"YOUCAT" – Review
Back in 1995, the Catholic Church released a monumental text called the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). It was hailed as a historic achievement for it had been 400 years since a new catechism was introduced. The CCC was compiled under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and was created to be an authoritative summary of Catholic teaching. Even today it's still used as the "sure and certain standard for the teaching of the faith."
Unfortunately, though, most Catholics find the CCC to be fairly difficult. There are plenty of easy, flowing passages--especially in the section on prayer--which can even be read devotionally. But the large majority of the book is fairly heavy for people without a theological background. And if most adults find it challenging, it shouldn't surprise that most young people find it intimidating.
In response to this problem, Pope Benedict XVI commissioned a new catechism designed especially for young people. The YOUCAT (Ignatius Press, paperback, 300 pages), which took three years to complete, is an accessible, contemporary version of the original CCC explicitly aimed at youth.
The YOUCAT isn't an addition or replacement for the original CCC--it's more like a study-guide or supplement. It's filled with cross-references to the CCC and structurally both books share the same four sections:
- What We Believe
- The Sacraments
- The Christian Life
- How We Should Pray
But a major way the YOUCAT differs is that it frames the content in question and answer format. The style hearkens back to the old Baltimore Catechism, a style that should make the YOUCAT much easier to digest than the CCC's expository format. To make the book even more engaging, the YOUCAT also features plenty of quotes, definitions, and references up and down the sidebars. These make the YOUCAT read more like a website than a textbook.
If the YOUCAT's goal is to translate the CCC into the language of young people, then it succeeds quite admirably. The teachings aren't watered down into meaningless, simplistic gibberish. The content is still clear, orthodox, and articulate, but the answers are phrased using language and examples familiar to youth. For example, the book answers the question, "What is Confirmation?" by saying:
When a coach sends in a soccer player onto the playing field, he puts his hand on his shoulder and gives him final instructions. We can understand Confirmation in a similar way. A hand is placed on us. We step out into the field of life. Through the Holy Spirit we know what we have to do and we have been given the power to do it. He has motivated us. His mission resounds in our ears. We sense his help. We will not betray his trust or disappoint him; we will win the game for him. We just have to want to do it and listen to him.
One prominent thing missing from the original CCC was art--icons and photos of the faith, both foundational to Catholicism. The YOUCAT, however, includes vibrant pictures and artwork on every three pages or so. And the authors even did this without turning the text into a religious comic book. The pictures are abundant but the focus is still clearly on the questions and answers.
The YOUCAT, for all of its good qualities, does have some curious features. The bottom of each right-hand page has a stick figure in various poses, which turns the bottom-right corner of the YOUCAT into a flipbook. Obviously, upon receiving a copy of the book, the very first thing any kid will do is flip the flipbook. How many kids are going to flipping the book instead of reading it? Kids already distracted by a million things don't need another embedded in the text.
Also, many of the sidebar quotes come from non-Catholics--some, like one from Martin Luther, come from notorious non-Catholics. Now I don't reject the idea that truth is true wherever it's found, but the YOUCAT authors could have easily used comparable quotes from Catholic sources. Including quotes from "an Arab proverb" and "Lu Bewei", a ancient Chinese philosopher, only encourages the rampant belief that Catholicism is really just one of many equal religions.
That said, in his momentous Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas quotes liberally from pre-Christians, non-Christians, and opponents alike. Beyond these few questionable exceptions, though, the large majority of quotes in the YOUCAT were illuminating and appropriate--quotes from Scripture, numerous saints, popes, and liturgical prayers.
Finally, in a rare and significant move, Pope Benedict XVI himself wrote the YOUCAT's foreword. He recognizes the YOUCAT's need and potential and hopes that young people will widely embrace it. In fact the book's release was strategically planned to coincide with the 2011 World Youth Day, where over 700,000 copies of the YOUCAT will be distributed.
"I hope that many young people will let themselves be fascinated by this book," the Pope says. However, he quickly warns them that, "(t)his catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands of you a new life."
Beautiful, comprehensive, relaxed, yet challenging. Which describes that not just the YOUCAT but also Jesus and his Church. If you know a young Catholic--or find the original CCC to be difficult yourself--get a copy of this necessary book.