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A Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The preservation of our Catholic faith depends on the written word.

This is not an accident of history but a fact of divine providence. Within one generation of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written and in circulation. By the end of the first century, the 27 books of the New Testament were finished and God’s revelation to the human race was completed. Even the later production of some 20 apocryphal Gospels, rejected by the Church, only emphasized the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to stabilize the revealed word of God by putting it into definite readable form.

The same wisdom which inspired the composition of the New Testament Scriptures has prompted the Church ever since to use writing to protect the deposit of faith, explain its meaning, and defend it against human error and misunderstanding. Papal documents and decrees, and conciliar declarations approved by the Popes, have all been written out in carefully chosen terms. The spelling of a single word might determine whether a particular teaching was orthodox and therefore compatible with God’s revealed truth.

Building on Sacred Scripture and parallel with the Church’s written magisterium has grown a Catholic literature that by now fills whole libraries throughout the civilized world.

Its beginnings are not shrouded in mystery but go back to the early second century. We have the full text of the seven letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom in Rome, dating from 107 A.D. These were followed by a steady stream of over a thousand volumes, still existing, that were written before the end of the first millennium of the Christian era.

With the discovery of print in the fifteenth century, Catholic literature has developed beyond anything that most of the faithful even realize exists. They have certainly not become familiar with its treasury of spiritual wisdom nor read many of its tens of thousands of authentically Catholic writers.

Yet this ocean of literary production is a continuing global profession of the true faith by men and women who wrote what they believed. Their influence on world civilization is beyond human calculation and is meant to provide nourishment for believing minds until the end of time.

But Catholic literature has not gone unchallenged. The parable of the two sowers in the Gospel is also a prophecy. After the farmer had sown wheat, an enemy came at night to sow cockle in the same field.

Something like this has been going on in the dissemination of ideas in world literature. No sooner were the four Gospels written than a series of spurious sacred writings began to circulate among Christian believers. From early patristic times to the present, the pattern has not changed. The truth has always been challenged by the propagation of seductive error, especially in the field of literature.

The secret of coping with error is to know the truth. In fact, this is one of the providential reasons why God allows error to flourish. For those who really know the truth, error is a powerful stimulus to better appreciate the truth they profess and deepen their understanding of what they believe.

It was against this background that The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan was conceived. Its main purpose is to offer a carefully worked-out program of self-education in the Great Catholic Books, from the close of the apostolic age to modern times.

Unlike the Great Books program of the Brittanica, the Catholic Reading Plan does not invite its readers to, “Enjoy yourself, understand yourself, and build your own philosophy.” It invites people to find the roots of their Catholic heritage, to steep themselves in the traditions of their faith, strengthen their spiritual life, and stimulate their zeal to share their own religious convictions with everyone who enters their lives.

The situation in the Church today requires men and women who take seriously Christ’s warning in the parable about the sower who sowed good seed. Some of the seed fell on the pathway where the birds of the air picked it up; it had no roots. As Christ explained, this symbolizes the people who begin as believers, but the devil comes along and steals the faith which they had received. Why? Because they failed to understand the word of God which had been sown in their hearts.

There is a proven way of not only preserving our faith, but of deepening our grasp of what we believe. How? By daily nourishing our minds on the faith of the literary masters of Catholic belief over the ages.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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