Pop quiz! Can you honestly answer these questions without looking them up?
- Can you name all 10 Commandments (bonus if you get them in order)?
- How many sacraments are there? What are they?
- What are the three parts of the Holy Trinity?
- Who are the four Gospel writers?
- Who was the first pope?
- What are the four dogmas about Mary?
How many did you get right?
- All of them: Someone’s been reading their catechism!
- Some of them: There’s always room for improvement.
- None of them: Boy howdy! We have some work to do.
I’m guessing that most of you fell in that middle category (myself included). As I was driving today it hit me just how little I know about my Catholic faith. While far from being a great theologian I should at least know the basics of something that is supposed to be of great importance to my life. When you think about it, countries and societies are drawn along very few lines. We group each other mainly along gender, ethnicity, and religion. So if being a Catholic makes up a large part of who I am why do I know so little about it? And not just me, but it seems like everywhere you turn you see and hear people who do not know the basic foundations of Catholicism. We see it from the “casual Catholic” to even very educated priests.
The basis for our faith is very simple — a love for God. But how can we love Him and His church if we do not make the effort to really know Him? We go about saying that we are Catholic without knowing what defines the Catholic faith. Think about it like this. Would you marry someone after your first date? Of course not. In order to love someone you need to know him or her. A relationship requires a commitment of time and attention. Of course there is that spark; that little indescribable feeling you get when you are around someone you love. But that does not completely replace the knowledge of one another that is required for a strong relationship. The same goes with our relationship with God. Prayer is that “spark” which moves us closer to God. But prayer alone cannot replace learning, knowing, and practicing our faith. We have a much fuller relationship with God when our prayer is matched with understanding the basis for those prayers.
It is of growing importance and urgency that Catholics really embrace their faith and learn it. No doubt you probably know that many people are leaving the Catholic Church. While many do not leave the faith for another religion, many stay in name only and do not actively participate. We have all heard descriptions like “Christmas and Easter Catholics”, “Buffet-style Catholics”, “Casual Catholics”, etc. I believe that a lack of knowledge about Catholicism has created this mass exodus. People are losing that strong foundation in their faith, rooted in knowledge and understanding, to the point where the Catholic Church really becomes meaningless in their lives.
If this sounds like doom and gloom, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Remember that our simple prayers can transform even the most hardened hearts amongst us. I truly believe that a single prayer, said earnestly, has the ability to reach millions. Remember, the Catholic Church started with one man and a dozen apostles. And with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there is no limit to what a few people can achieve. If we make an earnest effort to learn our faith we will see greater returns on that investment than we can possibly imagine. Because that knowledge, combined with prayer, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit has the power to save souls. And in the end, that’s what truly matters.
If that was the pep-talk, it is now time to discuss strategy. What can we do to grow in faith and love for God? After all, we do not transform from couch potato to St. Thomas Aquinas overnight (if you do not know who he is, consider learning about him as your homework). Here’s a very simple start — read the Bible. I know, it’s a huge book that will take forever to read right? Well, you may not have all eternity to read it, but a lifetime should be plenty of time for most of us. I’m on year three of reading the New Testament and I’m almost done (just three more chapters to go). It’s amazing how much more you get from the Bible when you read chapters in full as opposed to hearing snippets in daily or weekly readings. The foundation of the faith is all right there at your fingertips waiting for you to discover it.
Not ready to give up your couch potato ways? That’s all right, me neither. I really enjoy watching television and browsing the web. But I know I can carve out a few minutes to enjoy some Catholic programming or read some Catholic news. In the long run, I am much better served keeping up to date about the Church than watching reruns of “Friends” and “Seinfeld”. There are many great Catholic video and radio channels on the web that you can access almost anywhere.
Two feeds I like to watch are the Catholic News Agency:
And the Eternal World Television Network:
Happy learning! Remember, millions of souls depend on it (no pressure or anything).