There is so much information and people to learn from and those to NOT learn from that this is a challenge. For the past 2 years, I have been working on obtaining my Master Catechist certification. Through the diocese of my parish, we are supposed to go through a certain avenue of learning programs. One such avenue is Dayton University online learning. Dayton has become the most LIBERAL Catholic higher educational source I have ever seen. Be sure that if you take courses with them that you are prepared to fight the good fight in defense of celibacy and the priesthood, women NOT becoming priests, Sacraments remaining in the Church and NOT phasing out, Satan being a real entity, not just a mere illusion called the absence of God. Oh, along with this list of individualistic theology, CarolAnn, one of the facilitators for the courses on Ecclesiology that I took, came on my private email to e-slap my hand for taking the story of the "fall" in Genesis "too seriously!" That if I wanted to, I could, but it was far more rational to realize that angels didn't really fall from grace and she chooses to follow some other "priest" and his theology of Satan and the first fall, which is inconsistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, much less the Bible itself!
Oh, how right she is! Reading and studying about my Catholic Faith has not been a life-long habit with me. For many years I figured if I made it to Mass every Sunday I got everything I needed. By the grace of God I emerged from this spiritually ignorant bliss and developed a hunger for Catholic knowledge. Then came the shock. There is a great deal of material out there with “Catholic” in the title that is a far cry from Catholicism. Authors who are called “Sister” or who wear a Roman collar promote a self-styled ideology that never saw the light of day in Rome. Just today the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a statement declaring the writing of Professor Daniel Maguire, a “Catholic” Theologian from Marquette University, gravely in error.
On June 19, 2006, Professor Daniel Maguire of Marquette University sent two pamphlets to all of the Catholic Bishops in the United States, one entitled The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion and the other A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage. These pamphlets do not present Catholic teaching. His views about contraception, abortion, same sex "marriage", as well as the very nature of Church teaching and its authoritative character, cross the legitimate lines of theological reflection and simply enter into the area of false teaching. Such mistaken views should not be confused with the faith and moral teaching of the Catholic Church. Since it is apparent that considerable efforts have been made to give these views the widest possible distribution as if they were a valid alternative to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops considers it important to offer a public correction of the erroneous views proposed in these pamphlets. At the same time, the Committee on Doctrine calls attention to the Catechism of the Catholic Church where correct and authentic teaching can be found. This readily available source of the faith and moral teaching of the Catholic Church clearly demonstrates the mistaken character of the positions found in the two pamphlets and their unreliability as a guide for Catholics seeking to know and live their Catholic faith.
So what do you do? How does one discern faithful teaching? I suggest we take the advice of our USCCB and begin with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. While it may be a challenging read, it is well worth the effort. For a quicker reference, use the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This condensed version written in question and answer style can easily be read cover to cover. Then as you explore the writings of Catholic authors you have a baseline against which to judge their teachings. Are their teachings consistent with the Catechism? Do they try to excuse or rationalize away behavior that contradicts Church teachings?
Deepening our faith is a life-long process. You will never know it all. If I were going to make suggestions, in addition to the Catechism, I would subscribe to a Catholic weekly newspaper. This puts the news of the day in a Catholic perspective. It gets us in the habit of incorporating our faith in every aspect of our lives. It is also a great source for reviews of contemporary Catholic writers. If you could only subscribe to one periodical, I would recommend the National Catholic Register. It is unswervingly orthodox and supportive to the Magisterium. Our Sunday Visitor is another option, though their coverage of current events seems to lag the news. DO NOT rely on the National Catholic Reporter for Catholic teaching. This publication is filled with writers advocating positions in direct opposition to Church teaching.
Of course, going to the source is always a good idea. The Vatican web site is filled with a lifetime’s worth of reading material. The papal archives give you all the teaching material from the more recent pontiffs. I really think much of the chaos following Vatican II resulted because the faithful in the pews never bothered to read the Vatican II documents. It was easy for those with an agenda to promote distorted interpretations of these documents because no one was reading these important teaching documents for themselves. And don’t forget our Communion of Saints! The writings of the Church Triumphant have much to say to us in our current lives.
Finally, seek out others who also desire to read faithful Catholic teaching. Share the authors and books you have discovered. Then share your zeal with the rest of your community. Inspire those around you to move beyond what they learned in Confirmation class. We have a lifetime of lessons awaiting us.