Part of the call of the Year of Faith is to renew our knowledge of and commitment to the faith that was gifted to us at baptism. Veritas is therefore happy to offer a Year of Faith: Book of the Month. These books are intended to inform readers on a wide variety of faith topics. As an initiative for the Year of Faith, you might like to start a Year of Faith Book Club in your work, school or parish community, where these publications can be discussed and shared.
Book of the Month for April: Dear James Anthony, by Tony Hanna
Written as a series of letters to his newborn grandson, James Anthony, and the figures who will be responsible for guiding the little boy through life – parents, godparents, teachers, parish priests and grandparents – Tony Hanna, drawing on his own strong faith, calls for us to respond to the call of our baptism and take our rightful place in the Catholic Church. He acknowledges the recent pressures that have led to a growing sense of alienation among Catholics of all ages, and considers how a renewed confidence of faith will make for a brighter future in our Church and society.
An extract from Dear James Anthony: Why I Want You to be Catholic
Dear James Anthony,
You arrived on 25 March 2010, bringing great joy to your mum and dad and to a host of other relatives who were caught up in the expectation and excitement of your coming. In your mother’s womb you didn’t have a real name, only possible names, but then you appeared and you became James Anthony. I like your name. It has a solid ring to it and the fact that I am also an Anthony certainly helps.
You were born in a country that is currently struggling with all kinds of crises: financial, property, employment and political. At this time, there is also a huge crisis in the Church. It is in this landscape of uncertainty that your parents will try to raise you and plan what is best for your life. They will make all kinds of sacrifices and plans for you and they will do everything possible to protect you and give you a future full of hope and opportunity, despite the current social and material difficulties that are all around. I can see already how much they love you and that nothing is too good for you. I have no doubts about your material welfare but I do have concerns for your spiritual welfare. I hope that your mum and dad, Becky and Karl, will raise you in the Church, but that will not be easy for them, or indeed for you, as you grow older.
The Church you are going to join is the Catholic Church. The word ’catholic’ is a combination of two Greek words ‘kath’holou’, meaning ‘universal’, in the sense of ‘everything together forms the totality’ or ‘completely whole’. ‘Catholic’ means, ‘everybody is welcome’ or, as James Joyce put it in Finnegans Wake, ‘here comes everybody’, a term that is abbreviated in the persona of the main character, HCE. Hans Urs von Balthasar said: ‘Being Catholic means embracing everything, leaving nothing out.’ The Church is a home for all people. Nobody is excluded and all can find a place. This is what happens when you become baptised. As St Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians, ‘You are no longer strangers or sojourners in a foreign land but you are now citizens of heaven, members of the family of God’ (Eph 2:13).
I think that this is one of the loveliest lines in his writings. That we get our passports to heaven, that we become part of God’s eternal family, that we are a son or daughter of God the Father, is an incredible thought. No matter where you end up in life. No matter how successful you become, there is nothing more important than this baptismal moment. There is no higher dignity, no greater promotion or calling. Even the pope, on the day he became leader of the Church, did not receive a higher blessing. So the day of your baptism will be a wonderful one, when all your family will celebrate with joy your acceptance into the family of God. You have a loving human family around you and in some mysterious way they are the people that God has chosen for you.
I read that when zebras are first born they immediately run around their mother’s legs: a survival instinct to ready them for escape from predators. Then they do a strange thing. They lie down and spend a long time gazing at their mother, trying to memorise her stripe pattern so that they will not be lost in the herd. The stripe pattern is unique to each zebra. A similar thing happens with penguins. Once the baby penguin is born the mother goes off in search of food and leaves the newborn in the care of the father. He regurgitates one meal with which he feeds the child and then together they await the return of the mother with more food. During this bonding time the father sings a unique song to the child, one that is totally original and distinctive, and it is a song that will later enable the child to find its parents in the middle of the mass of penguin calls.
These examples from the natural world speak of the utter originality of life and they speak of the incredible imagination and ingenuity of the Creator. God has a unique and loving plan for you. There is only one James Anthony. You will never be repeated or copied or cloned. You are an absolute original. God has created you now in this time and place with these parents. Your parents know that. They know how precious and unique you are and they have great dreams and hopes for you. So does God. In the prophet Jeremiah we read, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans for a future full of hope and not disaster’ (Jer 29:11). Part of God’s loving plan for you was to give you Catholic parents who will seek to raise you in the faith of the Church.
You may not read this for some time, but I hope one day it will speak to you because it is written from love and from a firm conviction that the church we belong to is God’s chosen plan of salvation for us all. You need to know, little man, that this is not a popular thing to say because the Church is under attack at this time. But I have no doubt that it will survive. It has always done so in the past because it is not just a human institution but also a divine one, which is guided and protected by the power of the Risen Christ. He has left his Spirit as the comforter and the guide to lead us into the truth. Of course you don’t know anything about all this just now. You only know love and affection and constant care and immediate gratification of all your needs, and that is how it should be for every child.
About the Author:
Tony Hanna, a former teacher, is the co-founder of the ecclesial movement, Family of God, and current Director of the Pastoral Plan in the Archdiocese of Armagh. He is married and has four children and three grandchildren.
To look inside this book, please click here.
Previous Books of the Month:
October 2012: Heaven Sent: My Life Through the Rosary by Fr Gabriel Harty
November 2012: Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2013, from www.sacredspace.ie
December 2012: The Illustrated Bible: Story by Story by Michael Collins
January 2013: Will there be Faith? Depends on Every Christian by Thomas H. Groome
February 2013: Take the Plunge by Timothy Radcliffe
March 2013: Share the Good News: National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland