It’s Passing on the Faith Month at Patheos, and I’m jumping in with my #1 criticism of parish faith formation in the US today: Treating people like they’re idiots. Allow me to begin with a word from our sponsor, emphasis mine:
. . . thou shalt love the Lord thy God with the love of thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and thy whole mind, and thy whole strength. (Mark 12:30)
Catch that? Your whole mind. If you read here, you’ve probably got a pretty nimble one. The kind of mind that, left with nothing to do, will think up something to do. The kind of mind that will never be satisfied with a fistful of warm fuzzy platitudes for a faith.
You’re capable of learning real theology. Denied that chance? Your brain will fill its theology cortex* with some other topic, and you’ll end up one of those weird one-sided people who know everything about engineering or accounting or name-that-subject, but couldn’t identify the correct definition of the Trinity if you put it an one-deity line-up.
Fortunately for you, theologians are standing by. Pulled off my review shelf, here’s my list of favorite resources for college-material Catholics who need a 101 on the faith:
1. Introduction to Catholicism for Adults. There are no puns in this book, and if the power goes out, it’s heavy enough that you could iron a shirt with it. Consider it a Catholicism 101 textbook for one of those colleges where “Religious Studies” means actually learning what the religion under study really teaches, in detail and with intelligence. At the end of each chapter there’s extra homework just in case. Great go-to resource for catechists preparing a topic for class.
And even though it it isn’t the ideal book for every newbie Catholic, every now and then, I’m not kidding here, it’s the right choice for RCIA or post-RCIA. Do not bring someone with a graduate degree into the Church via some flimsy booklet, and consider them “formed”. You can start with the booklet if you must, but don’t stop there.
2. Text of your choice from the Didache Series. Working backward a few years . . . MTF also has a whole slate of high school theology textbooks. To make parish life easier, they’ve recently released “Parish Editions” that cover the same ground in a shorter course. I won’t say that every serious Catholic high school theology program uses these (because there are some other good syllabi that use different but similarly substantial texts), but I will say that if your student is doing college-prep in everything else, your student needs to do college-prep theology as well.
Something I really like about the texts from this series that I’ve seen: These are suitable for adults, too. Many of your RCIA candidates and adults interested in taking a faith formation class are not going to have time to swallow Intro to Catholicism in one course. The parish editions in particular are very well suited to breaking adult faith formation into manageable mini-courses.
3. Anything written by Eric Sammons. These are intelligent, thoughtful tours of the basics of Christian spirituality, in a quick, comfortable read. Can’t go wrong.
4. Fr. Longenecker’s Catholicism Pure and Simple. Fr. L. has proposed that for those entering the Church, it’s easy to get distracted by 10,000 weird devotions, or heated arguments over the latest hot Marian apparition. His answer is a straightforward tour of the essentials of the faith, and he pulls it off admirably. You can’t stop your study here, but it’s an excellent place to begin.
5. The Faith and Life textbook series. Written for grades 1-8, these are hands down the best elementary textbook on the market for study at home. (There may be good reasons for going with some other textbook in the parish . . . but it won’t be because F&L is too light.) By book 7 or 8, the material can rival anything written for grown-ups.
How well does this prepare youngsters for later study? The other afternoon we had three young teen boys sitting on our porch, following along for an hour while their dads studied Deus Caritas Est, then did a thematic tour of scriptural teachings on the love of God. No coddling. These books get your student ready to study the faith for serious.
6. The Bible Tells Me So by Christian LeBlanc. It’s a step into a year-long survey of the Bible from Creation to Revelation, informed by Tradition and peppered with all the essentials of Catholic spirituality. Readable, fun, excellent companion to any read-the-Bible study plan.
Ronald Knox. When you’ve graduated from C.S. Lewis and GKC, Knox is next.
How about you? What’s your favorite intelligent spiritual reading, Pope-generated or otherwise? I know I’ve missed a bunch of good titles. Add to the list, please.
*fake jargon alert.