I always like graduation season and this year, my wife Susan and I got to participate in one. Along with about 200 other people who made up the Class of St. Gianna Molla, we graduated from the Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute on May 10, concluding two years of study. We were the seventh class to graduate since the launch of the Catechetical Institute.
The course was divided into four semesters, each 12 weeks long. Lectures took place every Monday evening on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, with two Saturday morning “reflection” sessions each semester. There were reading and writing assignments every week; students concluded each semester by writing a substantial paper.
Susan and I found the study to be quite meaningful and we highly recommend it to anyone interested in developing their faith. The program gave me the means to develop a deeper relationship with God. As a person with a bachelor’s degree from a Big Ten university, I can say this was, by far, the most important education I have received in my entire life.
Diving into the Catechism of the Catholic Church has helped me to understand Catholicism as far more than a collection of Bible stories, a set of moral “dos and don’ts,” and daily opportunities to attend Mass. The Catechism is a clear roadmap for living.
As adults, we naturally want to know what we should do. Why are we on this earth in the first place? It would be nice if there was a map laying out a path. The Catechism describes that path.
First, we have to know and understand what we believe. What are the non-negotiables in life? The first of four “pillars” in the Catechism takes up that challenge, describing the creed, our set of beliefs as Catholics.
With those beliefs defined, we realize we need God’s grace to act on those beliefs. Left to our own devices, we will fail, but with God all things are possible and we can fulfill our mission on earth. So how do we get those graces? The second pillar of the Catechism provides instruction about the sacraments – the seven, real-life opportunities we have to encounter God, grow closer to him, be freed from our sins, and build the faith and strength we need to live a meaningful life. The sacraments are real touchpoints where we can literally connect with God in a physical way.
With a clear understanding of our foundational beliefs, and opportunities to receive God’s powerful graces, we have what we need to actually live according to God’s will. The third pillar of the Catechism is the moral life, a discussion of the guidance God has given us about practical ways to conduct ourselves. With the 10 Commandments as our guide, we can thoughtfully decide what actions to take in life, and what actions to avoid.
With our beliefs clarified, God’s grace to act on those beliefs, and the commandments to guide those actions, we are ready to enter into deep relationship with our Maker. The fourth pillar is prayer, which is the process of entering into dialogue with God. There is no relationship without communication; prayer is communication with God.
Consider, for example, the commandments as an essential part of that roadmap. With the instruction of the Catechetical Institute, I am struck by the depth of each of the commandments. When we learned them as young children, they seemed like a checklist, to be verified prior to confession. This study has helped me to see the commandments as so much more. What strikes me is that if we were to thoroughly live any one of the commandments, we would, in fact, be living all 10 of them. You can argue that each commandment is restating what is required for us to live in alignment with God’s will, and if we were to live any one of these completely, we would be fulfilling the requirements of the other nine commandments as well.
The eighth commandment, for example, prohibits us from lying. The Catechism goes into depth about what it means to live in the truth. We think of truth telling as being a matter of the spoken or written word. This sounds like a small matter, yet the word is what God used to create the world. John’s gospel opens: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.” So we can see where sinning against the word is a major offense.
The eighth commandments is about upholding the integrity of the word, which of course means not lying, but it also means living in accord with God, with those around us. That would mean honoring God (1st and 3rd Commandments), not using our word to take unnecessary oaths (2nd Commandment), respecting the human family and the social order (4th commandment), not harming others (5th commandment) and especially not our spouse (6th and 9th commandments), and respecting the proper order of stewardship God has given people over his gifts (7th and 10th commandments).
Susan and I went into the Catechetical Institute studies two years ago with the expectation of learning more about our faith. We conclude our studies having received so much more — a roadmap for living.