by David Scott

Loyola, 2005

234 pages, $19.95

To order: (800) 621-1008


Some books can be profitably read at stoplights during your commute: quick, to the point, just the facts, nothing too deep. David Scott's The Catholic Passion is not one of those. It should be read when you've got a block of free time to spare and an unoccupied armchair to fill. Add a fire in the fireplace. Maybe some Gregorian chant on the stereo.

“Most of us receive our entire education in the faith at a relatively young age,” Scott writes in the book's foreword. “But the faith was never meant to be something we ‘graduate’ from as we do from high school. Our knowledge and understanding of what we believe is meant to deepen as our relationship with Jesus deepens. The first Christians spoke of mystagogy, a kind of life-long immersion in the mysteries of the faith. This book is a small exercise in twenty-first century mystagogy.”

Rather than going deeper by way of the Catechism, the Scriptures and Church documents, Scott chooses to explain the Catholic faith “by way of the experience and faith expressions of real Catholics — saints, composers, poets, playwrights, activists, ordinary believers.” You might want to arm yourself with a notepad so you can remember to check out the paintings of Catholic convert William Congdon, the sculptures of Frederick Hart and the writings of novelist Julian Green. Scott's description of Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time piqued my interest in a composer I had never heard of before. Messiaen composed it in a Nazi concentration camp.

Broken down by topic, the chapter list is pretty standard for an overview of the Catholic faith: the life of Christ, God's pursuit of man, Christian life and morality, the papacy and apostolic authority, the sacraments, sacred Scripture, prayer, the Mass and the “last things” (judgment, heaven, hell and purgatory). But I've never seen these topics explored in quite this inviting a way.

For example, in the chapter on sacraments we hear from the memoirs of French novelist Francois Mauriac as he recalls his first holy Communion, and from the late writer Andre Dubus describing the sacramentality of the everyday task of sandwich-making.

The person I envision sitting by the hearth in his armchair reading this book is a well-read, intelligent, practicing Catholic who is secretly bored with his faith and wants to go deeper, or an intellectual who has never shown any interest in the Catholic faith because it seems to him a religion of easy answers and rote responses. The erudition and skill with which Scott writes helps the first to rediscover and the second to discover for the first time how compelling, convincing, rich, deep, satisfying and rewarding the Catholic faith really is.

“Whether you are Catholic or not, this book invites you to take another look at the Catholic religion,” Scott writes. “If there is one theme that runs through these pages, through all the Scriptures and the many Catholic lives and works we have discussed, it is this: God's passion of love continues in the Catholic Church. The Catholic passion is God's passion. In the work of the Church and in the lives of Catholics, God shares in our sufferings, offers his life to us, tries to teach us to love.”

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a fire to re-light.

Clare Siobhan writes from Westmont, Illinois.