I personally do not have a pet. I seem to be the outlier in this category. So many of my friends and family have their very own furry members of the family. As someone outside the loop, it has always confused me how owners of a 10 year old dog could call that dog a puppy. It’s clearly not. That is a grown dog. When I started thinking about it, though, when does a puppy become an adult dog? Where is that line?

This is a question for Developmental Biology! There are a number of phases in the developmental process.

First there is FERTILIZATION, the process of a single sperm cell combining with single egg cell to form a zygote. Then CLEAVAGE, this phase consists of the starting cell going through multiple rounds of division without the embryo increasing in size. The next phase is GASTRULATION, when the cells of the embryo drastically rearrange to form different layers of tissue.

All of these stages are extremely similar for most animals. This next stage is when we really start to see differences, ORGANOGENESIS. This phase of development is when the embryo begins differentiation in the cells and creating the organs of the organism. The following image shows just how much differentiation can make a difference in different species.

After this phase, the organism is born/hatched and enters the POSTEMBRYONIC phase. After this, there are very few biological changes to organisms. If you think of a baby versus an adult, they have the same organs and appendages, the biggest change you notice is just that the child gets bigger. Since the speed/amount of size change of the organism is different for each individual, the one difference between an organism in its postembryonic phase and the final ADULT phase is reproduction. The ability to sexually reproduce is what distinguishes the young from the mature adults. It’s easy to understand this with dogs or cows or rabbits, but in humans the word mature is often used for emotional maturity and a 12 year old who has hit puberty is not the picture of emotional maturity, but according to science they would be a mature adult.

After my pregnancy announcement a couple of weeks ago, one might think I started thinking about the developmental process since there’s a wonderful organism developing inside me, but that wasn’t what sparked my curiosity. In fact, it was a bible study on the book of Hebrews. Each section is accompanied by a video by Dr. Andrew Swafford explaining the meaning behind the scripture. This past week when discussing Hebrews chapter 5, Dr. Swafford said, “An organism is mature when it can reproduce.” First, I was shocked and excited that he made a parallel with science. Then I was curious if that was THE distinguishing feature of a mature adult organism. When I found his statement to be true, I went back to really look at the section of scripture he was referencing when he brought it up.

“Although you should be teachers by this time, you need to have someone teach you again the basic elements of the utterances of God. You need milk, [and] not solid food. Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5: 12-14)

The author of Hebrews is calling us out. We’ve been given all of this knowledge through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and yet we are unable to reproduce the teachings. We are unable to share our faith with others because we haven’t taken the time to learn the basics. He is not saying that we all must become doctoral level theologians. There is always more learning to be done (solid food), but he is asking can we share with others the basic tenets of our faith? Some of the examples he gives of “basic teachings” are: repentance and faith in God, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement, instruction about baptism. Do we understand these teachings well enough to share their truths with others?

Last week I invited you to dig deeper into the season of Ordinary Time. Today I’m asking you to put some extra effort into learning the basic teachings. We should all strive to be mature in our faith, but, for now, most of us are not there. That’s okay, that means we have to look outside ourselves to get there. We must look to those who ARE mature, those who have a good grasp on these teachings. Luckily in this day and age it is relatively easy to get our hands on the wisdom of others.

If you like to read: read a book or two on the teachings of the Catholic Church. One of the most acclaimed Catholic authors is Scott Hahn. I recommend any book written by him. I also enjoy books written by Pope Benedict XVI (many under his previous title of Cardinal Ratzinger), though he can be a bit intellectual in his writing style.

If you like podcasts: listen to some of the great content that’s out there. I recommend Catholic Answers or Clerically Speaking. They have been around a while so there’s lots to listen to. There are many more good ones out there, but these are “the big ones” that I know of.

Or one of the simplest ways to learn about our Church’s beliefs is through our local source of knowledge, our priests. During this pandemic, many Masses have been recorded and put online. You can always go and listen to their homilies. OR, one of the main roles of your priest is to be a shepherd to your church. That includes you. If you have more specific questions, most parish priests are more than happy to sit down with you and chat about the faith. I know the priests I’ve met have an especially hard time turning down offers to chat about the faith if it comes with the promise of a home cooked meal! Who could pass that up?

No matter which route you choose, it is important to learn about our faith. If you haven’t learned anything new since your elementary school religious education classes, maybe it is time you need a refresher. Part of being a Christian is first learning our faith and then spreading it to the ends of the Earth. We must become mature in our faith; we must share the knowledge we have.

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