada; available from http://www.oecd.org/canada/EAG2012 – Country note – Canada.pdf; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.

6 CCC, 133.

7 Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., “Understanding the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” EWTN Global Catholic Network; available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/catechsm/qaconf.htm; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.

8 Ibid.


Opening the Door to Christ

In last week’s article, we recognized that the gentle but persistent knocking at the door of our hearts is Christ himself. He is calling, inviting us to renew our hearts and minds in this Year of Faith.  How will we respond?  To begin, we should take a moment to see where we are and think about where we’d like to be in our spiritual lives.  The challenge in the midst of a busy world is to be able to focus on what’s important.  If we stop to think about how we spend our time, will we find that we are using it for good, for things that are lasting?

If we really want to grow or change, it is not enough to just want it to happen; we must make a conscious decision and put a plan in place. Here are a few ideas that may help:

1.  Set aside some time to participate in a study such as The Bible Timeline by Jeff Cavins.  (biblestudyforcatholics.com) Available in 8 sessions or the full 24-week version, this course offers an interesting and comprehensive overview of the Bible that retraces the history of our faith and gives a uniquely Catholic perspective on the Scriptures.

2.  Another exciting way to (literally) retrace our faith would be to plan a pilgrimage to Rome or the Holy Land!

3.  To help us appreciate and deepen our understanding of our Catholic heritage, an excellent resource is Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron.  It’s available in a book or set of talks on DVD. (catholicismseries.com)

4.  Take some time to read and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is available in book form, electronically (here’s one easy way – http://flocknote.com/catechism) or for your portable device, such as iPhone (iPieta has a wealth of info).  You may also want to check out Youcat, a catechism written especially for young people.

5.  Reach out in compassion and love to those in need.  Of the countless ministries that exist, choose one that appeals to you and put your faith into action!

These are just a few ideas, and I am sure that there will be many more initiatives, both in parishes and at the diocesan level, to help us understand what we profess as Catholics and to inspire us to make our faith come alive.  Whatever we do, let us entrust ourselves to the care of our Heavenly Mother, knowing that she will faithfully lead us to her Son, Jesus.

–  Kelley Holy

Why a Year of Faith?

What if someone told you that the Pope had written you a letter?  As surprising as it may sound, he has done exactly that!  Wondering why?  Since the beginning, Jesus has entrusted us to the care of an earthly shepherd who wants to nurture and lead us back to the Father.  We remember His words to Peter, “Feed my lamb…tend my sheep” (Jn 21:15-16).  Pope Benedict XVI, as the successor of Peter, is that shepherd for us.  And, taking his mission to heart, he has written an apostolic letter to the entire Church entitled Porta Fidei, or Door of Faith, which outlines his reasons for proclaiming this special year and what we can hope to gain by living it well.

In reading the Pope’s explanation of the “door of faith,” another image of a door immediately comes to mind.  It’s one that is familiar to many and was likely inspired by words from the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).  This image of Jesus knocking has been depicted beautifully in art, but even more compelling is the idea that the door is the entrance to our hearts.  Containing no handle, this door must be opened by each of us to the Lord; He never forces Himself on us.  Pope Benedict assures us that “the door of faith is always open for us,”1 but are we always open to receiving Christ?

As Christians, we find ourselves living in a time when our values and beliefs are constantly being challenged and questioned.  There was a time not so very long ago when Western culture adhered to Christian principles, and we could rightly assume that many people around us shared similar beliefs.  Even if some didn’t overtly practice religion, unspoken rules of civility, manners, respect, and dignity permeated collective thought and influenced personal conduct.  But that is no longer the case.  Add to this phenomenon the emphasis placed on material wealth, the influence of the media, the redefining of marriage and family, and the ever-increasing pace of life, and we see why a “profound crisis of faith” has affected so many people.2

We hear the word faith quite often, yet because we use the word to mean many different ideas, we may not always understand what is intended.  At the most basic level, faith can mean “anything believed,” but in reference to religion it is that “unwavering belief in God or a higher power.”  Another way we use this word is to mean “confidence,” nearly synonymous with trust.  But it can also mean “a system of beliefs,” such as our Catholic faith and all that entails.  So what, precisely, is meant by a Year of Faith?

Clearly, this year has been set aside to encourage each of us individually and as a Universal Church to reflect on all of these aspects of faith, as they are inextricably connected.  “Faith which is a personal trust in the Lord and the faith which we profess in the Creed are inseparable; they focus on each other and they require each other”.3  This Year of Faith, then, is an opportunity to examine just what we believe, what is important to us, and where we give our time and attention.  It can be looking at the role we allow God to play in our lives: whether He is at the centre or just on the periphery.  It’s a time to reflect on what our Church teaches and our understanding and living of those teachings.  Regardless of where we may be in our lives, each of us can take this opportunity to go deeper.  Like exploring the depths of the ocean or the far reaches of space, the richness of our Catholic faith and the mystery of Christ’s love challenge and entice us to keep searching, to know more.

At all times, the Church wants to give us the means to come to know, love, and live with Christ for all eternity.  But in this confusing and busy world, we sometimes lose sight of what’s really important, what will truly matter in the end.  Because none of us has “made it” yet, our faith must constantly be nurtured in order to persevere to the end.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns us about a thief in the night who will arrive when we least expect it.4  As the owner of the house, each of us must be attentive to what is going on under our own roofs, in our own souls.  Have we made a home for Christ in our hearts, and if so, what is its condition?  When we recite in the Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”5 we recognize our sinfulness, our failings.  Yet we complete this prayer with trust in God’s mercy, saying, “…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”6

In this Year of Faith, Christ is waiting for us to turn to Him, to seek Him out, and to “rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples”.7  If we can “open wide the doors to Christ,” we also open ourselves up to rediscovering the true purpose and meaning of life and all its possibilities.8  Next week, look for some concrete and practical ways to live the Year of Faith.

–  Kelley Holy

1Porta fidei, 1.

2Ibid, 2.

3Note with Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith, Recommendations.

4Cf. Mt 24:42-51.

5Roman Missal.


7PF, 3.

8John Paul II, Homily of the Inauguration of His Pontificate (22 October 1978).


Preparing for the Year of Faith

imagesHave you ever wanted to learn more about your faith and go deeper in your spiritual life?  In his letter, The Door of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year of Faith that will begin on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and will end on November 24, 2013, the Feast of Christ the King.  He wrote, “The Year of Faith … is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world.”  (The Door of Faith, 6)  In Acts 14:27, we read of how God opened the door of faith to the believers of the early Christian Church.  Today, God continues to extend a personal invitation to each one of us to enter that door of faith through renewed conversion: to turn towards Jesus, to encounter Him in the sacraments, and to rediscover the riches of the truth of our faith and the gift of the Church.

To read the full text of the Pope’s letter and to begin thinking about how you can deepen your own faith in the coming year, check out the official Vatican Year of Faith website at the following link: http://www.annusfidei.va/content/novaevangelizatio/en.html.

–  Sharon van der Sloot