In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, churches are shuttered, and we huddle in our homes, afraid of cellular microbes we barely understand. The old and infirm at greater risk, we worry for our loved ones and our faith community. Things may well get worse before they get better, but we are of a faith that has endured greater storms than we face even now. So as we hunker and bunker down, work from home, rush through the grocery stories looking for toilet paper (no, stop that!), we know that “everything works together for good for those who love the Lord and are called to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Perhaps time at home means more time with family.
Perhaps time not spent commuting can help us regain a daily prayer regimen, and instead of lamenting the lack of televised sports, we can renew an energized reading and reflection of Sacred Scripture to strengthen our hearts. Here are a few suggestions, from a variety of perspectives, to help in these times of testing. We are of tougher stuff, brothers and sisters. Be of good courage and be into some good books during these grace-filled new opportunities that have come our way.
My first recommendation is “Catechism of the Catholic Church with Theological Commentary” (Our Sunday Visitor). While the Catechism of the Catholic Church is considered “useful reading” for all the faithful, it is often necessary to turn to bishops, pastors, catechists, and scholars for assistance in understanding its meaning and purpose in our lives. Sadly, even summaries and abridgments have often sacrificed clarity for trendiness.
In the “Catechism of the Catholic Church with Theological Commentary,” 42 of the experts who authored or edited parts of the original CCC have illuminated the four parts of the Catechism, each using a variety of Church documents, Scripture, and writings of the saints to dive deeply into each article of our Catholic Faith. The book includes the full text of the Catechism, followed by the commentary.
The 25th anniversary of the CCC was cause for further reflection in Rome, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella was the catalyst for this volume of articles on the theological significance of the teaching of this wonderful gift to the church. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to the post of president for the International Council of Catechesis in 2013. Previously, he taught fundamental theology for 20 years at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He also served as an Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and in various curial positions. He also knew who could write about these truths that we again need to hear.
Archbishop Fisichella completed this updated revision to his 1993 Theological Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2019, but many have not heard of it. Fisichella also oversaw the contributions of 42 experts chosen from among bishops, theologians, pastors, catechists and other scholars.
In addition to the full text of the CCC, we are given 500 pages of commentary, history, insight, and careful reflection — from Eucharist to the Consecrated Life, from Prayer to the Paschal Mystery — in the same four-pillared structure reflecting the Catechism itself. Certainly not a light respite before bed, this volume will provide the grist of classes, homilies, and deeper spiritual understanding to those who courageously start — and complete — reading and reflecting upon this treasure.
I pray (and privately give thanks, though I miss my grandchildren) when I consider those parents with small children who are cooped up in their homes during this pandemic. If they cannot be stirred to flights of spiritual transport by the Catechism, perhaps what is needed is something simpler and equally delightful.
Becki Phelps (wife of Deacon Chris Phelps, one of my favorite deacons in our diocese) has written “My Grandpa is a Deacon: Teaching Children about Permanent Deacons in the Catholic Church” — a fabulous book for young children, sumptuously illustrated by Gina Kyle, and a tender reminder for some older deacons about the stuff of a permanent deacon’s life and ministry.
Becki writes with beautiful simplicity and kindness about the role deacons have in the Church, written at age-appropriate vocabulary. The story is written from the perspective of a little boy, the deacon’s grandson. The grandson tells all about the special things his grandfather the deacon does.
Throughout the formation and training of Catholic deacons, we are shown the call of a deacon to be a call to service, humility, and being one genuine person, all the time. What touches my heart most in reading “My Grandpa is a Deacon” is the grandson’s description of his favorite deacon, “when I’m with my Grandpa, he’s always a deacon, and when he serves as a deacon, he’s always my Grandpa.”
A wonderful book to read aloud, rekindling perhaps for a family story time, particularly helpful for young boys, who may in these tender and inspiring pages hear a call to someday serve the Catholic Church. We’re used to talking about beauty of marriage and the priesthood, as well we should, but rarely do we hear about the call of service and example of the permanent diaconate.
We need not recite the litany of rejection of the Eucharist any further. Rejected by scholars, rejected by prelates, rejected by heretics, rejected by many mainstream Christian denominations; rejected privately for fear of embarrassment, and finally, rejected silently by many — perhaps a majority — of regularly attending Catholic laity. We are weary of this litany of faithlessness, this demystification of our Christian faith.
But still we hear the voices — voices that arise in our homilies, other voices clearly teaching truths in our theology classrooms and seminaries. Voices in our Catholic media, voices in books of academic Catholic scholarship and to the lay Catholic readership in our world. They speak to us in a time of deepest darkness; their faith speaks to those of like-minded in our own hearts as well. They are courageous priests, indomitable deacons, they are bishops who lead with staff and scripture and the courage of deep conviction. We are quietly realizing a return to biblical truth, to the essence of our faith, to the Real Presence of Christ in our Eucharistic Mystery. Only now when the coronavirus epidemic threatens to take this sacred Meal from our souls and bodies do we realize how precious it indeed is.
For those wanting to build deeper and stronger foundations of conviction on Holy Communion, we welcome Lawrence Feingold’s The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion. Dr. Feingold is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. A professor steeped in the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, he has written with a Thomistic structuralism about the entirety of Eucharist. Thoughtful and inspiring topics form this volume (why did Christ institute the Eucharist?, the fittingness of both incarnation of the Christ as well as his meal, Mary and the Eucharist, the Eucharist prefigured in the Old Testament, the Eucharist in the New Testament, the sacrificial connotations of the words of institution), truly this book itself is a meal of thoughtful reflection that serves as preparation to those who hear the call to “Come to the Supper of the Lamb.”
Feingold uses Sacred Scripture and citations from the fathers of the church, east and west, as well as later magisterial teaching, to calmly state the case. While focusing especially on St. Augustine and St. Thomas, Feingold draws upon the more contemporary theological works of Matthias Scheeben and the recent popes. We feel our hearts lifted as he upholds our deepest yearnings from anyone who has tasted eternity in the Eucharist, preparing us for full communion with Christ when he comes again.
I especially appreciate his emphasis on sacramental realism and the Eucharist. Accordingly, he emphasizes presence as real presence; conversion of the elements into the body and blood of Christ as being a substantial conversion; and the communion brought about in Christ as a real and not simply symbolic one. Also very much appreciated is the section on eucharistic adoration. As we begin to long for times in this sacred meal, may this work help us in our Spiritual Communion until next we gather around the life-giving body and blood at the Table of the Lord.