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The random Catechism: Right here, right now!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 11, 2021

I found myself thinking today of the various saints throughout history who had discerned their future course by opening up a Bible at random and reading that page—or perhaps opening the Bible, plunking their finger down on the page, and reading that verse. I’ve tried this myself from time to time, with no discernible result. Today when I tried it for inspiration, I got this:

Vision Book Cover Prints
For all his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

That’s from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9, the second half of verse 12.

I did not find it encouraging, but neither am I complaining. One can use any part of God’s word to begin a meditation on His purposes. Flipping back to a less-likely Biblical book at random, I found this: “When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him” (2 Chronicles 12:1). So now I see a connection. Both passages can apply to times when I’ve gotten cocky and fallen into sin. It is, moreover, an exceedingly common theme in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah.

Since I’ve been reading Chronicles lately anyway, I’ve been thinking of how much the history of the kings reminds me of successive Presidential elections in the United States. We get leaders who promise much and do little, or leaders who claim the moral high ground and then do evil. We seem to be plagued by high-sounding commitments coupled with the complete abandonment of the one Person who can help any leader make good on them. It’s discouraging. But it is also discouraging to apply such passages to myself.

Fast forward to the prophet Micah (chapter 7, verse 5): “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms.” The passage goes on to describe the treachery of children against parents and in-laws, emphasizing that “a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (v. 6).

Fortunately, if we stick with the process, we eventually arrive at a sure conclusion—probably the main point which we (or at least I) need to hear. It’s in the next verse:

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

Of course, as Christians, we must receive this verse especially with a spiritual interpretation, and also an eschatological one for the next life. But even those hopes could fail us if we are presumptuous. If we are not contrite, we will find “all his anger has not turned away.”

Still, let us make one more trial, completing this exercise by flipping to at least one passage in the New Testament. I open at random to St. Paul’s rich and deep Letter to the Romans, and I find myself in chapter 9:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…. This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [Rom 9:6-8]

Sometimes it takes several flips back and forth to alight on something which offers guidance or consolation right here and now. I’ll cling to being a child of the promise, and try to live that inspiration.

The Catechism

It occurred to me that we could do something very similar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not perhaps so much for certain inspiration from the Holy Spirit when we are in distress, but as a reminder of the riches of our Faith, by way of receiving a glimmer of sound instruction in the midst of many things we tend to forget. It also occurred to me that while CatholicCulture.org does not have the Bible in a database verse by verse, it has long since created a complete database of all the paragraphs in the Catechism so that users can look up both words and particular paragraph numbers with ease.

And this means, with a very little work, I can randomize the Catechism. So what would that look like, assuming you don’t keep it on your desk or coffee table for easy flipping back and forth and punching with your finger? I decided to play with some of our behind-the-scenes programming code, and when I was done, it looked exactly like this:

Link: The Random Catechism

So now I’m clicking the link just above, which randomly selects and displays one of the nearly three thousand numbered paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and then clicking again and again on the option beneath each paragraph for “another random paragraph”—just to see what I get. You can try it too. It’s free! I mean, seriously, who would pay for a random paragraph from the Catechism?

So on my first click, I read that “We do not believe in formulae, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch….” That’s the first of three rich sentences in paragraph 170, one of which is a quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas. But you can read just this first sentence again. It’s worth thinking about.

Now I click on the link for “another random paragraph” and this pops up:

77 “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.” Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”

Despite so much bad news, this makes me glad to be a Catholic.

Again, Click!

Paragraph 1450: “Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete and fruitful satisfaction.”

This is a little scary, which means it is challenging. It was incorporated in the current catechism right out of the Roman Catechism from the sixteenth century, also known as the “Catechism of St. Pius V”. Yes, we do show you the footnotes.

Conclusion

It makes you think, doesn’t it? I don’t know if this is worth anything to anybody else. But it worked for me today, when I began by thinking that every topic was a dull topic. That fear is now gone, at least for the moment, so perhaps this is not such a worthless tool after all. Perhaps opening ourselves to Catholic thoughts is just a few clicks away, with a freshness that may bear fruit.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: charles.pullin6847 - May. 11, 2021 10:52 PM ET USA

    Thank you for this. Randomization can lead to random thoughts, or something more powerful. Although only an aspiring saint (with a lot of work to do in that regard), I am reminded of the words of my conversion from heathen to Christian. I flipped the Bible open as well seeking guidance on whether to continue in RCIA, and landed on Psalm 37:3, which begins "Trust in the Lord, and do good." A rather useful guide to life, no?

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - May. 11, 2021 8:43 PM ET USA

    This is a neat thing! Thanks for writing it!

  • Posted by: altoidnews7416 - May. 11, 2021 6:27 PM ET USA

    I am thankful that the Word of God has not failed, even when I fail at following it. I also like the random Catechism. My first click went to Paragraph 2360 about sexuality and the love of husband and wife; it's a great reminder of the Church's teaching on the subject. Some German bishops and priests might want to read it too.