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Venerable Tradition Unlocks ‘Love that Never Ends’

BY Clement Kennedy OSB

January 19-25, 1997 Issue | Posted 1/19/97 at 1:00 PM

 

The Love That Never Ends: A Key to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, by J. Augustine DiNoia OP, Gabriel O'Donnell OP, Romanus Cessario OP, Peter John Cameron OP (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1996, 156 pp., $11.95)

IF THE promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church may be called a “media event,” its moment—though somewhat longer than 15 minutes—has passed. However, the real work of interiorizing the doctrine of the Catechism has hardly begun. For some, this process of deepening our understanding, and appreciation for the Catechism is the foremost item on the agenda for the new millennium. Important instruments of this interiorization process are books that digest and comment upon the Catechism, serving a variety of audiences. Several have already appeared. The Love That Never Ends is one of the most recent.

The four authors are Dominican priests with impressive credentials. Father O'Donnell is a former professor of liturgy at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia; Father Cessario is a professor of systematic theology at St. John's Seminary, Brighton, Mass.; Father Cameron teaches homiletics at St. Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.; Father DiNoia is executive director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) Committee on Doctrine. They describe their work as a “key” to the Catechism, which aims to provide a central or overarching concept that connects and, as it were, “opens up,” all the teachings of the Catechism.

The book's introduction states: “The object of this book is to display the organic unity that underlies the Catechism's presentation of the Christian faith. Each of the four pillars of the Catechism, despite their distinctive contents, is about a single mystery.” The authors present the mystery of “the love that never ends” as the Catechism's key-concept, in the belief that “to share in the unending love of the triune God is the destiny of every human person in Christ.”

The Love That Never Ends is written in short chapters, most of them four or five pages, which makes the book highly accessible. For the most part, chapters follow the sequence of the Catechism, whose corresponding paragraph numbers are given throughout. The presentation is lively and down-to-earth. The authors are at their best when using analogy—an important tool of their great Dominican predecessor, St. Thomas Aquinas—to show that the things of our everyday experience can help us understand much about the things of God. For example, there is an analogy between the sacraments and the natural experiences of life, such as birth, death, nourishment, and healing. The Eucharist, for example, is discussed in vivid language, which brings home the fact that going to Mass and taking Communion is no mere obligation, but a vital necessity for the development of an authentic life of faith: “When my body and blood encounters the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion something happens. In this meeting, this communion, my relationship with Christ grows, develops, and increases. As a consequence I am freed from venial sin and preserved from future mortal sin. Holy Communion weans me from my attachment to sin and intensifies my attachment to the things of God, indeed my attachment to God himself. The Eucharist plunges me more deeply into the life of Christ, head and members. I am more deeply committed to the Church. And those whom Christ loved and preferred, the poor, become the object of my special concern. In this communion I become one with all those who are in Christ.”

The authors also appreciate the role of the liturgy as both an expression of and a reflection on doctrine. Echoing the Catechism's reverence for the Church Fathers, they feature a range of citations from Doctors and other patristic writers.

The first several chapters clearly bear out the book's organic approach to its subject. The following passage, explaining the Catechism's teaching on the Resurrection is a case in point: “Trinitarian counion is personal communion. In grace, created persons are drawn into the communion of the uncreated Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is fundamental to the consummation of the divine plan that we continue in eternal life as the identifiable, albeit transfigured and glorified, persons we are now. The significance of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body lies here.”

In dealing with the practical matter of morality, the book features a lively presentation of virtues and habits, presenting the pursuit of the moral life as a “craft” that Catholics may take delight in. The chapters on prayer succeed in presenting a straightforward theoretical basis for an often enigmatic subject. Overall, the book has a healthy Marian dimension. There's even a separate chapter on the Mother of God: “The Spirituality of the Hail Mary.” Another is devoted to the “Our Father,” although not everyone will be comfortable with the fact that the petitions are presented in reverse.

While many will no doubt profit from reading The Love That Never Ends, it is not clear whether books of this kind are effectively connecting with the wider audience of average Catholics. Concepts like “nature,” “sacrament,” “grace,” “communion,” as found in The Love That Never Ends assume a basic knowledge on the part of the reader. Does the average Catholic, living and working in a world dominated by scientific and Enlightenment-based concepts, possess the conceptual framework necessary to grasp the essence of a religion, which is still, when all is said and done, expressed in Aristotelian-Thomistic terms? Given the dubious record of postconciliar education—religious as well as academic— we can't assume anything. For the Catechism to be appropriated by more of the faithful, it may be necessary to start from scratch by explaining such basic distinctions as subjective-objective; natural-supernatural; physical reality-spiritual reality; truthof experience-truth of faith. The Dominicans, banking on a splendid and solid intellectual tradition, are in a better position than most to do the job.

The object of this book is to convey, writes Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston in his foreword, that “[t]he Christian faith teaches a single truth.” “The unity of faith,” he continues, “is neither a vague idea nor an abstract ideal; it is a living reality.” The authors themselves put it thus: “If we are to understand and use the Catechism properly, we must see the person of Christ at its heart. The Catechism aims to put us in touch with Jesus Christ.… No created good—whether material or personal—can satisfy hearts that were made to enjoy the love that never ends. The Catechism summons us never to settle for less.”

Brother Clement Kennedy is a monk at Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, Calif.