Sooner than we think, in less than 5 weeks the Year of Faith will begin. For all of those who take up the Church Universal's invitation to deepen their understanding of the Faith by studying the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it will be a time of renewal. This is an amazing opportunity to rediscover the riches of the Church's teachings and to be infused with the joy that comes from being reminded about just how wonderful God is and how perfect His plan for the salvation of humanity is.
While I am still waiting to see whether the Apostolic Penitentiary underlines with indulgences some of the Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith and any other worthwhile spiritual practices, I already have two plans. The first is to pick up where I left off reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church to my son, somewhere around the explanation of Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead in Part One - The Profession of Faith, and to read between one and two pages a night. The second is phase two of our parish study group which started from Pentecost 2012 as a response to the Australian 'Year of Grace' and which will also become a response to the Universal Church's 'Year of Faith', beginning from Thursday, 11 Oct 2012. We will be using the same discussion questions, just changing the text from the Gospel of St Mark to the Catechism. What's different about this study group is that summaries of the discussions are being posted online at www.ofgraceandfaith.blogspot.com , and that will continue during the Year of Faith.
The discussion questions come in three parts. In Part A people share about what they hadn't noticed in the text before, or what surprised them; which puts us in welcoming position towards the text and to what God wants to teach us through the text. In Part B we talk about past events of grace that the text has reminded us of, together with how we have seen God active in our lives recently. Doing this has inspired us all to live the Gospel more faithfully and has made us more aware of the various ways God works in our lives. In Part C we look at examples of Christian art which illustrate the text, and examples of Saints who have lived out aspects of the text in memorable ways. This last part is already going some way towards fulfilling the Year of Faith recommendations 5 and 6 at the level of episcopal conferences.
5. The Saints and the Blessed are the authentic witnesses of the faith. It is, therefore, opportune that Episcopal Conferences work toward the dissemination of a knowledge of the local Saints of their territory, also by modern means of social communication.
6. The contemporary world is sensitive to the relationship between faith and art. It is, therefore, recommended that Episcopal Conferences maximize the catechetical potential – possibly with ecumenical cooperation – of the artistic patrimony of the region entrusted to their pastoral care.
Obviously it is not going to be possible to cover the whole Catechism in the approximate 52 weeks we have (allowing for Christmas, Easter, Public holidays and unexpected interruptions). So I've worked out a scheme for studying three areas of the Catechism, which I hope will prove useful to others who wish to study the Catechism during the Year of Faith. Within the next week or two it will be uploaded to the Catechism Study Plan page of the above mentioned blog. Because the 'Year of Grace' will be running concurrently with the Year of Faith, we have chosen those parts of the Catechism which have a greater resonance with Grace. Thus we will start with 22 weeks on the Sacraments, because they are our major source of sacramental Grace. This will take us up to Holy Week. After Easter we will do 15 weeks on Prayer, because Prayer is the lifeblood of the Sacraments and the major way actual Grace comes to us. For the final 15 weeks we will be doing Section One of Part Three of the Catechism : Life in Christ, which deals with topics like virtue, salvation and conscience.
Since neither the chapters, the articles or the paragraphs in the Catechism are of equal length, I have tried to break up each section with reference to the topic headings and to work on an average of 15-22 paragraphs and 3.5-5.25 pages worth of Catechism text.
The reasoning behind this is that the section length needs to be short enough to read out loud at the beginning of the study group, and yet long enough to give our artist sufficient imagery to work with. Because life often gets in the way of our good intentions, reading the section aloud will assist everyone who wasn't able to read it before hand. We also often understand text much better when it is read aloud, and notice parts that we would normally skim over when reading the same text to ourselves. In addition, St Paul tells us in Romans 10:14-17 that faith comes from what is heard via preaching, and through the Catechism the wisdom of Church gathered over 2 millennia is preached to us.
Apart from the articles on Sacramentals and Christian Funerals (because they are short), we will be ignoring the 'In Brief' portions of the Catechism. This is because they are usually lacking in imagery and in footnotes, and because bypassing the 'In Brief' portions will enable us to cover more of the main text. The footnotes are of importance because for the discussion question about the Saints we hope to look at the lives of those Saints who are quoted, and the context in which they are quoted, as well as Saints who lived out those parts of the Catechism in exemplary ways.
If our journey through the Gospel of St Mark is anything to go by, our journey through these three areas of the Catechism is going to be very exciting. There is a grace which comes when believers study matters of Faith together which isn't as strong when you study them alone. Can you imagine the grace that will be outpoured if the whole Church takes the Year of Faith seriously, studies the Catechism and the documents of Vatican II anew, and experiences the joy and renewal that comes from the rediscovery of the wisdom, power and love of God?
May that grace be yours, and may these few paragraphs spur you on to do your own planning to take maximum advantage of the Year of Faith.