“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
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
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
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
publishing.org) 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
The Catechism is also available in an
audio edition from St. Anthony Messenger