Catholicism 101 is an ongoing tour of issues, aspects, and problems having to do with the Catholic faith. The tour has some clear parameters and four types of stops along the way. It may not always be comfortable, but it will at least always be interesting - and usually enjoyable.
Here’s an astonishing line from the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God never ceases drawing man to himself” (#27). If he “never ceases” drawing us, that means he is always thinking of us, always coming up with new ways to lead us along the right path in life.
All of us have experienced that, in some way or another. When I was a seminarian studying in Rome, I seemed to experience it a lot.
An Off-Beat Encounter
One day, for example, I was showing the inside of St Peter’s Basilica to a small group of non-Catholic Texans on vacation. The sheer grandeur and otherworldly beauty of the Basilica awed them, even though their faith had long since been pushed to the wings so that their careers could take center stage.
As we strolled through the immense space, I pointed out the sculptures, monuments, mosaics, and architectural characteristics, explaining how each detail expressed some aspect of the Catholic faith. They couldn’t get enough of it. The more intently they gazed, the more rapidly they asked questions.
When we turned the corner near the Gregorian Virgin, one of the gentlemen, an investor by trade, was drawn towards a large, intricately carved, wooden, box-like structure, about the size of two telephone booths placed side-by-side. He ran his fingers along the richly stained mahogany trim, his eyes glowing with delight and respect.
“What sculpture is this?” he whispered respectfully. “Who made it and what does it mean?”
I was at a loss. What he was admiringly so solemnly was not a sculpture at all. It was a confessional – the mini, room-like contraption where a priest sits in the center partition and people who come to confess their sins kneel in the side partitions. Of course, he had no way of knowing that. So I stepped up beside him and answered, “This is an ancient confessional. I don’t know how long it’s been here, but people still use itwhen they go to confession.” He removed his hand abruptly, and rejoined the group, abashed that he had mistaken it for a masterwork of art.
Search, and You Will Find
It was an amusing encounter, but it was also instructive. Something about the beauty of that Basilica had touched the hearts of those visitors, filling them with childlike, inquisitive wonder. It had stirred a desire to know the source of the beauty they beheld. Their preconceptions about Catholicism dissolved, and they sincerely wanted to discover what had inspired such magnificence. Their questions were no long fearful, suspicious, or defensive, as they had been over lunch. Rather, they simply wanted to know.
Everyone who clicks on Catholic 101 has already begun their tour of all things Catholic. Something – a conscious decision or a providential encounter – has led you inside the Basilica. I am here to show you around. The beauties you will see are not of my creation. My hope is that God will use them to clear up confusions, speak to your heart, and draw you closer to him.
A Four-Pronged Approach
Every tour needs structure. Catholic 101 will make four types of stops:
- We will answer the question, “What do Catholics believe?” through clear and relevant explanations of Catholic doctrine.
- We will take small trips through Church history, since getting to know someone’s past is always a shortcut to getting to know his present.
- We will frankly face the Church’s moral teachings without dodging uncomfortable viewpoints or hiding behind theological abstractions.
- We will spice up things up with side trips into the Catholic view about every human heart’s most pressing quest: the search for happiness, known in Catholic terms as the spiritual life.
Send questions whenever you like, and we will answer them, as time permits. Send recommendations too, since you know best what you need most.
“Be Not Afraid!”
Jesus promised that if we seek first his Kingdom, everything else will fall into place (Matthew 6:33). Seeking first his Kingdom – that’s our line. And I am sure you will forgive us if every once in awhile you make an uncomfortable discovery, like finding out that a sculpture is really a confessional. If you come upon things that make you pause and reconsider some misconceptions, do so, and then keep pressing on. There is plenty more beauty to behold, just around the corner.