Graduating from God

By: Sr. Clare Hunter

It is a common adage,  “Confirmation is graduation from Church.” There persists this belief that once you get confirmed, or graduate from 8th or 12th grade from a Catholic school, you can stop learning Catechism and going to Sunday Mass. Essentially, just when one has been given the tools and sacramental graces needed to begin the arduous, mature, and lifelong journey of living out one’s faith, we quit. It is not uncommon for me to have something along the lines of the following exchange:

Catholic-school graduate: “I don’t practice my faith right now, but I know all about the Catholic Church. I had 8 (or 12) years of Catholic education.”

Me: “Oh, yeah, name the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Catholic-school graduate: “Um, oh wait, I know this….um, love, hope, faith….”

Me: “Nope, those are virtues. Can you tell me if they are Cardinal or Theological virtues?”

Sheepish smiles appear, and I then have the chance to confess, that I, too, had 12 years of Catholic education, and sometimes I don’t remember them either. In fact, I see every day how much more I have to learn, and realize what I don’t know about the Catholic faith, scripture, or theology. Somewhere we have all developed this notion that knowledge of the faith and even a sense of “holiness” and fruitful prayer is something that can be achieved and finished. In a way, it makes sense.

Wikimedia Grad picWe get certificates and diplomas to say we have finished a course or a program, and so now we are “experts” and can move on to the next thing. In Catholic schools, religion is just another subject in which we are graded, and advance to the next grade. How tempting it is to treat faith as something to get done. I have yet to find the writings of a saint that says something like, “today, I finally did it. I achieved perfect holiness and knowledge, now I can move onto the next thing!” What I do read a lot from the saints is their panic on their death bed that they will not make it into heaven.

Now I doubt entrance into heaven will entail the rattling off of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, so why do we need to know the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all of those facts? Will rote knowledge about the Church, or scripture, make me holy? No, but we must admit that knowledge of our faith, does in fact, inform us about God, His teachings and the gifts we have available to us to help us to grow to love and serve Him more, including what actions to do or avoid.  This is no different than when we fall in love with a person. The love is not dependent on knowing every fact and detail about the person, but we enjoy learning, crave to know more, and even allow the information to form how we will treat, surprise, spoil, and communicate with our beloved.

We know that faith and reason are not at odds with each other. Rather, as St. John Paul II wrote beautifully in the encyclical Fides et Ratio, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” The desire to “know the truth…to know himself…to know God,” requires knowledge of our Catechism, of remembering and articulating what it is we believe.

As Christmas approaches, maybe this is the year that everyone in the family gets a book about the Catholic faith? This Advent might be the time to look up one fact or teaching about the Catholic faith that we have always questioned. Let us ask ourselves what we know and what we still need to learn. Just how do they make holy water? Can I still name the 10 Commandments? Can I remember one thing Sister Mary Seraphim taught me in second grade? Do I remember how to say the rosary? Let us celebrate Catholic education by making sure we have one!

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