(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In his first letter, George Weigel describes growing up in a Catholic neighborhood in Baltimore during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Catholics had distinctive customs and religious practices that gave them a different outlook on life. Borrowing a term from the writer Flannery O’Connor, Weigel calls this unique outlook the Catholic “habit of being.” O’Connor exemplifies the Catholic habit of living and viewing the world in her letters and stories, which present the world as the arena wherein the drama of creation, sin, and redemption is constantly being reenacted.

Weigel’s second letter explores the scavi, or excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica, where the first Roman pontiff’s remains were discovered in the 1940’s. Peter’s tomb manifests the “grittiness of Catholicism”: the real, tangible truth of God’s revelation to humankind. Peter, who was apparently a normal, flawed person, was chosen to be the foundation on which Christ built his church because Peter was seized by love for Jesus and had undying faith in him.

Next, Weigel journeys to the Holy Land, beginning at Mount Sinai, where God revealed his law to Moses. Today, St. Catherine’s Monastery stands on the site and houses a famous icon called Christos Pantokrator, or Christ the All-Sovereign. The icon is meant to make Christ present to those who encounter it; indeed, both the humanity and divinity of Jesus shine forth through the icon. Weigel proceeds to describe the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where Jesus’ body was anointed after the Crucifixion. Here Pope John Paul II concluded his 1990 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Dormition Abbey is the final stop on Weigel’s expedition to the Holy Land. The abbey is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who allegedly “fell asleep” and was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. Weigel finds that Mary serves as the model of Christian discipleship because her obedience to the word of God is the proper disposition of God’s awesome power.

England is the next location on Weigel’s exploration of Christendom. The first stop is the Oratory in Birmingham, where John Henry Newman lived. Here one can view the desk where Cardinal Newman penned his classic Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864; History of My Religious Opinions, 1870). In this work, Newman asserts that religious truth is not determined by humans but rather revealed by God. Faith requires obedience to God, and through obedience...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Mossa, Mark. “Weigel’s Catholic World.” Review of Letters to a Young Catholic. America 191, no. 18 (December 6, 2004): 27-29. Although Mossa feels that Weigel was less than successful in addressing his young audience in a way that they will understand, he praised parts of the work, including the letter urging young people to think in terms of vocation rather than career.

Rourke, Thomas R. A Conscience as Large as the World: Yves R. Simon Versus the Catholic Neoconservatives. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. Imagined discussions between moral and political philosopher Yves R. Simon and neoconservative Catholics, including Weigel.

Rust, Michael. “Historian Weigel Is Witness for John Paul II.” Washington Times, November 15, 1999, p. 36. This profile of Weigel, done in connection with his publication of his biography of Pope John Paul II, discusses his views on the Vatican and the pope’s role. Includes biographical data on Weigel.

Weigel, George. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. Weigel’s authoritative biography of John Paul II examines the pope’s vast effect on world politics and religion in the twentieth century and beyond.