Journey into Light: The Challenge and Enchantment of Catholic Christianity by Roderick Strange (Hodder & Stoughton, £10.99/€12.99 pb)
A concern of some parents’ over the last decades is a feeling that somehow schools do not seem to impart religion, by which they mean Catholic culture, to their children in quite the way it was once done when they and their parents were at school.
Programmes to teach religion are always heavily criticised, yet most parents recognise that they are incapable of doing the same task. Their own education, much as they would like to see it restored, seems to have ill prepared them for the task of “handing on the Faith”. The theology and the social views of the Church today have in any case deepened and become more nuanced since the 1950s, or even the 1970s!
Roderick Strange’s book has already been noticed in these pages in a general way. Here I want to emphasise its great usefulness to young people and their parents in the context of a return to school.
This book may well provide both parents and teachers with a solution. Young students rightly feel that what they are taught is not quite what one would need to really understand either the nature of religion itself, or the particular character of modern Catholicism.
This book is not intended to be a school book, and it was not written by Roderick Strange for that purpose. But it would serve better than those long, often impenetrable pages of Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity, who so often referred to a “real world” that seemed to bear little resemblance to the real world of the late 20th century.
The appeal of this book to young adults lies simply in the fact that it is not a school book. It is a book for adults. And nothing appeals to people in their teens more than reading books intended for adults rather than written for that strange publishers’ category of “young adults”. Reading adult books – Hemingway at 14 for instance – is a large part of the process of growing up.
Not that Roderick Strange is not himself a teacher. He is an authority on Newman’s theology, and lectures at St Mary’s University in Twickenham as professor of theology. In contrast to Sheed, his wish is to present “the challenge and enchantment of Catholic Christianity”. As this suggests he does actually live in the real world, but also apprehends those other worlds of the spirit and where they can lead individuals.
The material is arranged around the liturgical year so he is able to explore and illuminate the life and teachings of Jesus, and how those teachings, so immediately accessible to all in the gospels, created Christianity.
This is an approachable and accessible book. As I see it, in these weeks of “back to school”, this is a book which parents or even students themselves can buy and read, so beginning their own explorations of that world of enchantment that Strange himself fully entered into through the writings of St John Henry Newman. This book could become a central text in many young and growing lives.
(But for others I should add that Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed remains in print from Ignatius Press in America, whose books are distributed in Ireland in a meagre way by Veritas.)