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Everybody needs the Catechism
It probably goes without saying, but I love the Catechism. It is both an unparalleled resource and a spiritual masterpiece. It’s a true gift to the Church. I’m excited for Fr. Mike Schmitz’s new Catechism in a Year podcast if only because through it there will be many more people picking up this book who may not have before.
One of the many great things that the Catechism does for the Church is that it democratizes knowledge of the Church’s teaching. Catholics are not left to simply trust whatever their pastor or an online apologist says about Church teaching. Because of the Catechism, Catholics are easily able to know what the Church teaches—and what it doesn’t.
This is important because I regularly hear clergy and lay ministers teach things that sound good, and may reflect their own experiences, but that aren't what the Church teaches.
For example, a few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast hosted by a couple of young priests. I normally enjoy what these guys have to say, but on this particular episode they repeatedly said that the Church instructs the faithful to bring all grave matter to Confession because we aren’t capable of discerning our own culpability in any given situation. They went on to say that the faithful can also reasonably expect God to free them from habitual grave matter in this life. I immediately messaged a friend of mine and probably ranted too long about wrong and harmful this is.
The reality is that the Catechism does not teach these things, and rightly so. The implications of such propositions are pretty severe. But these priests are really educated, friendly, pastoral, and normally pretty great with what they teach. They are easy to trust. But in this case, they were wrong.
As I’ve said many times before, Catholics with positions of authority or with public ministries must stop saying that the Church teaches something if the Church doesn’t actually teach it. If you cannot point to the document where the Church teaches something then please just say that it’s your own opinion.
Otherwise you are misrepresenting the Magisterium, presenting personal opinions as if they were assisted by the Holy Spirit, and unjustly imposing on the consciences of others by placing man-made burdens on their backs and saying that they come from God.
I hope that this Catechism in a Year initiative will be taken up by a lot of lay ministers and clergy. I appreciated that in one of the introductory episodes, Fr. Mike interviewed Bishop Cozzens who said that he himself regularly uses the Catechism in his teaching role as a bishop. The Catechism is the solid foundation we must build our teaching and preaching from in order to avoid make sure we aren’t simply presenting our personal preferences.
My job as a catechist is to echo a message that is not my own, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, not the good ideas of Paul Fahey. If I’m not grounding all of my teaching, preaching, and writing in the Catechism, then what am I actually giving people?
What this looks like in real life is that I’m literally reading parts of the Catechism nearly every day. I’m critiquing theologians and pastors in light of the Catechism. I build my retreats, talks, and podcasts from the Catechism. I seek to frame my own phrasing to mirror the Catechism. And I pray with the Catechism (though I don’t do this one as often as I perhaps should).
The story of salvation that the Catechism tells is compelling and I’ve seen it change lives. Why? Because it’s God’s Story. Not my story or the story of my favorite theologian.