One of the many blessings I experience as a resident of the State of Wisconsin is the constant encounter with natural beauty.
I received an invitation from friends to visit Lake Minocqua in north central Wisconsin. The lake itself is beautiful connected to a number of other lakes in the region offering a beautiful site shared and enjoyed with eagles, herons and other wildlife for rest and relaxation.
On the evening of my visit, the sky was filled with stars. Our own city lights often prevent us from experiencing the evening sky. But in northern Wisconsin the evening sky was simply spectacular. The Big Dipper, the North Star and various constellations were all visible to the naked eye. It struck me that this is the same sky that the pagans and the ancients viewed. It brought them to their knees in acknowledgement of the infinity of God. Just to contemplate that each star was a sun and each sun contained planets and moons and that there were too many stars to even begin to count. Here I stood as a human being that could be described as no more that a speck upon a speck and that might be an exaggeration.
I was limited confronted by the manifestation of a being that was limitless. Nature can manifest power through an earthquake, hurricane or other natural calamities. We have too often experienced this show of force and lately it has demonstrated just how fragile we humans are. The ancients and pagans came to an understanding of God in the natural beauty and the power of God in creation. Theologians call this encounter “fides qua creditur.”
It is the encounter with ultimate power, extreme beauty or our own finiteness which causes us to call out, “O, my God.” But this understanding of God’s presence in the world needs to be articulated. God has given us reason and has revealed himself in a particular manner in the revelation of his Son, Jesus Christ, in Sacred Scripture and in the teachings of the church. “Fides quae creditur” whatever God has revealed in and through the person of Jesus Christ calls for our obedience and trusting faith.
A number of our youth from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee traveled to Madrid, Spain to participate in World Youth Day. This is an experience of the church on a global scale that I am sure they will never forget. A component of World Youth Day, beside the different celebrations of sacred liturgy, reconciliation and prayer, is catechesis. Blessed John Paul II recognized the need to appeal to the youth of the world in order to carry the mission of Christ into the Third Millennium. In order to do this with success, these youthful evangelizers would need to be grounded in a firm understanding of the faith. Their experience of faith needs articulation, the language which reflects the revealed truths presented to us by God through his Son, Jesus Christ.
There were various catechists – bishops, priests and religious – who offered classes instructing the participants in the teachings of the church. One of the great gifts Blessed John Paul II left to the church is the Catholic Catechism. In addressing the pastors and the Christian faithful, Blessed John Paul II states: “This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms. It is also offered to all the faithful to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation (cf. Eph 3:8). It is meant to support ecumenical efforts that are moved by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians, showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the Catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes” (Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum).
How well can we articulate our faith? Can we explain how we are different from other Christian denominations? Our faith offers us a vision through which we view the world. If we fail to express our teachings, then we allow others to fashion a world vision that denies the truth God has given to us. Pastors, administrators, parish directors and DREs will soon be asking for volunteers to teach religious education. I would ask that you seriously consider becoming a catechist. In many mission territories the catechist is an essential minister in the evangelization and promotion of the faith of a new Catholic territory. Being a catechist helps to promote the faith and to evangelize the community. It also is an aid in the understanding of the faith in your own life as you help the young to integrate the faith into theirs.
If time won’t permit being a catechist, there are always good religious courses on line offered by Catholic colleges and universities. But be sure that they are approved and represent the Catholic teaching. The John Paul II Center at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can be of assistance in the evaluation of teachers and subject matter. Lastly, if you are not computer savvy, then perhaps you could select a book or a DVD on the Catholic Church, e.g., Fr. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism”).
We live in an age where information runs rampant but much of it fails to present the truth. When it comes to our faith, we have a source which Christ gave us; it is his church, guided by the Holy Spirit, which leads us to holiness. Make a commitment to learn the language of faith so that you can spread the Good News in a world in need of Good News.