THE EAGLE, March 2013
If you know which are the Four Sins that Cry Out to Heaven for Vengeance, chances are that you are well over 50. If you can recite the Seven Cardinal Sins and their opposite Virtues, or the challenging Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit, you are almost certainly either a convert, or lisped the Penny Catechism as an infant.
As a young girl and a devout Anglican, I used to memorize the Table of Kindred and Affinity at the back of the Book of Common Prayer during the sermon, trying to work out exactly who it was in my own family that I would not be allowed to marry when I grew up. Not even my mother’s adopted son, it seemed – had she had one.
We learned by rote in those days. I often think how useful it is to remember quite a lot of Tennyson, chunks of Isaiah, and several speeches from Shakespeare. To have such a resource at one’s fingertips would be more than handy if you found yourself, God forbid, in solitary confinement.
That little Penny Catechism underwent a sea change. In 1992, Blessed Pope John Paul II approved the text of a new Catechism of the Catholic Church. Requested by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops seven years earlier, and in collaboration with them, it is a true “fruit of the Second Vatican Council.” The English edition was published two years later.
On October 11, 2012, to mark the twenty years since the publication of the new Catechism, Pope Benedict XVI initiated the Year of Faith. As he wrote in Porta Fidei, the year is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord,” for the New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian Faith. In a nutshell, we are to rediscover our faith and share it. Or, in my case, to explore the Catechism properly for the first time.
I know of only one person, apart from priests and religious, who has actually read it from cover to cover. It is a daunting prospect. Since it was published in 1994, the volume (it weighs in at 2 lbs. 6 oz. or 1.75 kg) has been sitting on my bookshelf wedged between a scholarly D.Phil. thesis on popular literature, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. It looks and is learned. I have to admit that the pages are still pressed together in newness, the endpapers unsullied by pencilled remarks, and there isn’t even a postcard tucked in to mark the place. Which can only mean one thing: it has never been looked at.
Never mind, thanks to the Year of Faith all that has changed, and this book is proving an eye-opener and an unexpected treasure trove. It is literally a revelation.
So much for discovering it – how to share it?
Sharing one’s beliefs is a problem. Billy Graham had a great gift for addressing hundreds and hundreds of people in every kind of venue with a personal call that persuaded many “to get up out of their seats” and come forward. John Paul II undoubtedly had the same gift – let us call it charisma. One was transfixed by him.
Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park in London is famous for being a place where anyone may stand up and speak, provided there is no offence against decency, racism, violence, etc. Dr. Donald Soper was a Methodist minister who regularly drew large crowds to hear him declaim at Speakers’ Corner where he spoke eloquently against gambling, blood sports (hunting), or Margaret Thatcher’s policies which he reckoned incompatible with Christianity. Inevitably he was dubbed “Dr. Soapbox.”
It takes a special kind of bravery to stand up and be heckled in public. Dr. Soapbox (who died in 1998) would have plenty to rail against today in Britain – just as he did in his day. He was a teetotaller, a pacifist crusading for nuclear disarmament, and a socialist who accepted a Barony and title despite disapproving of the House of Lords. He reckoned on restoring the second chamber “from within.” But we still have our House of Lords, with 812 members as of March 2013. What would Baron Soper make of the recent Bill recognizing same-sex “marriage” in Britain? I don’t even have to wonder.
Precious few of us resemble those examples. We can hope, perhaps, to influence our immediate circle. We may never know if, or how far, the ripples will spread.
Neither I nor anybody else can make you read the Catechism. In fact when you hear, “You just must read this, you’ll love it,” it is almost guaranteed to put you off.
But we are urged by none other than the Holy Father – not a command, but a recommendation that we can, of course, ignore. Personally, I feel I owe Pope Benedict a great debt, for of my own lazy volition I would most likely never have discovered what I can only refer to now as a sumptuous feast.