Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council. It is also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In order to celebrate these two milestones, Pope Benedict XVI has declared this to be a Year of Faith; beginning today and ending on Christ the King Sunday in 2013. The purpose of the Year of Faith is to re-energize and revitalize the faith of all Catholics. But, how is this to be done?
Christopher Lamb, writing for the Tablet, suggests that the specific focus of diocesan efforts can reflect theological leanings. Some dioceses in England are focusing on the documents of Vatican II, while others are focusing on studying the Catechism. The former is considered more of a liberal approach, while the latter is more traditional or conservative.
It is true, that quoting from the Catechism as a black and white tool for apologetics removes the need for careful discernment of the many grey areas in our lives. Therefore, it becomes a favored means for debating right and wrong for fundamentalists. Apologetics, by nature, is a process of defending the faith. When doing so, official teachings and documents become weapons to debate with rather than resources to dialogue with.
Now, I can already hear my more conservative friends rising up to accuse me of being a cafeteria catholic, picking and choosing what I believe in. No. There are absolute truths of our faith that we are all called to give assent to. Top of the list in the hierarchy of truths is the existence of God, and our Trinitarian belief in three Persons in one God. Some of our other teachings have developed over time. Some are still in the stages of development. Who knows what new questions our world will produce in the next decade that the Church will be called upon to discern?
But, I digress. Many folks have an aversion to the Catechism because of the way it has been used – as a weapon of defense and judgment. But, if you actually read the Catechism you will see that it is filled with quotes and footnotes from scripture, saints, Church Fathers and ecclesial documents…including the documents of the Second Vatican Council. In fact, Vatican II documents have a pride of place in many sections of the Catechism.
So, it does not need to be an either-or issue. Both the Catechism and the Documents of Vatican II are valuable resources in faith formation. But, doctrinal formation is not enough.
Faith formation that focuses just on the head seldom leads to a true conversion of the heart. I have written previously about the need to find a balance between the two extreme catechetical paradigms of rote memorization with little or no understanding, and arts and crafts classes. We need to nourish and nurture both the head and the heart. We need to feel our faith, a faith of the heart, for then it impels us to action. But, we must also know what it is we believe in.
My hope is that this Year of Faith will be an opportunity to truly read the signs of the times, to discern the spiritual needs and yearnings of women and men of today. And, may we not be afraid to revisit the teachings and traditions of our two thousand year history, while seeking new methods for making it relevant and meaningful for modern times.
The news of the gospel is and always will be good. May we find ways worthy of proclaiming it so others may find the joy and passion that comes with the gift of faith.