All Catholics deserve to know their story. But today, it’s not enough for parents and catechists to teach the doctrines of the faith.
We need to pass on the faith in a way that addresses the challenges people face from the secular, relativistic world–challenges like the following:
- “Why do I need a Church? Can’t I be spiritual on my own?”
- “Why does the Church talk about morality so much? Shouldn’t we be more tolerant and just love people?”
- “There is no moral truth. Each individual decides for himself what is right and wrong.”
- No one religion is better than another.
- “I believe in God…I try to be a good person…So why do I need to go to church? I don’t get anything out of it.”
If people learn there are 12 apostles, 10 commandments and 7 sacraments, but don’t know how to engage these and other issues, they will have a difficult time withstanding the allurements, pressures, and mindset of the secular world in which they live and breathe every day.
We are not passing on the faith in a cultural vacuum. The people we love and serve are constantly exposed to alternative views of life, love, and happiness–views that shape their hearts and minds in ways that hinder their faith from growing and even threatens, at times, to choke the life of faith.
St. John Paul II stressed that when we pass on the faith–whether in the parish or in the home–we must be aware of the cultural influences on that life of faith.
So when we are evangelizing and catechizing, we must address what he called the powerful “anti-evangelization” that people face every day.
This is what the Symbolon film documentary on the Catholic faith seeks to accomplish. Symbolon: The Catholic Faith Explained is a walk through the Catholic faith that is culturally relevant and engages the critical issues of our time. It’s produced by the Augustine Institute and is being used in almost 5,000 parishes around the world for RCIA, adult faith formation, family faith formation and small groups.
The series is inspiring many non-Catholics to convert. It’s helping parents form their children. And it’s helping many adult Catholics rediscover not just what we do and believe as Catholics–but why.
The following is a short excerpt from my newest book, Love Unveiled, which is based on the Symbolon film series.
If you were to walk into a coffee shop and randomly ask people, “What does the Catholic Church stand for?,” what kind of responses do you think you would receive?
Some people might talk about the rituals of the Catholic faith. Others might mention the pope or the Blessed Virgin Mary. A large number probably would focus on controversial moral issues of our day: “The Catholic church is against abortion, against contraception and against gay marriage.”
Few, however, would get to the heart of the Gospel and say, “The Catholic Church stands for the God who is madly in love with you, who has a plan for you and wants you to be happy—the God who even sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you, who wants to forgive you and help you in your life and who, most of all, wants an intimate, personal relationship with you so that you can be with him forever in heaven.”
This, quite frankly, is not the impression the average person out in the world has about the Catholic faith. And the fact of the matter is many of us who grew up Catholic don’t always see our faith this way either. We might have heard there were twelve apostles, Ten Commandments, seven sacraments and three Persons of the Trinity. But many practicing Catholics admit that they have almost zero understanding as to how it all fits together and what difference it makes for their lives.
I know that was the case in my own life.
I grew up Catholic, believed in God, showed up at Mass on Sundays, and in general wanted to be a “good person”. But as I entered my adult years, many other things captured my attention more: striving for success, making money, having friends, having fun. I still went through the motions in my faith, but God was not really the priority in my life.
I also began to have a lot of questions: Is all this Catholic stuff really true? What about the other religions in the world? Does it actually matter whether I’m Catholic? And then there were all those moral issues about life, sex, and marriage: Shouldn’t each individual be able to make up his own morality? Why can’t we just love people and get along?
Over time, the faith started to come together for me. Thanks to God’s grace and many good friends, mentors, and books, I began to sense that there was something deeper behind the various doctrines, rituals, and hierarchies of the Church. These guides helped me to appreciate more the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith and opened up for me many treasures in my faith that I had taken for granted or didn’t even realize were there. Most of all, the faith began to make more sense to me—not just as a theory, but as a whole way of life.
This Catholic way of life that attracted me—and millions of others throughout the centuries—is ultimately the way of love: a most profound love that the world itself does not offer. But it’s the love for which we are made, a love that corresponds to our hearts’ deepest desires. In fact, all of our authentic human forms of love—whether it be love for one’s country, one’s friend , one’s child, or one’s a spouse—are ultimately meant to be drawn up into this one love that is God himself (1 Jn 4:8, 16). And as we will see throughout this book, it’s only in this divine love that we will find our happiness and fullness of life.
THE CHALLENGE OF TODAY’S CULTURE
Our understanding of the faith and our ability to live it out, however, is not something that is formed in a vacuum. We live in a certain cultural setting that influences our hearts and minds. The increasingly secular, relativistic, and individualistic attitudes around us can affect the way we think about God, life, love, and happiness. So as we walk through core Catholic beliefs, we will address common questions people in our culture have, such as the following:
- Why do I need the Church? Can’t I just be spiritual on my own?
- Isn’t one religion just as good as another?
- How is the death of a man two thousand years ago, in a city far away, relevant for my life today?
- Why does the Church talk about morality so much? Can’t I make up my own morality? And besides, shouldn’t we stop imposing our views on other people?
- Is it really our responsibility to care for the poor? Doesn’t God help those who help themselves?
- Along the way, we’ll also address questions some of our Protestant brothers and sisters have regarding topics such as Mary, the Bible, confession, the papacy, and the Mass.
But our walk through the Catholic faith will be much more than an intellectual enterprise. We will learn spiritual lessons from the beauty of the Catholic tradition and the insights of the saints. And we will be inspired constantly to make application to our daily lives, considering how the various aspects of the faith invite us to a deeper conversion—to love God more and entrust more of our lives to him. This book, thus, aims to form not just the head, but also the heart. My hope is that this book helps you not only understand Jesus and his plan of salvation, but inspires you to love him more. For this is what the faith is all about: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”