Come To The Father: An Invitation to Share the Catholic Faith, by Aidan Nichols OP (St Pauls, 2000, pp. 160 pb. RRP $19.95. Available from AD Books)
In his masterful work Christendom Awake (T&T Clark, 1999), Father Aidan Nichols, the Prior of Blackfriars', Cambridge, called on the Church to rediscover its identity at the dawn of the third Christian millennium as a matter of the utmost urgency. Writing on English soil he asked the poignant question, which echoes well beyond her bounds: "The Church once made England; can she now remake this not terribly impressive culture of supermarkets and sport?" Christendom Awake is a timely reminder lest we fail in our mission to ensure that the third millennium is in fact Christian.
Nichols goes further in Come to the Father. Based on the assumption that "the 'politically correct' refusal to speak about the conversion of England for fear of offending ecumenical or inter-faith sensibilities, as well as arousing humanist-secularist irritation, is based on an unfortunate misreading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council," this book is precisely what its subtitle says: an invitation - to non-Catholic Christians and to people of other or of no religion - to share the Catholic faith. "It was written," Nichols explains, "not for theological critics, dissenting or otherwise, but for people who are crying out for spiritual bread."
Come to the Father calls post- modern man to discover the sustenance, the meaning, he needs to survive - and indeed to live - in our syncretist society in which moral and religious truth is routinely denied in the name of liberal democracy. Come to the Father is written to call all men, after the injunction of the Gospel, to become apostles and to correct and transform our rapidly haemorrhaging society. It is written in the unashamed hope that "the eternal lamps" of the True, the Good and the Beautiful, will "illuminate all thinking about the world, for they flood with light the world itself." Such is Nichols' vision.
This, then, is no dour survey of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. Its fare is far from dry dogma to be digested by the prospective convert. Chapters are organised according to the articles of the Apostles' Creed, and given this they are systematic. Yet they are peppered with references to the Fathers of the Church, to poetry, literature and art, even to contemporary films and newspapers, illustrating how the Catholic faith can indeed flood the world with light.
Nichols does not avoid parts of Catholic dogma or practice rejected in the reformation controversies and evaded today by some Catholics out of a false ecumenism akin to that described above. Thus the place of the Virgin Mary, of the saints, of relics and images, of purgatory and of prayer for the dead are all covered.
Nichols' survey of the seven sacraments is succinct and refreshing, avoiding popular theological errors, particularly the practically heretical view that Confirmation is a sacrament of our commitment. Theological areas frequently missing in Catholic catechetical texts are present here: the fall, angels and the devil, grace, hell and damnation. Nichols is equally forthright about God's love and mercy, correcting insipid sentimentalism.
True, the love of God is the Church's supreme message - but it is a terrible, a demanding, love she proclaims (precisely for our benefit), not some declaration about a celestial 'sugar-daddy' who can always be relied on as a soft touch (and thus leave us, regrettably, where we are).
Nor does Nichols hide the somewhat ugly appearance of aspects of the Catholic Church today. To the non-Catholic who recoils from the current state of her liturgy Nichols admits: "Its outward forms are not always lovely. Not all priests, religious or lay people responsible for the celebration of the liturgy have a sensibility fine-tuned to its treasures, and the rites promulgated by Church authority sometimes show - quite apart from issues of inadequate translation - humanity's perverse gift of supplanting things of great value with things of less. Still, the liturgy, because it is the exchange of love between Christ and the Church, is all glorious within."
A person who is not a Catholic will find in Come to the Father a forthright theological presentation of the Catholic faith in which its reasonableness and its splendour may be glimpsed. It would make an excellent book to study during RCIA programs. Clearly 160 pages cannot be said to be comprehensive, but this is not what Nichols sets out to achieve. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the obvious volume to which to turn for this.
But the value of this work is not limited to those not of the Catholic faith. Come to the Father is ideal personal spiritual reading and would serve as a valuable basis for renewal in the faith for parishes or groups, perhaps during Lent. Nichols' invitation is indispensable to all: "Good reader, pass over the market opportunity to make yourself up, and allow grace to do it for you in the way the redemptive Creator, more intimate to you than you are to yourself, knows how. This is the wider room into which the saints and mystics of the Church invite you, where not even the sky is the limit."
Christopher Quinn is a European based journalist.