The Catechism: The rest of the story the Bible tells

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Dr. Sean Innerst is an assistant professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and teaches classes for the Denver Catholic Catechetical School.

We are all too familiar with the phrase from the very first lines of Book One of St. Augustine’s Confessions, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” That line about our restless hearts, along with the famous tolle lege incident in Book Eight, are among the most well-known parts of Augustine’s famous work. Tolle lege refers to the moment when Augustine received a divine inspiration to “take and read” the Bible and was thereby converted to the Catholic faith. In that moment Augustine received a grace which filled his heart and gave him a brief taste of the rest for which he longed.

While many know about the theme of the restless heart in Augustine’s Confessions, few are aware that the common human search for rest is also the central theme in his manual on teaching the faith, written a few years after the Confessions, called in its most recent translation, Instructing Beginners in Faith (New City Press, 2006). In response to a request on how to catechize newcomers to the Church from a deacon in Carthage in North Africa, Augustine presents advice on both the content and methodology of this form of evangelizing catechesis.

In the sample lesson he provides to Deacon Deogratias, Augustine makes the desire for rest the central concern of the fictional inquirer that he describes to Deogratias. “Let us … assume that, when asked whether it is for some advantage in the present life that he wishes to become a Christian or because of the rest that he hopes to gain after this life, he replies that it is because of the rest to come.”

In the catechetical address he then offers to this supposed faith-seeker, Augustine uses the theme of rest in a unique way. He says that the very rest that our hearts seek is that same “rest that is meant by scripture when it expressly mentions that, from the beginning of the world when God made heaven and earth and everything that is in them, he worked for six days and on the seventh day he rested” and that it is also the same rest “which is promised to the saints in the world to come.” That is, the restlessness of our hearts is, so to speak, tuned to the key of the whole universe, from its first creation to its ultimate culmination.

And then he offers to his restless hearer a stunning promise. Because he has set his sights on the rest provided by God and sought entry into the Church, Augustine says, “It will be for you to taste its sweetness and delight even here.” To achieve this “sweetness and delight,” “the person who longs for true rest and true happiness must take his hope away from perishable and transitory things and place it in the word of the Lord, so that, by holding fast to that which remains forever, he together with it may also remain forever.”

In what follows, Augustine tells in very brief form the whole of the biblical story, from the creation of Adam and Eve to the early history of the Church as told in the Acts of the Apostles, all the while helping his student to see that the story the Bible tells is intimately related to the movements of his own heart.

But Augustine also makes clear that the biblical history he recounts for his hearer is the pre-history of the Church. As he says, “Indeed, everything that we read in the holy scriptures that was written before the coming of the Lord was written for the sole purpose of drawing attention to his coming and of prefiguring the future Church.” And he makes clear that in this present time, between the rest that God observed at the end of creation and the rest that He will eventually enjoy in His saints in heaven, “true rest and true happiness” is found only in the Church and through what he calls her “sacramenta,” the Latin word he uses to describe the sacred signs through which we gain Church entry and a real connection with the story the Bible tells.

It’s not surprising that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been constructed upon the same pattern of catechesis presented by this very influential Father of the Church, which is, in turn, the biblical pattern as well. What it presents is an appeal, an invitation to restless hearts, recognizing as it does that “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” and that only “in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC No. 27).

The whole structure of the Catechism presupposes that the only way to enter the rest God promises to his chosen people in the Bible is to respond to that scriptural Revelation with faith, a faith which is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed. I often tell my students in the “Ladder of Ascent” program that we offer here in the Archdiocese of Denver Catechetical School that, especially in the Holy Mass, but also in that “liturgy of life” which is the Christian living of the Beatitudes, the words of the Scripture come to life, climb off the page and move around in the room! While it is true that the popularity of Bible study in the Church today is a real sign of hope, the only way to actually enter the story the Bible tells, is to study the Catechism and to embrace the life of faith in the Church that it describes and which the Bible promises.

In order for the promise of this new Catholic interest in the Bible to be realized, we must do more than just read about that promised rest, we must live in full the Church’s faith that alone makes it attainable. In the spirit of Augustine the catechist, let me suggest that you not just “take and read’ the Bible, but also take up and read your Catechism. For as we are told in chapter four of the Book of Hebrews as regards the urgency of observing Christian life in the Church, “while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it….Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Heb 4:1, 11).

To register for Biblical and/or Catechetical School classes, visit sjvlaydivision.org.

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Seminary Lay Division launches new website and scholarship fund

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Whether you’re at the start of your first full-time job, at the top of your career or recently retired, taking some time during the week to dive deeper into your Catholic faith just keeps getting easier in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Exciting things are happening at the Denver Catholic Biblical and Catechetical Schools. With the formal creation of the St. John Paul II Scholarship Fund and the relaunch of the upgraded website that presents the in-and-outs of the program and now offers a faculty blog, any lay person in the archdiocese can see that it is possible to obtain great Biblical and catechetical formation from quality instructors.

The first reason to do it? “We cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot give what we do not have,” as Dr. Nicholas Lebish, Director of the St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division and teacher for the Biblical School, said. “These are two very common expressions, but they’re very true in our faith. We’re called to follow Christ, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and our own testimonies. So, when people enroll in our programs, they are learning and loving their faith in order to share it.”

Moreover, the four-year Biblical program and the two-year Catechetical School under the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary offer a wide variety of locations and times for classes, which are once a week and two hours long.

If money is a concern, there is financial aid available. Through the new St. John Paul II Scholarship Fund, the Biblical and Catechetical Schools will continue to donate around $150,000 in financial assistance to approximately half of their student population. Scholarships are awarded not only on basis of need, but also in forms of discounts to employees of the archdiocese or Catholic schools, seniors, veterans, active military and first responders.

“In continuity with the archdiocese’s evangelization efforts through the launching of the More Than You Realize initiative, we decided to formally create the scholarship fund after St. John Paul II,” Dr. Lebish said. The archdiocesan initiative, like the Biblical and Catechetical Schools, seeks to help Catholics follow their calling to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, impacting not only parish communities but also society.

Adding to the communal aspect of the programs, in which students have a few minutes of prayer time and discussion in small groups at the beginning of class, the new website now offers “The Scribe,” a new weekly blog written by faculty that finds its roots in an old print letter that was published by the Biblical School many years ago and carried the same name.

“Every week we’ll have a new short article from different members of our faculty. It’s a nice way for our students or non-students to get to know the faculty, as we talk about all things Catholic in the lay division, related to Biblical and catechetical topics, Church history, apologetics, etc.,” Dr. Lebish explained.

If you still have doubts about enrolling, check out the new website, which, other than explaining clearly the mission and structure of the seminary lay division, now offers video testimonials of alumni, attesting to the great fruits that come from diving deep into the Catholic faith through these programs.

“We hear all kinds of testimonies, but one very important thing we see over and over again is people falling in love with Jesus Christ and his Church — people convert, they encounter Jesus and they fall in love with him and his Church,” Dr. Lebish concluded.

To donate to the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Fund visit sjvlaydivision.org/donate.

For more information visit sjvlaydivision.org