I rarely go a day without reading or referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in late 1995. And of the many wonderful passages and quotations contained therein, my favorite paragaph remains the opening paragraph, which I think expresses the essential core of the Christian Faith as well as anything I've ever read of similar length outside of Scripture:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
Many years ago (in 1998, if I remember correctly), not long after I entered the Church, I wrote a short piece about this paragraph; here it is, from deep in the vaults:
"Sola Gratia, Sola Christo" by Carl E. Olson
If asked to provide one paragraph explaining what the Catholic Faith is about, it would be hard to do better than the opening paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It offers a concise summary of what Catholics believe and lays the groundwork for the more involved details and nuances of the Faith. Here, broken into six phrases––each followed by brief commentary––is the first paragraph of the Catechism:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself,
There is but one God and he is complete and holy in and of himself. Jews, Muslims and Christians believe that God is One; all other major religions are pantheistic (everything is God), polytheistic (there are many gods), or atheistic (there is no God). Monotheists also believe that God is Other and He needs no other. Christians believe that God is Trinity: one nature and three persons, the greatest mystery of the Christian Faith. Modern man often tries to bring God to his level, seeking to stuff him into a box the size of our limited conceptions or disordered desires. Such attempts are futile, but the most amazing fact is that God, who we so often ignore and try to minimize, loves us and desires a relationship with us.
in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.
This should be startling––shocking––to us. God created us out of the overflow of his Divine Love, that eternal and blinding exchange of self-giving between the three Persons of the Trinity. Creation is the expression of God’s nature (love) and the evidence of God’s goodness. All that is, is good. Evil is not a thing, but the absence of a good. That is why Catholics, more than some other Christians, revel in the beauty and wonder of creation. But while creation provides evidence of God’s existence, it does not emphatically prove it, for the Lover does not force himself on the beloved, but beckons us, always respecting our free will.
For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.
God is a Lover; he is the one who initiates the relationship. He calls, he asks, he offers––but he never forces himself on us. The heart of love is freely deciding to give of oneself, as Jesus Christ states in all four Gospels: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.”
He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church.
There are many important truths implicit in this sentence. Mankind was originally a single family, with a common father named Adam. When Adam sinned, all of mankind fell with him from a life-giving relationship with God. At the Tower of Babel humanity attempted to reach God by their natural, futile efforts; God “confused their language” and scattered them throughout the earth. But God already had a plan for man’s salvation, involving a newly unified family bound together by supernatural life. This family is the Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, which is the “household of God” and “the pillar and support of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior.
This is the second great mystery of the Christian Faith: the Incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Divine Word, became man and entered into time and space. As T.S. Eliot wrote, the Incarnation was “[a] moment in time but time was made through that moment: for without the meaning there is not time, and that moment of time gave the meaning.” Jesus Christ is “the center of the universe and of history” stated Pope John Paul II in Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man), and so Christ should be the center of our lives––he is the exclusive Redeemer and Savior of humanity.
In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
Christ is also the sole mediator between God and man. Through the sacrament of baptism, by water and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are “born again” (Jn. 3), made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) and become true children of God (1 Jn. 3:1). By grace we become sons in the One who is Son by nature, the same one who guides us through his Church and nourishes us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
The Catholic Faith is sola gratia, sola Christo: grace alone, Christ alone. Amen.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
• The Catechism: Proclamation and Pedagogy | The Preface to The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis | Petroc Willey, Ph.D., S.T.L., Pierre de Cointet, and Barbara Morgan
• Theosis: The Reason for the Season | Carl E. Olson
• Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
• The Dignity of the Human Person: Pope John Paul II's Teaching on Divinization in the Trinitarian Encyclicals | Carl E. Olson
• The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, O.P.
• Jean Daniélou and the "Master-Key to Christian Theology" | Carl E. Olson