The Second Vatican Council spoke of the vocation of the laity to evangelize the world, and said this must be done through words and not just by good example (Decree on the Lay Apostolate, n. 6).
Clearly, if we are to be capable of explaining our beliefs to others, we must have a good understanding of those beliefs. So the Decree stated: “In addition to spiritual formation, a solid doctrinal instruction in theology, ethics and philosophy adjusted to differences in age, status and natural talents is required” (n. 29).
Suppose that at the end of the Council, in 1965, Catholics had taken that last sentence seriously. Suppose they had given, say, a couple of hours a week to learning about the Faith and related subjects. What wonderful knowledge they would have now!
They would have explored the mysteries of the Faith through reading Scripture, the Church Fathers, the theologians, the pronouncements of the divinely guided Magisterium. They would have explored the great questions that philosophers have discussed through the ages – and would have been guided in this especially by St Thomas Aquinas. (Note what Vatican II said about the perennial philosophy: Decree on Priestly Training, n. 15.)
They would have a good grasp of the big events in Church history, and be well versed in apologetics.
Sadly, this has not happened. Most Catholics have made no serious effort, and too often when they have tried to improve their knowledge of the Faith they have been led astray by unorthodox books and courses.
What can be done? The Caroline Chisholm Library has sound books on the above topics, from early writers to the present, and ranging from elementary works to profound ones. We can all promote these treasures to the people we know, as well as using them ourselves.
The older we get the more difficult it is to learn. Realistically, many people have left it too late to advance far in the studies I have spoken of. But at least the value of these studies should be seen, and the fact that the Church urges them. Seeing this, we can all encourage people, especially young people, to pursue such studies and so attain wisdom in an age of folly.
I’ll mention just one of the authors whose books are in the Library, F. J. Sheed. Three of his books give an overview of theology: A Map of Life is the simplest, Theology for Beginners is a level higher, while Theology and Sanity is the most profound but is very clearly written – and in my opinion is his masterpiece.