The Catholic Way: Faith for Living Today

by Bishop Donald W. Wuerl

Doubleday, 2001

288 pages, $14.95

Ave Maria Grotto, on the grounds of the Benedictine Abbey in Cullman, Ala., consists of dozens of architecturally accurate miniatures of famous churches from all over the world, constructed of bits of glass, metal and donated materials. The Catholic Way, the product of similar patience and diligence, is a remarkably faithful scale model of the monumental Catechism of the Catholic Church, written by an experienced educator who is a member of the magisterium.

While a seminary professor, then-Father Donald Wuerl was a contributor and one of the editors of The Teaching of Christ (first edition 1976), a reliable and very popular catechism for adults. In The Catholic Way, Bishop Wuerl, ordinary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Education, offers a distinctively American guide to the universal catechism. Conceived as a series of articles for Columbia magazine, this book introduces the main themes of the Catechism while striving to be accessible to the average Catholic — or even the interested non-Catholic.

Chapters 1-33, corresponding to Part One of the catechism, present the doctrines of the faith in well-constructed paragraphs of clear, measured prose. “If you walk into a dimly lit room, you will know if someone is there. But without enough light, you will not know who it is. That is our position in the midst of creation. … Revelation is the light that allows us to look at creation, ourselves and the world and begin to see, through the light of God's word, not only that there is a God but also who God is.” The thorough and elegant explanation of the Nicene Creed is worth the price of the book.

“Part Two” treats the sacraments as seven streams from the one source of grace, and at the same time as events in the lives of Catholics.

The chapters on confession and matrimony are strong, and the thoughtful discussion of the Mass and the Eucharist awakens respect for the Real Presence.

The section on Christian morality and the Commandments (“Part Three”) is “issues-oriented.” Bishop Wuerl squarely addresses the breakdown of the American family, elaborates on medical-moral problems, and defends the Church's right to speak out as an authoritative moral guide.

“Part Four” on prayer is so condensed it's schematic. Elsewhere, however, the author relates traditional prayers and devotions to faith, liturgy and morals.

The streamlined content of The Catholic Way remains consistently Catholic, yet there are subtle “American” emphases. The collegiality of bishops, the corporate effects of liturgical celebrations and social issues seem to get more “coverage” than papal primacy, individual sanctification or personal responsibility, although these, too, are duly mentioned. Text editor Michael Aquilina continues the process of adapting universal teaching to local conditions by providing questions for reflection after each chapter.

In examples and anecdotes, the reader occasionally catches glimpses of Bishop Wuerl reciting the rosary while driving or making pastoral visits to parochial schools. The author's tone is generally calm and urbane, but he has a mordant wit. (Commenting on the Second Commandment, he asks: If ethnic slurs are ostracized, why isn't blasphemy?)

“Faith is the living fruit of two freedoms, that of God, who freely speaks to us, and that of a person who personally uses free will to respond to God with the power that God's grace gives.” Many Americans have a long stretch of road to travel yet before those two freedoms meet. Catholics can be grateful that Bishop Wuerl has constructed a series of access ramps leading up to the Church's catechetical superhighway.

Michael J. Miller translated Volume 3 of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's Living the Catechism for Ignatius Press.