Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice & Mystery of Ancient Faith (Reviewed August 2008)

Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice & Mystery of Ancient Faith, Jon M. Sweeney (2008)[***1/2]. I picked this up in a bookstore in Woodstock, VT, near where my father recently moved; it caught my eye because "Almost Catholic" describes me to a T. (As it turns out, Sweeney is from Woodstock, which is why this somewhat obscure book was in a little independent bookstore with a tiny religion section.) I loved the premise of this book -- that the practice and mystery of Catholic faith can be shared by all, regardless of whether one has been born into Roman Catholicism or converted to it. I also loved Sweeney's emphasis on practice and faith, in contrast to belief and Truth: "Becoming a person of faith takes a lifetime, and it begins far more often in participation than it does in some sort of judging. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal criticized the approach to faith that says it begins with belief. You start with belonging, he said. Belief comes later, and even then, belief comes and goes. Consistent belief is not essential to faith." Amen. The rest of the book explores various aspects of Catholicism, including devotional practices Sweeney finds meaningful, such as praying the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, as well as highlighting some of his "Cloud of Witnesses," including my own patron saint, Thomas Merton. I found most of the book interesting, but somewhat disappointing. It had such promise, but Sweeney was not very generous nor eloquent in sharing his own experience. He doesn't say much that Kathleen Norris hasn't said much more beautifully, personally and movingly in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, The Cloister Walk, and Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

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