Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith

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by Robert Barron

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“What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture.  I want to function rather as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the…  See more details below


“What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture.  I want to function rather as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the mystery of the incarnation in the hopes that you might be transformed by its power.”Father Robert Barron
What is Catholicism? A 2,000-year-old living tradition? A worldview? A way of life? A relationship? A mystery? In Catholicism Father Robert Barron examines all these questions and more, seeking to capture the body, heart and mind of the Catholic faith.

Starting from the essential foundation of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, life, and teaching, Father Barron moves through the defining elements of Catholicism – from sacraments, worship, and prayer, to Mary, the Apostles, and Saints, to grace, salvation, heaven, and hell – using his distinct and dynamic grasp of art, literature, architecture, personal stories, Scripture, theology, philosophy, and history to present the Church to the world.

Paired with his documentary film series of the same title, Catholicism is an intimate journey, capturing “The Catholic Thing” in all its depth and beauty. Eclectic, unique, and inspiring, Father Barron brings the faith to life for a new generation, in a style that is both faithful to timeless truths, while simultaneously speaking in the language of contemporary life.

Includes over 100 black and white and color photos.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

This beautifully written, thoughtful history is a fitting companion book to Father Robert Barron's ten part video series on the doctrines, rituals, and practices of the Catholic Church. First published in 2011 to the positive reviews of critics and general readers alike, it now appears as a trade paperback and NOOK Book.

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Chapter 1


It all begins with a jest. The essence of comedy is the coming together of opposites, the juxtaposition of incongruous things. So we laugh when an adult speaks like a child or when a simple man finds himself lost amid the complexities of sophisticated society. The central claim of Christianity--still startling after two thousand years--is that God became human. The Creator of the cosmos, who transcends any definition or concept, took to himself a nature like ours, becoming one of us. Christianity asserts that the infinite and the finite met, that the eternal and the temporal embraced, that the fashioner of the galaxies and planets became a baby too weak even to raise his head. And to make the humor even more pointed, this Incarnation of God was first made manifest not in Rome, Athens, or Babylon, not in a great cultural or political capital, but in Bethlehem of Judea, a tiny outpost in the corner of the Roman Empire. One might laugh derisively at this joke--as many have over the centuries--but, as G. K. Chesterton observed, the heart of even the most skeptical person is changed simply for having heard this message. Christian believers up and down the years are those who have laughed with delight at this sacred joke and have never tired of hearing it repeated, whether it is told in the sermons of Augustine, the arguments of Aquinas, the frescos of Michelangelo, the stained glass of Chartres, the mystical poetry of Teresa of Avila, or the little way of Therese of Lisieux. It has been suggested that the heart of sin is taking oneself too seriously. Perhaps this is why God chose to save us by making us laugh.

One of the most important things to understand about Christianity is that it is not primarily a philosophy or a system of ethics or a religious ideology. It is a relationship to the unsettling person of Jesus Christ, to the God-man. Someone stands at the center of Christian concern. Though Christian thinkers have used philosophical ideas and cultural constructs to articulate the meaning of the faith--sometimes in marvelously elaborate ways--they never, at their best, wander far from the very particular and unnerving first-century rabbi from Nazareth. But who precisely was he? We know next to nothing about the first thirty years of Jesus’s life. Though people have speculated wildly about these hidden years--that he traveled to India to learn the wisdom of the Buddha; that he sojourned in Egypt where he became adept at healing, and so forth--no reliable information concerning Jesus’s youth and young manhood exists, except perhaps the tantalizing story in Luke’s Gospel about the finding of Jesus in the temple. Since Joseph, the husband of Mary, Jesus’s mother, is described as a carpenter, we can safely assume that Jesus apprenticed to the carpentry trade while growing up. As far as we can determine, Jesus was not formally trained in a rabbinic school, nor was he educated to be a temple priest or a scribe, nor was he a devotee of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Essenes--all recognized religious parties with particular convictions, practices, and doctrinal proclivities. He was, if I can use a somewhat anachronistic term, a layman.

And this made his arrival on the public scene all the more astounding. For this Nazarene carpenter, with no formal religious education or affiliation, began to speak and act with an unprecedented authority. To the crowds who listened to him preach, he blithely declared, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say . . .” (Mt 5:21–48). He was referring, of course, to the Torah, the teaching of Moses, the court of final appeal to any faithful rabbi; therefore he was claiming for himself an authority greater than that of Israel’s most significant teacher and lawgiver. To a paralyzed man, he says, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2). Grasping the outrageousness of this assertion, the bystanders remark to themselves, “This man is blaspheming” (Mt 2:3). Moreover, Jesus demonstrated a mastery over the very forces of nature. He tamed the storm that threatened to swamp his disciples’ boat; he rebuked the dark powers; he opened deaf ears and brought vision back to sightless eyes; he not only pardoned the paralyzed man’s sins--he took away his paralysis; he even raised the daughter of Jairus back to life. All of this made Jesus a figure of utter fascination. Again and again we hear in the Gospels how word of him spread throughout the country and how the crowds kept coming at him from all sides: “and on finding him [the disciples] said, ‘Everyone is looking for you’ ” (Mk 1:37). Why were they drawn to him? Some undoubtedly wanted to witness or benefit from his supernatural power; others wanted to hear the words of an unsurpassably charismatic rabbi; still others simply wanted to commune with a celebrity. But I think it’s fair to assume that all of them were wondering just who this man was.

Midway through his public ministry, Jesus ventured with his disciples to the northern reaches of the Promised Land, to the region of Caesarea-Philippi, near the present-day Golan Heights, and there he posed just that question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mk 8:27). We’re so accustomed to hearing this question in the Gospels that we’ve lost a sense of its peculiarity. He didn’t ask them what people thought about his teaching or what impression he was making, or how the crowds were interpreting his actions--reasonable enough questions. He wanted to know what they thought about his identity, his being. And this question--reiterated by Christian theologians through the centuries--sets Jesus off from all of the other great religious founders. The Buddha actively discouraged his followers from focusing on his person, urging them instead to walk the spiritual way from which he himself had benefited. Mohammed was an ordinary man who claimed to have received Allah’s definitive revelation. He would never have dreamed of drawing attention to his own person; rather he wanted the world to read and abide by the Koran, which had been given to him. Confucius was a moral philosopher who, with particular acuity, formulated a series of ethical recommendations that constituted a balanced way of being in the world. The structure of his being was never a matter of concern either to him or to his followers.

And then there is Jesus. Though he did indeed formulate moral instructions and though he certainly taught with enormous enthusiasm, Jesus did not draw his followers’ attention primarily to his words. He drew it to himself. John the Baptist instructed two of his disciples to follow after Jesus. They asked the Lord, “Where are you staying?” (Jn 1:38) and he said, “Come, and you will see” (Jn 1:39). That simple exchange is enormously instructive, for it shows that intimacy with Jesus--staying with him--is what Christian discipleship is fundamentally about. This preoccupation with Jesus himself followed, as I’ve been hinting, from the startling fact that he consistently spoke and acted in the very person of God. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt 24:35). Sane philosophers and scholars invariably emphasize the provisional nature of what they write, but Jesus claims that his words will last longer than creation itself. Who could reasonably make this assertion except the one who is the Word through which all things came to be? “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37). We could easily imagine a prophet, teacher, or religious founder saying, “You should love God more than your very life,” or at the limit, “You ought to love my teaching more than your mother and father,” but “unless you love me?” It has been said that the healthiest spiritual people are those who have the strongest sense of the difference between themselves and God. Therefore who could sanely and responsibly make the claim that Jesus made except the one who is, in his own person, the highest good?

Now, the possibility remains that Jesus might have been a madman, a deluded fanatic. After all, mental health facilities are filled with people who think they are God. And this is precisely what some of Jesus’s contemporaries thought: “For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him; because . . . he . . . called God his own father, making himself equal to God” (Jn 5:18). What is ruled out--and C. S. Lewis saw this with particular clarity--is the bland middle position taken by many theologians and religious seekers today, namely that Jesus wasn’t divine but was indeed an inspiring ethical teacher, a great religious philosopher. Yet a close reading of the Gospel witness does not bear such an interpretation. Given that he repeatedly spoke and acted in the person of God, either he was who he said he was and purported to be, or he was a bad man. And this is precisely why Jesus compels a choice the way no other religious founder does. As he himself said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Lk 11:23), and “Whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Lk 11:23). I realize how dramatically this runs counter to our sensibilities, but Christian evangelization consists in the forcing of that choice.

There is a strange passage in the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel that is rarely commented upon but that is, in its peculiarity, very telling. Jesus is in the company of his disciples, and they are making their way from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south. Mark reports: “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mk 10:32). They were simply walking along the road with Jesus, and they found him overwhelming and frightening. Why they should have had such a response remains inexplicable until we remember that awe and fear are, in the Old Testament tradition, two standard reactions to God. The twentieth-century philosopher of religion Rudolf Otto famously characterized the transcendent God as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the mystery that fascinates us even as it causes us to tremble with fear--in whose presence we are amazed and afraid. In his sly, understated way, Mark is telling us that this Jesus is also the God of Israel.

Once we grasp that Jesus was no ordinary teacher and healer but Yahweh moving among his people, we can begin to understand his words and actions more clearly. If we survey the texts of the Old Testament--and the first Christians relentlessly read Jesus in light of these writings--we see that Yahweh was expected to do four great things. He would gather the scattered tribes of Israel; he would cleanse the Temple of Jerusalem; he would definitively deal with the enemies of the nation; and, finally, he would reign as Lord of heaven and earth. The eschatological hope expressed especially in the prophets and the Psalms was that through these actions, Yahweh would purify Israel and through the purified Israel bring salvation to all. What startled the first followers of Jesus was that he accomplished these four tasks but in the most unexpected way.

When Jesus first emerged, preaching in the villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee, he had a simple message: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). Oceans of ink have been spilled over the centuries in an attempt to explain the meaning of “Kingdom of God,” but it might be useful to inquire what Jesus’s first audience understood by that term. N. T. Wright argues that they would have heard, “the tribes are being gathered.” According to the basic narrative of the Old Testament, God’s answer to human dysfunction was the formation of a people after his own heart. Yahweh chose Abraham and his descendants to be “peculiarly his own,” and he shaped them by the divine law to be a priestly nation. God’s intention was that a unified and spiritually vibrant Israel would function as a magnet for the rest of humanity, drawing everyone to God by the sheer attractive quality of their way of being. The prophet Isaiah expressed this hope when he imagined Mount Zion, raised high above all of the mountains of the world, as the gathering point for “all the tribes of the earth.” But the tragedy was that more often than not Israel was unfaithful to its calling and became therefore a scattered nation. One of the typical biblical names for the devil is ho diabalos, derived from the term diabalein (to throw apart). If God is a great gathering force, then sin is a scattering power. This dividing of Israel came to fullest expression in the eighth century BC, when many of the northern tribes were carried off by the invading Assyrians, and even more so in the devastating exile of the sixth century BC when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried many of the southern tribes away. A scattered, divided Israel could never live up to its vocation, but the prophets continued to dream and hope. Ezekiel spoke of Israel as sheep wandering aimlessly on the hillside, but then he prophesied that one day Yahweh himself would come and gather in his people.

Now we can begin to understand the behavior of the one who called himself “the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11). As so many contemporary scholars have emphasized, Jesus practiced open table fellowship, serving as host for many who would normally be excluded from polite society: the public sinner, the prostitute, the handicapped, the tax collector. At the very place where, in his time as well as ours, the stratifications and divisions of society were often on clearest display, he was making possible a new kind of social space, one marked by compassion and forgiveness. It is important to note that he was not simply exemplifying the generic virtue of “inclusivity” so valued today; he was acting in the very person of Yahweh gathering in his scattered children. This helps to explain why he healed so many. In the society of Jesus’s time, physical illness was typically construed as a curse, and in many cases sickness or deformity prevented one from participating fully in the life of the community, especially in common worship. Curing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the leprous, Jesus was Yahweh binding up the wounds of his people and restoring them to communion.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Catholicism 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
ProfessorMS More than 1 year ago
I received this book through a series of synchronicities while I was having a serious crisis of faith. That made me see that perhaps it was being sent to me, when I was ready and willing to see it. A few weeks later, I ended up meeting Father Barron through another coincidence. After speaking to him and reading this book, I have finally come to appreciate the "genius" of my faith, which is a choice of lifestyle, a way of living in gratitude to the inscrutable and unknowable IT that made all of this. I believe that all things happen for a reason, and this book and meeting Father Bob made me realize how true that statement is. Despite the failings and weaknesses of the biggest Christian "organization" in the world, this book and the series that goes along with it, will bring about a renaissance of faith for many Christians, not only Catholics, and I think it is much needed now. He has started a revolution of epic proportion with his intellect and eloquence, and it is a book I will treasure, re-read and share. Not to be missed by anyone questioning their faith or wanting to gain deeper understanding and knowledge. The mystery of life and faith will remain so for those of us still here, but this text with is thought provoking and faith restoring. If it worked for me, it is powerful enough to make a difference to others.
NancyIL More than 1 year ago
If anyone wants to understand the Catholic Church, this is the book to read. Father Barron, explains in beautiful, understandable terms the Church, it's origin, it's fundamental truths and why Catholics consider the Church their call from Christ. This is in contrast to the modern western view of the Catholic Church as nothing more than the original man made Christian organization that may or may not be attractive based on one's own personal preconceptions and ideology. This is a book for devout followers of Christ as well as those who question their faith. It inspires, not through mere sentimental imagery and moral content, but through reason and rationale. I read Father Luigi Guissani. I find Father Barron's message a parallel to his message. It helps to explain how the Church functions as the way for man to become fully human and find his meaning for life.
george_toman More than 1 year ago
Fr. Barron does a great job in exploring the roots of the Catholic faith and writes in a way that can be understood by almost any reader. In a time when we need good catechesis and a constant reminder of the greatness of the Church, our brother in Christ shows us the glory of the Catholic Church through a variety of perspectives. Though there are many good texts on Catholicism, this one is a contemporary jewel. Share this with your friends, buy it as a gift for those who have fallen away, and for those of you who are curious as to what the Catholic Church is - this book is for you. A must have in any library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cannot recommend this enough to anyone who wants to learn about Christianity or God. A wide range of topics are explored with surprising depth, and I felt like most of the questions I had were explained clearly and concisely. Barron's writing is both philosophical but completely relatable, exactly what I wanted. I believe I know vastly more about the theology of my faith after reading this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Very educational, informative, and accurate about Christ's one true Church on earth - the Roman Catholic Church. The ONLY Church on earth founded by Jesus Christ Himself. I reccomend this book for EVERYONE and ANYONE.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book explains, in the clearest terms, why I am Catholic and what that really means.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Finally! A book on the Catholic faith that explains it in a way that lay people can understand.
MommaP11 More than 1 year ago
I was raised Catholic, but this book, along with the wonderful dvd series that goes with it, helps me see things from another perspective. It's nice to look at teachings from different angles than we usually look at them, like what the Beatitudes really mean, and how important Peter and Paul were. I am really enjoying this book and recommend it to anyone that wants to know more about the Catholic religion or Christianity in general.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very thought provoking and honest. Definately gives you the foundation for the church, its character, and humanity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book, concise and very readable. Not too scholorly for general reading, Useful information and fluid style. Very readable. Like the photos too
Melo2 More than 1 year ago
Based off his new series, Fr Robert Barron's new book Catholicism is very comprehensive and informative. Chapters include: The Revelation of God become Man The Teachings of Jesus The Ineffable Mystery of God Mary, the Mother of God Peter, Paul, and the Missionary Adventures The Mystical Union of Christ and the Church The Mystery of the Church's Sacrements and Worship The Communion of Saints Prayer and the Life of the Spirit Last Things He has such a way with words that really brings things to life.  I love this line "Catholicism is a matter of the body and senses as much as it is a matter of the mind and soul, precisely because the Word became flesh." I love when he talks about a painting in pointillism style and compares God to the artist.  When viewed up close (by us) it just looks like a bunch of dots and doesn't make sense.  But when you see it from Gods view, the entire painting (His plans) becomes clear.  Fr Barron has such a great way of describing things. It's a great book on Catholicism.  I recommend it for anyone that wants to learn more about the beautiful faith. Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book sums life into a simple four letter word: love. The meaning of which we can only discover in God.
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