We begin now an ambitious journey to see if it is possible to explain the Catholic faith in terms that resonate for people who tend to process life autistically. "Life"? Yes. This is, for all our purposes, a guidebook on the meaning of life, as revealed to the first Christians, and as conveyed by theological scholars throughout the centuries. It is simultaneously old and new. It is not any revision or update of the teachings of the Catholic Church, but more of a reflection and discussion of how these precepts are revealed in our daily doings and applicable our eternal existence. Not too ambitious there.
A few notes at the outset. First, this project uses the Baltimore Catechism as its foundation. The Baltimore Catechism is in the public domain and will not be explicitly copied, but rather, referred to, repeatedly, as the basis for discussion. Second, this is not meant to replace any of the existing Catechisms recognized and endorsed by the Catholic Bishops. It is intended exactly as its working title says: a set of notes (an annotation) on the existing Catechism, as one with autism might think about and understand each concept presented in the original. Third, the tag "for autistic thinking" seems the best way to communicate that this is suitable for a wider audience than simply those with an autism diagnosis. In presenting commentary in an autistically-minded fashion, it is readable by, and of interest to, potentially anyone.
What is a "catechism," anyway? It is a comprehensive collection of views and principles, often presented in question-and-answer format, as we did here. A catechism is rather like a wiki or FAQ that has been compiled, tested, revised, refined and certified by scholars as doctrinally accurate. Catechisms exist both as teaching tools and reference books.
The Baltimore Catechism is a reference originally published in 1885 and is based on the Small Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine. Its intention was to be a textbook on Catholic doctrine for North American schoolchildren. Our choice to start here rests mainly on its availability in the public domain, but also accounts for its integrity as a solid doctrinal resource and its simplicity in format. This was once the gold standard for religious instruction in schools, and generally speaking, we want something that is presented at a level anyone can understand. We do not expect most readers to have, or pursue, degrees in theology, and indeed, no-one should have to go to that extent to gain a working understanding of the Catholic faith.
One more question: What about our readers who are not Catholic? We have often said that our readers do not need to be Catholic in order to benefit from this Mission. We still, boldly, believe that to be true. This will not read like a history course, nor will it read like religious indoctrination. The impression we aim for is "This is what the Catholic worldview looks like." If the word "Catholic" is a sticking point, we propose thinking of it as a travelogue to someplace you have never been, or have visited without knowing a great deal about the history or culture of the place. Underline this enough times that it remains front and center: We are a Mission to end spiritual starvation. Nowhere does it say in our Mission Statement or Objectives that we are out to convince people to become Catholic. We are not about numbers. We are not sponsored by anyone, nor are we yet incorporated. We make no profit. We sell no products. We have no hidden agenda or ulterior motives. What you read is what we do. We unabashedly do all this in a Catholic mindset, finding great inspiration in the Word of God and the examples of the saints... and, if our readers find themselves nodding in agreement, then, that counts as one more thing we have in common within our humanity.
We look forward to getting started next week!
Pray: God, we ask your favor and blessing on this project, that our words may be windows of understanding between our hearts and Your ways, that we may draw closer in love and trust by experiencing You more fully. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.
Contemplate: “As we relate to others, so we relate to God” has been our recent focus here. Does the inverse apply? Is it the case that, in the same manner we relate to God, we generally relate to others? We can only know this, and test this, if we know God. May this Annotated Catechism be a step toward better knowing God.
Relate: How often we think that our relationships might be easier if we, or someone we know, came with a manual! As often as we have had that wish, so too might God wish we could understand Him! May our study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church become like a manual for better knowing and recognizing God.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak