.l his catechism has assumed that religion stands midway between ethics and philosophy. Like philosophy it deals with the ultimate issues of human existence; like ethics it provides a program for life. But unlike philosophy it is not concerned with speculative or abstract questions; it rather attempts to be concrete and practical, to create experiences of the "Other" so that in such experiences people can understand "in the flesh" what life means for them. Unlike ethics religion does not offer a detailed list of "oughts" and "ought nots," but rather a more general yet nonetheless very concrete "ought" of how one should orient oneself toward the world, the self, and other human beings. Doing or not doing certain things is not religion; religion is a way of doing everything.

Religion is not, however, anti-intellectual. The religious believer has some very clear and unpoetic ideas about what the world and human life mean. She may express these ideas in poetic imagery to give them more power, but the ideas are themselves quite specific. (In fact, the process is usually the other way around, both personally and historically: one draws out the interpretation by reflecting on the images.)

We have seen in this catechism that the Christian believes that the world and human life are good rather than evil, purpose-

fill rather than random, loving rather than arbitrary. He believes that death is not the end of human existence, that human nature is basically good (though it is caught in a trap of sinfulness), that human society is intended to be supportive rather than oppressive, and that nature can and must be used with respect and reverence because it is "grace," a sacrament of God's love. He believes that we can be saved from evil and, in fact, that we have been. He argues that we can run the risk of trusting ourselves to others in intimate love because we live in a context of protective trust. He believes that the basic design of our existence is a love affair in which a passionately generous Other has given himself totally to us and demands total giving in return. He believes that this Other is both active and dominant, as well as tender and seductive, and that the Other calls for that which is most generous and most creative in our own personalities. He believes that human beings respond to the offer of loving goodness, not as isolated, atomized individuals but as members of a human community who support one another and look toward the reunification of the whole of humanity. He believes that no matter how powerful evil may be it is not quite powerful enough to conquer good. He believes that the world can be made a more human place in which to live, and that he is called to devote his life to this humanization, especially by reflecting in his relations with others the loving, self-giving service with which the Other has given himself to us.

This set of beliefs constitutes a quite explicit, specific, and consistent view of the meaning of human existence. It is theoretical in the sense of providing a pattern for human living, but it is not theoretical in the sense of having been philosophized about. It is not ethics, because it does not yet contain any specific moral imperatives, but it demands a style of life that is far more of a challenge to human generosity than any specific imperative could possibly be.

Let no one say that such a "theory" of life is merely a matter of psychology. It surely resonates with some of the insights of psychological research. How could a valid theory of life fail to resonate with human search for truth? It also represents a set of convictions that would underwrite a psychologically healthy existence if they were true. But the propositions that constitute the Christian theory are not self-evidently true, nor are they provable by either the research or the theory of the social sciences. All psychology can say is that in their better moments most humans would rather like to believe the theory is true and indeed have received hints that it might well be. On the other hand, the data are ambiguous, and human skepticism finds such a brightly hopeful theory of life too good to be true.

Hence one finally accepts or rejects the Christian theory of life only by a leap of faith. It might very well be true; but on the other hand, it might not. The only way to achieve practical certainty is to "try the theory on," to live it for a while and see if the world experienced from the perspective of such a commitment is a kind of world worth living in, worth hoping for, worth loving. The theory may still seem too good to be true, but as we live it, we may come to see its truth.

So the theory presented in this catechism is ultimately the object of faith. However strange the language and the method of this book may seem to those educated in other catechetical styles, there is no attempt here to eliminate faith from religion. If anything, it is harder to accept than the theory presented in other catechetical methods. Some other forms of Christian education are content with the intellectual acceptance of certain doctrinal propositions and the honoring of certain moral imperatives (usually negative). This catechism argues that such behavior is rather easy, or at least not too difficult. But Christianity demands more than intellectual acceptance of certain propositions. It demands that the total person embrace a theory that gives a complete description of the meaning of human life, and then that the person live that theory in his daily existence. It also demands much more than the performance or nonperformance of certain behavior; it demands from us a style of loving generosity that will affect all our behavior. Christian faith demands total personal transformation that is much more difficult than intellectual assent or ethical purity. Fortunately for us, we are not required to be perfect in this transformation but rather to keep trying despite repeated failures.

The Catholic Christian who seeks to restate what he believes, and the non-Catholic adult who is curious about where Catholic Christianity stands should understand that there is much more about Catholicism that is not in this book. There are details of doctrine, worship, and practice that fill many volumes. Some of these details are fascinating, others are important, others are useless but mildly interesting. (For example, what is the proper title for a cardinal? In German, Herr Kardinal; in Italian, Signor Cardinale; in French, Monsieur le Cardinal; and in English, the language of democratic freedom and equality—not Mr. Cardinal but Your Eminence.) Other details are colossal bores and are maintained to keep harmless clerks in business. (For example, the various canonical punishments listed in exquisite detail in the Code of Canon Law.) If one is to be a Catholic Christian, it may well be a help to know some or even many of these details, but they should not be confused with the essence of the Catholic Christian theory.

There are also details of all the mistakes the leadership of Catholic Christianity has made through history—the scandals which have beset the Church (and which, alas, still do), the sinfulness of the ordinary Catholic Christian, the perennial incompetence of many of his leaders. Such details, heaven knows, make for entertaining history and relieve the Catholic Christian from the necessity of expecting perfection from the human members and the human structure of his Church.

Scandals and failures however should not obscure what the Catholic Christian theory stands for; they should have nothing to do with whether one embraces the theory or not. If one wants to know whether the theory offers a life worth living, then one should look at the people who really lived it (the saints) and at those Catholics in their best moments when they are trying hard to live it.

So there are many things about Catholicism that are not in this book, but the really critical mysteries are all here, the ones that respond to the fundamental agonies of life and death that torment all humankind. Catholic Christianity begins with the experience of wonder and ends with the development of a capacity for surprise.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment