Jude, part of the CTS team, made a New Year’s resolution: reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a year, accompanied by our new title A Year with the Catechism. In this series of blog posts, Jude – who blogs at The Reluctant Evangelist – shares her reflections on her journey through the Catechism. Stay tuned for new blog posts on A Year With the Catechism!
Last year I attended an introductory course to Christianity in my parish. There were people there from all backgrounds: Catholics and non-Catholics, atheists and people of other religions. All were lured by the promise of a warm meal, community, and learning more about Christianity. In my particular small group, everyone was open to the idea of Catholicism except for one person: an intellectual atheist who had many, many questions.
When we encounter someone hostile to the faith, we naturally want to answer all their questions. While it’s important to provide good answers, we shouldn’t anticipate their conversion based on an answered question. We may find ourselves hoping for a lightbulb moment when an answer we deliver makes something click. One question finally unravels all their other questions and suddenly they have the faith they have been unknowingly searching for.
Faith is a personal commitment
Faith is ultimately a desire for God, a decision of the heart. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that it is “a personal act“. Faith is a “free response” to God when he reveals himself to us. (CCC 166) In order to believe, therefore, someone must make a personal decision to respond to God. Even if we ably answer questions about the faith, we cannot teach someone how to believe. As A Year With the Catechism notes:
“Only I can give my heart, my very self, to God, in response to his gift of himself to me.” (Day 29)
Someone with questions may, however, be prompted by these answers – and the openness and compassion of a believer who takes the time to answer their questions – to open their heart to God. We are, after all, asked by the Church not to keep our faith to ourselves: “Our love for Jesus and for our neighbour impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers.” (166) If our faith is important to us, it’s natural to want to share it with others. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis tells us that it is our “duty” , that Christians “should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.” (EG 15) By being open with others about our faith and answering questions we are in fact evangelising.
Believing and understanding
We ourselves should also be unafraid to ask questions, as St Anselm said, “Faith seeks understanding.” Indeed our deep desire to get to know God better should stir in us an unquenchable thirst to learn more about him. (158) When I rediscovered my own faith as a teenager, I was desperate to get to know God better. I devoured many CTS books to deepen my understanding of him and the Church left to us by his Son. This is also the beauty of the Catechism itself – here are the answers to the questions forming in our hearts.
For someone who has never personally discovered God, however, it can be difficult to grasp the personal dimension of faith. Belief isn’t based on an intellectual weighing up of evidence, but is “a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (153). Yet God will never force himself on anyone and so at some point, anyone who wants to have faith has to open themselves up to him (160).
A hint of the beatific vision
Once someone finally opens up to that divine gift they allow something beautiful to enter their lives: “Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below.” (163) In faith we get a glimpse of the very thing we have been longing for our whole lives. It is “as if we already possessed the wonderful things which our faith assures us we shall one day enjoy” (163). Until we reach eternal life, however, we can only “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7 cf. CCC 164).
The Catechism, quoting St Thomas Aquinas, goes so far as to say that “the certainty that divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.” (157) It is our faith that guides us in this life more than anything else.
Yet until the day that someone opens themselves to God, we as Catholics have to be ready to answer their questions with sensitivity – even if the same courtesy is not extended to us. Perhaps we can also encourage their faith by gently inviting them to Mass or Catholic events or groups they might like. However, we cannot force someone to accept a gift they do not want. Instead we can bear witness to the beauty of the gift by readily accepting it ourselves, and learning more about what we believe.
Catechism of the Catholic Church reference: 142-175
Quote for Your Diary: “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. ” (CCC 157)
A Year with the Catechism, The Catechism in 365 days. By Petroc Willey, Fr Dominic Scotto, Dr Donald Asci,& Elizabeth Siegel