Religious Reeducation: A Review by Beverly Brazauskas

Faith for the Heart:
A “Catholic” Spirituality
By Thomas Groome
Paulist Press, 2019
$21.95   304 pp.

Need a book to renew, reclaim, refresh—or whatever—your faith? Try Tom Groome’s new book from Paulist Press. Though the word “Catholic” is in the subtitle, note that it is in quotes to signal that people of every or no faith can find spiritual resources here. The author quotes James Joyce as saying, “Catholic means ‘Here Comes Everybody’”—and that’s what Tom means by it, too.

Though written for all and sundry, as I read the book I kept thinking that it would be ideal for younger members of my family and friends who say that they are “spiritual but not religious”; or for those who, when asked their religion, say “none” (though research shows that some 65 percent of these “nones” pray regularly); or for all of my old friends who have “moved away” from their faith and hopefully might be reconsidering.

Tom Groome is widely recognized as the leading Catholic religious educator of our day. He has been teaching undergrads and graduate students at Boston College for more than 40 years. He has written some turgid academic tomes across the years, meant for graduate students (I was one of his once). This book, however, is most readable and engaging; you literally won’t be able to put it down (well, maybe briefly). However, once a teacher, always a teacher. Each chapter contains a few “Pause for Reflection” inserts that provide ways in which we can reclaim our Christian faith. They contain very thought-provoking questions to ponder either individually or as part of discussion groups.

As someone who grew up when the bible was on a coffee table and recorded baptisms, confirmations, first communions, and marriages, but was never opened, read, or discussed, this book helped me to address the meaning and role of the bible in my life. Even though I took several graduate courses in Scripture, none made me look at the bible quite in this way.

As Tom suggests in the prelude, for the first thousand years the church’s teaching and preaching appealed to people’s hearts, and Augustine was the epitome of this: “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Then, for the next thousand years, the church appealed mostly to people’s heads, with rational theology; Thomas Aquinas was its best-known exponent. Now, Tom claims, for this generation, we must craft our Christian faith to appeal to people’s hearts again, instead of beginning with the dogmas and doctrines of faith (they come later!).

And this is what Tom does here. He raises up the great hungers of our hearts for happiness, for fullness of life, for love, for freedom, for belonging, for meaning and purpose, for hope, for justice, and so on, and then reflects on how Christian faith can meet such hungers. Tom is convinced that though we hold it in “earthen vessels,” we have a great treasure in our faith. By the time you get to the postlude, you may be convinced anew to share your faith with others. Tom offers an effective approach for doing so, proposing that the best way to grow your faith is to give it away. But first, treat yourself to this good reintroduction.

Beverly Brazauskas has graduate degrees from Wayne State University, Boston College, and the University of Notre Dame.  She spent one half of her ministerial life as a high math teacher and the other half as a pastoral associate. Today she is retired and volunteers at Holy Family Retreat Center.

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