Catechism of the Catholic Church

Our Excuses for the Boston Bombings

Boston bombing suspects If all of America can agree on one thing, it is that the Boston bombing was a deeply evil act. And if all of America could agree on the one question that needs answering from those responsible for these depraved acts, it is, "Why?"I sat around a dinner table recently with a bunch of Catholic friends and the Boston bombings came up in conversation. There was unanimous agreement; no one could understand how any human person could commit such a large scale and hideously evil act. "How could anyone do such a thing?"

Behind the frantic search by media outlets for any revealing details from the pasts of the two main suspects - anything that would pull back the debris and find a motive - there exists the natural response to intense evil: confusion.

As I watched online live coverage of the manhunt coming from one of Boston's local news stations, I heard the news anchors interviewing one of Dzokhar's high school classmates.

She describes her shock and horror upon finding out Dzokhar is suspected to be guilty of the Boston marathon bombings. After seeing his photo on television she scours her old yearbook to make sure its really him. She remembers Dzhokhar as a normal high school guy.

At the end of the interview the news anchor asks, "But was there anything different or odd about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that you noticed back then?" He's almost pleading with her.

"No, he was a normal kid like any other high school teenager."

Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing more difficult than understanding him.


After hearing that interview, for some reason I was disturbed. So much so that I wrote this article. I couldn't shake the feeling that we are all grasping for an excuse.

Certainly we do not want to excuse the guilty. No one is looking for an excuse that would save killers from just punishment.

I get the feeling we are looking to excuse ourselves.

In the smokey confusion that follows the presence of large-scale evil, we naturally look for a way to distance ourselves from the capacity to commit such acts. We look for a way to  excuse ourselves from the one thing we do share with all those who have ever carried out evil acts - the capacity to commit those acts.

Maybe I'm the only one willing to admit the question that sometimes flashes in the mind when using a large knife, or holding a gun, or driving a vehicle. It is a question I'm sure is intensified by exposure to horror movies, graphic video games, and television shows. But the question is present regardless of our exposure to graphic acts of violence, crimes against humanity, and evil.

Do I have the capacity within me to commit a gravely evil act?

Once the smoke settles on an event like this, there are immediate lines drawn between "them" and "us", "good people" and "bad people", the "stable" and the "unstable". And you will hear the phrase "I just can't imagine..." over and over again. "I could never do such a thing. I couldn't imagine doing anything like that."

But is this the correct Catholic response?


Leaving Divine Revelation aside for a minute, we could turn to science and ask the question "Are normal, ordinary people capable of intensely grave evil acts?"

I don't need to retell the stories of the Milgram Experiment, or the Stanford Prison Experiment, or the Abu Ghraib torturing; you can read about those yourself. All of them though, seem to prove that normal people, mentally healthy and ordinary folk, have a capacity for evil acts such as torture and killing. In all of these instances normal people were placed in situations that resulted in them committing or at least believing they were committing extremely evil acts.

Classically divided, the question of "Why do people behave a certain way?" could be separated into two categories. For us, we could be tempted to excuse the capacity for evil as either an innate personal characteristic, or the result of traumatic personal experiences and environment. Nature versus nurture.


Some might be tempted to suggest that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev must have some sort of inbred flaw that allows them to commit heinous acts of violence without any empathy towards others. They might suggest a mental illness and chalk it up to simply being psychopaths.

Others might be more sympathetic and guess about the upbringing and environment the brothers were exposed to. Maybe they had abusive parents. Maybe there is some history of childhood trauma. Maybe they were under the influence of narcotics. Maybe time spent in Russia made them somehow capable of evil. And of course people will point to Islam Extremist influences that glorify "martyrs" and violence to further their cause.


The banality of evil is displayed in the details of the bombing. Maybe Dzokhar didn't see the 8-year-old boy nearby when he laid down his back pack filled with high powered explosives, nails, and other shrapnel. Maybe he did. If he did, maybe he has a mental condition that leaves him unable to feel empathy. Maybe he has been conditioned by years of hate and trauma.

Or maybe he is just a normal guy who decided to commit an evil act for various reasons, none of which imprisoned his free will or forced him to do anything.

Notice exactly what I am and am not saying. I am not saying that psychology only excuses evil and sheds no profitable light on what makes an otherwise normal person commit evil acts. But I am also not saying that we should chalk evil acts such as these up entirely to outside forces, internal disorders, or religious provocation.

Do we ever stop and wonder if any murderer who has ever uttered the phrase really spoke the truth when he said "I don't know why I did it." That a man could have no psychological or personal motivations for committing an evil act other than the desire to commit it?

Psychology might be able to provide some insight into the circumstantial ingredients for a mass murderer, but even psychologists will tell you that psychology is not meant to explain away culpability.

And we certainly, as Catholics, shouldn't be surprised by man's capacity for evil. Nor should we try to distance ourselves from "them" who are capable of evil.

"Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile." (CCC 386)

In 1907 the Times of London asked a handful of acclaimed philosophers and writers to share their thoughts on the question: "What's Wrong with the World?". A  poignant response came in the form of a characteristically terse letter:

Dear Sir:

Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am.

Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton

We should not be surprised that man has a capacity for extremely evil acts. And we should never forget this. When you hear people confused and wondering how anyone could blow up strangers and shoot a cop in cold blood, don't be tempted to excuse the capacity for evil away.

"Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God's plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another." (CCC 387)

These are not just evil acts. This is sin. And sin implies a nuanced understanding of man. Sin implies free will. If Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were truly free in choosing to sin against God and commit such violence, and I also posses free will, then I am also capable of committing gravely mortal sins.

As odd as it sounds, when we buy into the disbelief of man's capacity for evil, we are only feeding a nihilistic worldview that sees man as merely a sum total of his given genetic qualities plus his circumstances.

This is not the Catholic worldview. And when this worldview is drawn out to its conclusion, the bombings shouldn't be a surprise at all. Viktor Frankl knew this well:

"If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instinct, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere product of heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment - or, as the Nazis liked to say, "of blood and soil."

I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Trblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers."

Fulton Sheen once during the opening of a speech he gave at a National Prayer Breakfast meeting looked at the President of the United States, pointed, and said "Mr. President, you are a sinner."

He then proceeded to point to himself and say "I am a sinner. We are all sinners."

Do not forget that the greatest moral evil ever committed - the murder of God's only son, caused by the sins of all men - was carried out by masses of ordinary, average people. And the sins that caused this death have our names on them.

When faced with the sobering reality of man's capacity for evil, we mustn't turn away ashamed and detached. Certainly this is not Christ's response to our evil. We must recognize it as an event calling us to greater reliance on God's grace to become who we were created to be, which is a perilous and fragile journey.

Sin is an offense against God, and it is an offense against who we are created to be. This is different than calling it merely an evil act. Sin exists because we posses free will, and can freely choose evil instead of good. I can freely choose evil. Intense and grave evil.

G.K. Chesterton once pointed out that "[t]here are many, many angles at which one can fall but only one angle at which one can stand straight."

And when you hear of Boston Bombings and evil committed by men, pray for the souls of those guilty, pray for the victims, and pray for God's grace.

"There but for the grace of God, go I."

[Video] Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church I came across this fantastic intro to the Catechism created by the Diocese of Birmingham Catechetical Institute. David Anders (Ph.D, Church History) provides some revealing insights into the origins and structure of the Catechism, with some very practical tips on how to use it and pray with it.


How to Proclaim and Defend the Entire Catholic Faith

Catechism 5 Ways

"...this book can be transformed from a silent instrument, like a valuable violin resting on a velvet cloth, into an instrument that sounds and rouses hearts." Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa 1st Advent Sermon to the Papal Household

So maybe you're one of those Catholics hipsters - hip young adult devoutly committed to Orthodoxy, sworn ally to the Pope, defender of Mother Church, reader of Chesterton and Percy, drinker of beer and wielder of apologetics.

Maybe you're not.

Either way, if you want to help spread the love of Christ, and fulfill Christ's not-so-optional Great Commission for all disciples (yes you too) then you have to spread the faith.

What faith?

          What parts of the faith?

                    THE ENTIRE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Yes that's right. And I mean Catholic as in the deposit of faith as guarded and upheld by the Catholic Church in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium.Right now there is a vast misunderstanding in our society, and even among some well-intentioned or self-professed Catholics, about what the Church actually teaches.

"Someone, somewhere in the Church founded by Christ must be in a position to tell the faithful, "this is true, and that is false;" or "this is morally good, and that is morally bad." Otherwise, the very existence of Christianity is in danger and the survival of the Catholic Church in any given country or locality is in jeopardy.

In many dioceses of America, attendance at Sunday Mass is down to some twenty-five percent of the professed Catholics in a diocese. Some Church officials are scrambling for a solution and recommending the most bizarre solutions. It never seems to dawn on these "experts" that the heart of the problem is the massive uncertainty in millions of Catholic minds about what is unchangeable doctrine in faith and moral principles." Fr. John Hardon

If you are striving to be a Catholic and defend the faith, then you must speak from the heart of the Church. You must be in a confident ability to charitably inform, or even sometimes correct, misunderstandings about the Catholic faith.

I mean the entire faith because the Catholic faith is not one long dainty necklace with doctrines and dogmas and pretty beliefs hanging separately and disjointed from one another.No, the faith is always entire and whole because the faith is unified and organic.

Our faith is more like a wheel. The center of the wheel being Christ, and the doctrines and beliefs being the spokes all in relation and connected to Christ - "the love that never ends".

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. Catechism Paragraph 25

Hold the whining. Its not as hard as you would imagine.

"We now have a one-volume reservoir of Catholic truth and practice for everyone who wants to bring others to Christ, if they are not yet Christians; to solidify the faith of those who have been baptized; to defend Roman Catholicism in a world in which the Church has been abandoned by so many once-believing Catholics and is being betrayed even by some of her ecclesiastical leaders." Fr. John Hardon

That's right my beloved Papists, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism is our one-stop shop for evangelization.

The Catechism might sound like a less-than-spectacular remedy for the slings and arrows of our time, but that's because of our preconceived notions, not because the Catechism is anything less than a powerhouse for evangelization.

"This Catechism is of historic importance. Depending on how seriously we take it, the future of the Catholic Church will be shaped accordingly." says Fr. Hardon. He explains that the course of the Catholic Church will depend on whether or not we see the Catechism as an act of God. "He is providing us with the opportunity of helping to make the twenty-first century the most glorious since the coming of Christ, but on one condition: that we capitalize on the gift He is giving us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

Fr. John Hardon, in his article "Understanding the Catechism of the Catholic Church", proposed five ways to use the catechism to help Christ evangelize the masses and spread the liberating and life giving faith who is Jesus Christ.

Here are Fr. John Hardon's five suggestions for using the Catechism:


Below each are explained in Fr. John Hardon's own words...

Know the Catechism.

Our most fundamental duty is to know the Catechism. How do you come to know anything? By reading, by discussing, by hearing it explained by competent persons.

Speed reading of the Catechism would be self-defeating. If anything, the Catechism should be not only read but prayerfully meditated. Spend some time set aside for reflecting, in God's presence, what the Catechism teaches through more than 500 pages of print.

How much time people waste in reading fiction, or worse. Is it too much for Christ to expect us to spend a few hours a week in reading, alone or with others, what promises to be the food that feeds the soul on revealed truth?

Trust the Catechism.

Already, critics have appeared who discredit the Catechism on both sides of the spectrum.

• Some criticize it for being outmoded and out of touch with the times.

• Others criticize it for giving in to Modernism and therefore discredit what the Vicar of Christ is offering the believing faithful for their spiritual sustenance in a world that is dying out of hunger for the truth.

Pay no attention to these critics. To distrust the Catechism is to play into the hand of the devil, who fears nothing more than security of doctrine among the followers of Christ.

Adapt the Catechism.

The Catechism is not simple reading. But neither is it sophisticated and out-of-touch with the vocabulary of the people. In any case, the Catechism contains all the essentials for Catholic faith, morality, and divine worship.

In using the Catechism to teach others, adjust the language to the mentality of those you are teaching. Adapt the ideas, without watering them down. Accommodate what the Catechism says, to the mental and spiritual level of those with whom you are sharing God's truth.

Live the Catechism.

This is no pious platitude. Teaching the true faith is unlike any other form of pedagogy.

The purpose of teaching the Catholic faith is to enable those you are teaching to practice the virtues which Christ expects of His followers. Very well, but how do you enable those you teach to practice what they have learned? You don't! Only Christ can give them the grace they need to practice what they believe. So how do they get the grace they need? From Christ, of course. But through you, their teachers.

What are we saying? We are saying that God uses holy people as channels of His grace to others. In the measure of our own union with Him, He will communicate to those we teach the light and strength they need to live the Christian faith. God uses humble people to give others the gift of humility. He uses chaste people as conduits of His grace of chastity; patient people to inspire patience; prayerful people to make others prayerful.

In a word, if we live the Catechism, we become instruments of divine faith to everyone whose life we touch. This, we may say, is the law of spiritual generation. Sanctity is reproductive; holiness is procreative.

Share the Catechism.

One final point should be made: On the last day we shall be judged on our practice of charity. How we hope that when Christ appears, He will say to us, "Come, blessed of my Father, and possess the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; thirsty and you gave me to drink; naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me."

What does this have to do with the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Everything! This masterpiece of sacred wisdom provides us with all the resources we need to meet the spiritual needs of America. But we must be convinced that these needs are desperate, and that we have at hand the means of saving the soul of our society.


"Lord Jesus, you have given us the Catechism of the Catholic Church to bring light to those who are walking in darkness and supernatural life to those who are sitting in the shadow of death. "Enlighten our minds with your revealed truth and inspire our hearts with your divine love — so that by our courageous witness to your Name here on earth we may bring countless souls with us to that heavenly Kingdom for which we were made. Amen."

**This is an exerpt from Fr. John Hardon's excellent article "Understanding the Catechism of the Catholic Church"

How to Use a Catechism

Every Catholic needs a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  And every good Catholic should be very familiar with their catechism.  Be a real Catholic, refute heretics, know what the Church truly teaches, prove you speak orthodoxy, learn about your faith, defend your faith, hold religious educators accountable, be a Catholic in the fullest sense.  But once you have a Catechism, how do you use it?

What is the Catechism?

When I was in college and would tell people I was majoring in catechetics, most people reacted by saying "So you're going to be a Priest?"  With that in mind, before we talk about the Catechism of the Catholic Church and how to use it, I think it's a good idea to start with the big word right there in the title that might trip us up.

Some definitions...

The word catechesis comes from the Greek word κατηχισμός from kata meaning "down" and echein meaning "to sound" or "to echo" - literally meaning "to sound/echo down".

Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote a Church document on catechesis titled "On Catechesis in Our Time".  In it he defines catechesis as:

"...the whole of the efforts within the Church to make disciples, to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they might have life in His name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ. 
(On Catechesis in Our Time, Paragraph 1)

So catechesis is the "echoing down" of the Deposit of Faith done by the Church to every generation throughout history.  It is the Church's way of handing on to God's people the Deposit of Faith given to Her by Jesus Christ Himself.  A catechism is a systematic summary of fundamental contents of the faith, written with the purpose of echoing down this faith to the faithful.

Cat- words... Catechesis: education in the faith of children, young people, and adults, especially the teaching of Christian doctrine with the goal of initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life (cf. CCC 5) Catechism:  a systematic and organic presentation of the fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition (cf. CCC 11) Catechist: a person who does catechesis Catechetics:  the study of catechesis Catapocalypse:  the feline destruction of life as we know it; spay and neuter your cats

This doesn't mean catechesis is only for kids.  In the encyclical "On Catechesis in Our Time", Blessed John Paul II goes on to say:

"...the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity." Paragraph #5

So if you are listening, reading, or seeing something or someone that brings you to a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith and therefore a greater intimacy with Jesus Christ, then you are being catechized.  You don't "grow out of" catechesis just like you don't "grow out of" falling deeper in love with your wife.

What is the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first edition promulgated in 1992, is the first systematic presentation of the whole Catholic faith since the Council of Trent in 1566.  Some readers will be familiar with past catechisms such as the Roman Catechism from Trent or the Baltimore Catechism.  Catechisms have been produced by the Church both universally and locally by Bishops throughout history.

What makes this catechism so important is that it is the first catechism in over 570 years to be written and guided by promptings of the Pope with the purpose of being used universally throughout the world by the Church.

There is no longer a question about whether or not the Church has "changed its beliefs" since the Council of Trent in order to make the faith more modern, as some heretics within the church have been known to say to support teachings contrary to the Catholic faith.

Thanks to Blessed Pope John Paul II, we can now definitively point to the Catechism as a sure rule and guide in our time of everything the Catholic Church teaches and believes.

Blessed Pope John Paul II first asked in 1985 for a Catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals to be written by the Church.  The first edition was published in French and then translated into other languages such as English.  After the Latin official text was finished, the translations were revised by the Latin standard, and so we have the second edition, translated into most languages.

How to Use the Catechism

Contents - The Four Pillars The Catechism is an "organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety".  This means that all of the faith relates back to Christ and is interconnected as a unified whole.  We can see this in thoughtful structure of the catechism based around four traditional "pillars":

Profession of Faith (Creed or Profession of Faith ) Par. #'s 26-1065 The Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments or Celebration of Faith) Par. #'s 1066-1690 Life in Christ (Morality or Life of Faith) Par. #'s 1691-2557 Christian Prayer (Prayer of the Believer) Par. #'s 2558-2865

All four sections are centered and unified in Jesus Christ and our faith in Him.  This is called "christocentricity".  Throughout Church history the Creed, Sacraments, Ten Commandments, and Our Father have been taught as the four pillars of the faith.  Likewise the catechism uses these pillars for its structure and outline of each section.

They could be summed up as the profession of faith, celebration of faith, life of faith, and prayer of the believer - Creed, Sacraments, Morality, and Prayer. (CCC 13)

Reference (Paragraph) Numbers Best Use: For navigating the Catechism, referencing to other sections of the Catechism, and for recognizing what pillar of the catechism you are in. These are the bold numbers next to the chunks of text.  This is the meat of the Catechism. Short hand references to paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church are often written CCC 5 or CCC #5 (like in this article, for example) meaning Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph number 5.

When people reference to the Catechism they don't use page numbers, because different translations or publications could have differing page numbers.  Therefore any references to a section of the Catechism is done using the paragraph number.  The table of contents, however, lists page numbers, not reference numbers. (Confusing, I know.)

[NOTE:  The Catechism is broken down into the four parts, which are divided into sections, which are divided into chapters, which are divided into articles, which are subdivided into roman numerals and/or paragraphs.  Don't let that overwhelm you, this is just to be sure that you aren't confused.  When people say "Catechism paragraph 25" they generally mean reference (bold) number 25. ]

Cross References Best Use: Finding how a particular topic is discussed in other pillars of the Catechism and following a theme throughout the Catechism. These numbers appear in the margins and tell you what other sections of the Catechism are related to the idea in the sentence or paragraph you are reading, often bringing you to other pillars of the Catechism.  For example, when reading paragraphs 1330 on the Eucharist, the cross references will bring you to 1341, 614, and 2643. 

In Brief Best Use: To sum up and review a lengthy section you have read.  Also good for memorization. At the end of each major article in the Catechism is the "In Brief" section, which summarizes the entire article's topic in a few short paragraphs.

Index Best Use: Finding information on a specific topic or question in mind. This is an alphabetical index of general subjects and where the subjects are referenced throughout the entire catechism.  Each subject or term has subheadings to get more specific about what exactly you are trying to find.

For instance, say you want to read what the Church teaches about Jesus' presence in the Eucharist.  Turn to the index, find the bold word "Eucharist", and under it you will find "presence of Christ in the Eucharist" and further subheadings of different topics concerning the presence of Christ in the Eucharist with the paragraph numbers following.

Glossary Best Use: Finding a quick definition of a term and the important Catechism passage on that term. Here you will find short definitions of important terms with references to key paragraph numbers.  For example, if you wanted to know what adoration is, a good place to start is looking it up here.  You will find a short definition in the glossary which summarizes the articles found in the catechism.  It will then give the main paragraph numbers for this term in parenthesis.

Index of Citations Best Use: Finding how a particular Bible passage or verse is referenced throughout the Catechism - how the Church interprets the verse. This is an amazing and powerful feature of the Catechism.  You can look up Documents of the Church, Liturgical Rites, important authors from the tradition of the Church, and even the Bible to see how these sources are used throughout the Catechism.

One of the coolest ways to use this index is to look up how a certain passage in the Bible is cited in the catechism.  For example, today's Gospel Reading was from Matthew 11:25-27.  I can turn to the index of citations and find that Matthew 11:25 is referenced in the catechism paragraphs 153, 544, and 2785.  If there is an asterisk, this means the passage was paraphrased in the paragraph.

This is a great way to read the Catechism while reading through the Bible to see how the Church applies a particular passage.

Where You Should Start

  • Start at the beginning and read to the glorious end (highly recommended)
  • Bring it to Adoration and pray with a few sections at a time (highly recommended)
  • Look up something you are interested in or know nothing about
  • Think of a question someone has asked you that you didn't know the answer to
  • Look up the daily readings in the Index of Citations

Other Catechisms to Check Out

The Catechism Online - The USCCB put the entire Catechism online. YouCat - A catechism put out by the Church and written for the youth of the Church Adult Catechism - A catechism put out by the USCCB and written for adults Compendium to the Catechism - The "mini-catechism" of 200 short pages in question-answer format.  A good supplement, but don't wimp out and never read the full catechism.  You'll miss out.


"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.  2 Timothy 4:1-5

******* Who to send this article to: Your mom, recently initiated RCIA candidates, recent converts, atheists you gave a Catechism to, your young adult friends or children, high school religion teachers who need to read the catechism, people you love.