Exploring the Catholic Faith! | An Interview with Diane Eriksen | Valerie Schmalz | July 2, 2006 Exploring The Catholic Faith! | An Interview with Diane Eriksen | Valerie Schmalz | July 2, 2006


Diane Eriksen is the woman behind a new effort to educate Catholics about the Catholic faith. She has served as Managing Editor of Sapientia Press since 2000. Her brainchild, Catholic Faith Explorers, is published by Ignatius Press in cooperation with Ave Maria University.

Ignatius Insight talked to Diane Eriksen about the series' genesis and its goals.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What is Catholic Faith Explorers?

Diane Eriksen: Catholic Faith Explorers is a series of workbooks to help adult Catholics enrich their understanding of the Catholic faith and explore ways to live the faith more fully in their day-to-day lives.

These workbooks are written in everyday language and cover a variety of essential aspects of Catholic faith and life, particularly as they impact the laity. The first seven workbooks answer the questions that many Catholics have. For instance:

Why do we do the things we do at Mass?
Why do we need the authority of the Church?
What is the role of the laity?
Why do we have to go to confession?
Why is Baptism so important?
Why do Catholics emphasize Mary so much?
Why do Catholics emphasize Scripture and Tradition?

IgnatiusInsight.com: What prompted the development of Catholic Faith Explorers?

Eriksen: It really came out of my own journey back to the Catholic faith. I was born and raised a Catholic. However, in my late teens and twenties, I started to question many aspects of the Catholic faith and in time left the Church for several years, in large part because I couldn't get consistent answers to my questions about Church teachings. During that period, I lived many of the promises of the world and searched for a religion that I felt had a better grasp on the issues of today. But, in the end, all of those experiences left me feeling empty inside.

I then slowly came back to the Church with the opinion that I could practice what I agreed with in the Church and just disregard that with which I didn't agree. Shortly after we were married, my husband David converted to Catholicism and I was his confirmation sponsor. Though we both learned much about the faith in that process, we still remained cafeteria Catholics and in fact were told by the facilitator of the RCIA program that it was alright not to follow all of the Church teachings and that we should follow our individual consciences.

It wasn't until we were raising our son that we started to more deeply question those issues with which we still disagreed. How could we tell him that we were Catholics when we didn't agree with some of the Church's teachings? About that time, I purchased a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and began to research exactly what the Church taught. I was blown away by the clarity and the depth of Church teaching. I was both frustrated and humbled by the fact that my years of searching stemmed from a fundamental lack of understanding of Church teachings.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How did that translate into the development of the series?

Eriksen: Over the course of the next 18-24 months, I wrestled with the remaining issues I had with Church teachings and in the end realized that I was indeed a Roman Catholic and submitted myself to follow all of the Church's teachings. In many ways, I was very upset that those who had formed me in the faith who, by trying to keep the faith too simple, robbed me of the incredible beauty and joy of fully living the Catholic faith. During this time, the Lord pressed it upon my heart that He wanted me to use my publishing background to help others come to understand the teachings of His Church. At that time, I was the vice president of a publishing company in the training and development industry. Though many of my colleagues thought I was crazy, I left that position to do what I knew God was calling me to do.

Through an interesting series of events, I became associated with Ave Maria University, which agreed to help me publish this series. I have been blessed to work with outstanding Catholic apologists such as Mark Shea, Judy Klein and Jim Seghers, as well as the scholars at Ave Maria University in the development of this series. It is our hope that the Catholic Faith Explorers series will help others to more fully know and love our Catholic faith.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How is it different from other adult or parish-based faith education programs?

Truthfully there aren't too many Catholic Adult Faith Enrichment Programs available right now. There are Scripture study programs, sacramental preparation programs and many different RCIA programs, but they don't meet the needs of the average practicing Catholic interested in learning more about his or her faith. Another problem is that some programs require people to attend a 6-8 week course or read a long book.

Catholic Faith Explorers is specifically designed to meet the needs of the busy adult Catholic. With a minimum time investment, you can greatly deepen your understanding of the Catholic faith. The workbooks are only 28-36 pages and present the faith in a complete, but concise way. If you prefer to study on your own, you can simply buy those workbooks of interest to you. Or you can come to just one group session to learn about a specific topic. They are all self-standing units so if you miss one, it doesn't matter. The flexible design of the materials allows for group sessions that can be as short as two hours or as long as 4-6 hours if participants want to explore the topic in greater detail.

We have also heard from several Directors of Religious Education that adult faith enrichment programs require a lot of preparation time, and DREs typically have many other responsibilities in a parish. So we've developed the Catholic Faith Explorer materials to require minimum preparation time and so it can be facilitated by anyone regardless of the extent of their previous formation. The leader's guide includes a detailed presentation outline, facilitation guidelines, discussion questions, as well as overheads and a PowerPoint presentation to make it more interesting. We even provide reproducible ads, flyers, invitations, and public service announcements to make promoting the session easy.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Who is Catholic Faith Explorers geared toward?

It is for any adult Catholic who would like to know more about the faith. The Catholic Faith Explorer materials are so straightforward, that you don't need to have any formal training in Church teaching. For many of us, our faith formation stopped after we made our First Communion or right after Confirmation. The next time we learned more about the faith was before we got married or when our first baby was going to be baptized. Yet, for most adult Catholics, this approach leaves us clueless on many aspects of the faith and hungry to know more.

The series is designed for busy Catholics who don't have the time to commit to an 8- week course or do in-depth research to learn more about the faith. Each workbook gives a complete presentation of the topic and provides Scripture references to support Catholic teaching and Catechism references for a more in-depth explanation of Church teaching.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What would you hope someone would take away from Catholic Faith Explorers?

Eriksen: We want to ignite a deeper appreciation of the Catholic faith and interest in learning even more about it through Scripture and various teachings of the Church. Even more importantly, we would like Catholics to come away with a renewed zeal to grow closer Christ and his Church as active partners in the mission of the Church. By learning more about the faith, we hope they will be able to more fully live and share the faith with others both inside and outside the Catholic communion.

Catholic Faith Explorers resources:

Living Water | Understanding the Gift of New Life through Baptism

Not many of us consider our baptismal "birthday" as the most significant day in our lives. Yet what could be more important than receiving the sacrament that Jesus said was necessary for our salvation?

Many of us have been baptized without ever coming to understand its reality and meaning, and we, in turn, baptize our children with our eyes still veiled to the eternal significance of this important sacrament.

The Living Water Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook cover and teach:

• the origin, purpose, and significance of the sacrament of Baptism
• how this holy sacrament was instituted by Jesus as the means through which we are incorporated into his family, the Church
• about the permanent effect that Baptism has upon our souls, and how it heals us of sin and empowers us to live a Christian life, and
• review the Rite of Baptism itself, and consider the deeper meaning of the words, symbols, and gestures.

Living Water Leader's Guide
Living Water Participant's Workbook

Sez Who? Why Church authority established by Jesus is so important today

We live in a time marked by a crisis in authority that has been seen in scandals in every spectrum of society: the family, government, business, and even the Church. As a result, people are often highly suspicious of authority and many Catholics struggle to place themselves with trust under the authority of the Church.

In Sez Who? we learn that God promised to be with us always and established the authority of the Church so that we can know him, and live in happiness and peace now and in eternity. The infallibility of the Church relies entirely upon God's own holiness and integrity, not on the holiness and personal integrity of the Church's members. Therefore, it can always be trusted.

With Sez Who?, participants learn with the Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook:

• about the Christian concept of authority and truth
• why Jesus established the authority of the Church and guides her by the Holy Spirit
• how Church doctrines are not intended to constrict or burden us, rather help us to know and live the truth according to God's will
• when and how the Church speaks infallibly, and
• how lay people are called to be informed and mindful, not mindless regarding Church teachings.

Sez Who? Leader's Guide
Sez Who? Participant's Workbook

The Light and the Lens | Understanding Scripture and Tradition

Despite the fact that the Church teaches that "access to sacred Scripture ought to be wide open to the Christian faithful," many Catholics feel intimidated, skeptical, or even a bit fearful to begin a serious study of the Bible and don't know how to start. Catholics are taking to Scripture in greater numbers. As they do, they make the surprising discovery that the Bible is a thoroughly Catholic book!

In the The Light and Lens Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook participants will learn:

• how revelation has been handed down in both written and unwritten form: Scripture and Tradition
• where we got the Bible
• how the covenants in the Old Testament lead us to the new and everlasting covenant of the New Testament: Jesus Christ
• about the role of Scripture in the Church and guidelines for sensible scripture reading, and that
• Scripture is vital to our life as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Light and the Lens Leader's Guide
The Light and the Lens Participant's Workbook

So Why Do We Do This? Understanding the Why and How of the Mass

Most Catholics know the prayers and movements of the Mass, but many of us can't really explain why we do the things we do in the Mass. We don't remember what the gestures and prayers are all about and can become so entrenched in the ritual aspect of the Mass that we no longer recognize the miracle taking place right before our eyes.

The So Why Do We Do This? Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook cover and teach:

• how the Mass came about
• why it is different from other religious "services"
• the significance of each element of the Mass
• how each of us are active participants in the Mass and
• more about the life-changing impact of receiving the Eucharist

So Why Do We Do This? Leader's Guide
So Why Do We Do This? Participant's Workbook

Today's Disciples | The Essential Role of the Laity in the Church

Never before in the history of the Church has the essential role of the layperson been so dramatically emphasized as it is now. Particularly since Vatican II, the Church has called for a renewal in the life and role of the laity. Yet, for many of us we don't understand what that means.

To be able to fulfill our important role in the Church, we must more clearly understand the Church's teaching on laity. We must recognize that the lay state is indeed a "vocation" and integral to the mission of the Church.

In the Today's Disciples Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook participants will learn:

• the lay state is a "vocation" derived from our Baptism
• the role of the laity is essential in accomplishing the mission of the Church
• laypeople are called to engage in the affairs of the world and direct them according to God's will
• the unique capability that laypeople have to bring Christ's divine message of salvation to every aspect of life, and
• how to discern one's calling.

Today's Disciples Leader's Guide
Today's Disciples Participant's Workbook

Forgiven | Understanding the Healing Power of Confession

None of us like to admit our faults. It's much easier to make excuses for our failings or simply deny them. Yet excuses and denials do not make our failings go away, rather they distance us further from those we have injured and most importantly from God. God understands our natural human tendencies and never wants us to be separated from us. That is why he has given his people specific ways to repent from sin. Jesus instituted the sacrament of confession so that we can experience God's abundant mercy and restore our relationship with him.

In the Forgiven Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook participants will learn:

• how sin entered the world through Adam and Eve
• God has always wanted us to accept responsibility for our mistakes
• the Old and New Testament shows how God has given his people specific rituals to confess and repent from sin
• why Jesus gave Peter the power to bind and loose sin on earth
• the power of confessing our sins, and
• how to prepare for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

Forgiven Leader's Guide
Forgiven Participant's Workbook

Mary and Mother | Understanding Mary's role in Salvation History, the Church, and Our Lives Today

For Catholics, Mary comes to us in much the same way our own mothers do. She is part of the family and there is a natural bond there. Yet many of us don't fully understand her role in the family. Some people think that having deep emotional attachment to Mary is all there should be. Others never develop much of a relationship with her and struggle when they are greeted with the hostility surrounding Mary outside the Catholic Church and are unable to explain our devotion to Mary. These misconceptions keep us from more fully knowing and learning from Mary who, like no other, can show us how to more fully know her son Jesus and be faithful children of God.

In the Mary, Our Mother and Guide Leader's Guide/Participant's Workbook participants will learn:

• what Scripture and Tradition have the say about Mary,
• who she is for us and how she points us to her Son,
• how Mary is related to us in the Body of Christ,
• how we can deepen our relationship with her as we deepen our relationship with God and his Holy Church, and
• how Mary shows us how to be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Mary and Mother Leader's Guide
Mary and Mother Participant's Workbook

Valerie Schmalz
is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.

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