I was received in the Catholic Church about 17 years ago in the Cathedral of the Most Precious Blood of Christ, the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. My baptism was the result of a conversion that happened about ten years prior. Although I did not notice it, God was gradually allowing me to discover Him.
I do not remember the exact moment when I realized how different the Church was from my previous acquaintance with various religions. I remember one day I began to make connections. I was reading St Augustine when I glanced over his exposition on the number of fish caught by the disciples as described in John 21. I was astonished. I learned to read at an early age and I have been reading nonstop for over six decades now. Yet that passage of St Augustine was by far the most amazing thing I ever read. The 153 fish caught in Peter’s net were connected to everything. St Augustine discovered the same number hidden in book of Ezekiel and it had quite a few mathematical mysteries contained in it. Peter’s reaction to the miraculous catch had a definite connection to Adam, and the book of Genesis. The image of the boat coming ashore, with the sun slowly rising over the horizon behind the figure of Jesus resurrected, was a powerful parable in itself. My mind still lingers on John 21, its moral, allegorical and prophetic aspects. Every time I visit that chapter, more mysteries come to light. What one can learn from that scripture is nearly endless.
In time, I learned that most Catholics hardly ever read the Fathers of the Church, and for the most part don’t care to learn about their own faith. For millions of our brothers and sisters, the faith is more or less a social habit, a tribal thing. One is born Catholic, and that’s it. One morning, while chatting with a friend after Mass, I noticed his surprise when he learned that the readings of the Mass where actually taken from the Bible!
Years went by and the present crisis developed. It was not new but my perception of it was. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned, the commentaries that followed, both in the press and among the faithful, were quite uninformed. Confusion began to spread and is still with us.
Ten or twenty years ago, little did I know that I was looking at the cause of many troubles to come. While the Church is sitting on a treasure of knowledge and wisdom, her sons and daughters seem to be content playing with useless trinkets. I would not be surprised if the Fathers of the Church would consider most of us a bunch of heretics in need to be catechized all over again. Even if the situation was not that dire, it seems clear to me that we have to go back to the roots. We have to marvel like children with a new toy, find the exquisite inheritance we have received and take possession of it.
The root of this crisis is our ignorance of the depths of our faith. Such ignorance comes from a lack of interest that can only be sinful. We have to learn our faith and see it as a present from God, a mysterious, precious gem designed for us. We cannot ignore a gift from the Most High.
The object of all education is to turn the student into a teacher. We have been told to go to every nation and give witness of Christ. That is not optional. It’s a commandment.
The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? (Romans 10:11-17 NRSVACE)
Every cloud has a silver lining and this crisis is no exception. Our need to educate every Catholic in the faith is now evident. We have to take advantage of the technological marvels of our age to teach the faith to others.
When I was researching the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I learned that the Augustinian and Franciscan friars of 16th century Mexico had to evangelize about one million Mexicans per year for ten years, non-stop after Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego. The image of Our Lady was the sign that generated all those conversions. The friars could not do all of that themselves. What they did was simple but very effective: they carefully formed a small army of natives that could teach others. One of them, Antonio Valeriano, was native Aztec who not only learned the faith but also became fluent in Spanish, Latin, and Greek. He was named a professor at the Royal Seminary and a Judge for the Spanish Crown. He was the author of the Nican Mopohua, the well-known account of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico that continue to convert unbelievers to the Catholic Faith even in our days.
Imagine if Our Lady would produce a similar sign today, moving millions of souls to convert at once. Are we prepared to be like Dr. Valeriano, effective teachers, able to show others the marvels of our faith?