As I continue on my project of reading about Catholicism, I stumbled on a book that is a companion to a documentary series. I did not watch the documentary, but I picked up the book because the point of the documentary and companion book was to explain Catholicism to those that are inside and outside the church.
My first thought is that this is not about Catholicism, it is about Christianity. But the author of the book and documentary is not primarily explaining Catholicism, as opposed to Protestantism or Orthodoxy, but explaining Catholicism as an expression of Christianity. So parts of this book read more like a basic systematic theology. Barron is explaining who God is, why we worship him, the basics of the Trinity, the revelation of God, basic teachings of Jesus, end times, heaven, hell, purgatory, etc.
There were three areas that I found particularly helpful. Most helpful is Barron’s discussion of the church. He takes three different looks at it. One is a discussion of St Peter and Paul as exemplary of the tension between the organizational care of the church and the outreaching mission of the church. Both are essential and a focus on either one to the exclusion of the other weakens the church as a whole.
The second look at the church is about how the church is Christ’s body. This is where Barron focuses both on the mystical unity of the church and on how a human and broken people can make up a blameless body of Christ. This section (chapter 7) is particularly helpful as a Protestant to see how Catholics understand that they as Catholics are the fullest expression of Christianity, while not minimizing the Christianity of those that are not Catholic. The focus is on apostolic succession, unity of the church as a whole and diversity of the part.
The third look at the church is a focus on worship and sacraments as unifying expressions of the church. Barron walks the reader through the whole of the traditional mass and explains each of the parts, why it is important and how it fits into the over all structure.
The final important section of the book that explores saints and gives short biographies of a number of Catholic saints (mostly born in the last 200 years.) This is helpful because it counters a misplaced understanding that many Protestants have about why saints are important (they are not worshiped) and how we should view them as examples of how to live a Christian life. (Similar to how Paul writes about the reader imitating him as Paul imitates Christ.)
Overall I was encouraged by the clear evangelistic nature of the book. Overall, the book is clearly trying to explain. But it is trying to explain to draw people to the church and to God. This may not be the best introduction to Catholicism is you are already a well read Christian (Protestant). Because parts of it will be pretty repetitive to what you already know. But the advantage of that is that it will give you a good introduction to why Catholics believe what they do and how much Catholic and Protestant views of most areas of Christian theology are very similar.
- From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart by Chris Haw (bookwi.se)
- Why Be Catholic by Richard Rohr (bookwi.se)
- Chris Haw – From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart [Review] (erb.kingdomnow.org)