Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 18, 2002
Volume creates understanding for all readers
What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts For Life, by Thomas Groome. HarperCollins: New York. 2002. 314 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Thomas Groome, Catholic educator at Boston College, was leading a workshop when Bob, a grey-haired older man, voice quivering, rose slowly to his feet.
"You asked how we feel about our Catholic identity," he said. "Well, I feel betrayed and hurt . . . I grew up in the old Church - Catholic school, altar boy, do whatever father or sister tells you . . ."
"Then along came Vatican II in the sixties and all the changes . . . I became a Vatican II Catholic . . . Now (there are times when) I'm feeling dragged back to a Church more like when I was a kid - but less compassionate, and without the fun we had then.
"Many Church leaders don't have a fire in the belly for Vatican II and it's efforts at renewal. I know for sure I can't go back, but I don't know where to go instead. I feel lost about what it means to be a Catholic anymore."
Bob had struck a chord.
What Makes Us Catholic is a book for those who, like Bob, are searching for core Catholic values in their lives; who want to put their faith to work; and who treasure their Catholic identity even when they don't practice their faith as they think they should.
Groome, with a solid reputation as a textbook writer in religion, presents his case for core values to a broad spectrum of Catholics. His main task is not to bring lapsed Catholics back to the fold, though they would be welcome.
Rather, he seeks "to encourage a critical reconsideration and deliberate choice of what could be life-giving from the Catholic faith tradition" for modern Christians.
His target-audiences range "from the devout to the alienated, radical reformers to defenders of the status quo; from tired cradle-members to curious catechumens and enthusiastic neophytes; from baby-boomers who feel that Vatican II has been betrayed to Gen Xers who wonder what the boomers are whining about; from returnees who are happier the second time around to those who will never return but could bring with them a rich spiritual legacy."
Because of its sensitive ecumenical spirit and refreshingly non-patronizing approach, this book should also appeal to and delightfully inform many non-Catholic readers.
It centres on eight distinct Catholic qualities including: the Catholic imagination, sacramentality (finding the infinite in the finite), community, appreciation for human potential and fallibility, reverence for Scripture and tradition, concern for justice and the unfortunate, care for all, and a faith-based spirituality that permeates every day.
Each focus appears in a well-written chapter that opens with an anecdote from the author's own experience. This serves to concretize each of the main points.
Questions near the beginning and end of each chapter make the book user-friendly for sharing groups in local parishes or for personal study.
Because it is largely jargon-free the book should not intimidate those who feel they have little theological background.
While Groome is an engaging thinker with strong Catholic credentials, his inclusive vision may not be as well appreciated by some conservative readers.
He seeks to be faithful to tradition at its best and yet provide a fresh horizon that nurtures a contemporary, universal spirituality grounded in the visible and local Catholic faith community.
For the Bobs or others out there who wonder what became of their dreams, this book delivers a sense of healthy pride and hopefulness in what it means to be Catholic today.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)