My first few days as a law student in the 1980s were a little daunting. After all, I had seen the 1973 movie The Paper Chase a couple times and had some idea of the incredible stress involved in being a first-year law student.
My textbooks were so thick that I needed to make two or three trips to carry them from the bookstore to my car. My professors were just as intimidating as John Houseman's character in the movie. What had I gotten myself into?
Early on, though, the dean of the law school gave the new students a very helpful pep talk. He advised us not to get bogged down with all the specific cases and statutes we would be studying. The goal wasn't so much that we would memorize everything, but rather that we learn to “think like lawyers.” Once we saw the big picture, we could confidently go and look up particular points of law as needed.
I think this practical wisdom carries over to the spiritual life. When it comes to our faith, we must learn to “think like Catholics.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church has “summarized” Church teaching in 2,865 paragraphs with thousands of citations to Scripture and various other sources, so there's enough material to last us a lifetime. Yet, the key is not only learning the specifics of our faith, which indeed is very important, but also to continually develop an authentically Catholic worldview and vision that coherently brings everything together. But how do we understand this “Catholic vision”?
I think most of us have encountered “3-D” movies in which we had to wear special glasses to see the film the way it was intended to be seen. We'd miss crucial elements of the movie if we tried to watch it without the special glasses. Similarly, I'm very sensitive to my son Samuel's grabbing my bifocals. I know how dependent I am on my glasses to clearly see the physical reality around me.
When it comes to our faith, instead of “3-D” glasses or bifocals, we need an authentically Catholic lens the lens of faith to see the fullness of reality with its natural and supernatural components. Faith empowers us to see the divine amidst the human. Jesus is not simply a good man, but the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Scripture is not simply a collection of ancient human writings, but also truly the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Church is not simply a human institution, but also the Mystical Body of Christ and the means of salvation for the whole world.
We know from experience that our vision is blurry and limited. The Church teaches that since the fall of Adam and Eve, we have difficulty discerning what is true and good. Faith isn't “Catholic spin,” but corrective lenses that compensate for the effects of original sin, until we are able to see our Lord face to face (1 Cor 13:12) what has been traditionally called the beatific “vision.”
And if we have corrective lenses, shouldn't we wear them? Shouldn't we allow our faith to give us greater clarity in every aspect of our lives?
Faith is very challenging today. It takes a strong faith to acknowledge an “apostolic” Church if the “apostle” in our midst fails in his duties. It takes a strong faith to accept a “holy” Church when we're constantly confronted with the sins of her members (not to mention our own).
Faith involves accepting without “seeing” the lordship of Jesus Christ. It requires the virtue of docility, or the ability and willingness to be formed and nurtured by the Church. It's more than simply looking at the Church from the outside; it entails stepping inside and becoming part of the Family of God.
In this light, we see that faith isn't merely a one-time, all-or-nothing proposition, but a continual call to an ever-deepening commitment to our Lord. Surely all of us can and must believe everything that God has revealed through Christ and His Church with greater understanding, conviction, and joy. With the Apostles, we do well to beg the Lord to “increase our faith” (Lk 17:5).
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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