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Dec 19, 2022

The Catechism: A Guide for the Christian Life

Dr. Matthew Minerd

In these articles that are intended to accompany The Catechism in a Year podcast, we will present a “travel guide” through the major themes of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Each of these short essays will provide you with an overview of a subsection of the teachings of the Catholic Faith.  Think of them as small “catechetical exhortations,” or invitations to delve deeper into the details of each section of the Catechism.  

Before we begin our journey, let’s talk about how the Catechism is organized—that is, its main divisions.

In a sense, the Catechism is “one” because our Faith is one—in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Everything that God reveals ultimately tells us about him, either as he is in himself or as he is among us, in Christ in the Church, through grace.  Everything in revelation is a question of God manifesting himself or of him seeking to lead us to union with him.  

Nonetheless, human beings cannot do everything all at once.  From its earliest days, the Church has recognized a kind of fourfold division of the tasks involved in catechetical formation, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts 2:42, emphasis added

In Ascension’s Foundations of Faith approach to the Catechism, these four tasks are called What We Believe, How We Worship, How We Live, and How We Pray.  

None of the teachings of the Faith are merely abstract truths or “neat little facts” about God, the sacraments, or the saints, among other things.  The Church’s doctrines are the most vital truths we need to know—the foundation of which is that the transcendent Triune God offers us a participation in his life through Jesus Christ (see CCC 1).  What we believe (as expressed in the Creed), how we worship (in the Liturgy), how we live (according to the moral teachings of the Church), and how we pray are like the trunk, branches, leaves, and flowers on the divine tree—that is, the great mysteries that have been revealed to us.  Thus, the four parts of the Catechism each build upon each other, unpacking the great mystery of redemption and salvation.

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What We Believe

The first part of the Catechism is devoted to the dogmatic truths enshrined in the ancient creeds of the Church.  We might say that this section is about knowing God.  To love God as we ought, we must first know who he is and what he has done for us.  We must also understand what it means to say that God reveals himself to us.  As we will see, he does so in a profound way: he reveals the inner mystery of who he is, as well as the mystery of his love for us.  His revelation is no mere myth; it is utterly real—and transformative.

Moreover, this opening part of the Catechism unpacks the great Trinitarian and Christological mysteries found in the Creed.  Here we are told about God our Creator and Redeemer, he who is Father, Son, and Spirit.  The Catechism sets forth the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became incarnate for the sake of our salvation.  It presents the Holy Spirit, the “Counselor,” who brings about our renewal in grace and builds up the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, his continued visible, hierarchical, and communal presence in all ages until the end of time.

This first section of the Catechism lays the foundation for what follows.  We need to resist the temptation to think, “Oh, all this dogma is so technical.  Let’s move on to morality and spirituality.”  But we will never understand our vocation in Christ without understanding the essential beliefs of the Faith, which must be the truths of our lives.  If we are remade in Christ so that we might be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), then we must understand the source of this new life we are given through grace:

“This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

John 17:3

Thus, the discussion of revelation, the Trinity, Christ, the Spirit, the Church, and the Last Things in this first part of the Catechism form a firm and solid foundation for everything that follows.

How We Worship

The second part of the Catechism is devoted to how we live these mysteries through the “divine service” that we call the liturgy and the sacraments, by which Christ acts today in the world and makes it holy. The mystery of Christ is lived out in the liturgical life of the Church.  Indeed, in the liturgy and the sacraments, Jesus renews us and communicates to us the divine life he came to give us, redeeming us from our sins and making us partakers in the divine nature.  Here, we have the context of the Christian life, its “source and summit,” most especially in the Eucharist: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54)—not merely in the future but right now, as eternity has dawned within our souls through grace.  Through the liturgy, the mysteries of Christ become renewed in every age of the Church.

How We Live

In its third part, which presents Christian morality, the Catechism unpacks the mystery of the liturgy.  It presents the true meaning of being “reborn in Christ.”  We have been created for beatitude—for a real participation in the blessed life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Our entire life as Christians is lived as a kind of “dawning” of this eternal life right now.  The new life we are given through baptism and in faith requires us to live by the new law of divine love, poured into our hearts through the Spirit (see Romans 5:5).  Our entire renewed being bears witness to its new birth by living a moral life, through a continual reformation of our innermost nature every day (see 2 Corinthians 4:16).  The indwelling of God and the moral life go hand-in-hand:

“All who keep [God’s] commandments abide in him, and he in them.”

1 John 3:24

How We Pray

The fourth part of the Catechism brings this all to an appropriate close.  The life we live in Christ is the very life of God, poured out into our souls through grace (see Romans 5:5).  As Catholics, we affirm that, when we are in a state of grace, our good acts can merit the increase of grace.  However, at its root, grace is a gift freely given by God to us sinful and unworthy creatures:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us … What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”

Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 4:7

The only appropriate response by us lowly creatures to such a gift is prayer, gratitude, and thanksgiving. 

So the Catechism concludes with the Church’s teaching about the life of prayer.  Through prayer, we learn to speak with God as with a friend.  We turn to him with the hope of more deeply living his life in us, and we hand over to him our entire being, which comes from him and remains his for all the days of our life.  Thus, a life filled with prayer—that is, with a loving and personal relationship with our God—is the appropriate response of the Christian soul to the great gift of revelation and life given to us in Jesus through the Spirit:

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16–19

The Mysteries of Faith

The teachings of our Catholic Faith are “mysteries” in the strictest sense.  They are “supernatural,” that is, above anything our merely human minds could ever conceive.  But, nonetheless, God has revealed these things to us.  He has revealed the mystery of his life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He has revealed the saving work that has been active in history since the Fall of our first parents.  He has brought his revealing work to its fullness in Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit:

“‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

1 Corinthians 9–10

In the Catechism in a Year podcast, we seek to provide you with an introduction to the marvelous vocation that we all share: a vocation to divine renewal and friendship with God, lived together in the Church, in anticipation of the coming of our Lord and the eternal day of heaven, which has already dawned in our souls through the gift of grace.

You May Also Like:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ascension Edition
Why You Should Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church [Fr. Mike Video]
Why the Catechism Is So Important
Who Wrote the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Listen to America’s #1 Podcast: The Catechism in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)

If you have ever wanted to understand what it means to be Catholic and allow those truths to shape your life—this podcast is for you!

Get the free reading plan!

Dr. Matthew Minerd is a Ruthenian Catholic, husband, and father, serving as a professor of philosophy and moral theology at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh. His academic and popular writing has been published in the journals Nova et VeteraThe American Catholic Philosophical QuarterlyThe Review of MetaphysicsÉtudes MaritainiennesDownside Review, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He has also served as a translator or editor for volumes published by The Catholic University of America Press, Emmaus Academic, and Cluny Media. He is the author of Made by God, Made for God: Catholic Morality Explained.

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