Following the User's Manual: The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Bishop Robert Vasa's picture

What is our focus, as a diocese?  And how do you see your role?               

In response to questions posed by a student journalist at Cardinal Newman High School, I began a dialogue to address a vision of what this Diocese can become.  In coming weeks I hope to share some of these thoughts with readers, as a context for our future and our direction.

The global Church is the primary instrument for the promotion of the message and teachings of Christ.  As such, Catholics are called to believe that the message of Jesus is truly “good news” in every sense – good for humankind, both spiritually and temporally.   As bishop, I can speak from confidence and strength in ensuring that those Catholic teachings are taught and consistently presented throughout the entire diocese.

To that end, I seek to employ a strong catechetical model -- one that starts with getting to know the faith.  One of my favorite books is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Through the years I have gone through it several times, and each time I highlight different aspects,  different quotes.   Sometimes I scribble in the margins, as different things strike me at different times.  In my view, it is critical for our Catholic faith to remain in tune and in touch with this particular book which is fully consistent with the Scriptures, fully consistent with the Church traditions, fully consistent with Church practice with respect to the liturgy.

The role of the bishop is to be the conservator and the promoter of that faith.  So, my entire focus is to make sure that all the institutions that have some relationship with me, are as fully as possible consistent with this book and with what the Church herself teaches.  This is not because I am a “rigorist,” although I do not reject that claim.   The reality is that I believe this book contains a truth which is good for humankind, and is consistent with who we are as people and creatures of God.  It would be a disservice to water this faith down in any way, out of fear that someone might not really understand or appreciate it. 

Of course, I recognize that there are common misunderstandings and disagreements about our faith;  that only reinforces the need for me to teach clearly and consistently what is in this book, and not to evade it. There should be a headline in the newspaper that says "The Good News is really good!" But we have a mentality that the Good News is really bad -- something to be tolerated, endured; a burden and necessary evil. We have it backwards!  God our Father loves us. He created us and he knows what is really good for us, and has given us the Church to tell us what is good for us.  We do ourselves the greatest harm if we avoid or ignore what he has promoted for us.

As an analogy:  You could read the owner’s manual for the car you drive. You may think you have a better idea than the owner's manual, which says put 10W-30 oil in the crankcase. You may think “I have some leftover antifreeze. I think I should put antifreeze in the crankcase. It's liquid and it feels kid of slimy so it will surely work.” You can believe that all you want, but if you put antifreeze in the crankcase you won’t get ten miles down the road, because it is bad for the car.  But the manufacturer told you what is really good for the car!  So, this book tells us what the manufacturer says.  Humanity: What is good for you? Well, we may all have different ideas -- but what works is looking to God, our Creator, to see what his instruction manual says. 

The instruction manual is the Ten Commandments, and the life and teachings of Jesus.  Why can't we just simply say “Let's try to understand what Jesus really taught,” instead of gathering all our good ideas and taking a poll to see who thinks which is better, antifreeze or oil? We may prefer voting on it – but that doesn’t change the reality that the Creator’s recommendation is most likely what’s best. So my first goal is to teach, and to make sure that the institutions, parishes, schools, and  particularly the priests and the catechists, are consistently teaching and promoting that which the Church authentically proclaims.