Author: Malone, Miriam
Date published: March 1, 2012
COMMUNICATING FAITH. Edited by John Sullivan. Washington: Catholic University, 2011. Pp xxvi + 405. $34.95.
Sullivan's compendium is a valuable theological, pastoral, and practical contribution to the Catholic Church's mission of evangelization and catechesis. For theologians, it is an excellent resource as it brings theology and pastoral practice into dialogue in terms that open up wide horizons for theologians' reflection on their primary work. For practitioners, the perspectives of an impressive variety of contributors expert in the field of education in the faith open up new vistas for facilitating the wedding of theology and life experience in the formation of the Christian disciple.
The first of six major sections in the book delivers a foundational language base for ensuing discussions about communicating faith effectively. The reader is introduced to a theological reflection model for faith formation and the key roles played by the individual's own experience, the community of faith, and immersion into the worship life and mission of the believing community. Several schemata for religious education are presented in subsequent sections that address formation in the home, the school, higher education, and international situations. Part of the genius of the work is that practitioners will find language or vocabulary that is familiar to them in at least some of the articles and will likely be challenged to think differently as they grapple with the terminology and perspectives of other articles. Fundamental to the premise of each chapter is the conviction that the goal of communicating faith is the life of faithful discipleship rather than the acquisition of a body of knowledge.
Part 2 incorporates critical analyses of historical trends that have led to current catechetical practices and examines the theological assumptions that underlie these trends. Parts 3 and 4 directly address formal academic settings and the challenges of communicating faith in and through "school." Case studies from England, Ireland, and Scotland highlight various programs and methodologies that may serve as a mirror for the reader to examine and critique local practice, to find affirmation for aspects of faith formation that are effective, and to discover potential adaptations and enhancements toward communicating faith more effectively in the future. Sound principles and insights can be extrapolated from geospecific texts and applied to religious education in general, e.g., the move from pre-Vatican II knowledge-based instruction to the formational model presented in each chapter.
It is unfortunate that in every case the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is equated with parish programs rather than presented as the Uturgical rite that it is, albeit with inherent, essential formational aspects. The General Directory for Catechesis indicates that initiatory catechesis is the norm for aU catechesis (no. 68); in this work, one can get the impression that the various authors' perspectives are normative, and the RCIA fits into them.
Parts 5 and 6 deal with a variety of international perspectives and aspects of modern communication and, with the exception of the two concluding chapters, may leave the reader somewhat dissatisfied. The issues raised are complex and contextually and culturaUy specific and in these brief chapters can be depicted only with a very broad brush. This leads to just a hint of Eurocentricity in the brief analysis of how best to communicate faith in Africa. The kernel of wisdom that weaves through the treatment of faith education in Africa, Ireland, the United States, and Europe, as well as through art and technology, echoes what was critical in earlier chapters: knowing the right questions is essential to knowing how to communicate faith effectively. It must be noted that the chapter dealing with online learning is already dated, although certain aspects remain valid and relevant.
This collection does not treat 21st-century influences of the new cosmology or of feminist theologies, the significance of recent archeological findings or discoveries of historical documents, or the role of the Southern Hemisphere in the development and identity of the Church. It is, however, solidly rooted in the vision of Vatican II and pushes readers, e.g., the communicator of faith, seriously to consider both goals and methodologies in one's efforts toward effective faith formation. In his penultimate chapter, S. presents the relationship between faith and education through the metaphor of dance. With this compeUing image of a partnering activity that is patterned and predictable while at the same time spontaneous and creative, he and his collaborators offer a well-honed, theologically sound framework for understanding the ministries of witness, evangelization, and catechesis in the Church today. Communicating Faith wiU serve weU as a text for students in pastoral ministry programs, catechist formation programs, and seminaries, and as a worthy resource for anyone serious about communicating faith.
Holy Names University, Oakland, Calif. MIRIAM MALONE, S.N J.M.