29-08-2012

Christ, Our Resurrection. Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: Reflections

Fr Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk

Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon

“God progressively reveals himself to us from one generation to the next in preparation for his complete self-revelation in the person and life of His Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.”- Christ, Our Resurrection

It has been a great confirmation in faith for me to read the new Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, both in preparation for the upcoming Patriarchal visit to Saskatchewan in September, as well as for personal reasons. I turn fifty years old in 2012, an occasion to reminisce on my life and, willingly or unwillingly, to ponder some of the big, meaning of life questions. Christ, Our Resurrection has become a welcomed companion on this reflection. This catechism is solidly constructed on a foundation of insights about life from Christians who have not only lived 50 years ago, in the case of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, but fifteen hundred years ago and more, some very close themselves in proximity to the time when Jesus himself lived a human life in this, our world.

The year 2012 is a perfect time to read the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, being as it is a Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI to begin this fall. The Catechism is a good example of the phrase, bringing something “new and old” from the treasury of faith. It follows the example of the Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992, which itself was meant to be the first of many catechisms, arising from and responding to the needs of local cultures, something traditional addressing a contemporary world. The
completion of the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is just such a “common effort of work and prayer of the entire Church,” as Patriarch Sviatoslav explains.

It has been a real joy for me to read passages from the holy Fathers of the Church, and their examples of Christian encouragement during this jubilee year of my own life. It is the fathers of the Church who “protected and guaranteed the continuity of the Apostolic faith,” those saints of the first centuries, including martyrs, confessors, and venerable Christians who witnessed the truth and power of Christ with their very lives. Included in their number are the modern Ukrainian martyrs, proclaimed by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 2001. The release of the Catechism coincides with the tenth anniversary of that event, during the Holy Father's visit to Ukraine. Such a human face to an instruction of faith addresses a very fundamental human quality of all learners, namely that facts and figures don't move people to action or advance relationships quite the same way as biography and autobiography accomplish; or as Patriarch Sviatoslav writes in his preface, “so that in the light of their lives we might find answers to the concerns of the present day.”

I am also preparing this review during a season of several feastdays of the Liturgical Year, including the “Transfiguration of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ,” the goal of which, as described by one of the prayers for this day, is to enlighten us with the light of Christ so that we might be able to sing his praises for all eternity. Another theme of this feast is the question of how it is possible to see the face of God and live. The Catechism, constructed as it is on three pillars, namely the faith of the Church, the Church at prayer, and the life of the Church in the world, begins with an explanation of finding truth in Christ through God's revelation of himself: “You are the One who has given us the knowledge of your truth.” (Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great)

In other words, the intended audience for this Catechism is all those who search for truth, for adults as much as for children first being introduced to Christianity. It offers a theological explanation of revealed truth on a foundation of our own authentic tradition, and in the context of the Universal Church. As Patriarch Sviatoslav comments, the intention of Christ, Our Resurrection is “to acknowledge the universal value of our Eastern tradition.” One practical example of this starting point is employing the prayers of an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, throughout the text. These are the prayers leading up to the consecration of the gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, a recollection of the history of salvation of the created world. The result is a focus on the centrality of Christ, a logical continuity among the parts of the Catechism, and most importantly, an experience of reading the book that takes the reader beyond an intellectual exercise to itself being an act of prayer and worship.

As many people know from experience, people who hate the Church mock us for being unable to entertain and satisfy them with proofs of God's existence that are acceptable to them. Yet, as we learn from the Feast of Transfiguration, if God revealed himself to us too suddenly,
we would die. However, in the words of the Catechism, “the Faith of the Church is based on God's revelation” because God does “come to
encounter humanity.” The Church “encourages everyone to recognize God in their lives, so that reading and hearing the Word of God, they may live with him day by day.” God reveals himself to us so that we may “recognize him and love him more than anything else in the world.”

As more and more faithful become familiar with Pope John Paul II's “theology of the body,” elements of this explanation of Church teaching are easily identifiable in the new catechism, such as in this passage: “Humanity, even after having lost a true recognition of God because of original sin, continues to search for Him, who is the beginning of all things.” Christ, Our Resurrection is our home-grown example of what Peter Kreeft acknowledges as being so important to his conversion: God's promise that whoever seeks him will find him. In the words of the Catechism, “If in the Old Testament God revealed himself exclusively to his chosen ones, the patriarchs, prophets, and kings, then in the New Testament all members of Christ's Church receive this Revelation.”

I knew that Christ, Our Resurrection would both speak to and nourish my own experience in the Ukrainian Catholic Church as soon as I began recognizing throughout the text many beloved prayers, such as the Anaphora from the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and also the very first prayer of the book, located on the inside icon of Christ's resurrection, the “Descent into Hades.” The prayer is the resurrection prayer from Sunday Matins, to which I was first introduced in minor seminary at St. Vladimir's College in Roblin, Manitoba, and then again at seminary in Redeemer House in Toronto. The words and melody had made a deep impression on me as a teenager, and I continue to return to them as an adult for the maturity of faith they offer: “Having seen the resurrection of Christ, let us bow in worship to the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless One.”

An English translation of the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is anticipated later in 2012.

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