When I read the Catechism description of the theological virtue of Faith, I am forced to conclude that we Catholics are not doing justice to the gift of faith given to us. The Catechism has this, first of all:
Catechism 1814 – Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.
OK – most Catholics would probably assent easily and quickly to that definition. Catholics do believe in God, and we readily recognize the authority of the Church to preach and to teach in His name. The Catechism continues, however, to include this also:
Catechism 1816 – The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.”<LG 42; cf. DH 14> Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”<Mt 10:32-33>
Hearing this, many Catholics whom I know would pause and look down to the floor. I’ve heard too many Catholics, who have a beautiful and quiet relationship of faith with God, have to admit about their Catholic faith and their Catholic Church, “But I can’t explain it to anyone!” They feel very awkward in trying to “confess Christ before men,” or giving “witness of the faith” that is “necessary for salvation.” They would never want intentionally to “deny” Him before men! But they are ill-prepared to “acknowledge” Him explicitly, clearly, intelligibly.
Yes, all these Catholics have received the Sacrament of Confirmation – with the grace needed to make one a witness of Christ before men! Yes they receive Eucharist weekly, if not more frequently. Yes they know the common and traditional prayers of the Church. But they do not know the Catechism – they do not “know” in the sense of being able to state and explain it – our faith. They are not at ease with the Bible, nor able to locate particular books quickly, nor able to quote or easily find important passages for the sake of witnessing to others. They are not able to defend the Catholic faith when questioned or attacked by relatives or neighbors or “friends.”
The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross,…
These are strong words, and they expose a grave weakness in us: we are not able to do what we “must” do. The faith among us in the Church is weak, and the challenges and attacks aimed at and assaulting us are growing in ferocity and strength. What are we, the Church, doing about it?
In a recent address to the bishops of Colombia, the Pope listed several points of concern for bishops in this age of religious pluralism that is luring Catholics away from the Church:
- Hence, it is about being better believers, more pious, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no one will feel distant or excluded.
- Catechesis must be promoted, giving special attention to young people and adults;
- homilies must be carefully prepared, as well as
- promoting the teaching of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities.
- And all this to recover in the baptized a sense of belonging to the Church and to awaken in them the aspiration to share with others the joy of following Christ and of being members of his Mystical Body.
- It is also important to appeal to the ecclesial tradition, to promote Marian spirituality and to take care of the rich devotional diversity.
Since he listed several of keen interest to me, I repeat them: We need adult catechesis and formation in the faith! We need more substantial and more fervent homilies! We need to awaken the baptized! We need to promote, enable, guide, strengthen, ignite the interior life of prayer in the faithful, as Mary our mother in Christ shows us!
The parable of the ten virgins seems especially relevant, at this time in church history:
Mt 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Mt 25:2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
Mt 25:3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;
Mt 25:4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
Mt 25:5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
Mt 25:6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
Mt 25:7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.
Mt 25:8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
Mt 25:9 But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
Mt 25:10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.
Mt 25:11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
Mt 25:12 But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Mt 25:13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The darker the night grows – and the darkness is growing! – the more needed is the precious oil to give light. Some have sufficiency for the night, but some do not. In the mystery of this oil – this unction – this that burns with the light of Truth – we cannot give to another what they must gain for themselves. Now is the time for Catholics to fill their hearts and souls with His precious oil! May He help us awaken, while there is still time.