Recent works explain questions about the faith - Catholic Courier

Recent works explain questions about the faith

Questions and Answers by Pope Benedict XVI. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Ind., 2008). 175 pp., $14.95.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism by Mary DeTurris Poust. Alpha Books (New York, 2008). 308 pp., $14.95.

One of the welcome signs of modern pastoral outreach has occurred through the initiative of Pope Benedict XVI to dialogue with groups large and small. From 2005 to 2007, the pontiff met with children before their first Communion, youth groups from Rome and the rest of Italy, and priests from the Italian dioceses of Rome, Albano, Treviso and Belluno and Feltre.

With Questions and Answers, these dialogues have been translated and collected in a little volume of questions put to the pope, together with his responses. Each page delights with gifts of modesty and joy and intellectual sincerity.

Many have commented that this pope is shy and retiring. None of that is in evidence here. With laser-sharp precision, and the depth of a scholar, the pope takes on a wide variety of questions. From the children: “Dear pope, what are your memories of your first Communion?” The pope replied that he remembered it very well and that he prayed to the Lord and asked that he always remain with him. “So I went on living my life like that; thanks be to God, the Lord has always taken me by the hand and guided me, even in difficult situations.”

The pope also took questions from older audiences, such as those from youths and clergy: How do we acquire a practical, lively, effective faith? What are the best ways to reach families, with their special spiritual needs? How can our people avoid cults? How can we best understand the Scriptures?

At the heart of the pope’s responses is an abiding catechetical impulse. One senses a clear connection to each person’s inquiry and to the larger hunger that exists among Catholics in Europe.

Although the Holy Father makes no explicit reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he often drew from its contents in the course of his remarks. As one of the principal authors of the catechism the pope is intimately familiar with its utility as a sure guide for the development of the faith.

As a tool for understanding the Catholic Church and its theology, the catechism stands alone for its scope and purpose. However, it does not encompass every facet of the faith. It does lay out in broad strokes a comprehensive exposition of Catholicism’s essentials. Commentary on the catechism, therefore, is something to be welcomed, particularly insofar as it brings a better application of its contents to the lives of believers and interested seekers.

One such offering is Mary DeTurris Poust’s contribution to the Idiot’s Guide series, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism. The guide offers an accurate, if simplistic, overview of the catechism. It contains a number of short synopses of topics such as the resurrection of the body, the benefits of baptism and the exercise of free will, among others — all with user-friendly language. Coupled with these treatments are little boxed “teachable moments” or quick definitions under the heading “church speak” that explain the why and the what of the church’s belief and practice.

It is unfortunate the book is presented under such a deplorable title, as if people have to admit their ignorance to be guided to truths detailed in the catechism. In fact, I would say that all who search out those truths have brains that are fully switched on, even though they may not have facility in the technical points of doctrine.

As a working theologian I am chagrined by the author’s approach to the catechism, which deliberately avoids “that long-winded, lingo-laden academic writing that can make anyone’s eyes glaze over.” I daresay that some of that can actually be useful, as the pope himself demonstrates. Memo to the publishing world: Catholics aren’t that callow.

Hayes is an assistant professor in theology and religious studies at St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y.

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