'Christian, know your faith.'

For the Head…

I read an article by a professor who taught introductory religious studies. He would give his students a religious literacy quiz, but only 17 percent of the students passed. The students thought that, ‘Ramadan is a Jewish holiday, that Revelation is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and that Paul led the Israelites on the Exodus out of Egypt.’ [1] In the same article, he added, ‘no one in [a late night show] audience could name any of the Twelve Apostles, but everyone was able to shout out the four Beatles.’[2]

We are called to love and live our Catholic faith, but we cannot love what we do not know.

It is common to encounter young adult Catholics, who know little about their faith. The catechism they learned as children cannot respond to the questions they now face as university students or young professionals. Many conclude that the faith simply does not have the answers they seek. Therefore, they treat religion as a sentimental connection with one’s childhood, or drop it as irrational and irrelevant droll.

I sympathize with them.

If the faith remains at the level of a middle school catechism trying to respond to the serious questions of the day, then it will come up short. Yet the problem does not lie with the Catholic faith per se, but that the person’s knowledge of the faith did not grow with the rest of his or her knowledge. Who tries to solve engineering problems with simple arithmetic? Who tries to write a novel after just learning to spell? Faith, like all other forms of knowledge, has to grow as the individual does. Who can say that they have heard it all by the time they were fifteen years old?

Great minds like that of Saints Augustine, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas dedicated their entire life to learning and communicating the faith. How much time do we spend watching YouTube, playing sports, and going shopping? What if we dedicated one or two hours a week to studying our faith?

Some practical suggestions to study the faith include:

  1. Read the Bible. Start with the Gospels. You have to know the story. Who is Jesus? What did he say? What did he do?

  2. To navigate the Old Testament, I recommend Jeff Cavin’s ‘Bible Timeline Chart’[3] pamphlet. It points you to the historical books of the Old Testament, so you can follow the storyline of the Old Testament without getting lost in reading books like Numbers and Deuteronomy.[4]

  3. Read the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is an abbreviated version of the Catechism, and covers the basic beliefs of our faith. You can purchase the book or read it online.[5]

  4. Make use of good Catholic websites that can quickly answer a variety of questions you may have about the faith. Honorable mention goes to ‘Catholic Answers’ [https://www.catholic.com/ ].

  5. Discover some of the great Catholic authors such as: Cardinal Ratzinger, G. K. Chesterton, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Frank Sheed, Cardinal Newman, Peter Kreeft, Christopher West, Matthew Kelly, to name a few. C. S. Lewis, while Anglican, also has several very helpful books of Christian apologetics.

  6. If you struggle with the discipline to study on your own, join a RCIA[6] class at your local parish, or find a friend with whom you could study some of the above-mentioned resources.

As you learn what the Church teaches, you will be amazed at the profound and logically coherent teachings of the Catholic faith.

While it is true that knowledge of God depends more upon a humble faith than a great deal of book knowledge, it is equally true that you cannot love what you do not know. As St. Peter wrote, ‘Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.’[7] Begin by strengthening your own faith through study and prayer, and then you will be more prepared to share it with others.

Fr. John Bullock, LC


Image: https://pixabay.com/en/book-bible-text-literature-2073020/

[1]Worshiping in Ignorance by Stephen Prothero in ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’, March 16, 2007.

[2] ibid

[3] ‘The Bible Timeline Chart’ by Jeff Cavins, at https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Timeline-Chart-Jeff-Cavins/dp/1935940872/

[4] If interested, you can purchase the entire DVD course, at: https://shop.ascensionpress.com/collections/the-bible-timeline-the-story-of-salvation

[5] http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html

[6] Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults

[7] 1 Peter 3:15

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