For almost the last book to be reviewed in these pages before Christmas Day, we turn to a book which is not really a Christmas book at all, but which many will find a book for all seasons.
Carmelite Patrick Mullins is a Professor in the Department of Systematic Theology at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy. He is the author of many articles in the fields of theology and Carmelite Spirituality.
The main chapters of the book correspond to the four sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (concerning prayer, the sacraments, the commandments and the Creed).
Yet this is not mere catechetical resume, though the title might suggest this, but rather an exploration of Catholic faith and belief through the lives and writings of a series of saints over the last two thousand years.
For instance, the chapter on Faith and Worship uses Ignatius of Antioch, Thomas Aquinas and Edith Stein as ''models of worship''. There is a strong tendency among many Catholics to take an interest only in saints of recent centuries, and if we might so express it, ''celebrity saints''. This book takes a much wider view.
What Fr Mullins wishes to emphasis is, first of all, the long continuity of the Faith, well-rooted in the past, deriving from the Old Testament and the Gospels, but flowering in different ways over the centuries.
Rather than discussing the Faith as a mere theological or liturgical abstraction, he uses the lives and writings of his chosen saints to illuminate it through their experiences and their personal encounters with the inner meaning of the truths they believe.
Over these nearly two thousand years Christians have faced very different challenges. Indeed some of the challenges faced today are in many ways more daunting than those in pervious centuries. In many places Christians do not face the mere inconveniences of life in the West; many have to face the more brutal aspect of real martyrdom.
Christianity is, however, also a matter of witness in all the ways of daily life. And here our current troubles are illustrative. One cannot but reflect that if many of the precepts of the Gospels that we all pay lip service to had really been followed the crass greed of many in the last decade would have been avoided.
The bankers and the politicians are held up to blame; yet we all know in our heart of hearts that faced with an opportunity of profiteering from property or from shares we were all guilty to some extent.
Indeed, the author quotes very appositely a passage from Lumen gentium: ''Moreover, by uniting their forces, let the laity so remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when the latter are an inducement to sin, that these may be conformed to the norms of justice, favouring rather than hindering the practise of virtue.''
And that is the lesson of Christianity: it covers all aspects of our life, not just those sexual or social aspects which may see as 'immorality', but all aspects. Aspects of the life of business and public affairs are just as much matters of abuse as anything that is often seen as 'immorality' of private life.
Yet Christianity is not a negative matter either. Rather like the responses needed to the winter weather this year, we need to be not reactive, but proactive. As these saints all illustrate, it is in fact a largely positive matter, aiming not so much as mere avoidance of sin, but of proving a way of life in which sin (all kinds of sin) may be avoided.
As a book for the New Year Fr Mullins' treasury of worthy lives and what they have to teach us all can be heartily recommended.
- Peter Costello, Irish Catholic 23rd December 2010