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BY Mary C. Walsh
THE TRUTH OF CATHOLICISM: TEN CONTROVERSIES EXPLORED
by George Weigel
HarperCollins/Cliff Street, 2001
208 pages, $24
Available in bookstores or at http://www.harpercollins.com
Here is an outstanding work of contemporary apologetics from the author who brought us the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope. In this volume, much slimmer and nearly as important, George Weigel proposes a number of questions — the controversies of the title — that vex the modern mind struggling to comprehend the Church, followed by the orthodox Catholic answer to each. The queries are well-chosen, the responses carefully thought-through, and the style a lively brand of straight-talk.
Is Jesus the only Savior? Does belief in God demean us? Where do we find the “real world”?
Such are the kinds of questions that frame the discussion early on. Weigel explains the Catholic view of space and time, deriving, as it does, from the Incarnation as a virtual re-setting of the historical timeline — and as an opportunity to recover the story line humanity forgot about itself as a result of the fall.
“To think of Christ as the center of the universe and of history is to look at the world in a different and evocative way,” he writes. “Through the prism of faith we learn that world history and what believers call ‘salvation history’ do not run on parallel tracks. Rather, in the Catholic view of things salvation history — the story of God's encounter with history, which reaches its dramatic climax in Jesus Christ — is world history, read in its true depth. Salvation history, God's search for us, is the inner dynamic of the human story, the engine of human history.
How shall we live? The Ten Commandments and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church are the laws that liberate, according to Weigel. They are the habits of free men and women who were brought out from the bondage of Egypt. If the Ten Commandments are ignored, we become slaves to our sin. Catholic moral teaching is far more than a list of “thou shalt nots,” but the way to live to be worthy of heaven. Adjust the Ten Commandments and there will be adjusted results.
How should we love? The Catholic Church views sex, notes Weigel, as a beautiful and wonderful gift within the sacrament of matrimony. The selfishness of contraception and lust, which treat women as objects, demeans the beauty of love, sex and marriage.
Why do we suffer? The Catholic faith is the only religion, Weigel shows, that can make sense out of suffering, because of its deep connection with suffering and redemption, perfected and exemplified by Christ on the cross.
Is Catholicism safe for democracy? Perhaps no other issue has involved the Church in America so much as the abortion debate. Weigel asserts: “A society which permits lethal violence as a means of resolving a personal dilemma is not a society fully governed by the rule of law; it is a society governed in crucial respects by the rule of raw unchecked power.”
What will become of us? Weigel refers to the canonized saints as God's “prime numbers.” Saints are not limited to the era of the early Christian martyrs. Weigel points out that more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous 19 centuries combined.
The Truth of Catholicism tells it like it is to a world that prefers debate to dialogue. It's a must-read for every Catholic willing to help make disciples of all nations at this moment in salvation history.
Mary C. Walsh writes from Fredericksburg, Virginia.