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A Banquet of Truth Print E-mail
By Todd Hartch   
Thursday, 30 December 2010

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Like many converts, I spent years examining Catholic teaching and entered the Church only when I could accept it all. It’s been difficult, therefore, to find that many Catholics do not believe all that the Church teaches, but to a certain extent their views make sense. They probably were confirmed as teenagers at a time when catechesis in this country was at a low ebb.

The part of their attitude that doesn’t make sense is that we live at a time when Catholic teaching is more accessible than ever.  Vatican II, the guiding light for today’s Church, produced sixteen documents, all of which are written in an accessible style and are available at the Vatican website. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have developed the teachings of the council in a rich corpus of writings, also available from the Vatican. Finally, and most importantly, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), presented to the Church in 1992, contains “the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine” (CCC 11) and can be purchased in Catholic bookstores or consulted online

The Catechism is a great treasure of the Church. As a Protestant interested in Catholicism, I found it incredibly helpful to have every major Catholic doctrine explained in a clear and compelling manner. I went through all the issues that Protestants find difficult – Mary, justification, the Sacraments, the priesthood, the papacy – and discovered a symphony of truth that finally won me over. Then, when I was convinced that I needed to become a Catholic, I read it cover to cover so that I would know exactly what I was signing up for. 

For previous generations there was no one place to find all that Catholics were to believe, but today’s Catholics have in the Catechism “a sure and certain reference text for teaching catholic doctrine” (CCC 3). Reading the Catechism is thus a clear next step for many Catholics. By reading two pages a day, they can slowly digest it and still finish the whole book in less than a year. 


You could look it up.

There are many Catholics, though, who know what the Church teaches but reject those teachings. Such an attitude places them in a grave position because the faithful “have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church” (CCC 2037). If they fail to accept what is clearly taught by the Church, they cannot compensate by, for instance, doing well in some other area of the faith. They are saying, in effect, that the Church can err in a matter of doctrine. Logically, then, if the Church can err in one matter, it can err in others as well. In the end, they will be left with de facto Protestantism.

To insist on the necessity of believing all that the Church teaches is not to make light of the real difficulties that many experience in the process of studying doctrine. For many Catholics the hardest teachings are those dealing with sex, marriage, and family. There is simply no support from the broader culture for Catholic doctrines such as “the moral evil of every procured abortion,” the intrinsic evil of contraception, divorce as a “grave offense against moral law,” and the disordered nature of homosexual acts (CCC 2271, 2370, 2384, 2357).   Because of the cultural consensus in support of the opposite positions, there is a tendency to see these moral issues as somehow too complicated for definitive judgments. But, of course, the Church has spoken definitively on these matters. 

What’s the solution for those who insist on dismissing the clear doctrines of the Church? Just as it was for those did not know their faith, one answer is the Catechism. It might seem facile to suggest reading doctrine as a remedy for dissent, but encountering Catholic doctrine is intrinsically different from reading the newspaper. Truth is inherently attractive and the Catechism is a banquet of truth, presented in such a way that what might seem unwarranted when viewed as a singularity becomes more reasonable when seen in context. It is hard to read the Catechism without appreciating that its truths are part of a greater Truth; and it is hard to dismiss one part without understanding that one is dismissing the whole thing, rejecting not just some small point but the councils and the fathers as well.

What about Catholics who insist on beliefs and actions that clearly contradict Church teaching? Let’s follow the example of a former chairman of my department. Whenever someone came into his office to ask for special treatment, he pulled out our policy manual and read the applicable section. Who could argue against the manual? It became clear that the chairman was not being unreasonable, but was simply applying established policy. 

We can do the same with the Catechism. When Catholics propose ideas that contradict Catholic doctrine, we should refer to the applicable section of the Catechism.  Some will change their minds and many more will think twice before publically opposing “the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine.” A few may start arguing against the Catechism. In such cases, it’s best not to say too much. Let the dissenters waste their breath in attempts to refute the clear words of the Catechism. In the end, the splendor of the truth who came into our world at Christmas will shine through.

 
Todd Hartch, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, teaches Latin American history at Eastern Kentucky University.  He specializes in World Christianity, missions, and the religious history of Mexico.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
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written by Bill, December 30, 2010
You have a lot of catching up to do, Mr. Hartch. Before the 1992 Catechism, the Church had The Roman Catechism (the Council of Trent) and the writings of SAINT Augustine and SAINT Thomas Aquinas. The last pope canonized was SAINT Pius X who died at the beginning of the last century.
The Church collapsed in the 1960s on the subject of the use of the pill for contraception. Instead of discussing this subject in Vatican II, it was removed from that venue and a commission was set up to review the subject. The majority of the panel agreed the pill could used as a contraceptive within Catholic parameters. Three years later (1968) Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae which reversed the findings of the poorly instructed panel. Many Catholics had already become two income families (thanks to the pill) and the cost of homes, cars, etc. climbed immediately. Most Catholics depend on the pill to secure their standard of living. They are not going back to the "old days".
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written by Joe, December 30, 2010
Todd, interesting column, which raises many questions starting with, "What is Church teaching?" Is it the timeless, unquestioned magisterium of the Church and, if so, do we follow pre-Vatican II dogma or post?

It makes all the difference as to what teachings you wish to embrace -- those that are made ex-cathedra from Rome, papal comments made "off the cuff," literal teachings from the Bible and Cathechism, the sermon made from the pulpit that clashes with what you've been taught to believe, etc.

Transubstantiation? Few Catholics today actually believe the bread and wine at communion is literally changed into Our Lord's body and blood. Theologians such as Karl Rahner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had great influence in shaping Vatican II, eroding Pope Paul VI's 1965 encyclical, Mysterium Fidei on the substance of the Eucharist.

Schillebeeckx wrote three volumes focusing on Christ as man and prophet rather than the risen Son of God, which countered traditional Vatican teaching up to 1962, focusing on His divinity. And, of course, Hans Kung really shook things up by emphasizing the idea of a constantly changing Church, ever willing to make new accommodations.

So, can we have it both ways? A fixed, unyielding, immutable doctrine, as decreed pre-1962 and in the Cathechism, or a flexible/expanding Church that attempts to "reach out" to non-Christians and welcomes all even if they are apostate? Augustine said "many whom God has, the Church does not have, and many whom the Church has, God does not have."

I remember Bishop Sheen, pre-Vatican II, saying there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church; it was all or nothing, in the conservatives' viewpoint. I grew up in those days and studied my Cathechism faithfully, only to find out 40 years later that Catholicism is a totally different religion than the one I remember.

Vatican II sent a message, perhaps unwittingly, that the Church was prepared to change with the times and bend a bit from the rigid doctrines that held sway for 1,900 years. In short, modernity won the day after Vatican II and the Church, re-infected with syncretism, is trying to be all things to all peoples. I liked the old Church better.
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written by Louise, December 30, 2010
There apparently are as many paths to conversion as there are people to walk them, and God knows the "hook" that will catch each of us, whether cradle-born or extra-cradle-born to start us on our way.

The two main conduits to conversion, though, seem to be through the head or through the heart. However, once a person has past that threshold, he finds that the work has only just begun. The Church is a whole lot larger on the inside than he ever dreamed it was from the outside.

However, whichever conduit God uses, the head or the heart, the real work is in getting it to the bones. It takes years to become Catholic in the bones, and it is out the bones that the "mind that is Catholic" emerges (to quote Fr. Schall's wonderful title).

My family and my conversion was in 1971. In 1981, we were out of the Church entirely. Almost nothing survived that decade, let alone green Catholics in a northwest pagan city. We converted again in 2002, and, after a couple of years, we found a wonderful Polish-heritage parish, where the Faith is believed to the depths, lived, taught, expressed, cherished, exhibited in statue, paintings, windows, incense, all the accoutrements, celebrating every Polish feast and saint, and we are still there. But only now, are we beginning to feel it in our bones, but I'm not sure that it has yet found it way to the brain to become the Mind that is Catholic. The best that I can say is that we are a work in progress (if you'll forgive the cliche). God has eternity, so maybe we do, too.

Welcome home, Mr. Hatch
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written by Sherry, December 30, 2010
This morning at Mass, we had a visiting Priest whose homily indicated that women should be ordained. He basically said the Church was wrong and needed to update its thinking. Part of the problem in the post-Vatican II times is the harmful impact that some of the clergy have had on the faithful. Have all Priests and Bishops read the Catechism and other key documents? Are they not concerned they may be wrong?

There are two terrific novels by Brian Gail that help to illuminate the problems parishoners have had when they had a Priest who did not believe the teachings of the Church. The first book (of a Trilogy) is "Fatherless which takes place during the 80's. It takes place in a town outside Philadelphia and centers around three Catholic families. It focuses on the results of the sexual revolution, the business decisions of executives in terms of integrity, and the advertising, cable, and pharmaceutical industries. The second book, "Motherless" is about biotechnology and the world of embryonic stem cell research - and, the world market for designer babies, etc. It takes place in current times and involves the same Priest and parishoners.

These novels, written by an advertising executive, are a very effective, easy means of helping people to learn the teachings of their Faith - and the implications when they are ignored. So for people who might not be inclined to read the Catechism, this might be a good first step.

And by the way, I let the Priest this morning know how I felt about him using the pulpit to expound personal beliefs not in accordance with what the Church teaches - in a nice way, of course. I also let him know why I cannot see a woman elevating the Host, saying: "This is my body..."

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written by John, December 30, 2010
Louise, thanks for the insights, but often the war between the head and heart is never decided. Pascal wrote about this in Pensees and tried and almost succeeded in resolving the conflict. I like your description of we humans as being a "work in progress" as this describes all of us who are still seeking truth and yearning for the eternal.
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written by RJ, December 30, 2010
Good article. Don't be discouraged by 'liberal'/'traditionalist' comments. There are those who accept the Catholic faith in its fulness as taught by the magisterium, accepting everything that has been taught before, during and since Vatican II.
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written by Louise, December 30, 2010
John, Thank you for your kind words.

I wasn't thinking of head and heart in this case as being in conflict, (although I agree that they often are), only that some people seem to be led to God either by the intellect--what they have read or heard that appeals to reason and thinking, and some people are brought to God by an emotional experience. Mr. Hartch (sorry for the misspelled named earlier) seems to be the intellectual kind, as am I. I naturally distrust emotions and feelings, so if that were the only way that God could reach me, I'd be out of luck. As a matter of fact, the part of Catholic life that I am most uncomfortable with is the older, traditional devotional side, but I accept that for some people a book by Cardinal Ratzinger may not be their cup of tea. No judgement is implied, only personal inclination. I think that is why God made Franciscans, and Carmelites, and Dominicans, and even eremites.

Regarding the pre-and post Vatican II experience (for lack of a better word): in the last few years I have read almost nothing published after 1960, except Cardinal Ratzinger. It's just how God made me, and thank heaven there's only one.

My larger point was that it takes a lifetime to be and to think and feel with a Catholic mind and heart. You often see this on Marcus Grodi's program, "The Journey Home." Many a newly converted Catholic strays into Protestant thought processes and Marcus gently steers them back. Like a good peach on the tree, it is puts out its best flavor when fully ripe.
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written by Louise, December 30, 2010
Sherry, I loved your story about a woman saying, "This is my body,. ." I laughed out loud. I told a priest once that if the Church wants to make the ordination of women a non-issue, just make the ad orientem position mandatory. There is no way in God's green earth that any woman would stand with her backside to a congregation for more than 30 seconds, tops.
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written by Sherry, December 30, 2010
Great point, Louise. By the way, I forgot to mention that in the book "Fatherless", the Priest has a "conversion experience" towards the end of the book (involving Cardinal Ratzinger - in Rome). His new appreciation for the Church, and his vocation, are very apparent in the second book, "Motherless". The third book in the trilogy, to come out next year, is "Childless" which takes place about twenty years from now.
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written by William, December 30, 2010
"Catholicism for Dummies" by Revs. Trigilio and Brighenti is a helpful read for those contemplating a switch to Catholicism. Although the title might offend the egos of cradle Catholics, it is for them a MUST read.

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