Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a Year of Faith, a call on the faithful to wake up and rediscover the riches of our Catholic Faith.
The Holy Father hopes that this year will be an occasion to return to an "exact knowledge" our faith. He refers to the Credo of the People of God, by Pope Paul VI, as a significant document written at the close of Vatican II in the wake of the various misunderstandings which began to invade the Church.
It is also the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict wishes it to be studied anew.
In his address the Holy Father affirmed that the council was a time of great grace, a continuity with the past and with truths which are unchanging even though there were changes in many practices, such as in parts of the Mass.
The development of doctrine requires that it be always in accordance and continuity with Scripture and Tradition, the two sources of Revelation. However, there can be no authentic development which contradicts earlier teaching.
There are many examples of instances when new ideas required new statements which would clarify the Church's teaching. Thus, Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae reaffirming the perennial teaching on life issues; Blessed John Paul II wrote many encyclicals ( Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, Fides et Ratio, etc) in answer to contemporary philosophical and moral problems.
In this Year of Faith Pope Benedict asks us to "purify" our faith and we can all do with a clearer understanding of many forgotten basics. It is now time to pick up our Catechism and to reacquaint ourselves with its contents. There are four main sections: Creed, Sacraments, Moral life, and Prayer.
Every Sunday at Mass we proclaim the Creed which is our Profession of Faith, namely the acceptance of the truths that God has revealed. It is also the acceptance of all the truths which the Catholic Church believes and teaches. We accept with our mind and we submit with our will.
"I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" means the Church founded by Christ is not a democracy nor can it ever become one. The CCC clearly explains the role of the Magisterium, the teaching body of the Church: the Pope and the Bishops in unison (cf. 85). No amount of debate, no declaration by individual bishops, can change this teaching. We are not free to believe whatever we like but must be guided by the teaching of the Church. A Church which is not in union with the Pope is no longer a Catholic Church.
Can we genuinely say that the Church is holy? What about all the sexual abuse, the corruption in the Vatican, all the problems which have emerged and are magnified by a hostile media?
Indeed the Church is holy: "United with Christ, the Church is sanctified by him through him and with him she becomes sanctifying" (CCC824).
Yes, the Church, the Body of Christ, is holy, although imperfect because all its members, "including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners" (CCC827).
That is why the Church exists. Jesus came to redeem us; he came to heal sinners. That is why he gave us the Sacraments. Each Sacrament has a special grace. When we go to confession we become aware of our weaknesses and failures. The Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) not only heals us but also gives us the grace to fight against sin.
What is grace? Many Christians believe that sanctifying grace is God being gracious to us. Indeed, God who has chosen us and adopted us as his children, gives us his grace. However, the Catholic notion of grace shows a much more profound understanding.
Catholics believe that sanctifying grace is in us as a new life far above our natural life, a life which is supernatural, a life which makes us participate in God's own life. This life is God's free gift, given to us at baptism. With this gift comes a whole supernatural organism: the theological and moral virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Indwelling (CCC1266). We know the meaning of our life; we know our ultimate end: the vision of God himself.
A look at the Catechism section on the Eucharist should increase our knowledge and love of the Mass; and it may also help those who have difficulty understanding "transubstantiation" (CCC1376).
We know the commandments in their broad outline. What about the commandments of the Church? Attendances at Mass indicate an appalling ignorance of the Third Commandment of God and the Commandment of the Church, that is, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays.
Key questions are answered: Is abortion sometimes justifiable? Do we know the true meaning of compassion, compassion - to suffer with - not to relieve people's suffering by offering them means to end their lives. Are there times when it is legitimate to discontinue medical procedures? (CCC2278).
Can we make a distinction between a person who may have a tendency towards homosexuality and the impure acts which a person is free to commit or reject?
The Prayer section of the Catechism is a treasury of devotion. It explains the different kinds of prayer and deals with difficulties such as distractions. It contains a section entitled: "Why do we complain of not being heard?" (CCC 2735-7). The commentary on the Our Father is a wonderful source of meditation.
We have been privileged to possess the truth. We have to live this truth. It is not sufficient for us to live out our Christian vocation; we need to be able to explain our Faith when it is under attack by unbelievers. And in order to evangelise, we must ourselves be informed and articulate Catholics.