by Christopher T. Baglow
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
In Spring – the beauty of creation surrounds us in a unique way! Doctrine is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when we consider the pastoral work of the Church. We tend to presume that doctrine is abstract, of interest primarily to theologians and clergy whose vocation it is to contemplate lofty questions of belief. On the other hand, we tend to think the pastoral life of the Church is consumed primarily with practical questions: How do we pray? How do we pass on faith to the next generation? How do we form Christians to care about the hungry and thirsty? How might our parishes become spaces of lived discipleship? What are the best practices for the formation of Catholic families? Presenting at catechetical conferences in dioceses on a specific point of Catholic theology, faculty and staff of the McGrath Institute for Church Life often hear the question, “So, what’s the Significance? Give me the practical takeaways”.
The separation between doctrine and practice is bad for theologians, pastoral leaders, and Christians looking to grow in holiness. It leads to theologians who no longer see their vocation as connected to the Church. Academic theologians speak a language that the enlightened alone possess. On occasion, they turn their attention to the ordinary beliefs and practices of the faithful, sometimes reacting with amusement or horror that one could be so primitive as to adore the Eucharist or leave flowers before Our Lady of Guadalupe. The proper arena for the theologian to exercise her craft is assumed to be the doctoral seminar, not the parish or the Catholic secondary school.
The Engaging Catholicism series invites you to see the intrinsic and intimate connection between doctrine and the pastoral life of the Church. Doctrines, after all, are the normative way of handing on the mysteries of our faith, the pastoral leader has to know a given doctrine contains a mystery- has to have the doctrine opened up so that receiving it means encountering the mystery it carries. Only then can one be transformed by the doctrine. The problem with religious practice unformed or inadequately formed by doctrine is that it expects an easy and mostly continuous spiritual high, which cannot be sustained if one has sufficient grasp of one’s own humanity. We in the McGrath Institute for Church Life have confidence in Christian doctrines as saving truths, bearing mystery from the God who is love. We believe in the importance of these teachings for making us ever more human, and we believe in the urgent need to speak the Church’s doctrines into, for and with those who tend the pastoral life of the Church. We cannot think of any task more important than this.
“Thinking about divine creation, human personhood, and salvation in ways that are deeply informed by the contemporary sciences, the Church can overcome the echo chamber of self-enclosed theological language in which she can only speak to herself but not to the world. This mode of faith seeking understanding can offer ways for scientifically informed people to think about the Catholic faith in terms they understand. Moving beyond the seemingly impenetrable borders of secularism, the Church can realize, in the words of St. John Paul II, with “grater intensity the activity of Christ within her (in her mission of evangelization).” This book draws us closer to Christ and His work!