LETTERS TO A YOUNG CATHOLIC
by George Weigel
(Leominster: Gracewing, 2004, 240pp, $24.95.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
This excellent set of essays explores some of the key aspects of the Catholic faith. The author, George Weigel, is one of the leading authorities on the Catholic Church and perhaps best known for his biography on the late John Paul II, Witness to Hope. Although the present work was written with a university or young working readership chiefly in mind, it would appeal to readers of any age.
Each essay commences with a description of a place in Catholic/ Christian history that is of significance for the author. He then uses it as a launching pad to explore the theme of the essay.
The essay on the significance of each vocation begins with a description of parts of Warsaw and Krakow, setting the scene for his discussion of the lives and vocations of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, murdered by agents of the Polish communist government for his outspoken support of Solidarity in the early 1980s, and John Paul II.
Similarly, an essay on the caustic effects of liberal Christianity commences with a description of the Birmingham Oratory and the career and personality of John Henry Newman.
Significant aspects of the Catholic faith, such as sin, grace, prayer, suffering and forgiveness are explored, although many of the topics dealt with are, arguably, the contentious ones of our age.
Weigel has no hesitation in challenging some of the axioms which the spirit of this age takes for granted and which are in fact contrary to the faith. For example, in opposition to current thinking, he argues that freedom is not an end in itself, but rather exists so that we may make the correct decision.
Similarly, Weigel introduces significant contemporary ideas within Catholic thinking, such as John Paul II's theology of the body. The final reflection, on the faith of young people, concludes the anthology with a positive message: contrary to popular thinking, religious practice worldwide is not waning and young people who practise their faith are likely to be more committed than those of their parents' generation.
Weigel also draws upon major works of art and literature, giving the reader a taste for the writings of authors as diverse as Waugh, Chesterton, Newman and Augustine. The chapter notes in the appendix provide an excellent basis for further reading.
This work would form an ideal basis for discussion material for senior secondary students and university student groups as well as for personal reflection. If a criticism is to be made of this excellent work, it is that it does not contain a set of questions or points for discussion and consideration in the appendix.