praying the catechism

Dual Wielding the Bible and the Catechism

If you want to be a good Catholic, you gotta read your Bible.  But the Church advises us: "sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church... are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others" (Dei Verbum Par. 10).

Combining Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition is a deeply Catholic way to read the Bible, and a powerful way to dive deep into our Faith.  If Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are so intimately linked, reading them in light of one another is drinking deeply from the wells of faith the Church has to offer.  (What a great idea for the Year of Faith!!!)

But how can we do this easily and effectively?

The following is a method of doing just that. I'll be walking you through how to break open Scripture with the eyes of the Church using the catechism and its index of citations (mentioned in the post how to use the catechism).  So grab The Word and a catechism and let the dual wielding begin...

The Bible

The Gospel reading a few days ago is taken from Luke 19:1-10 (read it online here) and recounts the story of the meeting of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax collector.  Zacchaeus hears Jesus is coming to Jericho and "was seeking to see who Jesus was".  Being a short fellow (for some reason I picture him as Danny Davito) Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus.  As Jesus passes by he calls out to the man in the tree, announcing he will stay at Zacchaeus' house.  Zacchaeus comes "down quickly and received him with joy".  The now repentant tax collector vows to give half his possessions to the poor and to repay those he has wronged four times over.  Jesus concludes "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Reading this passage, there are a few questions that come to mind.  What does it mean for Zacchaeus that Jesus wants to stay at his house?  And why does Zacchaeus have such a strong reaction to Jesus?  It seems there are some things going on here that might not be obvious to us.

The Catechism

Using the index of citations at the back of the catechism we can look up where in the sections of the catechism this episode with Jesus and Zecchaeus is cited.

If you can't find the index of citations, look for the last paragraph of the catechism, 2865.  It is right after it.

There are four citations of this passage throughout the catechism.  One references the entire passage of Luke 19:1-10, and the other three reference two lines from this passage.  The catechism cites all of Luke 19:1-10 in paragraph 2712, so let's start there to see how the Catechism uses this passage to explain the faith to us.

Catechism #2712 "Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more. (Luke 19:1-10) But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son."

Contemplative prayer? What is going on here? At first glance I was thoroughly confused too.  But confusion is a good thing.  Confusion means we don't understand, which means we could be staring at an opportunity to learn.  If you only ever read what you understand you may gain information, but you will never gain understanding.

Sweet Symphony

So how does the catechism help us understand the story of Zacchaeus better?  Let's look at three of the catechism paragraphs that cite this passage and see if we can make some better sense of what is going on.

If we read through paragraph 2712 it is clear that Zacchaeus is "the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved".  The love by which Zacchaeus is loved is Jesus, who desires to stay with Zacchaeus.

We can look to catechism paragraph 1443 which explains that Jesus "not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin has alienated or even excluded them."

So Zacchaeus, the tax collector, was a man probably alienated from the community of the People of God because of his sins.  But how is staying at someone's house a great act of love on Jesus' part?

If we continue reading we find the answer.  Jesus is offering Zacchaeus an act of reconcilliation by offering to not just stay with him, but to dine with him: "Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God's forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God."

We can even see that Zacchaeus' strong reaction is a just action.  In paragraph 2412 the catechism explains: "Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: 'If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money...".

Wrapping It Up

These three paragraphs from the catechism shed some light on the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus.

By offering to dine at the table of Zacchaeus (Catechism 1443), Jesus gives Zacchaeus an opportunity to be reconciled with God and brought back into the community of the People of God.

Zacchaeus is not just showboating when he vows to give to the poor and repay those he has wronged.  He is being offered love by Jesus and is so overwhelmed by what is being offered to him that he desires to respond to it by loving even more (Catechism 2712).  This is an model of the dynamics of prayer.

Not only does Zacchaeus reconcile with those he has wronged, he goes above and beyond the demands of justice (Catechism 2412) and pledges to repay his debtors fourfold and to give half of his possessions to the poor.


After reading this passage in Scripture and the paragraphs in the catechism, some things about prayer really started to click.  Prayer is a response of love to God.  In prayer we begin by realizing how much love the Father has for us, to take notice of us and offer us reconciliation like Jesus offered Zacchaeus.  And we respond "quickly and [receive] him with joy", being given a child-like desire from the Holy Spirit.  We begin to desire the impossible - to love God even more than He loves us.

And not only do we enjoy the love of God, and enjoy giving love back to him but, like Zacchaeus, it then spills over into our life with our neighbors.  After experiencing such a deep and forgiving love, I am compelled to reconcile with my neighbors.

Reading Scripture with the catechism gave me a profound insight into the life of prayer and relationship with God.  I am sure this image of Zacchaeus' impossible thankfulness and surge of the heart will be in my mind every time I pray for the next few months.


I want you to try praying with Scripture and the catechism this way.  All you need is twenty minutes, a Bible, and a catechism for an intense prayer time dual wielding Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Step 1) Go somewhere you can pray. Bring a Bible and a Catechism.

Step 2) Take a passage from Scripture, or even just one line from Scripture, and look it up in the index of citations in the catechism.

Step 3) Prayerfully read through all the referenced passages.  If there are too many, then either narrow down the Scripture or focus on any references in the catechism to the passage that don't make sense right away.  Prayerfully reread them and ask God to teach you.

Step 4) Let me know in the comment box (or on your own blog!) your experience or  what God revealed to you by praying Scripture with the catechism this way.

Some Passages to Try

I haven't tried these passages, but I would love to in the future.  If you can't think of a place to start, start with these.

John 6:54 Luke 1:37 Jeremiah 31:31-34 Genesis 3:15 Luke 3:21 Isaiah 43:1-7

#### I challenge you to try praying with Scripture and the catechism this way.  Follow the steps and leave a comment telling me how it went.  If you have any hang ups, let me know and I'll try to help.