By Mary Deturris Poust
I always tell people that I received my religious education during the "age of the collage." My weekly CCD classes from the late 1960s through the '70s focused an awful lot on gluing and pasting pictures of people expressing God's love, but not so much on the hard truths of our faith. Fortunately, my family filled in the blanks along the way, supplying me with my own copy of the famed Baltimore Catechism just in case they missed anything.
But, too often, for lots of other Catholics who were educated during this same period and into the 1980s, the "blanks" are still there, causing a disconnect between them and their Church and making them more susceptible to the draw of the culture and other religious denominations.
I've been hearing from this group over the past few months as I have gone out to speak about my new book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism" (Alpha Books, $14.95). People are coming up to me at signings, e-mailing me, commenting on my blog, and all of them are saying the same thing, sometimes in identical language: I went to religion class but was never taught the basics. For many of these people, that lack of a strong faith foundation makes it difficult for them to pass on the faith to their children or to find a place for themselves within their own Church.
When I talk about my "collage" description of faith formation, people between the ages of 30 and 50 usually nod knowingly, sometimes sharing their own memories of classes that focused on pretty pictures of clouds and sunsets instead of the beliefs outlined in the Profession of Faith. Love was the answer to every question in those days, but, unfortunately for many of us, we never got to the heart of what God's love is all about, what Jesus' sacrifice means, about salvation and the sometimes-difficult path we are called to follow. And that is a great loss, because if we do not understand what our Church teaches about suffering, salvation, sacrificial love and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, it becomes difficult to make the connection between what's happening in church on Sunday and what's happening in our lives the rest of the week.
When I first started writing my study guide to the larger catechism, I found that even many church-going Catholics were not completely sure of what the Catechism is all about. Some thought it was simply a rulebook. Others thought it was something to teach the faith to children. And still, others thought it was a book used only by bishops and priests as they set about preaching to others.
As I worked my way through the almost-1,000 pages of the Catechism, I found the faith of my childhood reborn. I went to Mass and heard things as if for the first time. I said prayers with a new level of understanding and love for our teachings. The Catechism is a treasure waiting to be discovered by so many Catholics who have been searching for it without even knowing it. It is up to the rest of us to provide them with the road map they need to uncover this gem and allow it to transform their lives.
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