It seems presumptuous for a 279 page book to have a title like “Catholicism” with its history of thousands of years and a deep, beautiful faith. Yet, somehow, Father Robert Barron‘s book captures its essence surprisingly well.
My hopes for the book, the written accompaniment to the excellent Catholicism DVD series, was high. Moreover, Fr. Barron is someone I follow and respect so my expectations were further elevated. While I have not seen the full DVD series, I have seen those portions broadcast on television. They are a work of art: an excellent narrative skillfully told, breathtaking video, beautiful soundtrack – all skillfully woven together. This book essentially takes the story told there and presents it in a complimentary form.
The story is presented in classic Father Barron style. If you are familiar with his videos, you will find the same sort of insight, reasoning, excitement, phrasing and pacing in the book. I heard him reading it to me.
One thing the book is not – a fast read. It took me much longer than usual for a book this size. Not that it was particularly difficult, but because it is thought provoking.
Like Catholicism itself, the target audience for the book is really everyone. Don’t like Catholicism but are fair minded? Thinking about possibly, maybe, tentatively looking into Catholicism? In any stage of RCIA? Fallen away from your Catholic faith? Faithful Catholic head-over-heals in love with your faith? Read this!
Father Barron describes it thus: “What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture. I want to function rather as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the mystery of the incarnation in the hopes that you might be transformed by its power.”
I think that he succeeds. I was particularly pleased with Father’s presentation of the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life. You will not find a dull, mechanical catalog of its component parts together with an overview of the vessels and vestments used (as I have found by some authors). Instead, Father Barron eloquently and beautifully presents the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as it really is. A small snippet:
From a Catholic point of view, this coming together of faith in the Incarnation and faith in the real presence is of great significance, for the Eucharist is nothing other than a sacramental extension of the Incarnation across space and time, the manner in which Christ continues to abide, in and embodied way, with his church.
The book is structured into 10 fairly long chapters:
- Amazed and Afraid: The Revelation of God Become Man
- Happy are We: The Teachings of Jesus
- “That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought”: The Ineffable Mystery of God
- Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast: Mary, The Mother of God
- The Indispensable Men: Peter, Paul, and the Missionary Adventure
- A Body Both Suffering and Glorious: The Mystical Union of Christ and The Church
- Word Made Flesh, True Bread of Heaven: The Mystery of The Church’s Sacrament and Worship
- A Vast Company of Witnesses: The Communion of Saints
- The Fire of His Love: Prayer and The Life of The Spirit
- World Without End: The Last Things
Also included are Acknowledgments, an Introduction (“The Catholic Thing”), A Coda (“It’s All About God”) and an Index. Black and white pictures of people and places are sprinkled throughout the text. The center of the book includes a nice bonus: 8 pages of full-color artwork and other images printed on high-quality paper.
I recommend this book without reservation and have added it to my Great Books list (very few, very select, highly recommended books). I am in very good company recommending it: Archbishop Charles Chaput, Scott Hahn, George Weigel, Raymond Arroyo, Mike Aquilina and many more. Buy it for yourself and give it as a gift. You probably know a lot of people who could benefit from it.
Full Disclosure: This book was provided to me at no charge by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. They seek only my honest, real opinion and that is what I give!