Why the Church Teaches 

For those who follow these things, the #6 most popular podcast on iTunes right now is hosted by Fr. Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Duluth, ND. Fr. Mike’s current podcast is a follow-up to his extremely popular “Bible in a Year” program, which he hosted in 2021, and is called “Catechism in a Year.” The format is essentially the same. Just as Fr. Mike read and gave daily commentary in 2021 on sections of the Bible, completing it by the end of the year, he is now doing the same with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, hoping to finish the whole text by December 31, 2023. The Catechism is a compilation and synthesis of authoritative Church teaching that was assembled under the direction of St. John Paul II. It was an ambitious project and an impressive accomplishment, but I’d venture to say most Catholics aren’t familiar with it. Its size is intimidating, and its language is not always accessible, so it can be a difficult read. But the fact that Fr. Mike has so many people reading through the Catechism with him each day shows that there is an immense interest in learning more about the Catholic faith. It’s also a testament to his pastoral ability to make something like reading the Catechism seem not just possible, but important, and maybe even… fun. 

I first tuned into the podcast last week, during which Fr. Mike read the prologue to the Catechism. Here I must admit that I had never read that part of the document before. My approach to the Catechism mostly had been to skip around, looking for sections on specific topics I was trying to learn about. But after hearing Fr. Mike read it, I felt I needed to get my copy off the shelf and read it myself.  The first paragraph of the Catechism is this: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in His own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all his strength. He called together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son as Redeemer and Savior. In His Son and through Him, He invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, His adopted children and thus heirs of His blessed life.” 

In this first paragraph, we find the reason for the whole thing. The Church here is not described as an organization. There is no mention of rules that members are to obey. While there are large sections in the Catechism that do describe the organizational structure of the Church and which do expound on the moral life, the image used in the prologue to describe the Church is the family of God.  All families have structure; all families have rules. But the structure and the rules of a family exist in service of the relationships among its members. The structure and the rules help members of the family love, honor, and serve each other in such a way that elicits joy and delight in the familial relationship. The introduction to the Catechism tells us that God has invited his human creatures, through Christ, to be members of His family, to rejoice and take delight in life shared with Him. Hopefully, Fr. Mike’s project will help people know not only what the Church teaches, but also discover why the Church teaches – so that we might know what God desires for us and respond to His amazing invitation to live our lives together with Him as a family. 

posted 1/28/23

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