by Fr John Flader
(Foreword by Cardinal George Pell)
(Catholic Adult Education Centre, 2008, 310pp, $29.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Why is holy water being removed from some church fonts during Lent, asks one of Fr Flader's correspondents? Because the unfortunate clergy did not have access to this splendid book in time, we might reply. Fr Flader's reply is, naturally, more measured and scholarly and also a very tactful one. Those who know Fr John Flader know him to be the very soul of courtesy and gentleness and these qualities are well employed in answering the many timely and pointed questions that appear in his Catholic Weekly (Sydney) column, and here extracted and accumulated.
He does not avoid the controversial. Many of his questions are on subjects regularly proposed as areas where the Church has lagged behind the world. Here they appear, in the treatment they deserve, with objections faced head on and honestly answered. Women priests are here and the celibacy of the clergy. Freemasons, homosexuality and divorce, those topics beloved of the media are explained succinctly and tactfully.
It would be wrong, however, to see this as a work of apologetics. Many questions are by way of explanations of the curious detail - why water is added to wine or the background to the Miraculous Medal.
Most, however, are practical explanations of questions that many people (not just Catholics) might ask or find themselves asked, and wonder how to reply: Did Jesus know He was God or What will happen at the end of time?
The book is divided into four sections, following the traditional division of catechisms - doctrine, sacraments, morality and prayer. It is an easy book to find one's way around.
As a parish priest I can testify that the questions in this book are real ones, constantly raised in the pastoral context and which I myself have been called on to answer many times, but without the graceful and kindly responses which Fr Flader provides.
This is a book for those who are sincerely seeking the answers to questions about Catholic belief and practice. They will not be disappointed or fobbed off with dissembling responses which reveal only an author's unwillingness to stand by unpopular positions.
Best of all, here are gathered together some very useful references to documents and official positions, not always easy to come across (for example, concerts in churches, Q. 47). While Fr Flader's deep learning and careful research are in evidence, his clarity of argument makes this a very accessible resource for all readers.
Fr Anthony Robbie is a parish priest in the Sydney Archdiocese.