“Pssst… Hey kid, c’ mere. Wanna hear a secret?”
This greeting should send chills down the spine of any parent, right? Under normal circumstances I’d agree, but what if it involved… say, a little time travel? And instead of a complete stranger, it was middle-aged me approaching a gawky, 12-year-old, pimply-faced version of myself?
You’re thinking I’ve been sampling the legalized weed that is regrettably ubiquitous in my home state of Colorado.
In truth, I occasionally like to reimagine what my life might look like if I could have a heart-to-heart with that 12-year-old kid I used to be. What if I could share with her all that I’ve learned about the beauty and genius of the Catholic Church? What if I could shake her and tell her to take a plunge into the depth of her faith?
I consider myself blessed to be finally gaining some fluency, but growing up in a time of great confusion in the Church (post-Vatican II, 1970’s and 80’s) I often think, “Why didn’t I ever learn this when I was a kid?!” I suspect many of us cradle Catholics have wondered this. It’s like we got the most watered-down, milquetoast version of the faith possible. Want to know about Christ’s glorious resurrection? Meditate on this butterfly while listening to some classic Cat Stevens.
What would my spiritual trajectory look like had I been properly catechized during my countless years of Catholic schooling? Would it have helped me to avoid some of the pain or hardship along the way? I know it’s not healthy or even possible to sanitize anyone’s life from suffering, but I do sometimes wish I could enlighten that uninformed, somewhat lost girl I used to be. What if I could pass on to her all that I know now?
Since time travel is not a possibility yet, I’ll settle for working out my angst in this essay. Maybe your inner little Johnny or Janie would appreciate a refresher course too. Well, lean in, kid. Pssst! You wanna hear a secret?
LESSONS I WISH I COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO TELL MY YOUNG SELF ABOUT THE FAITH
If only I had been introduced to these amazing martyrs and saints years ago. Patristics is the study of the early Christian leaders who were willing to die for the truths and traditions they had been given. We have actual letters written by the Apostolic Fathers who were taught by the Apostles. And guess what? They sound awfully Catholic. These guys are talking about the Eucharist and the hierarchy of the church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! And it all begins within decades after Christ’s death. If you haven’t met these guys, get to know them now. You can start by reading St. Ignatius of Antioch’s epistles. I also recommend the book, “The Four Witnesses” which covers Ignatius, Clement, Justin Martyr, and Iraneous. But there are a whole lot more names that somehow were left out of my whole religious education. Reading about their lives and hearing their actual words strengthens our unbreakable link back to Jesus and His teachings. Blessed John Henry Newman famously said, “to be deep in history is to cease being Protestant.” I had never even heard of “Patristics” until I had a good number of gray hairs. My loss is your gain, kid.
2. READ THE BALTIMORE CATECHISM
How tragic that this teaching was seen as outdated during my formative years. Lucky for you, it’s back. Loaded with helpful information on the very basics of Christianity, it answers questions like, “Who is God? Why did He make us? And what must we do to gain happiness with Him in Heaven?” I remember coming across this in my late 30’s. It blew my mind. Existential thoughts which I had grappled with for decades were addressed in straightforward black and white, with illustrations and scriptural references and it’s written for kids! Some things should never go out of style.
3. THERE’S A WHOLE LOT MORE GOING ON IN THE MASS THAN YOU THINK
As a kid like you, I went to Mass every Sunday and Holy day. Snooze-ville! My parents, both faithful Catholics, impressed upon me that we HAD to go. For that, I am eternally grateful. But it might not have been such a fight had I known a bit more about the amazing things that are taking place. I’m still no theologian, but learning the following was a game-changer. Listen up, young’ uns! At Mass, we are standing at the foot of the Cross. We are mystically there with Mary and His beloved, John. Through God, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is made present to us at that moment. We become active participants in the Last Supper and the One True Sacrifice in the Eucharist. We are NOT RE-sacrificing Christ as some Protestants mistakenly believe. God exists out of the constraints of chronological time and we get to take part in that one perfect sacrifice to the Father. Read up on this more and always be ready to share it with others.
4. THE ROSARY IS MORE THAN A REARVIEW MIRROR DECORATION.
Start praying the rosary—yesterday! In my day, it was only for grannies. A real shame because it has turned out to be the most powerful spiritual tools in my arsenal. It’s a great way to meditate on scripture and to enter into a prayerful mindset. Our Blessed Mother reminds us to slow down and she gently, lovingly points us to Christ. I credit the rosary and Our Lady for my reversion. She gently led me to her Son by a string of “decorative” beads. Find the one you got for your 1st communion and start using it. Some of the greatest saints were enriched with graces through praying the rosary. Over the years, you’ll accumulate all sorts of rosaries. Strategically place them in all your coat pockets and purses, so every time you go out you have one with you. Just holding one tightly can help fight evil.
5. CONFIRMATION ISN’T YOUR CATHOLIC GRADUATION
This is big, kiddo. Being formed in the faith never stops. We must continue to grow in our Christianity. The notion that once you are confirmed, you’ve earned your Catholic diploma is wrong. The fire of the holy spirit within you since baptism gets a little gasoline thrown on it, but it does not mean finit & sayanora. That thinking will turn you into spiritual toast. I understood my Confirmation to be a rite of passage into adulthood. NOPE! Confirmation is like a personal Pentecost that gives you the power to go out and proclaim the Gospel. It’s not an end, but a PIVOTAL beginning in your Christian life. You’re going to need those graces for the rest of your mission on Earth.
6. FAITH & REASON GO TOGETHER LIKE PB & J
Be prepared. When you get to college, people will start mocking your lame-O Christianity. Don’t fall for it! Catholicism is not blind faith. The Church recognizes that God gave us an incredible brain for a purpose, so we must use it. Science is not at odds with faith. In fact, some of the greatest scientific minds were Catholic priests. The more we learn about the inner workings of our world, the closer we become to our Creator. Science informs us of the material, natural world, but faith opens our minds to the supernatural. Living in the truth means asking lots of questions. Through faith, we come to better understand our deepest longings and the inner workings of our soul. Get to know St. Thomas Aquinas. He will be your ally through your university years.
7. RESPECTFULLY STAND UP FOR YOUR FAITH
This is called apologetics. Don’t mistake this for saying sorry. You’ll probably have to do that too since the Church is a Divine institution comprised of fallen humans. If we are to engage with the world as the Gospel tells us, we must be able to discuss and defend what we believe. Venerable Fulton Sheen wisely stated, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Find out more about Fulton Sheen! His videos and talks are no-nonsense, spiritual guidance. Don’t allow yourself to be painted as an atheist’s or Protestant’s caricature of a Catholic. Know what the Church teaching is. Find out what other religions say about us. I love watching EWTN’s “The Journey Home.” Want to know more about what Jehovah Witnesses think of Catholics. Google The Journey Home Jehovah Witness. Watch the youtube video and gain some useful insight. Praying for courage helps too.
8. STUDY BIBLICAL TYPOLOGY
Once you learn about typology, the Bible suddenly isn’t so boring! I never understood much of the Old Testament. It seemed to have very little bearing on my life. But when I began to see everything pointing to Christ, I felt like a holy archaeologist on a mission. I began to search for deeper meaning in my life in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. I feel pretty cheated that I got none of this growing up. The whole Bible can be read as a comprehensive story of salvation history. According to the Catholic Catechism:
Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New (CCC 129)
Jeff Cavins is a master at making the Bible come to life in light of typology. I’ve heard great things about “The Great Adventure Bible,” in which he helps guide the reader through the whole biblical narrative. (If my husband is reading this. It would make a great gift!) Now there are no excuses for stashing your bible on a shelf and forgetting about it. Open it. Read it. OFTEN.
9. BARE YOUR SOUL IN CONFESSION REGULARLY
I must have been absent the day they taught about encountering God’s limitless mercy in confession. Interfacing with his love and forgiveness is literally life-altering. Unfortunately, I discovered this after a lot of missteps. I had mistakenly thought it was a nice thing to do, but not really necessary. A real shame! The sacrament of confession could have helped me course correct numerous times throughout my life. To my memory, not a single teacher or priest from my youth ever suggested frequent confession, which may explain some of the spiritual sickness that resulted. Hello, church scandals! I still don’t love confession, but I love how I feel when I’m done. It’s a lot like exercise. Speaking of exercise, here’s a great examination of conscience that will help. Find a good parish or priest that is faithful to the magisterium and GO.
These are reminders meant to help you engage in your faith, you lil’ theological whippersnapper. Now put down the Atari joystick and do something productive. By the way, when the trend for perming your hair comes along, resist. Or at least wait until after your braces are off. You’re welcome!
*Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash