- Fall in love. Christ loves His Church as His chosen Bride–therefore we, His followers, should love her too. Only by knowing someone can you love her–and so in order to love the Church, you must know Her! When you trace God’s providential care for His people throughout Christian history, you will see how exquisite and beautiful is the gift of the Catholic Church. He gives us divine life through Her: in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, and through Tradition, age after age. Through a study of God’s loving care for His Church, you will see how beautiful and lovable She is.
- Fit together the pieces. To most Catholics in the pews for Mass on Sunday morning, the usual gestures, recited prayers, repeated responses, and colors of the vestments are all there because…that’s just how it is done at a Catholic church! Hardly anyone knows why we do what we do, and why we do it when we do it. What is the purpose of the Mass and other ceremonies in the Catholic Church, like Confirmation and Confession? Why do we have priests, and why are they called priests, and why are only men priests? A study of Church History answers these questions. When you study our past, you come to more deeply appreciate the purpose and nature of Sacraments. The Church’s entire mission is to spread the Good News by dispensing God’s saving grace through the Sacraments. The word “sacrament” is from “sacramentum” in Latin, which means…”oath.” (God is faithful, and always keeps His promises/oaths–more on this below!) So when you understand the Sacraments more, it becomes easy to understand how important Catholic clergy are. Like solving a giant puzzle, learning the history of the Catholic Church makes the purpose of each individual piece into an essential part of the great masterpiece.
- Prepare a defense of the Truth. Sometimes in this life I feel like the theme is “me vs. the Modernists.” Everywhere men and women are trying to destroy morality, slander the Church and Her members, and twist the truth of historical events in the service of their own agenda. If you feel like me, you will want to be ready to answer them with caritas et veritas, charity and truth. Yes, you need to know the truth about the Faith, and others need to know it, too. We all need to be free of the poisonous lies that separate people from the Church, and all should hear faithful Christians speak the truth; even those who are inventing and spreading the lies. This is a non-negotiable–Pope Francis himself is quoted as saying, “There is no peace without truth!”
- Inspire your children. Seeing you on fire with excitement and gratitude for God’s goodness in giving you the Catholic Faith will inspire them to engage with Catholic people, ideas, and events. Maybe it seems like I am being unrealistic here–that only super-religious Catholic nerds could ever get excited about Church History. No, this excitement is reachable for every Catholic! With videos, books, audio files, and websites galore, every learning style has a way to learn Church History. Following where just a little curiosity leads you, learning can become exciting to you and your children, and you will grow in your love for the Church together.
- Get tools to build with. The past times of Christian history are overflowing with tools to build our spiritual lives, our parish churches, our homes, and our culture. Although I am particularly zeroing in on a study of the Age of Faith right now, many traditions and treasures from all times are waiting to be picked up and polished and set like a jewel in the context of our lives. With ideas from the past, you can develop a holy and devotional life that is rarely seen in our times! A study of Church History is not purely theoretical/theological, after all; being the story of human beings interacting with the Divine, the history of the Catholic Church will provide to those who investigate it real, practical things that humans have done to honor God that we can still build into our lives and our Domestic Churches today.
- Receive a dose of hope for the future. Really, the Catholic Church is a continuation of Kingdom of Israel, and as the Jews treasured their stories from their history which spoke of the faithfulness of the Almighty to His Covenant, we too should look at the treasure of our history as proof of God’s continuing faithfulness to us. (As a small sample of this, read the story from our history from the sixth century about the Deacon Vigilius at the end of this post to marvel at what one historian calls the clearest historical proof of Papal Infallibility.) Some of your family members, like mine, may be struggling with the ideas of the Church as an authority figure, or that She still has the dignity of being Christ’s Spouse when it seems like She has been totally abandoned by God. With the knowledge of what Catholics in the Church have gone through all through the generations (and survived, Deo Gratias!) you can share your trust that Christ has never, and will never, abandon Her.
- Strengthen your mind and heart. Having recently finished a book on developing your powers of memory in service of the virtue of Prudence, I would go one further and say that strengthening your mind with knowledge of the Church’s sacred history is also in service of the virtue of Charity. After all, study of Church History 1) inspires a more fervent love of God and greater gratitude for His overwhelming Love, 2) encourages us to love our fellow Catholics more, with whom we share the Holy Faith, 3) gives us a perspective to love God’s beloved human race more, as we see what He has done and still does for us, 4) causes us to love the Church more as God’s great gift to us, 5) and brings us to defend the honor of the Church out of love for non-Catholics who need to know God’s truth. So not only will your learning help you grow in knowledge and mental fitness, but God can lead your heart to greater virtue with a study of Church History!
- Meet amazing people. In your journeys through history, you will make some incredible new friends: the saints. There are thousands of them! These incredible real people have been through everything you can imagine, and you’ll find many that especially resonate with your own life. Real people, these holy men and women are still involved in earthly affairs by assisting us with their prayers. Read the stories of the saints to marvel at what humans are capable of through God’s grace, to restore your faith in humanity, and to understand what kind of spiritual life (great holiness!) that God is really calling each and every one of us to.
- Find answers. Since confusion multiplies by the day in the areas of ethics, morality, and religion, a search for the Truth in our times can seem like an impossible quest. Like a lighthouse for storm-tossed souls in the maelstrom of our culture, the Catholic Church stands steadfast as the means of understanding God’s truth and receiving the grace by which we are called to come to Him. But how did it all start? Study the time of the Apostles and Early Church Fathers. Why do we Catholics have differences from millions of other Christians, and what are they? Study the Great Schism to learn about the Orthodox, the Protestant Revolt to learn about the beginnings of the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations in the world today. Through a study of the Church, you’ll connect the dots for yourself and find the answers to all those questions–who, what, when where, why, and how–and they’ll lead you out of the troubled waters to Truth Himself.
- Plug in. As I engage more and more with Catholic thought and Catholic media today, I find a vast conversation is going on that cannot be understood without a study of Church History. More and more Catholics are embracing their glorious tradition and joining in the discussion. Because everything that Catholics do leads back to something that came before, every conversation amongst these Catholics relates out to so many dimensions of our Church’s past. Whether it’s an article in the latest gorgeous issue of Regina Magazine or a musician’s query on the Church Music Association of America’s forum, it seems that everyone’s part of this growing conversation. You’ll be left behind in this growing movement if you don’t know your Church History!
Hopefully these ten points on the list have inspired you to begin your journey through time. Get started, right now!