It’s mid-August, and I just returned from running errands at several stores. They were packed. At the first store I wondered why, and then I saw the overhead sign: “Back to school sale!”
While many students now return to classrooms as early as July, I still associate August with “back to school” time. This month is a good reminder that learning about our Catholic faith does not cease with high school graduation. With 2,000 years of history and writings and exemplary lives, we’ll never run out of things to learn!
The topics of study are endless: the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Church history, devotions, dogmas, early Church Fathers’ writings, encyclicals, Eucharistic miracles, Mary, morality, saints, social justice teachings, Vatican II documents, and on and on.
Obviously, Catholic bookstores both physical and online are the perfect place for resources for those who prefer to turn the actual pages of a solid book-in-the-hand. But today we’re also blessed with so many free ways to grow in knowledge of the faith online.
If you’re looking for basic information on what the Church teaches, try Catholics Come Home or go straight to the Catechism. Catholic Answers is a great source for podcasts, videos, tracts, and Q&A. Free Catholic-based Bible studies are available through Agape Bible Studies, and for a fantastic introduction to Scripture with enlightening explanations, watch Fr. Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” YouTube series or download his podcast, all at no charge.
Your parish can be a great resource for in-person Bible studies and talks to help grow in knowledge of the faith. Many parishes also offer their parishioners free access to the online “Formed” service. With videos, audio talks, movies, and e-books on hundreds of topics, it is one of the best sources for online learning about the faith. (If you’re parish doesn’t offer Formed, an individual membership is currently $100/year or $10/month at formed.org.)
But sometimes, there is no better teacher than experience. This scene from the 1997 film Good Will Hunting says it well, when a psychiatrist challenges a book-smart but inexperienced genius: “If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny about every art book ever written. ... But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”
On a pilgrimage, you can be uplifted by Michelangelo’s art at the See of Peter; wade in the sea that Peter walked on at Christ’s command in Galilee; stand before a miraculous bleeding host in Portugal; see in person the tilma in Guadalupe on which Mary left her image in Mexico; smell the incense of the massive botafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain; hear the waves in Kavala where St. Paul landed in Greece; touch a religious item to holy relics around the world.
Whether through books, videos, Bible studies, podcasts, or through the experience of a pilgrimage, never stop learning about the treasures of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. As St. Peter exhorts in verse 3:18 of his second epistle: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”