"Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy and the Splendor of Truth," by Father Richard John Neuhaus (Basic Books, $25)
If you're looking for Catholic writing with clear understanding and a conversational tone, yet filled with theological depth that will knock your socks off, pick up anything by Father Richard John Neuhaus.
Even pick up his journal First Things, which does focus on some high-brow theological issues, and thumb through the pages until you get to "The Public Square," his thoughts for the month on anything and what may seem like everything related to religion and civic discourse.
His most recently bound volume of reflections is "Catholic Matters," which takes a look at much of what is current about the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, as well as why it is the Church (yes, with an uppercase C) that all Christians are ultimately called to. As a convert, he writes as one of the called, but also explains how the truths of the Church call us all to more fully live as Christ invites us.
Although many may read political motives into much of what Father Neuhaus is expositing on, it's the faith components that hold readers captive. The background of Neuhaus' upbringing, in the opening chapter, is most edifying. In fact, it sets the tone for the book and gives hints of how the young man from Pembroke, Ontario -- raised a Lutheran and later a minister of that denomination -- found his way into Catholicism and a year after that was ordained by New York Cardinal John O'Connor.
Those who want to look at Father Neuhaus' prose through the political lens will focus on his description of how the Church changed during the tumultuous 1960s and as a result of the overzealousness of those fomenting change after the Second Vatican Council.
The problem here, though, is that those pushing for change did undertake their efforts for political, or pseudo-political, reasons, when the focus should have been on what could be done to better impart the faith during those turbulent times.
Father Neuhaus does spend a few chapters referring to this unfortunate chain of events, but never in a fashion that praises conservatives (there's a political word again). For example, when he talks about what many would consider the regrettable decision by the United States bishops in the 1960s to do away with the abstinence measures related to meat on Fridays and fasting during Lent, he doesn't cast it in political tones of a battle between liberals and conservatives in the Church. He explains, in faith terms: "There was also a powerful link between fasting and a Catholic sense of being dislocated in ordinary space and time. Fasting reminds Christians that they are people of the cross, and is, however inadequately, an acted-out statement of solidarity with the poor and hungry of the world."
By using that example, some will charge this reviewer with a myopic view of what is important about the faith. But that decision may have been the beginning of a downward slide that minimizes the faith as merely one of many characteristics that we each possess. But being a follower of Christ, who found the one Church, should be the core of who we are, not merely an affectation.
Father Neuhaus focuses on that core, which has contributed to making him one of the best writers in the Church today.
York Young is the periodicals editorial development manager at Our Sunday Visitor.