When we began this study last August, I explained that the index of both the YouCat and the Catechism of the Catholic Church could be seen through the lens of a stage play. The first section, What We Believe lays out for us the great story God has been unfolding since before the beginning of time. The second section, How We Celebrate the Christian Mysteries represents our opportunity to step in and be a part of this unfolding drama. We begin now the third section; How We Are to Have Life in Christ (the moral life). This is the script, which helps us understand what we are expected to do as we play our part in the story.
But there is a big difference between the stage performers see their script and the way most of us see the moral teachings of the Church. The actors in a play want and need a script. They understand that the director is helping them learn to play their part in a much larger show and their need to practice, practice, practice. For many of us, we don’t want to be told what to do. For some reason, we have decided that the demands God places on us are unreasonable or untrustworthy, especially when it seems like those who do not share our faith are having such a good time. For many, it is their understanding (or lack of understanding) of what the moral life is that keeps them away from Catholicism.
And this is a sad reality for a couple of reasons which are much clearer if we understand what we’ve already studied in the first two sections of YouCat.
We begin our Profession of Faith by declaring our belief in God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. When it comes to many of the things we own – things like our phones and our cars – we usually turn to the manufacturer or the owner’s manual to make sure we’re using it right. We especially go to whoever made the thing if it stops working the way it was supposed to.
The same should be true in our lives as God’s creatures. If God is our origin, there is none better who understands what we have been made for and how we’re supposed to work. This is doubly true if we stop to consider who God is. Companies that produce cars and phones sometimes offer great customer service, but we know that their primary reason for existing is to make a profit. But that’s not why God made us. In his first epistle, St. John wrote that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand.” We know that despite our tendency to choose sin over God, Jesus still died for us (Romans 5:8). If the God who is love made us out of love and out of love sacrificed Himself for us, then it would stand to reason that anything He asks us to do is motivated by that same love. Our choice to listen to and obey God’s moral directives is a response to that love.
Any stage play or musical is the result of hundreds of hours of rehearsal. After auditions are completed and the cast is set, all the actors get together and read through the script from start to finish to get a sense of the whole story. This is followed by months and months of practice learning your lines, cues, positions on stage, choreography, songs, and so on. This process includes most players making a lot of mistakes along the way. But the beauty of the rehearsal process occurs when a cue is missed, or a line forgotten. The director gently corrects the actor and gives them the chance to do it over again. Bit by bit, everyone learns their parts and they build more and more towards the finished product we get to enjoy.
We can open YouCat or the Catechism and see God’s expectations laid out for us in precepts, commandments, and obligations. It would be natural to feel overwhelmed at the high standard God is calling us to. But alongside that high calling is the chance to experience God’s lavish mercy and forgiveness. We go to reconciliation, where through the priest God gently corrects us, and then God gives us the chance to try again. Bishop Robert Barron has said that “The Church is extreme in its demands, because it wants it’s people to become saints, not mediocrity… at the same time it’s extreme in its mercy.” And so we practice, practice, practice, and practice some more asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness countless times along the way.
Since people have so much difficulty with the Church’s teachings on the moral life, I’ll dedicate more articles to this third part of YouCat than any of the others. It is important to keep in mind that we read God’s directives for us always through the lens of His love and mercy, which brought us into existence, which offer us direction for how we ought to live our lives, and which offers us forgiveness whenever we fail.
“God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. … It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart.” –Pope Francis
-This is part of a series on the Youth Catechism. Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camp director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.