A road to Rome that could have been better illuminated

A road to Rome that could have been better illuminated Roderick Strange (left) in the grounds of the Beda College, Rome.
Journey Into Light: The Challenge and Enchantment of Catholic Christianity, by Roderick Strange (Hodder and Stoughton, €20.99/£16.99)

In Journey Into Light, Msgr Roderick Strange sets himself quite a task – to convey The Challenge and Enchantment of Catholic Christianity, as the subtitle says, in little more than 200 pages. Measured against this ambition, the book is not a success; but it is not quite a failure either.

Msgr Strange, who serves as rector of Mater Ecclesiae College, the pontifical institute in Twickenham, is already the author of a well-respected introduction to the Faith from the 1980s, simply titled The Catholic Faith.

As he explains in a brief introduction, the idea for his latest publication came when Brendan Walsh, the editor of the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, suggested Msgr Strange revise his original work. After some consideration, he decided that the task was beyond him.

However, he realised that he had accumulated a great deal of other material in talks, homilies and a monthly column for The Times of London. He decided to mine these columns for “ideas, stories and images that, with the other material, might offer a fresh presentation of Catholic Christianity”.

He arranges this disparate collection according to the Church’s liturgical year. This, to me, seemed a clever idea and early on reaps some notable rewards. For instance, he reflects on the readings for the Christmas Masses, pointing out the significance of the way they reflect, diverge from, and develop each other’s themes.

However, while I found it interesting, I also wondered how much someone who has never attended Mass could really draw from such an unfamiliar narrative and structure.

There were also times when I wondered if he would have been better advised to write a memoir. New sections often begin “I had a friend…” or “I remember back when I…” – his goal is to be informal and conversational, but when the model is too often repeated, it begins to feel a little too self-centred.

So while Msgr Strange demonstrates an ability to pick up common false conceptions and gently, unassumingly correct them; or else to simplify a complicated subject like the Trinity, there were too many passages that simply seem less á propos.

Ultimately, Journey Into Light suffers from a lack of direction, struggling to nail down who its intended audience is. The blurb suggests it is an introduction for those new to the Faith or who want to reawaken their search for God. Msgr Strange’s conversational, anecdotal style is well-suited to such a task, but his choice of subject matter is not so clearly related to the goal.

For instance, late in the book he analyses the significance of Vatican II in re-orienting the Church’s mission and outlook. It is a gentle chapter, not wading too deeply into the controversies – but it also presumes an understanding of Ecumenical Councils and Church history that is hardly likely to be casual knowledge for someone quite new to the Faith.

As it stands, I think anyone familiar with his previous work will enjoy Msgr Strange’s company as he works his way through the Faith. For newcomers to his work like myself, though, it is missing an integral ingredient that could turn this collection into something more than an unconnected set of interesting ideas.