(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

A Catholic priest, sociologist, and author, the Reverend Dr. Andrew Greeley begins his “essential catechism” with the supposition that all religion comes out of experience. Jesus taught with parables to which his listeners could relate and which they could understand. The early Christians shared the experience of the Risen Lord. They then went out to preach the good news of that experience. Only later was that experience codified into a formal religion. Christianity can solve problems and provide answers to the big mysteries of life, such as why God made us, why there is evil, and what happens after death. Greeley addresses these questions as well as questions that relate directly to Christianity and Catholicism. He delves into the mystery of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the person of Mary, mother of Jesus. He also discusses whether baptism is necessary for salvation and salvation is possible outside the Church.

Greeley begins each chapter with a question rooted in human experience. The question-and-answer format was common in the Baltimore catechism, which generations of Catholic children used to learn their faith. Greeley restates those traditional questions in slightly different ways to emphasize that this is a catechism rooted in experience (a bottom-up approach to faith) rather than dogma (a top-down paradigm). For example, the first question, “Why did God make me?” is rephrased as “Is there any purpose in my life?”

Sadly, human experience is often rooted in pain. Greeley explores the lack of purpose we all seem to feel at one point or another in our lives. He discusses the evil in the world and the evil within ourselves. He acknowledges how difficult it can be for us...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Greeley, Andrew. The Catholic Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Greeley discusses what makes Catholics unique, placing special emphasis on the appreciation Catholics have for God in the world, which is illustrated particularly through Catholic contributions to art, music, and literature.

Greeley, Andrew. The Great Mysteries: Experiencing Catholic Faith from the Inside Out. New York: Sheed & Ward, 2003. An updated version of Greeley’s original “catechism.”

The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism (No. 2). New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1999. Aimed at sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, this is a reprint of the classic text used by Catholics to learn their faith.