by Archbishop Barry Hickey
(Record Books, 2009, 96pp, $19.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)
The publication of a new book by Perth's Archbishop Barry Hickey has brought into focus the importance of more Catholics picking up the Bible again - and reading it.
The figure of (usually American) Protestant televangelists striding confidently back and forth across stages at public gatherings or before enthralled worshippers in their churches has become in recent decades either a potent or ridiculous image - depending on one's perspective.
Catholics - and many others - have often looked at such scenes with something approaching amusement or dismissal. After all, Catholics have assumed, however well meaning such figures may be and how correct their arguments for Christianity may seem, that they also appear to lack a certain, well, sophistication or depth that the Church, by contrast, clearly possesses in institutions such as the papacy or in places embodying millennia of clearly Catholic history and identity such as Rome.
The Catholic consciousness is, in part, defined by a certain psychological or emotional feeling that whatever the faults or sins of its members it is this Church that clearly has serious intellectual weight behind it when it comes to talking religion.
But Catholics must face up to one simple truth: when it comes to knowledge of Scripture and giving it primacy in one's life, it is precisely the televangelists and their congregations that beat their Catholic brothers and sisters hands down.
This is clearly a contradiction in Catholic life. The Bible, after all, is almost certainly the oldest continuously written and read book in the history of the world and the greatest work of religious literature ever assembled.
Written over a millennium or more as far as can be known, and read and pondered continuously for two millennia since the Gospels and the various other works of the New Testament were completed, the Bible is accepted by Christians as the inspired word of God, containing the essential facts, history and beliefs necessary for every Christian life.
That Catholics as a whole clearly do not read it regularly and treat it with the reverence and authority it deserves (and have not for generations) is clearly a situation that needs rectifying.
Archbishop Barry Hickey's newly-produced book, simply titled Living Biblically, is therefore an extremely important contribution to righting an historical imbalance in Catholic life that has helped seriously undermine among generations of Catholics the primary Christian vocation to intimacy and friendship with God that we call holiness.
In an age where religious belief, most spectacularly Christianity, appears to be on the retreat globally, Living Biblically is its author's personal invitation to readers everywhere to begin the process of finding the answers to the deepest questions of their lives, answers which can only be found in the Bible.
Among the considerable advantages of this book is its brevity. At just 96 pages in length, divided into 10 chapters and two historical appendices, Living Biblically is aimed not at the erudite scholar, much less the erudite exegete, but at the average man, woman and young person in the suburbs of Australia.
Briefly, but with the authority of someone who has spent 50 years as a priest and the last 20 as a leading Australian bishop, the author sketches out the face and figure of Christ. By the end of the fourth chapter readers will have encountered Jesus as the faithful Jew who is also the fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophecies foretelling the looming figure of the Messiah. They will accompany him in his final confrontation with the Jewish authorities that leads to his crucifixion and resurrection.
But Archbishop Hickey, with a lifetime of experience working with Catholic families from all walks of life, also wants to offer practical guidance to how we, the readers, can begin our journey.
Chapter five sets out a simple six-step guide so that reading the Bible is neither a daunting nor an incomprehensible experience.
Chapter six shows readers how to live out Christ's law of love in a vital area too often ignored by Catholics these days, in their marriages and family lives. Reading the Bible will help Catholics and Christians rediscover the true significance of their own vocation.
One of the most important chapters is chapter seven, Living in the Spirit. In fact, the author admits, it is what he says in this chapter that is the reason for the book's title. No Christian can live without reference to the Holy Spirit, who is also God.
'The central thesis of this small book is to point out that we are still living in the age of the Holy Spirit, and that the extraordinary is still commonplace, and that the forces that would try to crush or render Christ's Church ineffectual today cannot succeed. We need to be as conscious of the action of the Holy Spirit today as the early Christians were in their day,' he writes.
Living Biblically is not only for Catholics, but well worth considering as a gift for non-Catholic or non- believing friends. Young people from their early teenage years will have no problem picking it up and immersing themselves in its simple but profound message.
Recent years and events, such as 2008's Synod on the Word of God held by Pope Benedict XVI and the world's bishops in Rome, have seen a renewed impulse within the Church towards helping average Catholics rediscover the biblical roots of their faith and their importance.
Archbishop Hickey's book may yet come to be regarded as a classic re-introduction for Catholics everywhere to a friend they have for too long treated as only to be consulted when they are in need.