Getting to know God in the Catechism

Back in the fall, I started the Catechism and Bible in a year reading plans. Well, let’s say I started the “Catechism and Bible in however long it takes a mom of toddlers to finish” plan, knowing full well it would probably take me longer than a year because, you know, life happens. (For the record, reading the Bible and Catechism is really awesome even if you can’t do it all in a year.)

Anyways, my reasons for beginning this journey were rooted in a multi-year battle with reclaiming a regular prayer life. After struggling through a sea of possible devotions and spiritual practices, I thought, what better way to move forward than to start with the most foundational and important truths of who God is: his Word and what the Church teaches.

As I began the Bible and Catechism plans and started sifting through lofty and complex texts and ideas, I came across Paragraph 236 in the Catechism. If you have a chance, go read it for yourself, but here’s a basic summary: Who God is in the Trinity is revealed in his works, and God’s works only make sense in a deep understanding of who he is.

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The end of the paragraph says this: “A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.” Wow. To know God, we must get to know his actions. And as we get to know his actions, we get to know him. Which helps us better understand his actions.

Have you ever been in a desperate search for God’s will about some big life question? Have you ever wondered what God is doing or how he might be at work in your story? Have you ever needed inspiration, hope and clarity but felt lost in prayer?

To me, Paragraph 236 is the response to these longings. When faced with a looming question, an unfulfilled desire, a chaotic experience, or a sheer desire to know God more deeply, we can look at who God is and what he has done to shed light on our own particular situation.

Discovering who God is

Take, for example, a common experience for many people, particularly in the past few years: chaos. For one reason or another, someone might feel overwhelmed, lost or directionless. They want to come to God in prayer and seek some clarity or consolation for the chaos they experience.

So, they turn toward the calming of the storm in Chapter 8 of Matthew’s Gospel. One might observe that the disciples, frightened by the tumultuous waves, find Jesus asleep and assume that he does not see them in their fears. They cry out to him in their anguish, and he immediately responds. He questions their faith, as if to say, “Did you not know I have been caring for you this whole time?” He responds to their pleas by calming the seas.

Through Jesus’s actions, someone might observe truths about who he is: powerful, a quick responder, compassionate to our fears, always caring and listening. They might begin to hope and believe that Jesus hears them in their fears, desires to bring peace to their chaos, and wants them to continue to bring their prayers and thoughts and wonders to him. This peace allows them to experience their chaos with hope and entrust their lack of clarity more deeply to God.

Maybe someone is experiencing an unfulfilled desire that makes them feel stuck and static. They want to do God’s will but feel unsure about how he is asking them to spend this uninspired time.

They might come to God in prayer and begin reading the life of Walter Ciszek in his book, “He Leadeth Me.” They read about a priest with incredible desires to spread the Gospel in a harsh and dangerous land, only to be arrested and spend the next 23 years in prisons and labor camps. He testifies to God’s goodness and faithfulness, even in seemingly terrible conditions where often this good priest found himself questioning how God could allow this suffering.

Through reading his story, someone might come to understand that God is faithful and good no matter their external circumstances. They come to see that grace is at work at all times, and that God uses all things for his glory. They see that, no matter where they find themselves, God will continue to write his story with theirs. This gives them the confidence to be faithful to their present circumstances and to trust that God is still working in their life.

Or maybe someone has heard the phrase “God is love” over and over, and they desire to live this reality more deeply in their life. They want to grasp more deeply God’s sheer desire for and pursuit of them.

So, they look at an image of the Sacred Heart. They see the thorns bearing the pain of Jesus’ pierced head and the radiating rays coming from all around his heart. They see the fiery flames of love bursting from the top of the image, unable to be contained.

Their heart recognizes God’s burning, fiery and passionate love. The thorns show them he is enduring, strong and brave, ready to do whatever it takes to win your heart for him. The rays reflect his radiance and joy, particularly his joy in loving and being loved by them. These truths cement more deeply in their heart the understanding that they are loved beyond belief and that Jesus is always desiring them.

Where to go next

God has revealed so much of who he is through Scripture, creation and the lives of the holy ones who have lived for him, and we can allow these to open our eyes to the truths he is communicating to us. These moments of grace in prayer can be eternal fountains we return to again and again for hope, peace and consolation.

The more we can allow ourselves to root our prayer deeply in Jesus’s actions, the more we will grow in our knowledge of him and who he truly is. As we grow in knowledge of him, we will see his work in our lives and be able to respond more readily to him. One of the many beautiful things about the Church is that there are infinite ways to ponder on God’s goodness that encapsulate our entire being, body, soul, spirit and senses.

So the next time you find yourself wondering, “Where do I go next in prayer?”, remember the 236th paragraph of the Catechism. Take some time to get to know God and his actions, and ask him to allow those efforts in prayer to guide your heart and grow your knowledge of him.

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