When do you break down and write a book review chapter-by-chapter?
When you suspect that pound-for-pound, the book is bigger than your own brain. Hence the suspicion that by the time you finish Chapter 25, you’ll have no memory of how you really felt about Chapter 1.
Big is not bad, when the topic is The Entire Catholic Faith. There’s a reason RCIA isn’t conducted in a one-week crash course. Introduction to Catholicism for Adults by Rev. James Socias, is not a “Hi, how are you, my name is Catholicism,” kind of introduction to the faith. It’s more of a “Let me tell you everything you might want to know before we get married.” Or celebrate one of those other life-changing sacraments you’re considering.
I’m thrilled that Midwest Theological Forum has shared with me a review copy, as it’s the perfect title for an adult wishing to dive into the Year of Faith with gusto. Over the next few months I’ll be reading and reviewing it chapter-by-chapter, and finish with a final round-up review at the end.
Chapter 1: Called to Holiness
The book opens by getting straight to the point: Why bother with Christianity at all? Well, the point is to become like Christ, to know Him intimately, and to enjoy perfect happiness in Heaven for all eternity. Those stylish feathered hats the Knights of Columbus get to wear — or any of the other trappings of the faith — are just a side benefit. (The book does not specifically mention the feathered hats. I added that.)
Sidebars in the chapter introduce St. Augustine (the man, not the city), the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Paul, martyrdom, sainthood, the difference between evangelization (good) and proselytization (bad), and St. Josemaria Escriva. There are numerous quotes from the Catechism, church documents, and of course Fulton Sheen.
Reading Level: Educated Adult
The text is well-written, substantial, and logical, but this is not an easy-reader. Students reading this book need to have a solid high-school level or higher reading ability. Not every RCIA student is going to breeze through this book and beg for more. That said, my initial impression is that this is a good resource even for students who won’t read the whole book cover-to-cover, because it is so comprehensive. It most certainly is a reasonable reading level for any catechist who is qualified to teach RCIA — if you are comfortable with the Bible and the Catechism, this text will not pose any difficulties.
But the catechist should plan to use the text primarily as an outline from which to prepare a weekly discussion of the most important points. Students who are able to dig deeper can then use the book to do so — I’m a strong proponent of offering rigorous theology for those who are ready for it. The parish should plan to offer an alternative text for adults who read at a more elementary level. (I’d recommend the YouCat — readable, approachable, and available in multiple languages.)
Helps for Teaching Chapter 1
Two books come to mind as supplementary reading or references for Chapter 1. On the question of personal holiness, Holiness for Everyone by Eric Sammons is a reader-friendly introduction to the time-tested approaches to Christian spiritual growth adopted by countless saints over the centuries. If Sammons builds specifically on the work of St. Josemaria Escriva, it’s because that saint taught what Therese and all the others knew as well.
A thornier topic that Chapter 1 raises is the work of the much-maligned association Opus Dei. The go-to resource for questions about this group is John Allen’s straightforward work of investigative journalism, Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church. For those who are unfamiliar with him, John Allen is a seasoned reporter on the Vatican-beat, but he’s no conservative Catholic, let alone a partisan of Opus Dei. So this book is particularly helpful for those who would mistrust anything that smacks of insider-propaganda.
But I’m already a Catholic. I know this stuff.
There’s a picture of the Holy Eucharist on the front cover, and let me advise you: Take the hint. I brought this book with me to Adoration the other week, and read the first page of Chapter 2 in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Knock-your-socks-off powerful. (Figuratively. I kept my socks on. But I did get weepy. Let’s call it knock-your-composure-off.) I’m impressed by this book. Can’t wait to read more.