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God's love for us: the surprising focus of the Catechism Sep 9, 2000
"I am the way, the truth and the life," Jesus says in John 14:6. That is what I expect to find in any Catholic catechism: the way - the how of being Catholic, the truth - the set of beliefs that the catechumen or candidate will ascribe to, the life - the promises that will belong to the baptized person as a result of belief and practice. And I am not disappointed in finding it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What the surprise is in the Catechism is that Jesus shows us the love of God. How reassuring to read the focus of the Catechism as "love that never ends."
However, though the Catechism begins with that statement in #25, it is easy to overlook it in the press of understanding the doctrines and the rules and the rituals. An interested non-Christian, concerned with the infrastructure of the church where he or she is considering membership, might easily miss the centrality to everything Catholic of the love that God has for His creatures. Most non-Christian religions do not have this emphasis or focus of love. Even the table of contents and titles of the sections of the Catechism itself move quickly to the creed, cult, and codes of Catholicism.
A catechist, instructing other Christians in the differences and similarities between Catholicism and various Protestant creeds and practices, might easily state this fundamental truth of God's love and then move quickly into the teaching of the faith, the handing down of specifically Catholic theology, practice, information, etc. A focus or emphasis on the personal love that God has for each of us is important and needs to be maintained in the presentation of all doctrine, all aspects of the Catholic practice. And that is what this little book reminds its reader.
It is pleasant, reassuring and uplifting to read on the dust cover of this book "The key to the Catechism is the mystery of the triune God - `the love that never ends.'" As a focused and well-prepared instructor, even as a prayer warrior concerned about my students, interested in providing the right environment and content for conversion, I find it tempting to divert from catechesis on God's love in each of the pillars of the Catechism. Will the baptism or profession of faith of the new Catholic-to-be be properly supported by understanding of doctrine and rituals; will there be enough practice in prayer, sufficient support by intercessor and sponsor and godparent? However, it is not this re-presentation of the catechetical truths and codes that will save, nor even the support the faith of, the potential Catholic.
This book reminded me of the great need to echo the voice of Christ as He has spoken to His Church. The inner comparison, taking place within the inquirer, between Christ's voice and grace within himself or herself and the catechesis of Christ's voice within the setting of the Church, is the process of conversion. Recognizing the Shepherd's voice as the voice of love as well as way-truth-life will empower the inquirer toward conversion and prepare the soul for the joy of communion.
What indeed can a catechism offer for Catholics if not the universality of love of God? Surely, other creeds are easier to live, there are less codes to follow, less difficulties in being what that church might call "holy." The very love of God in calling us to live His very life is distinct and different from every other faith. It is, after all, union with Christ in His Church, in a common union with all the holy human saints of history, that is being offered in a Catholic conversion. Not a lifestyle, not a set of beliefs, not a set of practices. Nothing less than union in love with Love itself. That changes the focus of presenting Catholicism to an inquirer to "courting the catechumen" - we are proposing a marriage to the inquirer, through the truth, the way and the life outlined in the Catechism. That reminder throughout the book is what moved me as I read it.