October 2022: Book Reviews
THE SPIRIT OF CATHOLICSM
Vivian Bolan OP
9781441178022 • pp 272
In the dustcover blurb for this stimulating and timely publication the claim is made that while the Catholic Church appears to be in crisis, disfigured by scandals, divided by theological, cultural and political differences and retreating institutionally as well as judged irrelevant culturally in many places, yet the number of practicing Catholics actually increases each year. Alongside this growth there is a hunger from younger people who want to be informed and formed in a meaningful and intelligent way in their faith so that as St Peter once said they; may give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
The Spirit of Catholicism would be a very good place to start in preparing such a defense as it clearly and in an uncontroversial way presents the substance of Catholic belief and life. In the light of Pope Francis’ missionary emphasis the author skillfully sheds new light on a range of familiar church teachings about Christ, Mary, the sacraments and the historical institution of Catholicism and its presence in human history and society. It is a remarkable feat to achieve all of this in less than 300 pages in three parts and just twelve chapters but the author succeeds in his aim of conveying the spirit of the Catholic faith in a warm and inviting manner. In his closing words he quotes St Josephine Bakhita (1869–1947) a former Sudanese slave and later religious sister who expressed her faith in saying; ‘ I am definitely loved and whatever happens to me – I am awaited by this Love. And so, my life is good.’
As Fr Boland concludes, if the Catholic Church only succeeds in continuing to show people the truth of those words, then it offers the world an inestimable gift.
Reviewer: Paul Clayton-Lea
* * *
How we can recover our bond with the natural world
9781847926883 • pp 256
£14.99 Hardback • Kindle edition £9.99
Karen Armstrong is a prolific author of many books with the themes of faith, religion, belief, creation and spirituality woven into her writings. How We Can Recover Our Bond with the Natural World shows how we can reconnect with the spiritual side of nature to help us address the climate crisis affecting our world.
She cites a simple act of kindness from a 1759 novel by Laurence Sterne called Tristram Shandy, where Toby catches an annoying insect and then releases it out the window. ‘Why should I hurt thee?’ he says. ‘The world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.’ Armstrong refers to the ancient concept of ahimsa in Indian spiritual traditions. Meaning ‘harmlessness’, it prohibits any kind of injury to others and that every animal, plant, and rock, as well as water, fire and air should be treated with respect and reverence: ‘May I have friendship with all creatures and enmity towards none.’
Armstrong explores how the concept of ahimsa is an example of how ancient spiritual traditions can teach us to regain a sense of the sacred in nature. She argues that the future of our species may depend on cultivating a newer awareness of the terrible damage and harm that we are inflicting on planet Earth. She also shares her discovery of the Romantic poets – Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats, who also mourned humanity’s ‘broken relationship with nature’. She says the fearful reality of the climate crisis shows that we need a completely new world view and that recycling and political protest are not enough. We need to recover a ‘silent receptiveness’ to the natural world as the Romantic poets understood instinctively. Technology, while useful and necessary has dominated our lives and as a result, the ‘sounds of nature have retreated.’ She calls for contemplation, meditation and ‘quiet sitting’ as a way to free yourself from your cluttered ego and to tune into the wavelength of the sacred, animating presence and power, flowing through all creation.
There are echoes of Laudato Si’, the encyclical of Pope Francis (2015). Subtitled, ‘Care for Our Common Home.’ Pope Francis is trenchant that nature can no longer be treated as a commodity that must be exploited. Armstrong’s notion of ‘quiet sitting’ also invites the reader to appreciate and learn from the sacred insights of other faith traditions that do not rely on the analytical worldview which has dominated European and American ways of thinking. Spending a few minutes each day quietly absorbing the sights and sounds of nature can help remind us that we are all part of the world around us and we depend on it together. Recent images from the Hubble telescope of millions of galaxies are a reminder to us of our lavish, creator God, who takes the scraps of our puny lives so that nothing is wasted. God never just gives a miserly enough. He pours out gallons of wine when it runs short in the measured scarcity of our lives. A book to lead us to a personal and a profound prayer of gratitude for creation.
Reviewer: John Cullen