- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

By George Weigel
HarperCollins, $24, 196 pages

Not many years ago, Romano Guardini, one of the most respected Christian thinkers of our time, stated in his book "The End of the Modern World": "Our concern of the moment is neither to repudiate nor to glorify; it is to understand the modern world, to comprehend why it is coming to an end." In contrast to Guardini's brilliant but often grim picture of the final outcome of a world that has turned its back on the transcendental, George Weigel's optimism is founded on the concepts of "love" and "self giving" which lie at the root of the Catholic faith.
In "The Truth of Catholicism," Mr. Weigel highlights how, in spite of the constructive role that Catholicism has played in the history of mankind, her teachings have been misunderstood and are even the object of hatred and scorn. To overcome the biases that have prevailed for centuries, he invites mankind to "come inside" the Catholic Church and take a look at her teachings from within.
With great tact and delicacy Mr. Weigel insists: "No one will force you to stay. But once inside, you may find what seemed cramped and confining is in fact, as Evelyn Waugh suggested, a huge and liberating terrain on which to live a fully human life and to prepare for a destiny beyond mundane imagining."
In an accessible style, Mr. Weigel, discusses 10 of the most controversial controversies surrounding the Catholic faith, including, among others, such matters as the liturgy, authority and democracy. The 10 controversies that he explores are expressed succinctly but with great lucidity. It is Mr. Weigel's hope that, by clarifying some of the issues related to these controversies, the skeptics and the dissatisfied will open their hearts to a better understanding of the truth of Catholicism.
A truth that, he maintains, "is true to the teaching of Jesus." The Church's true aim is, Mr. Weigel repeats, "… that we reach our fulfillment as human beings not by asserting ourselves, but by giving ourselves by making ourselves into the gift to others that life itself is to us."
Chapter 7, where Mr. Weigel asks the question Why do we suffer? is particularly pertinent to our present hedonistic and utilitarian society where the search for pleasure and avoidance of pain has become the generalized norm that guides most of men's actions. Quoting from John Paul II, Mr. Weigel reminds us that suffering is present in the world "in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one's Iove on behalf of other people."
He continues: "Suffering draws us outside ourselves and draws out of us self-giving and unselfish love." Maybe the defenders of euthanasia can learn a lesson from the basic teachings of love and self giving which are one of the main characteristics of Christianity.
In a well reasoned and convincing manner, Mr. Weigel dispels the fears of all those who see Catholicism as a threat to progress and modernity. On the contrary, Catholicism offers an alternative to the "Brave New World" of Aldous Huxley. As Mr. Weigel reiterates: "The brave new world tells us that we ought to settle for a middling happiness in a life free of trouble. Catholicism tells us not only that we are capable of greatness but that greatness is demanded of us."
Mr. Weigel should be congratulated on writing such a brave and courageous book in an age which seems to have lost the notion of the transcendental. The only point that surprised me was his comment on the American historical mistrust of Catholicism's impact on democracy and his use of John Adams as an example. He quotes Adams' letter to his wife Abigail from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 where he describes his visit to "the Romish chapel" in a waspish manner.
The impression may be given that Adams had an anti-Catholic bias similar to the one professed by Paul Blanshard and others whom Mr. Weigel quotes in the paragraphs that follow. Commenting on the same event described in the letter to Abigail, the historian David McCullough in his latest book, "John Adams," says the following: "The whole experience, Adams concluded, was 'awful and affecting' the word awful then meaning full of awe or 'that which strikes with awe, or fills with reverence.' Adams may have had a negative attitude towards the Catholic Church but not an anti-Catholic prejudice."
Mr. Weigel is a prime example of a man of faith and integrity who does not shy away from proclaiming the perspective of the transcendent and expressing it with clarity and conviction. He realises fully, as Guardini did, that the moment is neither to repudiate nor to glorify the modern world but to proclaim the timeless. We are living in a critical age and truth is the only thing that will make us free. With full confidence in the redeeming power of the risen Lord, his message is one of optimism. To the question what is to become of us now and in the future, Mr. Weigel has a brief but categorical answer, "we must become saints." His message is simple and within reach of everyone: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5.48)

Alberto Piedre is a professor at the Institute for World Politics in Washington.

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