Faith Knowledge

Different times require different presentations of the Christian faith; every new generation needs information presented within the context of their own culture if they are to engage deeply with their faith. This is why Catholic publishers keep publishing new books explaining the faith and why people buy them. A catechism will tell you all you need to know about what Catholics believe, but not everyone finds this traditional format attractive or easy to read. Fortunately there are plenty of other resources available today. A few of these are discussed below.

Question Time 1 & Question Time 2
Fr John Flader, Connor Court, $29.95 per volume

These are two excellent resource books by the venerable and knowledgable Fr John Flader, who has a column in the Sydney Catholic paper The Catholic Weekly. Both books consist of questions Fr Flader has answered in his column on every imaginable Catholic issue, including matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, morality and prayer. His answers are clear, based on a wealth of theological and historical knowledge, but also very practical in their advice. Most readers probably use these books as a resource when they have particular questions, however, you could also use them for private theological and spiritual reading, since Fr Flader’s pastoral experience and learning make them equally edifying and enjoyable.

Another reference book of note is John Allen’s The Catholic Church: What Everyone Needs to Know. OUP, $27.95. One of the better known, and better informed Catholic journalists, Allen is esteemed for his balance in reporting on religious issues. This book is a look at the current state of the Catholic Church, based on its past, and anticipating its future particularly in the light of contemporary concerns, such as faith and politics, and the Church and sexuality. A master at presenting the diversity of Catholic thought on controversial issues, Allen always includes the official Catholic teaching, so that no one can doubt what it is. While some might take issue with Allen’s assessment of some historical events such as the Crusades, or his list of ‘best’ and ‘worst’ popes, his summaries are generally useful starting points for further reading. His book is under 300 pages, so it is naturally limited in the detail it can provide.

The Faith Our Sunday Visitor, $25.95 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a collection of the former pontiff’s reflections on the Apostle’s Creed. Taken mainly from homilies and general audiences, these pieces are a mixture of reflections on Scripture, theological musings and spiritual and devotional thoughts, organized under the headings of phrases from the Creed. Since the selections are from talks to laymen, rather than academic conferences, and mostly quite short (one to two pages) they are among Benedict’s more accessible offerings. This book would be very suitable for private devotional reading, and would even be appropriate for use in adult discussion groups in parishes, since it contains so much to reflect upon.

Another book which is also an exploration of the Creed is Fr Dwight Longenecker’s Quest for the Creed: What the Apostles Really Believed, and Why it Matters, Crossroad, $33.95. Taking a very different route from Pope Benedict’s book, Fr Longenecker wants us to take a look at the Creed, ‘standing on our heads’. His book tries to shake up the reader and really consider the faith they profess, sometimes thoughtlessly, in the Creed. It is a fun book to read, as he sees the Catholic faith as something ‘challenging, funny, imaginative and edgy’ and his book reflects this. His reflections on Scripture are fascinating, based on completely orthodox historical and theological knowledge, such as his discussion of Our Lady’s virginity, and what this concept really means when you look at it anew. His new book, just out, is almost a sequel to Quest for the Creed, although you could read either as stand alone books quite happily. Called The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth & Beauty, it is another unusual take on the revolutionary nature on Christianity. Fr Longenecker considers the relationship of fairy tales and the hero’s quest with the essential nature of the human desire for God. Beautifully conceived and written, it is an extended meditation on the way fiction reflects the great truths, making them visible to us and helping us on our individual quests.

A more conventional textbook on Catholicism is Fr Milton Walsh’s Into All Truth: What Catholics Believe and Why, Ignatius Press, $32. He wrote the book as a reference for all the Catholics (and non-Catholics) who received an inadequate religious education, and who see the Church merely as a stern authority with a negative view about sex. In other words, he is seeking to fill in the gaps that exist in knowledge about the Church, with basic information about Catholic doctrine, and how this is reflected in the life of the Church. Part one of the book covers God, starting with the Resurrection and looking at the Trinity, and part two shows how the mystery of the Trinity leads to our beliefs and practices. While there are some footnotes included, and a very detailed subject index and index of Biblical passages, it is not an academic book. It would be good as a first book for adult converts, and steers the reader in the direction of other resources.

A new multimedia faith education resource is the Why Course published by the Catholic Truth Society. It is sub-titled ‘a three-part introduction to Christianity’, and produced by two English priests, Frs Marcus Holden and Andrew Pinsent, both well-known authors of other exemplary catechetical material such as the Evangelium series. The three part programme is designed for anyone interested in Christianity, and does not presuppose any religious knowledge. As such it is broad in scope, and would be very suitable for young adults as a basic introduction to the faith, or to refresh Catholics rediscovering their faith, or for marriage preparation classes. The book has a very attractive format including key questions to be considered (and also the answers are included at the back of the book, making it useable by groups or individuals), and lovely illustrations scattered throughout. There is also a DVD to be used together with the book.

For a more extensive presentation of the faith, the Catholicism DVD series by Fr Robert Barron (and accompanying literature) has already proved very popular and successful in Australia and elsewhere. Elegantly presented with a great soundtrack of church music through the ages, and filmed in some of the world’s most significant religious places, this series is a pleasure to watch. Fr Barron’s suave manner and laid-back style make even the more complicated topics flow delightfully, and give the viewer a good idea of the main thrust of each topic, as well as the beauty of the truths being discussed. A Study Guide is available too, and a separate book covering a lot of the material from the DVD series is shortly to be released in paperback format. The five DVDS are divided up with 2 topics on each disc, and they can be used individually or shown in full as a series for secondary students or adults. DVD set (5 discs) $149.95; Study Guide $50.95, book $45.95

A new DVD by Fr Barron is entitled Catholicism: The New Evangelization, which builds on the first Catholicism DVD, and looks at the Church’s mission in our contemporary culture. As the DVD says, ‘Catholicism taught us what the Church teaches and why. Catholicism: the New Evangelization shows us how to put our faith into action’. This new series incorporates 4 DVDs, and covers issues such as the obstacles the Church faces today, the ‘new atheism’ and relativistic attitudes towards faith and morality. There is a Study Guide available too. DVD (4 discs) $69.95; Study Guide $36.95.

Backlist essentials

No library is complete without the following core faith education texts, which are not brand new, but still vital resources:

  • Catholicism for Dummies, Frs John Triglio & Kenneth Brighenti, $28.95
  • Credo: The Catholic Faith Explained, Fr Marcus Holden, $8.50
  • Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons? Matthew Pinto, $22.95
  • Reasons to Believe: How to Understand Explain & Defend the Catholic Faith, Scott Hahn, $30.95
  • Defend the Faith! Robert Haddad, $34.95