Catholicism ought to come with badges and sashes, just like Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Under this scheme you’d only be able to advance in the Church as you learned more about it or as you became more involved. The Pope would be an Eagle Scout while Mother Teresa would have earned the Girl Scout Gold Rank. Me? I’d still be sweating my Tiger Cub badge.
While I was never a Boy Scout or Cub Scout, I did have 4 sons and one daughter. As a result, I have plenty of experience from a parent’s perspective. Our home is filled with Scouting “memorabilia.” (I have learned that the term memorabilia translates to “Your children’s leftovers.”) We have everything from the simple handbooks for Tigers and Brownies to the fascinating Field Guide for Boy Scouts, which teaches you how to live on a mountaintop with nothing but wild berries and a letter-opener.
I’m not proposing to debate the merits of Scouting. Like every other human endeavor, Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting are no better and no worse than the human beings who are involved at any given time. No, my point in comparing Cub Scouts and Catholics has to do with how we develop as human beings, which directly relates to how we develop as Christians. Like Cub Scouts, Catholics usually start out pretty ignorant of the rules and the knowledge of how things work. But you can’t throw Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body at them right off the bat. Just as Cub Scouts start out with simple crafts and in-home meetings, so too Catholics should start with the basics like the Golden Rule and the Our Father. I’d even hold off on the Nicene Creed until they’re reached the Catholic Equivalent of Tenderfoot rank.
I believe this is just as true for those many of us who are already fully-Confirmed in the faith, but who want to start over and rediscover it. We should go all the way back to the basics, in style if not in fact. Too often, those of us seeking Jesus approach our study from the wrong side of the library. We reach for the deep stuff, when we should start with the basic concepts. Before you try to slog through Saint Augustine or Saint Ignatius, listen to some audio recordings by Matthew Kelly, or some of the early works of Scott Hahn. Kelly and Hahn, along with Stephen Ray and Father Larry Roberts are my favorite writers for “Re-beginners;” people like me who realized they missed something basic in their faith journey.
You’ll find that your appetite for faith knowledge will mature at about the same pace as your ability to absorb wisdom. C.S. Lewis makes a lot more sense once you’ve mastered the ideas proposed by St. Therese of Lieseux, the “Little Flower.” But don’t fear that you’re missing anything. The Faith is every bit as powerful at the Kindergarten Level as it is at the Doctoral. A few weeks ago was the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas essentially rewrote the manual of the Christian church in the 13th Century. He was an incredible theologian, and an inspired genius. But one day as he was celebrating mass, Thomas Aquinas had a vision that stopped him in his tracks. He never wrote another word, despite the pleadings of other church leaders. He said, “I have seen things that make my writings like straw.” This from the author of Summa Theologia, one of the deepest, most incredible and most important documents of the Church. Nothing he could write would compare to the brief glimpse of eternity that he had during that mass.
If we step back, we can see that it has to be this way. God is greater and more expansive than Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint John Paul and Saint Therese of Liseux. The most we can learn is still just a faint glimpse of a sliver of His majesty. But even that faint glimmer is amazing. And the best way to learn it is to approach it with humility and the realization that we are all Cub Scouts and Brownies in the eyes of God.