"The greatest catechetical tool of our generation"
A Journey to the Heart of the Faith
by Fr Robert Barron
(Image Books, 2011, Hardback, 291pp, $30.00. Companion 5 DVD set, $150.00. Purchase both for $170.00. ISBN: 978-0-30772-051-1. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Any book on the Catholic faith with strong endorsements from Archbishop Chaput, Scott Hahn, George Weigel and others of their stature merits a close look, and Father Robert Barron's Catholicism more than lives up to their praise.
The Church's call to a "new evangelisation" of the increasingly secularised, paganised West has elicited a constructive response from Father Barron, a latter day Fulton Sheen who has been using modern technology for several years to evangelise the wider culture via TV, radio, podcasts, YouTube and his blog.
A Chicago based priest, Father Barron teaches at the archdiocesan seminary and was described by Cardinal Francis George as "one of the Church's best messengers". He is well known in the US as director of the popular new evangelisation ministry Word on Fire and toured Australia last March for a series of speaking engagements.
The present book is a companion to Father Barron's impressive ten-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic faith, now available (see above) as a 5-DVD box set (500 minutes in total).
The book's ten chapters mirror each episode of the documentary, dealing with the Incarnation, Jesus' Teachings, the Mystery of God, Mary, Saints Peter and Paul, Christ and the Church, Sacraments and Worship, the Communion of Saints, Prayer and the Life of the Spirit and Last Things.
In his chapter on the saints, Father Barron profiles four holy women, Thérèse of Lisieux, Katherine Drexel, Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa, who exemplify what he calls "elevated virtue". These examples underline the immense diversity of the community of saints as well as the key roles women have played in the life of the Church.
Somewhat reminiscent of Sir Kenneth Clark's classic Civilization series, Catholicism (both in the book and film documentary) draws upon the Catholic Church's immense treasure trove of saints, poets, artists, cathedrals and music. The result answers the prayers of those looking for imaginative, appealing ways to respond to the new evangelisation challenge in schools, parishes and RCIA programs.
In such situations, when endeavouring to explain Catholicism (to both Catholics and non-Catholics), one would focus on its distinctive features such as the Mass, the sacraments, Mary, the priesthood, the bishops and popes, as underpinned by the Church's intellectual armoury of apologetics, theology, and philosophy.
While Father Barron concerns himself with these essentials, he goes beyond what is good and true about the Catholic tradition to what is also beautiful about it. For a fully rounded faith is not just a matter of mind and soul but also of body and senses. Hence we need to connect with the Church's art, history, culture, music, literature, and architecture.
Father Barron puts it this way: "[I]n order to grasp [Catholicism] more fully, we have to read the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Confessions of St Augustine, the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, The Divine Comedy of Danté, Saint John of the Cross' Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Story of a Soul of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, among many other texts. But we also have to look and listen.
"We must consult the Cathedral of Chartres, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Arena Chapel, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Grunewald's Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece, the soaring melodies of Gregorian chant, the Masses of Mozart, and the motets of Palestrina."
In making his documentary series and the present companion book, Father Barron spent five years travelling to over fifty locations from Rome to Jerusalem to India to Poland in order to highlight the Catholic tradition in all of its splendour, richness, texture, and genius.
In this masterfully condensed book, the author manages to enlighten the reader on every significant facet of Catholicism, while, like Fulton Sheen a half century ago, writing (or speaking) in an attractive, easy to grasp style without short-changing any subject, whether it be the existence of God, the Incarnation or the Eucharist.
The book includes more than one hundred black-and-white photos along with an eight-page colour insert and these whet one's appetite to view the whole documentary series.
Throughout Catholicism, Father Barron applies his considerable learning and artistic flair to the distinctive teachings of Jesus, the missionary zeal of Saints Peter and Paul, the central importance of Mary, the riches of Catholic spirituality, as well as death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
One reviewer described Catholicism as "the most vivid catechism ever created" and another as "the greatest catechetical tool of our generation, the premier, single-volume book on Catholicism."
In short, to quote another reviewer, "in a culture hungry for truth, Catholicism offers answers to people searching for goodness, it provides the path toward sainthood and in a world desperate for beauty, this book ravishes." Amen to those sentiments.