What Do You Really Believe?

Many are looking for a deeper understanding of their faith. Others are confused about what the Church teaches and feel at a loss to explain their faith to others. These carefully chosen resources are a good start.

COMPILED BY FATHER GERALD GAWRONSKI

Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed (Servant Publications). Don’t be afraid of the word “theology” in the title; this is a simple yet profound look at the basics of the faith. The author uses plain language to condense teaching on the nature of God and beliefs of the Church. It would be difficult to exaggerate how good this book can be for those who are hungry to learn.

Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed (Ignatius Press). Frank Sheed conducts a fascinating exploration of the existence of God and the design of human nature. The author appeals to reason first, and to faith secondarily. This method demonstrates the basic rationality of our beliefs. Sheed offers real help in approaching the central mystery of Christianity: the Holy Trinity – how God is three persons in one divine being. He explores the consequences of turning our back on God. This presentation of God and man is both moving and insightful and is bejeweled with bits of practical wisdom. It is a kind of deeper sequel to Theology for Beginners.

The Faith Explained by Leo Trese (Scepter Publishing). The breadth of this tiny book is impressive; it covers the attributes of God and the Church, explains the commandments and sacraments, and even provides some guidance on prayer and reading Scripture. Some may find parts of this book demanding, but the good parts here are very good.

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (various editions available). A forehead-slapping “must-read,” this book has sold millions of copies over the past decades – and for good reason. It is uniquely amusing and inspiring. Lewis also wrote The Screwtape Letters which humorously details an exchange of letters between two demons trying to ensnare a new believer. Young people will recognize the pitfalls of beginning to stand on one’s own feet as a Christian. Lewis, while not a Catholic, shares a “Catholic mind.”

Other introductions to Christianity are Fr. John Hardon’s The Catholic Catechism (Doubleday), Peter Kreeft’s Fundamentals of the Faith (Ignatius Press), Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli (IVP), and Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating (Ignatius Press). Keating’s book is helpful for answering questions Protestants have about Catholicism. Speaking of questions, 50 Questions on the Natural Law by Charles Rice (Ignatius Press), examines the way in which Christianity follows the natural design inscribed in creation. It is essential reading! Rice was a long-time faculty member of the Notre Dame Law School.

Many difficulties in our families and society could be helped by better living the Mass. A good start is to read Understanding the Mass by Charles Belmonte (Scepter Press).

I enjoy question-and-answer books; they are easy to read in quick bites. Catholic Replies by James Drummey (CR Publications) compiles 800 answers to questions. And it has a sequel: Catholic Replies 2. Al Kresta wrote the witty Q&A book Why Do Catholics Genuflect? (Servant) and its sequel: Why Are Catholics So Concerned About Sin?. Al Kresta is a radio personality (EWTN radio on Sirius Satellite as well as broadcast radio) and “local boy” as is Steve Ray who wrote Crossing the Tiber about his conversion to Catholicism, and has produced an exciting video series called The Footprints of God. This multi-award winning series is widely acclaimed. The series profiles people like Moses, Mary, and of course, Jesus in a way that is informative but also truly entertaining. Filmed on location and sometimes with exclusive access. Mr. Ray’s work is available from Ignatius Press.

Some recent books address current events and prejudices against Christianity. Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett wrote Christianity on Trial (Encounter Books), to illustrate the positve social influence of Christianity on slavery, science, and other issues. It also addresses some controversies like the Inquisition. Robert George is professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, but his book, The Clash of Orthodoxies (ISI Books), is written in a lively, popular style. In essays about civil life, George shows the natural, humanizing influence of Catholicism. Dr. Philip Jenkins reveals shockingly hypocritical attitudes in popular culture in The New Anti-Catholicism (Oxford). The Church has been rocked by scandal in the past few years. One of the helpful works on the problem is George Weigel’s Courage to Be Catholic (Basic Books).

The Catholic Church has always taught what was believed from the beginning of Christianity. To verify this claim and to learn from the “Fathers of the Church” – as they have been called – refer to The Faith of the Early Fathers by W. A. Jurgens (Liturgical Press). This is an easy-to-use and inexpensive three volume set. The third volume contains a comprehensive index of topics.

Those who wish to start scaling the heights of intellectual challenge may consider The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas by Etienne Gilson or The Degrees of Knowledge by Jacques Maritain (both by the University of Notre Dame Press). It is ideal to aspire to read the great authors themselves, such as St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. By the same token, Catholics ought to try to study the documents of the Church – especially documents addressed to them. Perhaps this could be done in groups. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote Introduction to Christianity (Ignatius) which addresses some of the unique philosophical challenges posed by modernity.

YOU CAN’T LOVE WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

ON PRAYER

While there are a ton of good books on prayer, these might be a beginning: Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press). A philosopher and convert crafts an easy-to-read gem. Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis DeSales (various editions). St. Francis is a doctor of the Church, and Christians have appreciated this classic for centuries. This great saint provides wisdom about the stages of the spiritual life. Many saints have written on the spiritual life and they are uniquely qualified to be guides; Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa and so on. The Art of Praying by Fr. Romano Guardini (Sophia Institute Press). Guardini is a modern spiritual master. Read everything he wrote. The Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay (Ignatius Press). An inspiration to spiritual love that is truly passionate. The Handbook of Prayer (Scepter/Our Sunday Visitor). This book – a favorite of mine – is full of great litanies and prayers as well as information about living the faith. It has a very helpful Examination of Conscience for Confession. You will not want to part with this book. In Silence With God by Benedict Baur O.S.B. (Scepter Pub.) articulates a broad, uncompromising program of developing spiritual attitudes but – while insightful – it is not for the timid. A good way to become reacquainted with the Sacrament of Confession is to look at Lord, Have Mercy by Scott Hahn (Doubleday); another is Russell Shaw’s Why We Need Confession (Scepter). Francis Randolph takes a deeper approach to this sacrament in Pardon and Peace (Ignatius). Benedict Baur wrote Frequent Confession (Scepter) which, like the one above, is demanding but rewarding.

OTHER BOOKS OF INTEREST

Many moral issues are discussed in the third part of the Catechism. A practical overview of moral theology (how to tell right from wrong) is offered in Introduction to Moral Theology by William May (Our Sunday Visitor). Also of interest may be Catholic Sexual Ethics by Ronald Lawler, Joseph Boyle Jr., and William May (Our Sunday Visitor). A helpful book that examines the impact of psychology on our society is Dr. Paul Vitz’s, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self Worship (Eerdman’s/Paternoster Press). As an introduction to church history H. W. Crocker III wrote Triumph: the Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church (Forum/Prima Publishing). Kids of all ages will benefit from reading reliable (and not excessively “creative”) lives of the saints. They have much to teach us. Ignatius Press has a lot of material for young people, including lives of the saints.

SCRIPTURE STUDY

St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “[The Church] forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” (CCC 133) Our reading of scripture ought to be prayerful.

Reading Scripture as the Word of God by George Martin (Charis) is an elementary introduction to studying Sacred Scripture. Scott Hahn’s Scripture Matters (Emmaus Road Publishing) is very enlightening. Dr. Hahn is a popular speaker and professor of Scripture. Finally, A Guide to the Bible by Antonio Fuentes (Four Courts Press) offers outstanding summaries of each book of the Bible.

The consensus among numerous Catholic scholars (and my pick as well) for the best version of the Bible for popular study is the Revised Standard Version (different from the New Revised Standard Version which has significant problems). This recommended translation is also known as the RSV-CE, or Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. Scepter Publishing and Ignatius Press publish editions of this Bible. Every Catholic household ought to have a good Bible and a copy of the Catechism.

CATHOLICS ON THE INTERNET (carefully)

-Catholic can find answers to myriad questions at www.catholic.com.

-There is a Catholic encyclopedia online at www.newadvent.org.

-A good source of Catholic news is www.zenit.org. It is easy to subscribe to news from Zenit.

-Find out what the Church teaches about liturgy at www.adoremus.org. Adoremus – which also publishes a bulletin – adheres to the Church’s directives and cites them to prove it.

-Do a Bible study online! It’s possible to join Dr. Scott Hahn and others at www.salvationhistory.com.

-A great source to find Church documents quickly and easily is the library link at www.ewtn.com.

-Finally, www.familylifecenter.net has many resources for parents and families.

GETTING STUFF IN THE MAIL

Some worthy periodicals are The Catholic Answer, This Rock, First Things, Our Sunday Visitor, and National Catholic Register. Ask for a trial or get a sample of their work on the internet. (The target audience of these are varied.) Sending others a subscription can help them know their faith. It’s good to have this stuff lying around the house.

ON THE ART AND THE DISCIPLINE OF READING

Reading is not always easy or an attractive way to spend time. It seems that many other things are more exciting. Simply the act of sitting in one place for an extended period of time is an act of self-discipline. But in addition to this, reading forces us to – yes – concentrate! Precisely because it exercises self-control, reading can be a fruitful spiritual discipline in itself. We can develop it as a kind of asceticism. And any time we grow in one virtue, we grow a little in all of them. Like any worthwhile activity, we get better at reading and find it more enjoyable by increasing our mastery step-by-step. There is even a good book to help you read books! It is called How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (touchstone/Simon & Schuster).