Archbishop Sheen helped many people come to the faith, giving personal
instruction to quite a few notable people.
On one occasion, he was going to give instruction to a theatrical artist.
Earlier, Humphrey Bogart had come to visit. He was told that Bishop Sheen
was coming and that he would be welcome to sit in on the instruction, or
could wait in another room if he wished. Bogart responded; "Why should I
listen to any priest; I know more about the Catholic Church than any priest."
When Sheen arrived, the discussion turned to novels. Bishop Sheen admitted
that he hadn't read any of the novels that they were discussing and that this
trait may have come from his father, who could never read novels. Intrigued,
Bogart asked; "Was your father a priest too?"
Well obviously Mr. Bogart knew nothing about the Catholic Church. In
fact, it shows Bishop Sheens statement to be true. That there is not one in
a thousand who hate the Catholic Church, but thousands who hate what they
'think' is the Catholic Church. This applies, today, just as much to
Catholics as it does non-Catholics.
I would guess that many of us are familiar with the old charges and
distortions against the Church made by non (or ex) Catholics. Who hasn't
come across the little comic books sent out by Jack Chick? Or heard
the arguments that we created the Eucharist, worship Mary as a goddess, etc.
But what is sadder is how few Catholics really know their faith. The
Catechism teaches us; "From this knowledge of Christ springs the desire to
proclaim Him, to 'evangelize', and lead others to the 'yes' of faith in Jesus
Christ. But tat the same time the need to know this faith better makes
itself felt." (CCC #429)
First, we cannot teach what we don't know. Well, we can, but it wouldn't
be true. How can one teach what they don't know? "…there is no branch of
teaching, however humble and easy to learn, which does not require a master."
We also find that learning our faith is an on-going process. It never
ends. In fact, if we wished to find and learn every jewel, every bit of our
rich Catholic heritage and teaching, it would need more than one lifetime.
But it seems that learning that faith is now passe' in many places.
With the Baltimore Catechism, we used a tried and true learning method.
When one is beginning to learn math, one begins with rote memorization of
math tables. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. One
cannot do even the simplest algebra or geometry problem without knowing
these. Likewise, the third grader began their religious education with
simple, rote memorization. "Who is God?", etc. But today, if that answer is
relative to whoever asks it, then we can't give an answer. From this simple
beginning, we move to greater truths.
"I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and
even yet you are not ready," (1 Corinthians 3:2).
"About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have
become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers,
you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You
need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in
the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the
mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish
good from evil" (Hebrews 5:11-14).
"Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you
may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord"
(1 Peter 2:2-3).
The analogy is clear. One doesn't give a newborn a steak dinner, nor does
one give someone recovering from an illness solid food right away. One
cannot accept, swallow if you will, authentic Church teachings if you haven't
been 'weaned' on them, if you are not able to accept them.
Christ didn't choose His Apostles and immediately send them off to
preach. He taught them, brought them along until they knew the truth and
If a person doesn't know why Catholics hold to the authority of the
Church, then obviously, they have no reason to submit to her authority. If
God is just some fuzzy, unknown entity, then one god is as good as another.
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, if one believes that one horse is as good as
another, then we may see them put a plow horse in the Kentucky Derby, and
have a race horse pulling a plow. There are even differences in race horses
since not even all race horses are 'created equal' (every year there is a
winner and loser's in the Derby) No building stands without a 'skeletal'
structure beneath it's outward appearance. The World Trade Center, Empire
State Building, even our own homes wouldn't stand unless they were built
supported by girders and beams to hold the walls, set in a solid foundation.
Even we would be nothing but a formless sack of flesh without a skeleton to
hold it in place.
Yes, milk does a body good. Without it, we may grow with weak and
brittle bones, liable to break with the smallest pressure. So we must first
be fed this milk, so we can accept the solid food when ready.
Education, learning, is supposed to be the search for truth, not just
knowledge. One can find learned people to justify anything. Recently,
Princeton hired a Professor for their Bio-ethics department who feels that
human life is not guaranteed dignity. That there are justifiable homocides,
abortions, euthanasia, etc. If life means nothing, then of course any action
against it is allowable. Even the Nazi's had learned men justify the
eradication of the Jews, just as America, in the 1800's, had learned men give
logical reasons as to why American Indians and Blacks were not fully human.
I must admit that if a fundamentalist street preacher hadn't challenged
me (and my mother raised me to seek the truth) I would never have learned my
faith. (Though I am by no means done, nor even remotely an expert) and if I
had not been put in a position to actually read Vatican II documents, I would
probably think that the arguments of Call to Action, et alii, were valid
according to the 'spirit' of Vatican II. It wouldn't be what the Church
taught, but what I 'thought' the Church taught. It wouldn't be the Catholic
Church, but what I thought the Catholic Church was.
No doubt, I could find theologians, philosophers, and teachers to
'justify' my thinking. But I would not be able to find one authentic
Catholic teaching to do so. I could not say I was following Vatican II when
faced with the fact that Vatican II never taught what I thought it did, nor
could I say I was a Catholic when faced with the fact I believed something
the Church didn't teach.
The consequences of this type of thinking, knowledge over truth, is
readily apparent. If we are free to create our own theologies, our own
spirituality there is no need to attend Mass, no need for priests, or nuns.
There is no need for religious educators, and no need for any faith but the
one I created. And if I create my own faith, how can I be expected to
'teach', to 'evangelize' others?
What St. Jerome wrote can be applied today to what some Catholics 'think'
is Catholic teaching.
"You cannot make your way into holy Scripture (or Church teaching) without
someone to go before you and show you the road….The science of the Scriptures
is the only one which all persons indiscriminately claim as their own! This
science the babbling old woman, the doting old man, the wordy sophist, take
upon themselves; they tear it to tatters and teach before they themselves
have learned….Coming by chance to the study of the Scriptures….they fancy what
they utter is the law of God, not deigning to learn what the prophets and the
Apostles taught. Rather, they accommodate to their interpretation the most
incongruous passages, as if were something great instead of a most faulty
method of teaching, distorting sentences and forcing the reluctant Scripture
(and Church teaching) to their own whims."
The attitude of the Catholic cannot be what "I" think, but what
Christ, through His Church thinks.
As Christ said: "I have not spoken on My Own authority; the Father Who
sent Me has himself given Me commandment what to say and what to speak. And
I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as
the Father has bidden Me" (John 12:49-50).
Christ taught what His Father commanded Him to teach, not what 'He'
thought. Peter, Paul and the other Apostles taught what Christ had commanded
them, not what they 'thought' He wanted taught. All the way to the Church
Yet we hear those who speak of their own personal authority. Not what the
Church teaches but rather what they 'think' the Church should teach. More
often than not this is not due to an authentic spirituality, but rather as a
But again, how can one teach what they don't know, or reject? And how can
we know if we aren't taught it? We may think we know the Church, but unless
we know where to look, we may find ourselves listening to those telling us
what we 'want' to hear rather than what we 'need' to hear. Without a grounding in
the basics, we cannot accept or understand the greater things of the faith.
We then don't have faith, but rather a self-made appearance of faith. Not
faith in God, or His Church, but in ourselves. A self-made faith with a self-
made god, for a self-made church.
Pax Christi, Pat