Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn From Each Other? by Peter Kreeft, Ignatius Press, £13
Peter Kreeft is a well-known Catholic convert, apologist and professor of philosophy at Boston College. His books are provocative, lively and challenging, and I always look forward to reading them. This one is no exception. If we Catholics are inclined to think that we have nothing to learn from Protestantism, this book provides a humble and thoughtful exercise in the examination of one’s faith.
Early on, Kreeft defines what he means by the word “Protestant”: “I speak only of Evangelical (in the broad sense) Protestantism, ie the Protestantism of the Reformers, not of liberal or modernist Protestantism, which is simply shrinkage and hopeless heresy.”
I think we would all recognise the distinction. Indeed, he adds that the differences between Evangelical Protestants and “liberal” Protestants are “far greater than the differences between orthodox Protestants and orthodox Catholics”.
There are chapters on the Eucharist, Our Lady and the real meaning of ecumenism, which is not a polite talking shop but where “Catholics discover a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” and “Protestants discover Christ’s living Body both as a living institution with teaching authority and as a real, personal, literal presence in the Eucharist.” Why, he asks, are there so many ex-Catholics? “They never discovered Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church.” As the author comments, it is never enough to know about Jesus – one also has to know Him. As to the relationship between Christ and the Church, Kreeft quotes the wonderful remark of St Joan of Arc during her trial: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” Quite so.
On unity he is succinct: “The Church succeeds in converting the world to the exact extent that she sees and loves and lives her identity with Christ.” As always with Kreeft, his chapter headings provide a taste of his style and his method: “What Happens in Individuals who ‘Ecumenise’?” and “What Will Make Good Protestants Come Home?” are some examples. Anyone serious about evangelisation should read it this book.
Food for the Journey: a Spiritual Companion on Becoming a Catholic, CTS, £6
In a sense this small, handsome hardback follows on from Kreeft’s book: when converts “come home” they are not signing a legal contract, they are entering into the fullness of faith with the transformed heart and mindset this involves. So their prayers are now likely to include Scriptural ones which are also Catholic, such as the Angelus and the Magnificat, but also devotional prayers of the Church, such as the rosary, the Salve Regina, the Memorare and the Regina Caeli. Prayers from approved Marian apparitions are also here, reminding me that newcomers to the Church often find Mariology the hardest hurdle. Naturally enough, in the section on penitential prayers, there is an “examination of conscience” – a tough call for other Christians who are not used to such honesty and who have not yet experienced how liberating a good Confession can be. There is also good advice at the end of the book, under the section “Thinking of Becoming a Catholic?”
Summarising the Church’s claims, we read the robust statement that at heart she is a “missionary organisation, seeking all the time to encourage people to become Catholics”. This book is a rich and even inspiring compendium, useful for cradle Catholics as well as converts.
Beloved: the Spiritual Companion for Couples, CTS, £6
This handsome hardback volume, complete with gold lettering on the cover, would make an excellent gift for friends who are engaged or married. Its purpose is pastoral: recognising that marriage is being undermined in modern society and offering a resource to help Catholic couples discover, or rediscover, the blessings and graces of their union.
It starts with some excerpts from papal and Church teaching on marriage but its main content is prayer. These are on all sorts of relevant subjects, such as children, anniversaries, families and fidelity. To give readers a flavour, quotations are taken from the Song of Songs, the Book of Tobit and the encyclical Humanae Vitae, among other sources. There is also an end section on “Some Favourite Prayers”, which include those of Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Richard of Chichester and Francis of Assisi.
For couples whose marriage is difficult (compounded by a spouse who may be hostile to the faith), the compilers include a poignant yet powerful prayer taken from the Journal of the Frenchwoman, Elizabeth Leseur.
Married to an atheist who derided her beliefs, she nobly offered up her life for his conversion. After her death, he discovered her writings, was indeed converted by reading them, and became a Dominican priest. She had asked God: “Is there anything that belongs to me alone that I would not be ready to offer You to obtain this conversion, this grace so longed for?”
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