Candid. Wise. Clear. Warm. Such are the words often used to describe Bishop Thomas Tobin, installed as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown in 1996. Since then, Bishop Tobin has written a regular column, “Without Any Doubt,” for his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Exponent. It has been both popular and celebrated, receiving special recognition from the Catholic Press Association in 1998. This volume is a compilation of 40 of those columns, accompanied (as an appendix) by his Pastoral Letter on the Centrality of the Eucharist, “The Eucharist: To Be Loved, To Be Lived,” a document that received national attention when it was released in February of 1998.
There is much to like in this collection of essays, and much to learn from it. Bishop Tobin explains that his articles are “meant to bridge the gap between the teaching of the Church and our lived experience; to offer some very practical observations about the consequences of our Catholic faith in the ‘real world.’” To that end he is successful, for his columns are masterful in their brevity, insight, pastoral wisdom and sound teaching.
There is hardly a wasted word in this book, which speaks to the clarity of the author's thinking and the focus he brings to his work as author and bishop. The topics of the columns range from golf ("Golf teaches how beneficial it is to stay on the straight and narrow") to the liturgy ("[L]et us resolve to receive Holy Communion often and to receive it well") to abortion ("Abortion continues to be the great moral pestilence of our time"). He takes on, with firmness and charity, the controversial issues of women's ordination, the death penalty and sexual morality, then offers delightful anecdotes from his life as a bishop: talking to school children, meeting the Pope and walking in a Hindu temple.
Bishop Tobin writes often of Pope John Paul II and he clearly patterns his thinking and pastorate after the Holy Father. Reoccurring themes include the importance of implementing Vatican II, studying Scripture, reading the Catechism, daily prayer, eucharistic adoration, devotion to Mary and self-denial. Like John Paul, Bishop Tobin demonstrates a keen insight into human nature, speaking with both love and concern about the many cultural, moral and religious challenges that confront the Catholic faithful.
In “Receiving Holy Communion,” he addresses the issue of non-Catholics receiving Eucharist in a way that is not only sound, but revealing.
“The most detrimental thing we can do to achieve legitimate Christian unity is to ‘paper over’ our differences with other religions,” he writes.
“It's somewhat akin to two people entering marriage before they've gotten to know each other, before they've resolved all their differences. A good marriage, in personal life or ecumenism, demands that differences have been courageously addressed and resolved, and that there be a true understanding and acceptance by each party. That's the solid foundation on which the union can be built.
“Experience has taught that couples who live together without the benefit of marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who are more patient with their plans. An important lesson for our ecumenical endeavors, I believe!”
This collection of articles is also full of practical advice about handling the challenges of being a Catholic, along with many concrete directives for spiritual growth. The book's weaknesses are minimal: The word “values” is used a few too many times, and the theological basis for the Church's stance on women's ordination could be stronger. But these are minor blemishes in a book that is heavy with literary and spiritual gems. It deserves a large and appreciative audience.
Carl Olson is director of catechesis at Nativity of the Mother of God parish in Springfield, Oregon.