Article 42 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
As a child I lived a relatively sheltered life and yet, probably like you, before I reached the age of five I was introduced to a young Jewish woman and her parents. The young woman’s name was Mary and her parents were Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus. This was the context in which I was first introduced to Jesus. It was also the context in which God visited his people, fulfilling “the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants,” yet acting “far beyond all expectation” by sending “his own beloved Son” (ccc 422).
Paragraph 423 of the Catechism goes on to explain that in addition to famous persons, saints being introduced to young Catholic children when recounting our Savior’s birth, there are also places like Bethlehem and politicians like Herod the Great, Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, and Pontius Pilate referenced in the tender story of Jesus’ birth. Jesus is described as coming in the flesh: “For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (Jn 1:1). Sacred Scripture continues by saying, “he came from the Father full of grace and truth … and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (Jn 1:14, 16).
By saying “we have all received, grace upon grace,” (1:16) is a way of saying that through the generosity of Christ we have received an infinite amount of God’s grace or blessing. The Catechism reminds us that it is “on the rock of this (fullness of truth) or faith confessed by St. Peter, that Christ built his Church” (ccc 424).
Transformed by God’s grace, we are able to confess with St. Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
At the core of our precious Catholic faith is not an abstract idea or principle or even a creed but a Person. The Catechism says, “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father. . .who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever” (ccc 426). Similarly, in his first Encyclical “Deus caritas est” in 2005, Pope Benedict stated: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (paragraph 1).
The Church’s catechesis or instruction seeks to place “people … in communion … with Jesus Christ” (ccc 426). Not only is everything in Catholic teaching taught “with reference to Christ” (ccc 427) but, the Catechism reminds us that, “it is Christ alone who teaches — anyone else teaches to the extent that he or she is Christ’s spokesperson, enabling Christ to teach with his or her lips …” (ccc 427).
The final paragraphs in this section of the Catechism insist that in order to be a credible teacher or catechist in the Catholic faith one must first experience the total life of Christ including the cross. “Whoever is called to teach Christ must first seek the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus; must suffer the loss of all things … in order to gain Christ and be found in him” (ccc 428). Quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the Catechism explains that “to know him and the power of his resurrection,” we must first “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:8-11).
Paragraph 429 further explains that those who have a “loving knowledge of Christ” with all the details of the Christian life, often feel compelled “to evangelize, and to lead others to the ‘yes’ of faith in Jesus Christ” (ccc 429). At the same time, what springs up within most every believer is “the need to know this faith better” (ccc 429) and to seek always a deeper and more profound relationship with our Savior.
Imagine walking into the home of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. No one would think of saying of Mary those words which some often utter today in disdain, “oh, just a housewife!” Nor would anyone dare to say of St. Joseph the equally disdainful words, “oh, he works with his hands!” Why not? Because here in the midst of this home was Jesus Christ, helping his mother Mary with the household tasks, and working with his divine hands to help his foster-father, St. Joseph.
Here is the Lord of heaven and earth, showing us goodness, modesty, humility, hardworking endurance, and a beautiful simplicity — all the opposite of modern sophistication and pretense.
May your family be such a family! If you are a father, be a good one; set good example to those committed to your care and be a spiritual leader in your family. If you are a mother, let your family’s spiritual and temporal welfare be your first and chief concern. If you are a child, be a child as Jesus was. Make the Holy Family your ideal.
Above all, make Jesus, the boy who came at Christmas, the very center of your family life. Do this, and every member of your family will be blessed with the happiness of the Holy Family.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities