Q. I follow your column weekly and am fascinated by how often you quote a rule from our catechism, numbered into the thousands. Is everything Catholics do covered by a rule, and how is the ordinary person supposed to know every rule? Didn’t Jesus say there are two commandments: love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself? (Bradenton, Fla.)
A. The Catechism of the Catholic Church serves as a handy summary of the church’s basic teachings. True, there are 2,865 “sections” (each of them normally a single paragraph).
The vast majority, though, are not “rules” but explanations of Scriptural passages and of church teaching over the centuries. (Most religions, by the way, have multiple “rules” as a helpful guide to life’s varied situations. The Jewish Talmudic law had 613 precepts.)
I do, as you state, frequently quote the catechism as a handy way of responding to readers’ queries. I have referenced the catechism in response to questions as diverse as the morality of artificial insemination and whether blessed articles can be resold.
To answer your question as to how ordinary Catholics can know “every rule” of the church, the answer is that they can’t, which is the reason for a column like this. (Even easier than reading a column, though, is simply to ask a local priest or religious educator.)
Your appeal to Jesus’ quote on loving God and neighbor is important. To be fair, Christ did not say that these two were the only commandments. His answer (in Matthew 22:34-40) came in response to a lawyer’s question as to which was “the greatest” of the commandments. Jesus said, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
He did not say that this was all you needed to know.
Finally, as to whether everything Catholics do is “covered by a rule,” the answer is absolutely not. It would be far easier if that were so, if we could simply turn to a page in a book for clear-cut answers to every challenge of daily living.
Most of our moral issues are complex: how to be a good parent, how to get along with people at work, how to use to the fullest the talents God has given us. On these things, a manual of behavior doesn’t always help, only daily reflection, guided by prayer.
Q. Is a Catholic allowed to listen to and heed the advice of preachers from other religions? (I find sermons from people like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer seem to hit home more often than the lofty thoughts of some Catholic priests.) (Albany, N.Y.)
A. First, for the reader who may not know: Joel Osteen is a Christian televangelist and pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston who is seen weekly by viewers in more than 100 nations; Joyce Meyer is a charismatic Christian author and speaker who appears regularly on television in a program called “Enjoying Everyday Life.”
The Second Vatican Council’s declaration “Nostra Aetate” addresses your question about reflecting on the insights offered by other religions. It states in No. 2 that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions … (and) regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all.”
So the answer to your question is a clear “yes.” It can be beneficial to listen to preachers of other faiths and to take value from what they say.
In my experience, Protestant pastors often devote more time each week to the preparation of their Sunday sermon than Catholic priests. This is due, in part, to the reality that Catholic parishes are generally far larger, with more pastoral demands on the priest’s time.
But it’s also due to the fact that the sermon is the center of many Protestant services while the focus in the Catholic Church is always on celebrating the Eucharist, which was the particular way Jesus asked his followers to keep his memory alive.
Pope Francis, though, in his November 2013 pastoral exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” urged priests to give increased attention to the quality of their homilies.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.