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Taking the New U.S. Catechism to Heart


Memorize the Approach
Where Faith Hits the Highway
Three to Get Ready to Read

“Tell me a story,” children often ask, but adults also thrive on stories. Jesus acknowledged that with parables. The bishops of the United States have followed his lead by offering 36 stories or lessons of faith in the new United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

If this volume’s title recalls to older Catholics the Baltimore Catechism and the lessons of lost youth, think again. Granted, that compendium was vital for its time. It instilled crucial confidence in Catholics with its succinct questions and precise answers. Many Catholic students committed them to memory and can recite them still.

This new national catechism is not a reprise of that venerable text. It is 637 pages long. Years in the making, it was approved by the bishops in November 2005 and has received Vatican approval. Should you welcome this far-from-pocket-sized resource into your home, your head and your heart? Yes.


Memorize the Approach

Life in this 21st century poses new challenges. The Baltimore Catechism never mentioned cloning, ecology and terrorism, for instance, though principles that applied were certainly included. This new catechism offers both timeless and contemporary questions and answers, couched in a format that teaches even in its design.

Each chapter begins with a story and concludes with a prayer. The middle flows from the story toward that prayer.

What a model! Attend to the human story (enriched by grace), extrapolate its lesson(s), apply them to life in this nation, engage in dialogue and carry the resulting questions and concerns to meditation and prayer.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is rooted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, authorized by Pope John Paul II. That universal text encouraged national or regional catechisms to apply the truths of faith to the culture of the region. Both books are supported on the four pillars of faith: Creed, Sacraments, Morality and Prayer.

Both provide a context for self-examination. Do we believe? What do we believe? How do we link the sacraments to life and belief? Do we “respond to divine love through our personal and social moral behavior” (p. 309)? And, as the story of Fulton J. Sheen exemplifies in Chapter 35 of this new text, do we take it all to prayer?

Where Faith Hits the Highway

While the structure and design of the Catechism are themselves instructive, its contents certainly offer a thorough review of faith. This is a text for “adults only” in the most positive sense. It is designed particularly for post-Vatican II Catholics.

Adult education is crucial to the vitality of the U.S. Church. We’ve relied too much on the answers of childhood. The U.S. Catholic Catechism is not easy reading, but it does offer many entry points (stories, Q and A’s, discussion starters and doctrinal summaries). It doesn’t even seem crucial to begin at the beginning.

Catholics may be more engaged by beginning with their own burning issues, easily located through the 27-page Glossary. Its entries range from abortion to vocation, with cremation, euthanasia, Gnosticism, subsidiarity and transubstantiation in between.

In the 85-page Index, readers can locate entries on all these subjects and many more, some closer to the heart of belief than others, but all part of Catholic language and practice. Now believers have no excuse for shrugging their shoulders in bemused ignorance.

Three to Get Ready to Read

1. Memorization isn’t enough. When your children and grandchildren have questions, memorized answers never suffice. Our faith, rooted in Scripture and Tradition, will not stop growing because this book is in print. We need more than a book. We do need this book’s guidance.

2. This course offers no diplomas. Chapter 23 (on the Christian moral life) states, “We also have the great responsibility to see that it [our conscience] is formed in a way that reflects the true moral good.” Some Catholics think they’re finished with conscience alignment. Some may never have started. But all Catholics have a responsibility to attend to their spiritual engine check lights. This book is one manual for tuning that engine.

3. All extreme or single-issue Catholics will be stretched and challenged. Chapter 23 discourages both legalistic moralizing and permissive sentimentality, the frayed ends of a continuum of U.S. Catholics. The stories invite us to see ourselves as brother and sister to both César Chávez (1927-1993) and Father Patrick Peyton (1909-1992). We are to know the truth espoused by Bishop John Francis Noll (1875-1956), founder of Our Sunday Visitor, and by Father Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), whose ministry continues at Paulist Press.

These are only four of the inspiring Catholics (including nine women) who demonstrate what could well be expected of us as Catholics in a new millennium. Each thumbnail biography (learn all the names at www.usccb demonstrates that adult faith must grapple with the truths summarized in the Catechism, but express them creatively within the culture.

The bishops have been diligent teachers. Now it’s our task to be diligent students, actively engaged in living the faith given us by Christ the Teacher.—C.A.M.

The Catechism is also available in an audio edition from St. Anthony Messenger Press (800-488-0488).

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