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Catholic Reading Provides Actual Evidence for Faith
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Anyone familiar with the Catholic Church in the closing years of the twentieth century knows that there is a crisis of identity in millions of once totally dedicated minds. The term "Catholic" has been used by so many people with so many different meanings that even among the elect there is confusion. Yet, by her own claims, the Roman Catholic Church has remained substantially the same, since the first Pentecost Sunday to the present day. This is easier said than proved. So that a more profound reason for assembling a Reading Plan was to provide factual evidence that Catholic continuity is reality and not rhetoric.
The closing words of Christ in Matthew's Gospel are a prophecy and a promise. Know that I am with you always, He said to all future generations. Yes, to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20) How do we know?
We can know this by tracing the sequence of official Church teaching from apostolic times to our day. Practically speaking, this would mean going back to the earliest papal declarations outside the New Testament and then moving up to the latest pronouncement of the Bishop of Rome. It happens that we have a full-length letter of Pope Clement I to the Corinthians written somewhere between the years 88 and 97. Through no less than sixty-five chapters the Pontiff exercises his authority to heal the discord that had arisen in Corinth. A few agitators had driven the people to revolt against their ecclesiastical superiors. Driven by envy, says Clement, the conduct of these dissenters is disgraceful. Let them do penance and their sins will be pardoned. The whole epistle is an implied exercise of supreme papal authority. It threatens, If there should be some who will not listen to the words that God has spoken to them through us, they may be assured that they are in grave sin and in great danger. We are innocent of this sin. The Pope concludes, You will be a source of great joy and happiness for us if you are obedient to what we have written to you in the Holy Spirit.
The Bible, of course, is the written repository of God's own revelation to the human family. Unlike Sacred Tradition, which the Catholic Church considers coequal with Sacred Scripture, the latter is scripture - that is, something written - and therefore to be read. The Bible, therefore, is normative for all other, merely human writings. And if there is any book that every Catholic should include in a lifetime of reading, it had better be the Bible.
The Roman Catechism, published in the sixteenth century, is a synthesis of what the Catholic Church believes. Its importance derives from the historic fact that it was published to meet the most serious challenge that Catholicism has had to face in all her centuries of existence. The challenge was faced by the Council of Trent, which spelled out in lapidarian definitions what those who call themselves Catholics must believe. But the teachings of Trent are very formal and expressed in technical terms. That is why the Roman Catechism was written: to synthesize all of Catholic belief and practice in language that everyone can understand.
The Second Vatican Council documents have yet to become known, even to most Catholics. Some mistakenly saw the council as the end of what they call the preconciliar age. With everything in the material sciences undergoing such rapid and drastic change, some people assumed that the Catholic Church must undergo a corresponding radical change. What the twenty-first Council of the Church brought home, however, was that Catholicism is not a merely human institution. It partakes of the immutability of the God who became Man and who founded a Church that He promised to guide and preserve in her integrity even to the consummation of the world.
And there is so much more good reading, from St. Augustine to Evelyn Waugh.
We get some idea of the value of reading Catholic literature once we realize how much reading is done by people, even in our media-saturated age. There are thousands of news-papers throughout the world, some with a daily circulation of over a million readers. There are thousands of magazines, not a few with a monthly circulation of many millions.
Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature - from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting - we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print.
Until not many years ago a book like The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan would have been useful but hardly necessary. All this has changed dramatically in the last half of the present century. There is such an avalanche of printed matter demanding reader attention that someone somewhere should offer to provide guidance. Among the areas in which guidance is needed, the most important is the library of Catholic literature.
Behind that last sentence is an act of faith. I believe the Catholic Church was founded by Christ to be the Mother and Teacher of mankind. Her Founder entrusted to her the fullness of His revelation. It is literally true that His words to the Apostles, He that hears you, hears me, apply to the Church He established. What she teaches and the norms she provides are not only for professed Catholics: they are for the human race.
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