God is love, and the Catechism must be read in its entirety as the outworking of that divine love in the world.
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VI. Necessary Adaptations
23 The Catechism emphasizes the exposition of doctrine. It seeks to help deepen understanding of faith. In this way it is oriented towards the maturing of that faith, its putting down roots in personal life, and its shining forth in personal conduct.
24 By design, this Catechism does not set out to provide the adaptation of doctrinal presentations and catechetical methods required by the differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, and social and ecclesial condition among all those to whom it is addressed. Such indispensable adaptations are the responsibility of particular catechisms and, even more, of those who instruct the faithful:
Whoever teaches must become “all things to all men” (⇒ I Cor 9:22), to win everyone to Christ. . . Above all, teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety with one and the same method! Let them realize that some are in Christ as newborn babes, others as adolescents, and still others as adults in full command of their powers…. Those who are called to the ministry of preaching must suit their words to the maturity and understanding of their hearers, as they hand on the teaching of the mysteries of faith and the rules of moral conduct.
Above all – Charity
25 To conclude this Prologue, it is fitting to recall this pastoral principle stated by the Roman Catechism:
The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.
Purpose in Teaching
I find this part of the Catechism fascinating because it states its purpose with a profound sense of pastoral responsibility. It does not attempt to lay out the teachings of the Church in a vacuous systematic way.
Rather, it entrusts these teachings of the Church to the individual pastors as they shepherd their flocks in the truth of the Church. The teachings of the Church must be adapted—though not changed—to the particular situations of the listeners.
Quite simply, the Church must meet people where they are.
An Evangelistic Faith
This reemphasizes the Catholic faith as an evangelistic faith. The Catholic Church has as its foundational purpose for existence the Great Commission, and the Church today must take this to heart.
Some progressive strands within the Church decry Christian hegemony and argue that the Catholic Church should not engage in missionary work or “sheep stealing.”
Such efforts are denounced as proselytizing as if peaceful attempts to share the Gospel and convince others to make a free and willing decision to follow Christ are synonymous with forcible conversions.
Yet, such a view has no place within Catholicism. The Church exists because of Christ’s command to make disciples, and those who reject such a view reject the teachings of Christ. Such progressive efforts are simply incompatible with Christian doctrine.
The Divine Love
In addition, the Catechism reiterates that the foundation underpinning all of this is God’s love. The teachings of the Church in all areas reflect God’s incomprehensible and overwhelming love, and the Catechism must be interpreted through that tense.
This divine love is not a vapid saccharine caricature of love that society often peddles, whereby the goal is to give license to behavior or simply to make people feel good about themselves.
It is instead a reflection of the divine effort to pull all people into God’s embrace, making them holy as he reveals his full holiness to them. It is a love that saves us from the cancerous ramifications of sin that permeates the world and all within it.
That is the Catholic Church, and that is the lens through which we must view her teachings.
Truth and Divine Love
So, there is in the Catechism a call to make a forceful proclamation of truth, but in the context of calling sinners from death, not to condemning them to it. Christ has given the world through his Church the means of salvation and the hope of glory, establishing her as a conduit of the divine love.
The Church, therefore, has a responsibility to proliferate these teachings to the world, not as dry statements of dogma, but as loving calls to all, that they might find comfort and healing in the Church of Christ.
Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the twentieth century, was once asked to sum up the teachings of Christianity. He responded, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
This paragon of Christian thought summed up the entirety of his understanding of the Christian faith, a faith he had spent his life expounding and exploring with uncommon genius, using the simple words of a children’s song.
The Catechism as a Love Letter
And so must the Catechism be similarly understood. All the writings and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church can be summed up in the simple words, “God is love.” And every word in the Catechism must be understood in this light.
There is something fantastically beautiful about the way the Catechism opens in this regard, in setting the stage for its exposition of the repository of two thousand years of Christian teaching, the outworking of the apostolic tradition that the Catholic Church inherited and continues to safeguard.
God is love, and the Church, in all that she does and in all that she teaches, must reflect that love.
Like the Bible, the Catechism is not amenable to proof-texting. Its various sections cannot be read in isolation. Instead, it must be read as a comprehensive whole, seen as the outworking of God’s love in the world.