30 October 2012

Reading the Catechism in the Year of Faith

During the next year I plan to re-read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I first read it several years ago, before I was received into the Church. I read it that first time mainly to see what I was getting into. It was an uplifting experience, and in some ways a relief. I came to the Catechism cautiously; I was feeling drawn to the Church but was worried that I might find some doctrine to which I couldn’t give assent. I thought that one way to deal with this was simply to read through the entire Catechism and put a check mark by anything I had problems believing. Once I was done reading, I’d deal with the topics I’d checked.

Fortunately after reading a couple of hundred pages I realized I could put down my pencil. I wasn’t making any check marks, and eventually I read through the entire Catechism without making any. (Many people who have struggled with their own journey to the Church will know how fortunate I was, and I am grateful.) This isn’t to say that the Catechism doesn’t contain profound material, since the faith is full of topics that can be hard to understand, and can provide material for a lifetime of contemplation. But as I read I found that insofar as I understood these topics, I believed what the Church taught. I also found the Catechism to be a superb summary of the teachings of the Church, no matter how complex they might be.

In Porta Fidei, the apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith we have just entered, Benedict XVI says that “knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes.” This was my reason for reading the Catechism the first time – to know what I was getting into, as I said above. He also says that “the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”  Reading the Catechism, or reading it again, would seem to be one way to respond to this call.

So I invite you to read the Catechism with me during the Year of Faith. (You have until 24 November 2013!) If you are reading it, or re-reading it, I’d love to hear about your experiences. For those who’d like to get the Catechism in daily email doses, click the green button on the right of the page. If you want a searchable online version, check out those available from the USCCB or the Vatican. And of course, there’s always good old paper!

29 October 2012

As long as I'm talking about sacraments...

As part of my deacon formation process I'm taking a class called “Worship, Sacraments, and Liturgy,” and yesterday I turned in one of the major assignments for the class, a paper on the Eucharist. I'm still thinking about the Eucharist and other sacraments, which is much better than what a lot of the papers I've written leave me thinking about.

When it comes to numbering or prioritizing the sacraments, two things stand out to me. One is the primacy of Baptism, and the other is the centrality of the Eucharist. For those familiar with Catholic theology, I'm not saying anything new here (not trying to, at least). Baptism is “the door which gives access to the other sacraments,” and by it we “are incorporated into the Church” (CCC 1213), whereas the Eucharist, in the widely quoted words of Lumen Gentium, is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (cf. CCC 1324).

While everyone's sacramental biography is a little different, for nearly all of us one thing is common: Baptism comes first. This is true even for Protestants, even for those who do not view the sacraments as sacraments.

I was raised as a Southern Baptist and baptized in a Southern Baptist church when I was seven years old. This was a full immersion baptism, the kind that Baptists generally insist on, and it was not called a sacrament. To my Baptist family and friends, it was an ordinance, one of two. Soon after my Baptism I was allowed to participate in the “Lord's Supper” for the first time. For my Baptist church, this was the second ordinance. Its relative importance is seen in the frequency with which it occurs, which was about once every three months in my home church.

One blessing I received upon entering the Catholic church was the recognition of my Baptist Baptism as a valid sacrament. This impressed on me the significance of the words of Ephesians 4:6, “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism.” Not coincidentally, I believe, these words were among the first I ever heard proclaimed during Mass (see the Lectionary for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B). Thanks be to God, the sacraments do work despite our imperfect understanding of them! And in Baptism there's a real, sacramental hope for Christian unity (CCC 1271).

27 October 2012

What's in a name?

Well, I guess it depends on the name, doesn't it?

As this is a new blog, I thought I'd begin with a comment on its name. Which is the seventh sacrament?

You might answer that in different ways. A quick check of the Catechism would show that in its list of the seven sacraments, Matrimony is mentioned and discussed last (CCC  1210). But note that in CCC 1211 the Catechism also says that this order is "not the only one possible...."

In my case, to explain the name of this blog, I am thinking in terms of my own experience. At various times in my life I have received all the sacraments of initiation and of healing (Anointing of the Sick thanks to surgery I had in 2009), and I was married in 1985. This leaves only Holy Orders as a sacrament which I have not received individually.

In 2009 I began the process of formation for the Permanent Diaconate in my diocese. Unlike Roman Catholic priests, who are normally not married, permanent deacons can be married (CCC 1579), and often are. It is now a little less than a year before the scheduled ordination date for me and the other men on this journey with me (along with our families, friends, and parishes). If, God willing, I am ordained next October, I will receive what will be, in my experience, the seventh sacrament.

The Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI has begun. The Synod of Bishops that accompanied the opening of the Annus Fidei released its Message to the People of God yesterday. In that document we read

Evangelization requires that we pay much attention to the world of social communication, especially the new media, in which many lives, questions and expectations converge. It is the place where consciences are often formed, where people spend their time and live their lives. It is a new opportunity for touching the human heart.

In light of this, I'm starting this blog both as a record of my path towards ordination and as what I hope can be a contribution to the new evangelism called for by the bishops. One hopeful sign is the many other people out there already making similar efforts, many of whom have helped and encouraged me through their online presence. I hope this blog can add a little bit to that positive use of today's media as I move towards receiving what will be, for me, the seventh sacrament, and beyond.