Using The Catechism of the Catholic Church as his starting point and structure, Patrick M. Devitt provides a range of images, personalities, cameos from everyday life along with a Scripture text to present and illustrate the truths of the Catholic faith. The style is punchy. It is useful not only for preachers, but also as a handbook of adult catechesis and for adult discussion groups.
267pp. Veritas Publications. to purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie
Part One: The profession of Ffith
Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 1 (1.1.1)
Part Two: The celebration of the christian mystery
Part 2, Section 1, Chapter 1 (2.1.1)
Part Three: Life in Christ
Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1 (3.1.1)
Part Four: Christian prayer
Part 4, Section 1, Chapter 1 (4.1.1)
During the years 2001-2005, I posted a daily catechetical reflection on CatholicIreland.net. This was called CRED (Catechetical Reflections for Each Day). The idea for this project came to me quite suddenly, when I heard about the finding of a dead body in a suitcase in the Grand Canal, less than a mile from where I live. As I was cycling along Russell Street, I saw a few women standing on the canal bridge and pointing west. It was they who explained to me about the strange events of that day.
I couldn’t help thinking about the person who had been so cruelly destroyed. Being a person of faith, I automatically connected these reflections to my prayers and wondered where God was in all of this. Christian faith believes in a God who speaks to the human race through the events of every day. What might God be saying to us today through this and other occurrences? My Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) was nearby as I wrote these reflections, and I also began to wonder how earlier Catholic Christians had faced such issues as sudden death, illness, warfare etc. Catechesis involves listening for echoes of God in the past and in the present.
I decided to keep up this series of reflections (calling them `CRED’) in a spirit of faith (‘credo’ means I believe). I began to search through the CCC in order to find traditional phrases to illuminate my thoughts about the events of each day as they touched my heart, mind and imagination. I added these selected quotes from the CCC to the end of my own personal, daily reflections. God speaks through the bits and pieces of every day. CRED is one person’s attempt to record something of God’s soothing and challenging voice. Readers of CRED may be encouraged to do likewise, listening to God in their own lives.
After CRED was no longer posted daily, the entire resource was kept available in archive form. I was able to use this resource while teaching undergraduate and postgraduate religion teachers in the Mater Del Institute of Education. It was very useful for one of my third year courses: ‘The Catechism: Resource for Junior Cert and Leaving Cert Religious Education’. Many students found it very helpful when preparing lessons during teaching practice; it gave them a range of short stories that made concrete the often abstract topics they were being asked to teach. Postgraduates have also been able to draw upon CRED in their ongoing research.
A thought began to germinate in my mind: what about selecting some of this material for publication? At first, I considered using the existing CRED system of categorisation. Every daily CRED item has been categorised under the following headings: Morals, Sacraments, Christian Vocation, Prayer, Sunday Gospels, Saints, God the Father, Jesus Christ Son of God, God the Holy Spirit, Books, The Human Condition and Church. Might not one of these provide the basis for a book?
Then I had an idea. Why not change the perspective entirely? Instead of thinking like CRED (which moves from today’s events down to a paragraph from the CCC), I decided to start each item of my book with a text of the CCC and place this text above its connected CRED reflection. I spent some time reading my much marked CCC, and selected about one in every ten paragraphs from beginning to end. This allowed the structural logic of that magisterial document to shape my book. The headings and major sub-headings of the CCC have also been integrated into the text, again to help the reader’s progress.
The present book consists of reflections on about 250 of the 2,865 paragraphs in the CCC. Once my reflection began to move from CCC texts down to daily incidents, I then saw the value of going even further: each reflection then moved into a scriptural text. These were easy to identify, as they were often noted in the CCC.
What has emerged is a meditation on the Catholic Faith, which uses three distinct languages: the theological language of the CCC, the catechetical language of daily life and the Word of God in Scripture. These three faith languages provide a form of meditation for everyday life.
This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole the Church’s Tradition (CCC 11).
The Easter garden is in the usual place, down left in the sanctuary of the church of St Agatha, North William Street. The focal point is the bare cross, with a white cloth draped around it, and discreetly lit up from behind. A fountain of water plays among green shrubs, and a few rabbits peep up in amazement. Hidden from view, a small goldfish swims in the pond. He belongs to Paddy Tucker’s daughter and is called ichthus (the Greek word for fish).
Some people find the garden intrusive and unwelcome, but surely the beauty of God’s creation is a very apt sign of the beauty of the resurrection. And ichthus reminds us how the early Christians painted fish on the walls of the catacombs where they buried their dead in the hope of eternal life. The letters are the initials of the Greek phrase: ‘Jesus Christ, God’s son, saviour’. This is the heart of Easter faith, hope and love. This is God’s new creation.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’. (John 17:1-3)
By design, this Catechism does not set to provide the adaptation … required by the differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, and social and ecclesial condition among all those to whom it is addressed. Such indispensable adaptions are the responsibility of particular catechisms and, even more, of those who instruct the faithful. (CCC 24)
The sower went out to sow his seed and, as he sowed, some seed fell by the side of the road, other seed fell on rocks, other seed fell among thorns, but other seed fell on good soil. The seed, according to Jesus, is the Word of God. Falling on different people, it bears fruit very differently. The Word is a power for life, but for some people no life flows from their listening to God’s Word.
Jim Gallagher has written a fine book on catechesis, entitled Soil for the Seed. Instead of giving a theological account of the seed (Word) and explaining what that Word means, his book refers more to the recipients of the Word (the variety of different soils refer to the great diversity of God’s people on earth). Being different from one another justifies their receiving a different version of the Word. Is there then a danger of perversion of the Word?
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
THE PROFESSION OF FAITH
Man’s Capacity for God
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. (CCC 27)
It’s not often one reads a book on religious faith written by someone who has taught both English Literature and Fundamental Theology. Such a work came my way recently: Michael Paul Gallagher’s Dive Deeper: The Human Poetry of Faith. His thesis is simple: one major faith crisis today derives from the fact that religion and life have separated from each other. Where once the hungers of life found nourishment in the images and symbols of religion, now religious language resonates little with inner feelings.
In order to reconnect life and religion, Gallagher suggests that we ‘dive deep’ into the central human experiences of friendship, failure, tragedy, silence and normality. Through the words of selected poets and novelists, he helps us explore this inner human terrain and discover its hopes and fears. This ‘deep diving’ allows us to listen attentively to the God-story of one who enters fully into life and death, in order to show us the loving passion of the God who creates and restores us.
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)
In defending the the ability of human reason to know God, the Church is expressing her confidence in the possibility of speaking about him to all and with all men, and therefore a dialogue with other religions, with philosophy and science, as well as with unbelievers and atheists. (CCC 39)
It was a usual Monday night on RTÉ, and on came Questions and Answers. When John Bowman asked Robert Ballagh to comment on the Pope, Ballagh graciously declined, pleading his lack of belief. He did, however, make a brief reference to the barefooted preacher from Nazareth, in whose footsteps each Pope must follow. Here was true art: Ballagh’s few simple words were more eloquent than a long speech.
One of the greatest changes in recent Catholic thinking is the movement from condemnation of unbelief to a recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit, even in the heart of non-believers. According to the Second Vatican Council, God is mysteriously at work in every human being and, since God is beauty, truth and goodness, wherever people create beauty, search for truth and live good lives, God is with them, enriching them and drawing them towards full human flourishment.
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god”. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you’. (Acts 17:22-23)
We can name God only, by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking. (CCC 40)
A Manhattan teenager, who had committed crime and was in custody awaiting trial, put pen to paper and rewrote Psalm 22. He had never known a shepherd, or ever seen a sheep. He had heard of people living in the desert, but he could only imagine the thrill of green pastures and the pleasure of running streams. He wrote about what he knew. ‘The Lord’, he said, ‘is my probation officer. He digs me and looks out for me and stands up for me.’
Downtown Manhattan became a symbol. The rubble that covered the missing five thousand innocent people became an indictment of terror and violence. But the response of the city was superb. The members of the fire department continued to search, hoping to find someone still alive. With great courage and in spite of constant threat to their own lives, they sought out the dead bodies. Like the woman searching for the lost drachma, or the father running out to seek his two sons, they are a reminder of God’s compassionate heart. If sin can be seen as a kind of spiritual death, then God must be a firefighter, seeking the lost and searching for the dead.
For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. (Wisdom 13:5)
God Comes to Meet Man
It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature (Dei Verbum, 2). (CCC 51 )
Jews have always believed in a God who spoke a word to them; their God was a God who refused to stay silent, a God who continued to communicate with them, no matter where they were and no matter how far they wandered from the paths of righteousness. God spoke his word in a vibrant manner through creation, but in an even more dynamic way through the history of the Jewish people. In each case God was saying, ‘I want to create life and I want all people to live life to the full’.
When John the Evangelist said that the Word of God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, he was making an extraordinary claim. He was saying that the beauty of creation, as well as the liberating power of God calling his people out of the slavery of Egypt into the milk and honey of his Promised Land, are now focussed in the human life of a Jewish carpenter. The grandeur and maiesty of God are now fully on display in this human heart. To hear God we simply listen to Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)
The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include: all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope (CCC 64)
The Church needs all sorts of people. Because there is so much wrong with the world, we need a constant supply of prophets to tell us this harsh truth and to challenge us to put injustices right. But we also need the voice of the one who compliments us for things well done and regularly inspires us to keep doing right. St Barnabas is famous for being a person who encouraged others.
At this moment, the Catholic Church in many parts of the world is under attack because of the manner in which many of its bishops mishandled child sex abuse allegations against certain clergy. After this storm has passed, the need for some new Barnabas will be very obvious. The Church, Christ’s little flock, will need to hear a voice of encouragement, calling her forward into the unknown future.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. (Isaiah 41:17)
Tradition is to he distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed (CCC 83)
Eamon Duffy, an Irishman born in Dundalk, is a famous Church historian, now teaching in Cambridge. He recently published a short book called Faith of our Fathers: Reflections on Catholic Tradition. This consisted largely of short articles he had published earlier in the English journal, Priests and People. We read it in our theology book circle and most of us found it very helpful. Duffy claims he is not a theologian, but he writes beautifully about theological issues. This book merits careful reading.
In particular, I loved his analysis of Catholic tradition as a resource for creative engagement with new challenges to the faith. I am also convinced of his argument for making fasting and abstinence a communal ritual rather than a private devotion. But where I empathised most with him was in his plea for more anger and grief to be allowed in our funeral services. In celebrating the resurrection of the body, we must also lament the destruction of death.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)
All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth. (CCC 91)
Thomas Aquinas was one of the most outstanding saint-theologians the Church has known. He emphasised the unity of truth, convinced that human reason and Christian faith, though approaching wisdom from different perspectives, can never ultimately be in disagreement. Intellectual life and spiritual life are but two sides of the one human coin. A true intellectual recognises that the mystery of God (or absolute truth) can never be exhausted by any human exploration.
In his constant searching for deeper insights, Aquinas did not neglect any source of knowledge. He drew from the rediscovered texts of Aristotle a realist philosophy to counterbalance the traditional idealism of Plato. He assessed all positions he disagreed with, not to condemn them, but rather to learn whatever truth could be gleaned from them. His example might be helpful today in conflict resolution.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 6:13-15)
In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. ‘To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words. (CCC 109)
He was told he could ‘eat, drink and be merry’, but then he began to worry about the ‘forbidden fruit’ that he had eaten ‘at the eleventh hour’. Though he was truly ‘the salt of the earth’, he allowed others ‘to cast the first stone’, which they did with glee. As they led him out ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’, he asked ironically, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Then the issue of ‘blood money’ began to frighten him, so he figured that ‘the writing was on the wall’.
The Bible has given the English language some of its most powerful phrases. People often speak ‘bible-talk’ without noticing what they are doing. This is one good educational reason for requiring pupils to attend to the Biblical record. Of course, a more important justification for reading the Bible is a reason of the heart: to people of faith, the Bible is God’s life-giving word in beautiful human language, which invites a profound change of heart.
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)