How much do you really know?
It’s not an idle question, and it’s one that I ask myself all the time. There are so many things in life that we think we know, but when we come down to it, we really don’t. Or we find that what we know is erroneous.
I’ll give you an example. Many Americans “know” that when writing, they need to place two spaces between sentences. Unfortunately, that’s not true. For a plethora of reasons, while it was once the case, it no longer is: the correct practice is just one space between sentences. Many people were taught the two-space rule when they were young, and now cling to what they “know.”
That was an example of something we were taught that was incorrect. But the same sort of mechanism happens even when it’s something that’s correct. Recently a friend asked me to explain what the French Revolution—a topic I’d studied long and hard in school—was about. I know all about the French Revolution, I thought, and launched myself into a morass of half-remembered facts overlaid with years of neglect. I thought I “knew” all about the French Revolution, but when it came down to actually blowing the dust off that subject in my brain, there was less there than I’d thought.
One could argue that I don’t really need to have the facts of the French Revolution at my fingertips; after all, I have Google. But what about topics that are more important? What about the things that are necessary in my life of faith?
We all went through some intense classes, both when we were preparing to make our First Communion and then later for Confirmation. We learned a lot about some of the essential teachings of Christianity and the Church. And then we went on our merry way and never revisited them. Why should we? We “know” them already.
Okay, then: pop quiz:
- Do you know what it means in the creed to say that Jesus “descended into hell”?
- Can you name the eighth commandment?
- How many Beatitudes are there?
- What’s a corporal work of mercy?
If you got them right, then bravo: you’ve either forgotten less than most people, or you’ve kept reinforcing your knowledge over the years by reading. The fact is, though, that many of us couldn’t answer specific questions about the 10 commandments, the Beatitudes, works of mercy, or the creed. Yet these are things that we “know,” right? If someone were to ask you (as my friend asked me about the revolution) if you know about the Beatitudes, for example, wouldn’t you say yes? And then you might find, as I did, that you actually know less than you think you do.
Keeping our knowledge and understanding of our faith alive is an important part of being a Catholic. While practicing works of mercy is no doubt far more important than knowing about them, the latter is still part of our responsibility as people of faith.
So perhaps it’s time to revisit some of these areas where what we “know” might have gotten a little rusty. Oddly enough, after my encounter with my friend, the book I turned to was one of my old schoolbooks, a book intended for a child of ten, because books for kids tend to simplify and cut through a lot of the layers that adults like to put into their conversations. It’s not a bad idea as Catholics to go back to some of the books that are written with kids in mind for a refresher course on some of what we’ve forgotten.
Pauline Books & Media has just come out with a new book in the Explained series that tackles these questions. If you have children, these are great books, clear and thought-provoking. If you don’t have children, these are still great books, clear and thought-provoking. Consider reading one or all of them… so that what you think you “know” is really what you have, indeed, mastered!
by Jeannette de Beauvoir