Book Review: Part One of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

This year my New Year’s resolution was to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I’m happy to report that I finished part one which explains Church doctrine by walking through the Creed.  It looks like reading the Catechism is going to be a two year project given that it’s already June and I’ve only finished the first part.  I thought I would write about the Catechism as I finish each part instead of waiting until I was completely done reading it.  Here are my thoughts about part one of the CCC.

I always thought that Catechism was the 10 (thousand) Commandments of the Catholic Church.  I was expecting a “do and don’t” list of sorts.  But providing a list of rules without any context doesn’t make much sense so naturally our church fathers laid down a spiritual foundation to start the CCC.  Part one is a well crafted narrative that walks through each phrase in the Creed and uses it to explain some aspect of the Catholic faith.  And boy does it go into detail at some points where a simple phrase in the Creed referencing the Holy Spirit or the Communion of Saints expands to multiple chapters of theology.  It does get a bit dry and heavy at times but it does provide a solid foundation for the “rules” that come later on.

You have to excuse the nerd speak for a second, but part one of the CCC is like unzipping a compressed digital file.  The Catholic faith compresses nicely in the Creed but like a compressed file on a computer, it’s hard to get anything useful out of it when you only see it in its compressed state.  It’s doubly difficult when the only time you think about the Creed is for those three minutes you utter them in a half comatose state after the homily during Mass.  The CCC is the spiritual “unzip” that takes all that compressed data and makes it something more useful.  Note that it doesn’t introduce anything new that isn’t implied in the Creed but it does clarify the pillars of the Catholic faith.

Another way to think of part one of the CCC is like walking through an art gallery.  If you don’t know anything about art then you would look at a Monet painting and wonder what’s so special about some blurry landscapes.  But if you’ve studied art history and understand the ideas behind Impressionism then the paintings take on a different character.  You can understand the richness and the story behind each work.  Likewise, the Creed may just seem like a bunch of simple statements but part one of the CCC helps you discover the richness and history behind those phrases.  And while someone may not understand every details of the Catechism, that level of understanding isn’t necessary to appreciate it and gain some insight into the Catholic faith.

I recommend part one of the CCC to anyone truly interested on learning more about the foundations of the Catholic faith.  As I’ve said before, part of being a faithful Catholic is also being an informed Catholic.  We need to make learning about our faith as much of a priority as we make learning basic life skills.  Because I can’t think of a more useful tool for Satan to spread his lies than an uninformed Catholic (just look at Nancy Pelosi).  Don’t unknowingly be one of Satan’s minions.  Become informed and put part one of the CCC on your reading list.

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The Catechism — The Catholic Church’s Silmarillion

Welcome to 2015!  I’m really excited about my new year’s resolution.  I know, I know.  I previously wrote about how new year’s resolutions are bad because labelling them as a resolution almost guarantees that you won’t actually follow through.  But this year, with the help of a little technology, I think I will be able to meet my goal — reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

CCCCBut why?  Isn’t it a bit dry and the spiritual equivalent of reading up on tax law?  Or, isn’t the Catechism more like a reference book that you search through when you have a specific question and not something you read end to end?  To answer that, we’ll need to learn a little literary history.

Let’s go to 19th century France.  The man is Victor Hugo and the book is Les Misérables.  This is a looooong book clocking in at nearly 1,500 pages for a standard sized paperback version.  The reason why it’s so long is because Hugo went to great lengths to provide a historical context for the events in the book.  He dedicates chapters describing the battle of Waterloo, the Parisian sewer system, life in a nunnery, Parisian street slang, 19th century manufacturing processes, etc.  These aren’t little Wikipedia like descriptions either but are the size and scope of small books onto themselves.  These tangents paint a richer world for the events of the book to take place in.  The characters in Les Misérables don’t exist in a vacuum, but live in a bigger world that we can relate to or at least understand because Hugo provides seemingly endless background information.

Fast forward to the 20th century and look at J.R.R. Tolkien.  You know his seminal works — The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  What you may not know is that there is a lot of auxiliary writings which describe Middle Earth, the land where the events of those books take place.  Tolkien wrote extensively about the culture of hobbits, dwarfs, elves, etc.  He wrote a book called The Silmarillion which describes the universe of Eä which contains Middle Earth as well as other lands.  Like Victor Hugo, Tolkien wrote the background of the places and characters in his books to provide a much richer reading experience because the events happen within a known context.  The Lord of the Rings isn’t a small book or movie because Middle Earth is not a small place.  Elves, dwarves, hobbits, humans, and orcs all act the way they do in the books and movies because Tolkien gave them a detailed history.  Without that history and culture being spelled out, I bet The Lord of the Rings would not have been the complex, layered, and rich book/movie it turned out to be.

By now it should become increasingly obvious why I want to read the CCC.  I want to become more knowledgeable about the Catholic faith so that I can have a richer experience living that faith.  When I pray the rosary or listen to a homily I want to have what I learned reading the CCC in the back of my mind to make new mental and spiritual connections.  I hope that  reading the CCC will generate a whole new level of intentions and meditations when I pray the rosary.  I hope that the increased understanding of the Catholic faith will seep into my writings in my future books (fingers crossed) and on RosaryMeds.

Think of it like this.  Your average Catholic who hasn’t read the CCC is like someone who has only seen the Les Misérables musical or The Lord of the Rings movies.  They have a good understanding of the material and appreciate it but they don’t know the whole picture as envisioned by Hugo and Tolkien respectively.  But the person who has read more church documents like the CCC is like the person who has read Les Misérables or The Silmarillion and understands the greater context and all the little details that are left out of the more popular works.

New year’s resolutions fail because many people only define a goal, not a process for achieving that goal.  I’m a software engineer and I’m all about defining processes for achieving goals.  So here’s how I will achieve my goal of reading the Catechism.  Last year I finally bit the bullet and bought my first smartphone.  It has opened up a whole new world of productivity, especially during my commute.  I spend roughly six hours a week on the road.  Thanks to an app called @Voice Aloud Reader I can turn any text into an audio book.  Combined with my Catholic prayer app, Laudate, I can listen to the entire Catechism on my commutes.  I know I won’t have Doctor of the Church level retention of the information, but I will pick up the major themes and a general understanding.

Here’s wishing you all the best of luck in this new year!

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Souls Need Our Prayers More than Once a Year

The Catholic Church celebrated All Souls Day on November 2. On that day we prayed for the souls in Purgatory who are undergoing their final purification before entering Heaven. However, I want to remind everyone that these souls are in constant need of our prayers. Praying for them should not be something we do once a year after we come down from our Halloween sugar high. We should remember the deceased every day throughout the year in all our prayers.

A Procession in the Catacomb of Callistus
Image via Wikipedia

The Catholic Church celebrated All Souls Day on November 2.  On that day we prayed for the souls in Purgatory who are undergoing their final purification before entering Heaven.  However, I want to remind everyone that these souls are in constant need of our prayers.  Praying for them should not be something we do once a year after we come down from our Halloween sugar high.  We should remember the deceased every day throughout the year in all our prayers.

The Church’s tradition is that the souls in Purgatory need our prayers to complete their purification.  They no longer have the ability to pray for themselves so they are completely dependent on God’s mercy and our prayers.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church recommends “almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (CCC #1032).

To think of it another way, one day you will be completely dependent on others’ prayers just as the dead are dependent on your prayers today.  So don’t just pray alone for the deceased, but ask other people to pray for souls as well.  As more people pray, the more souls will enter into God’s kingdom for all eternity.  And one day, the people who you teach to remember the deceased in their prayers will be helping you enter into Heaven.

Purgatory must be a crowded place.  Our Lord dictated the following prayer to St. Gertrude the Great to release 1,000 Souls from Purgatory each time it is said.  Imagine how great it would be if we all prayed this every day so that millions of souls could enter into eternal rest?

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

PS: Sorry for the long delay between postings.  I’m trying to finish up some rosary meditations but I’m having problems finding the right message.

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