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Reading Guide: Fill These Hearts by Christopher West

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Christopher West

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

Fill These Hearts is a book about desire—not trivial wants or superficial cravings, but the deepest, most vital powers of body and soul, sexuality and spirituality. Popular theologian Christopher West explores classical and contemporary art, pop music, movies, and Christian mysticism to show how the restless, erotic yearnings of our bodies and spirits uncover our heart’s desire for God. Along the way, he refutes the idea that Christianity is a repressive, anti-sex religion by explaining how our deepest longings are meant to be fulfilled even as they reveal our hunger for union with God.

 

PART I—DESIRE

Chapter 1: The Universal Longing

Why do you think music can stir our emotions so profoundly? What music expresses the deepest yearnings of your soul?

If the burning desire we all feel within us is for all that is “good, true, and beautiful,” as Plato taught, why does it also have the potential to harm us?

Why is what we do with the burning desire we feel for something more so important?

How is our human sexuality a message from God? What is he trying to tell us by creating us male and female?

According to Pope Benedict XVI, what is the purpose of erotic love? Explain how sex not just about sex.

Is the desire you feel for happiness directed toward that which truly satisfies and truly fulfills you? Why or why not?

 

Chapter 2: The Starvation Diet

How can even misdirected eros reveal the kind of beings we are meant to be?

If you were raised in a Christian home, did your upbringing include healthy dialogue about God’s plan for creating men and women? What were you taught about sex?

When Christianity is understood as merely a legalistic adherence to a moral code, what effect does this have on people?

Instead of insisting that we are meant to follow a list of rules or go to hell, Jesus asked a question: “What are you looking for?” (see John 1:38). Take some time to reflect on this question. How would you answer it?

Though we are deeply marred by original sin, explain how we both desire and choose to do good? In your own words, explain the heresy of Jansenism and how would you refute it.

What does Christopher West mean by “the starvation diet gospel”? Have you experienced this approach to Christianity?

 

Chapter 3: Fast Food

Why are so many people drawn to the promise of immediate gratification (what West calls the “fast-food gospel”)? What false claims does this gospel make?

What elements of the true banquet God desires for us are contained in the fast-food gospel? In what way might our culture’s focus on sex and desire not be all bad?

Why does the author call St. Augustine “the doctor of desire”?

Professor James K. A. Smith says, “The marketing industry…is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the [Christian world].” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

Christopher West says that the fast-food gospel actually limits our desire—that it stems from desiring too little instead of too much. In C. S. Lewis’ words, we are too easily pleased. What do you think these statements mean?

What are some consequences of different sexual choices people make today?

 

Chapter 4: The Banquet

West defines a stoic as someone who chooses not to want so much, to shut his or her desire down. Have you encountered this type of person in your life? Have you perhaps been a stoic yourself? What are the fruits of this type of approach?

The addict tries to avoid the pain of wanting more than this life has to offer by gorging on the finite things this life does have to offer. What are the consequences of this way of life?

How does the author define a mystic? What do the mystic and the addict have in common?

What is the difference between “extraordinary mysticism” and “ordinary mysticism”? How might we all be called to be mystics? What would this look like in your own life?

Read the excerpt from the Catechism found on page 36. What does this tell you about our desire? What does this say about us as religious beings?

How in touch are you with your deepest desires? How important is it to you to satisfy them? What part does your faith play in fulfilling them?

Would you describe your experience of Christianity as a passionate pursuit of Christ? If so, how does following Christ fulfill your deepest longings as a person here on earth?

How do the saints exemplify a healthy eros? How have they been able to fulfill their deepest desires?

Fr. Cantalamessa says, “In the world we find eros without agape; among believers we often find agape without eros.” What does he mean by this? Why is it important for us to have both?

Explain what is meant when Christianity is called “the religion of wild passion and desire.”

How can we learn to move from either indiscriminately indulging our desires or ignoring and repressing them to experiencing our desires in a healthy way?

Why is controlling our desires not the permanent solution God desires for us?

What does it mean to be “intoxicated by God”? Have you ever felt this way? Describe your experience.

West says we encounter spiritual mysteries not by rejecting physical pleasures, but by experiencing them in the right way. Give some examples of this.

Watch Babette’s Feast and spend some time journaling about it afterward. What particular insights did you gain?

West tells us that if you want to enter into the banquet God has prepared for you, you must have the courage to plumb the depths of your desires and follow them the whole way through the distortions to the true cry of your heart. Where especially do you require this kind of courage?

 

Chapter 5: The Living Hope of Satisfaction

Describe how seeking is the essence of the spiritual journey. How can continually seeking provide any kind of fulfillment in this life?

St. Paul wrote about “the redemption of the body” (see Romans 8:22–24). How would you describe our bodies? And what does the redemption of the body mean?

What part does hope play in the fulfillment of our deepest desires?

Would you describe yourself as a hopeful person? A happy person? Why or why not?

How would you define happiness?

What difference does hope make in a person’s life? How does one become hopeful?

Read the author’s description of The Shawshank Redemption, especially the part where Andy gives Red a harmonica. In your own life, what is your “harmonica”? How has it impacted you?

 

Chapter 6: Exposing and Stretching Our Hearts

St. John Paul II taught that we shouldn’t think of sexual desire as some kind of base, animal drive. How did he define sexual desire and its intended purpose in our lives?

How can we move from the sexual realm to the mystical realm? How can we translate the passionate desire we feel for another human being into being on fire with love for God?

Think of a misdirected desire in your own life. What legitimate desire does God wants to satisfy? Pray and ask God to show you what you are really looking for. Do any important memories come to mind? Does a particular song come to mind? Pay attention to any words or images you might receive, and then write them down in a prayer journal.

Christopher West says that inner healing is part of a lifelong journey. Describe your own path to inner healing so far. What areas in particular has God healed in you?

In your own words, define what Scripture means by “circumcision of the heart” and “spiritual labor pains” (or “dilation of the heart”).

How is prayer another definition of “desire”?

West says prayer can be a messy affair because when we suffer, we often feel angry with God. Think of a time you felt anger toward God. What caused you to feel this way, and what did you do with this anger?

Reread Christopher West’s experience at the retreat where he allowed himself to feel abandoned by God and be angry with him. Why did the monsignor tell him this was “good prayer”?

Be totally honest with yourself. What false identities have you taken on, and what kind of masks have you worn to hide your own brokenness? What has been the result of such hiding?

If you let go of all the masks, allowing those closest to you to see you at your worst, what do you think might happen?

What does it mean to be “totally naked” before God? Why does God desire such a union with us?

Read Fr. Jacques Philippe’s explanation of the “dark night of the soul.” Describe a time in your life when you felt “in over your head” or a time when you were unable to rely on your own strength to see you through a situation. What lessons did you learn through your “dark night”?

West says that by learning to wait on the Lord, our hearts are stretched. How does St. Augustine describe this stretching? Share a time when you were stretched. How did your capacity for God grow?

What are some “idols” (“God-substitutes”) in your own life? How can increasing your desire rather than squelching it be the solution? How might your disordered desires help you to discover your true desire for God?

Pray this short prayer each day this week: “Lord, I desire you; increase my desire.” Record in your journal any new lights you receive.

What does it mean to “share in the sufferings of Christ”? How can suffering help us enjoy true union with God?

 

PART II: DESIGN

Chapter 7: Our Bodies Tell the Story

How can you adjust your focus when you look at yourself and the world around you so you can see something new? If you saw things differently, what hidden mysteries might be revealed?

Caryll Houselander said that a little tree frog could teach us more about God than all the theology books in the world. What do you think he meant by that? How can nature be a theology lesson?

What does Peter Kreeft mean when he says, “Human sexuality is derived from cosmic sexuality”? How is the “sacramental covenant of masculinity and femininity” that St. John Paul II spoke of found throughout the universe?

Read Ephesians 5:31–32. How does this passage reveal to us what it means to be human? What does it tell us about who God is, who we are, and what his purpose is in creating us as sexual beings?

Why have Christians always revered Mary? What significance does she have for the Church? What does she mean for you personally?

How is Jesus Christ like a bridegroom? What does this mean for us? How would this change your focus when you receive Communion?

How are our bodies meant to be not only biological but theological?

 

Chapter 8: In the Beginning

Why do you think the Bible begins and ends with marriages? Describe how the mystery of man and woman and the call to nuptial union correctly frames Christian teaching and dogma.

What happens when Christianity is framed in some other way than God’s passionate desire for us and our desire for union with him? How can another way of framing Christianity be destructive to us as humans?

Explain in your own words what is meant by the term “original desires.” How can we “circumcise our hearts”—cutting away whatever keeps us from being open to God?

When Adam and Eve sinned, human desire was misaligned with the divine design, and they began to cover themselves. What does the instinct we have inherited to cover our bodies in this fallen world actually stem from?

What is your true value, worth, and dignity as a human person? How is this different than what the media often tells us?

 

Chapter 9: Trusting God’s Designs

Do you believe that God wants to satisfy the deepest desires of your heart? Are you confident that he will? Describe a time when you were tempted to feel the opposite. How about a time when God did more than you expected?

What is the “one temptation” Lorenzo Albacete writes about? How has this temptation manifested itself in your life?

As you look at the world around you, what do you see that makes you wonder if God really has a loving plan for our happiness and fulfillment? What part does trust play in your perspective?

What is the value of waiting versus grasping at satisfaction now? How are we meant to wait?

In your own life, have you always seen God as a loving Father, or have there been times when you saw him as a tyrant, someone to do battle with? What are the results of seeing God as a loving Father? What happens when you see God as a tyrant who wants to keep you enslaved?

 

Chapter 10: The Designs of Redemption

In what ways is redemption more than Christ’s paying the price for humanity’s sin?

Describe how Christ embodied God’s response to our pride.

How has Christ’s sacrifice “turned the logic of the food chain on its head”? What is the lie Christ came to save us from?

Describe what the author means when he says that suffering is “continued receptivity.” How did Christ demonstrate this for us?

What are some ways you can increase your own “posture of receptivity”? In what particular areas do you resist being receptive?

What does the fact that Jesus rose from the dead reveal to us about God’s trustworthiness? How does this impact your own day-to-day life?

 

PART III: DESTINY

Chapter 11: Chastity Is a Promise of Immortality

How would you answer someone who doesn’t believe that hell exists?

What are some of your deepest desires? What does the desire for heaven look like in your life?

What struggles have you encountered as you’ve tried to align your desires with what it means to truly love?

What is the definition of chastity, and why does the Catechism proclaim chastity as the “promise of immortality”?

What is your reaction to Christopher West’s description of the marble statue found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?

Describe the significance of the unicorn. What is the difference between “vertical” and “horizontal wildness”? How does the beautiful image in St. Peter’s help us to understand the meaning of chastity?

Explain how chastity is a positive “Yes” to the dignity of the human body and human sexuality. How is chastity an important virtue, not only before marriage, but in marriage?

West calls chastity “a training in human freedom.” What does this mean, and what role has chastity played in your life?

 

Chapter 12: Freeing Freedom

Explain the difference between freedom and license.

Describe a situation in your own life (or family) where the abuse of freedom has had negative consequences.

How can being dominated by your passions have a destructive impact on others?

Do you see God’s law as helping or hindering you to be free? Is there a particular area in your life where God’s law feels like a burden? If you have become hardened toward God in some way, pray and ask God to change your heart.

What should you do if you realize that you’ve abused your freedom in some way?

 

Chapter13: Loving Love

Why does the work of salvation begin with eros?

St. John Paul II observed that the lack of wine at Cana could be interpreted as an allusion to the lack of love that threatens relationships between men and women. What new insights and perspectives can you gain from looking at the miracle at Cana this way?

How does love differs from lust? Describe some of the effects that love and lust have on a person.

Reread the author’s story of how he experienced selfless love from the woman who would become his wife (pp. 151–152). When have you experienced this type of love, and what effect did it have on you?

Describe the characteristics of mature, benevolent love. Who have you felt this kind of love toward in your own life?

If you haven’t already, watch the movie Toy Story 3. What can the toys can teach us about true love?

 

Chapter 14: To Infinity and Beyond

Have you ever looked to another person to fulfill you? Describe the situation, and its outcome.

What is your view of heaven? How does it compare to St. Bridget’s description of heaven as a “great lake of beer” meant to be full of delight (p. 164), and West’s description of the communion of saints (pp. 167–169)?

According to Benedict XVI, how are we to understand the term “eternal life”?

Read the little story of the mystic-nun on p. 171 who spoke about her “nuptial union” with God and the response of the agnostic psychologist. Who do you think was right, and why?

How can a person be celibate without their desires being repressed and denied?

How thirsty do you feel for God? What can you do to increase that thirst?


Reading Guide: Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

by Pope Benedict XVI

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

In this third and final installment of the Jesus of Nazareth series, Benedict XVI takes a look at Jesus’s infancy and childhood and shows their timeless relevance. Through the details of Jesus’s early life, great themes of hope, longing, seeking, surrender, service, sacrifice, trust are examined, revealing how Jesus’s life and message is a story for today—one that speaks to the restlessness of the human heart and the search for the truth that leads to true joy.

 

Chapter I: Where Are You From?

When Pilate was interrogating Jesus, why did he suddenly ask Jesus where he was from? What was he hoping to find out?

Who is Jesus? Where is he from? Why are the answers to these two questions inseparably linked, according to Pope Benedict?

What does Benedict mean when he says all of salvation history, beginning with Abraham and leading to Jesus, is “open to universality”?

How is the universality of Jesus’s mission contained within his origin?

What are the differences in the way Matthew and Luke approach the question of Jesus’s genealogy? What intentions did each of these Gospel writers seek to communicate?

How is Joseph as Jesus’s father treated by Matthew and Luke? What significance do they each bring?

How does John approach Jesus’s genealogy differently than the other Gospel writers? What was his intent?

In what way does John communicate the deepest meaning of Jesus’s genealogy, and how does this help us to understand our own origin?

 

Chapter II: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus

How did Matthew and Luke come to know the story of the events leading up to Jesus’s birth and his childhood? What were their sources? For example, how would Luke know that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51) when there were no other human witnesses present?

Why does Benedict say that the sacred events of Mary’s early life could not be made public while she was still alive?

Explain the reciprocal relationship between interpreting the Word of God and understanding salvation history.

As you look at the story of John the Baptist, what “particularly deep roots” can be found in the Old Testament?

How does John reveal the whole Old Covenant priesthood as a prophecy of Jesus? Why is this important?

How do the Old and New Covenants converge and combine in Zechariah and Elizabeth, forming a single history of God with humanity?

Discuss the differences between the annunciation of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. Why is this significant?

List some of the ways joy appears in the accounts of the annunciation to Mary. What does this signify?

Why does Benedict say that “joy and grace belong together”? What does he mean by this?

How does the revelation of God’s name in the burning bush come to completion in Jesus (see John 17:26)?

Discuss the meaning of the phrase “his kingdom will have no end.” What are the characteristics of this kingdom?

Explain how Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel reveals her fearlessness and her interiority. How do these qualities make her similar to the image of the Catholic Church?

How does Mary’s question to the angel differ from the reaction of Zechariah?

Since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, why would Mary say to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

What do you think about St. Augustine’s idea that Mary had taken a vow of virginity even before her betrothal to Joseph?

How did Bernard of Clairvaux explain the meaning of Mary’s “Yes”?

What did the Church Fathers mean when they said that Mary “conceived through her ear” (through her hearing)?

Consider how Mary must have felt when “the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38).  How do you think she processed the mission just revealed to her?

How does Scripture define a “just man”? List some of the key qualities. Now look at Joseph. How does he fit the description of a just man? How must he have felt when the angel appeared to him?

How do we know that Joseph had the gift of discernment and the ability to perceive the divine?

Why is the forgiveness of sins the foundation of all true healing? How does Jesus demonstrate this? How is the centrality of this communicated to Joseph?

What is the sign promised to Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14? What does St. Matthew (as well as Christian tradition) interpret this sign to mean? Was this the same way the prophet Isaiah understood it? How else might he have understood it?

If the sign was not addressed merely to Ahaz or merely to the nation of Israel, than to whom was it addressed? How might this be interpreted to concern the whole history of humanity? How should we as Christians understand this passage?

How can we be sure that Jesus’s conception from the Virgin Mary is a real historic event rather than just a pious legend drawn from archetypal concepts?

What are the two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world? In what way are these two moments a “scandal to the modern spirit”?

If we are not meant to ascribe to God anything nonsensical or irrational, how can we explain the virgin birth and the resurrection from the dead? How are these examples of God’s creative power? And why are both of these events fundamental elements of our faith?

 

Chapter III: The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem

Why does Luke place such importance on the context of world history? Why does he say that Jesus entered the world in “the fullness of time”?

Describe the ways that Augustus was regarded as not only a politician but a theological figure. Why was there no distinction between politics and religion in the ancient world?

How did Augustus accomplish his mission to bring global peace?

How did Luke create both a historical and theological framework for the events surrounding Jesus’s birth, and what was his purpose in doing so?

Explain why Matthew and Luke had different theological visions and sometimes provided different historical details.

Prayerfully reflect on the words “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6). What parallel might this have with John 1:11 or Matthew 8:20? What meaning can we gain from these verses?

What is the significance of Jesus being born in a manger? What do the ox and the ass signify? And what might the shepherds represent?

In terms of Christ, explain the concept of “first-born.”

What is the relationship between God’s grace and human freedom?

When the shepherds heard the angels’ message, they “went with haste” to find the baby Jesus. How often do you go “with haste” where the things of God are concerned? Where does your spiritual life need a deeper sense of urgency?

The shepherds looked for the baby lying in the manger, and when they found him, they recognized inwardly that he was the Messiah. What kind of signs (or non-signs) does God give you that cause you to recognize Christ’s reality? How healthy is your inner vision?

If God is love, then what is it about God that cause so many to “hate” him? Why is Christ so often regarded as a contradiction?

How is Christ, along with his mother Mary, the image of the fundamental attitude of the Christian faith? What areas of “paganism” (a lack of sensitivity to others) in your life need the Holy Spirit’s transformation?

 

Chapter IV: The Wise Men from the East and the Flight into Egypt

Benedict tells us that the “Magi” encompass a wide range of meanings, from the wholly positive to the wholly negative. Describe each type of Magi and what they can teach us.

Who were the Magi mentioned in Matthew; what sort of people were they?

According to Benedict XVI, what do the wise men from the East signify (see p. 97)?

In your own words, explain what the star of Bethlehem might have been in terms of astronomy, and then explain what it might signify spiritually.

How is the star both a sign of hope (in a spiritual sense) and a cause for fear and concern (in a physical sense)? In what other ways does God disturb our comfortable day-to-day existence? Include some examples from your own life.

How are the gifts the wise men bring to Jesus symbolic of his royal dignity? To what three aspects of the mystery of Christ do they point?

What does Jesus’s flight to Egypt with Mary and Joseph teach us about the true Exodus? In what sense does he enter into exile in order to lead us home, out of exile?

When Joseph is instructed by the angel to go to Galilee, what does this show about God’s plan for history?

Benedict asks probing questions about the events recorded in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel: How are we to understand all this? Are we dealing with historical events, or is this intended to be understood as a theological meditation presented in story form? What is Benedict’s view?

 

Epilogue: The Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple

How can we say that Jesus’s freedom is not that of a liberal, but of a truly devout person? Why is the freedom Jesus brings a totally new kind of freedom?

What does the fact that Joseph and Mary do not miss Jesus until the end of the first day’s journey show us about the holy family and how they were parenting Jesus?

What does Jesus’ absence point to? Is it telling us something about freedom, or is there a different level of meaning here regarding Jesus’s mission?

What two aspects are important to note in Jesus’s reply when Mary tells him they have been looking for him anxiously?

What does the fact that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” reveal to us about her faith? What do they tell us about believing Jesus’s words to us?

In Luke’s telling of this story, explain how he presents Mary as the model believer.

What connection does Luke make between Jesus and Samuel when he writes about Jesus returning to his normal family situation?

What does the fact that Jesus grows not only in stature but also in wisdom tell us about him as a human being? How do both this and the way he dialogued with the temple teachers reveal Jesus as true God and true man?


Reading Guide: Following the Path by Joan Chittister

Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy by Joan Chittister

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

In Following the Path, Joan Chittister shares insights gleaned from years of teaching and contemplation to help readers answer the questions, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” and “How do I know when I’ve found my purpose?” For those making a life decision at any age—from early adulthood to midlife and beyond—Sr. Joan shows readers a new way forward through her examination of spiritual calling, change, and discernment. This study guide will assist you to better understand where you fit in the scheme of things, how you can experience your life more fully, and discover the gifts within you that can enrich the world.

 

Chapter 1: The Search for Happiness and Meaning in Life

What is your definition of happiness?

How did Thomas Aquinas define happiness?

Joan Chittister says we were born to be happy, that not being happy is abnormal. Do you agree with her? On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you?

What is the difference between choosing a life of hardship—such as that of a doctor in an African village or a rescue worker in Haiti—and being stressed to the breaking point by difficult circumstances?

Aristotle said that happiness depends on engaging in “virtuous activity.” Do you agree? In your own life, what virtuous activity do you engage in? Does this make a difference in the level of happiness you feel?
 

Chapter 2: What Does Enjoyment Have to Do with Happiness?

How important is enjoyment in your life? What kinds of activities add flair and freshness to your life, refreshing you and bringing new energy? How often do you allow yourself to engage in these activities?

How does doing what you truly love doing make the world around you a happier place?

How does happiness differ from enjoyment? In your own life, describe this difference.

What activities in your life cause you to lose all sense of time when you engage in them?

Describe the relationship between happiness and a lack of self-centeredness.

 

Chapter 3: What Does It Mean to Become the Fullness of Ourselves?

The author says that our “unfinished selves” never stop calling to us. What experiences in your life bear this out? How has your unfinished self made its presence known in your life?

How have you learned to distinguish between what you do and why you want to do it? What are the driving forces in your life that motivate you to pursue a particular course?

Have you ever undertaken something because someone else wanted you to do it? Why did you make such a choice? What was the outcome?

Why is personal authenticity so important at each stage of life? What happens if you refuse to respond to the deepest desires of your heart?

What parts of you have been ignored or repressed, waiting to be discovered? What new self-discovery can you make?

 

Chapter 4: Whose Call Is It?

How did you come to pursue the work you are doing now?

What, if anything, is stopping you from doing what you want to do? What keeps you from discovering what you’re meant to do?

Define what is meant by the private self (the self) and the public self (the ego).

How have you struggled with integrating your public and private selves? List some concrete examples.

Shirley Abbott said, “Everybody must learn this lesson somewhere—that it costs something to be what you are.” What has it cost you to be who you are today?

Why do most of us try so hard to be what everyone else expects us to be rather than what our best self expects of us?

Who are you at the very center of yourself? Who does the world need you to be? Take some time to reflect on these questions and journal about them.

 

Chapter 5: Learning to Hear the Call

Have there been times in your life when you’ve sensed that something was missing? What did you do about it?

How has a sense of dissatisfaction with your life led to new choices?

What might you feel called to do that you don’t feel emotionally equipped to handle?

Do you believe that courageously following your call will always bring you closer to your true self, even if you fail? Describe a time when you encountered failure. What did it teach you?

 

Chapter 6: What Does It Mean “to Have a Purpose”?

How is having a job different than doing what we’re meant to do with our lives?

How have the events in the economy over the last decade changed the way we look at the world—and at ourselves? What benefit might this have to our perspective on the purpose of life? How have events in the economy changed your own life?

Chittister says we must learn to weigh our gifts against our opportunities, our needs against our demands, and our emotional dreams against our material expectations. How have you personally done this, and what has the outcome been?

How would you answer this question: “What is it that you have that the world needs and is waiting for you to provide?” How could the answer to this question change things in your life?

 

Chapter 7: Purpose and Passion: The Essence of Call

If you find yourself scattered and flitting from one thing to another, how much of it is due to too many demands, and how much of it is a lack of focus?

What do you care deeply about? What do you care enough to pursue avidly, to make room in your life for?

How alive do you feel? Do you sense that you’re just going through the motions?

If passion is defined as caring enough about to spend your life doing something so that others’ lives are better because of it, what are you passionate about?

Describe some of the ways that addiction is a destructive form of passion. What are some of its effects?

Contrast addiction with real passion. What are some of the effects of real passion? Describe some of the effects of true passion in your life.

 

Chapter 8: Why Does It Take So Long to Find Out Who I Am?

What twists and turns has your life taken, and how has this helped you to find out what you’re truly meant to do with your life?

Using Aristotle’s definition on p.86–87, explain in your own words what real happiness consists of.

Where do you see yourself making a genuine contribution? How involved are you in making this happen? Are there areas where you are merely a “casual bystander”? If so, how might you become more involved?

In the past few years, what self-discoveries have you made? How has this changed your life?

 

Chapter 9: What Is a Gift?

Why do some people who are very gifted end up not able to reach their full potential, according to Chittister?

How can our “gifts”—the things we do best, the talents we take for granted—both consume and mislead us?

What does it really mean to be gifted? What is the purpose of our gifts?

What do you see as your gifts? How did you discover them?

In your life, what moves you into an emotional zone, beyond the consciousness of time? Why is it important to pay attention to this?

 

Chapter 10: Why Follow the Gifts?

The author mentions great inventors, great thinkers, great artists, and great writers whose determination and drive made positive contributions to the world, still impacting us years later. Who else can you think of that has made the world a vital, exciting place for the rest of us?

What pressures do we face when we seek to uncover and share our gifts? How can the lure of prestige and advancement work against true fulfillment?

What talents do you bring to the world? How did you discover them, and what effect has that discovery made on your life? How has it affected others?

Where have you been tempted to “hide your light under a bushel”? Where have you been courageous enough to stop hiding and share your light with others?

 

Chapter 11: What Does It Mean to Have a Call?

Why does the author begin this chapter by saying that call is an awesome word? What qualities make it so?

Chittister identifies three major decision-making points in every person’s history. When do these three points occur, and what choices do we face at each point?

What role does a job play in one’s call?

The author says choice is a very important spiritual skill. How developed is this skill in your life?

 

Chapter 12: The First Call: An Invitation to Adulthood

As you found yourself on the threshold of adulthood, how effectively did you answer the questions: “What do I really want to do with my life? What am I meant to do with my life?” Where did these answers lead you?

What impact did the culture make on decisions you made as a young adult? Reflect on that ways your parents or other adult role models were influential in helping you choose a path.

How could the educational system be improved so it better assists students to expand their hearts along with their minds?

In your own life, when you were in college for instance, were the areas you chose to study based on financial considerations over what really interested you? Why or why not?

William James said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” What great use are you making of your life? Was this even something you thought about when you were becoming an adult? Is it something you think about now?

 

Chapter13: The Second Call

Describe a time in your life when what used to be meaningful suddenly didn’t seem to fit anymore. What have you outgrown over the years? What do you think is at the root of this shift in you?

When the author encountered a painful period in her life, a wise woman told her, “Don’t worry, Joan, you will go on.” What painful periods have you experienced, and as you’ve gone on, how have you been different? How have you been stronger?

Life’s large decisions need to be revisited multiple times if we are to keep growing and moving from phase to phase. In your own life, what are some of these great decisions? How have you kept them fresh?

Why is the realization that life is not settled yet so threatening to our sense of self, to our definition of life itself, to our hopes for the future?

Are there particular areas where you have ignored your own growth? If so, what might you do now to change that?

Describe the differences between the call in young adulthood and the call of middle age. What challenges do we face in middle age that must be addressed if we are to continue growing?

 

Chapter 14: The Third Call

As we move from middle age to the retirement years, the question we must ask ourselves is not whether we have a job to do; instead, new questions emerge: “Who are you without your job? What kind of person have you developed into over the years?” If you are in this stage of life, how do you answer these questions?

The author says this stage of the call is the “call to completion.” What does she mean by this?

What you have possibly overlooked to this point in the shaping of your life? How could your answer shape a deeper discovery of what you are meant to be?

The author says the secret of life is the willingness to grow into something beyond your present. What might that something be in your life today?

No matter what stage of life you’re in, as you look at the direction you are going, the main question to ask yourself is “Does this path have heart?” What is your answer?

Who or what would miss you if tomorrow you disappeared?

 

Chapter 15: Is Everything We’d Like to Do Really a Call?

What is the difference between a call and a profession, a certification and a commitment?

How are commitment and enthusiasm different? Why are they often confused?

Think of a time in your life when your enthusiasm for something waned and you began to feel apathetic. What response did you make?

The author says when we feel most discouraged and fatigued and alone, that is precisely when we should not quit. Describe a time in your life when you felt this way. How did you deal with it?


Chapter 16: How Do I Know if I Have a Call?

The author makes the statement that “the concept of being called to something, set apart from the rest of the world…marked in a special way by the divine—is long gone.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

What about people who don’t seem to care about discovering some kind of a call? What does this say about the quality of their lives?

How has the global nature of our world affected your lifestyle? How has it shaken your complacency or dependency on someone else to sustain you?

What do cultures without a strong sense of moral obligation or spiritual depth look like? Give some examples of what happens to such cultures.

When faced with the seemingly insurmountable needs in our world today, what moves your heart enough for you to make a difference instead of staying complacent and focused only on your own needs?

What perspective can you embrace if you have a job that is clearly not a call? How can you fulfill your sense of call?

 

Chapter 17: How Do I Know I’m Doing What I’m Meant to Do?

Have you ever been terminated from a job? Whether you experienced a sense of relief or felt devastated, what new opportunities happened as a result?

How does our culture define success? How much does this definition have to do with true success? How do you define success?

How can you tell if you’re living according to someone else’s definition of success or your own? How might you be happy even if you’re not successful according to society’s standards?

Do you believe in “the law of attraction”? What does this mean, and where do you see it operating in your life?

List the seven dimensions of an authentic call, as defined by Sr. Joan, and provide a short description of each one.

As you reflect on these seven dimensions, what do you recognize as your call? How are you fulfilling it? If you sense that you’re not yet living your call, what might you do to move toward it?

 

Chapter 18: What Does a Sense of Call Have to Do with the Spiritual Life?

What is the spiritual value of discovering your call? How does this affect the way you feel about yourself? How does it define your place in the world?

Have you experienced times when you’ve felt adrift or rudderless in your own life? What effect has this had on your soul? If you know someone who is struggling like this, how could you help that person?

What does it mean to be a “co-creator” with God?

What is the relationship between a call and holiness?

Re-read the Sufi quote on p. 162. What big questions are you asking these days?

 

Chapter 19: Should I Try Various Things Before Deciding What to Do?

How did you decide what path to follow as you entered adulthood? Did you always know what you wanted to do in life? How did you come to be doing what you’re doing now?

How much were you consciously led by God in your decisions, and how often did you just decide on your own? What results have you experienced?

Looking back, what (if any) choices would you have made differently? If you do have any regrets, how can you view the path you’re on in light of your true calling?

What concerns and needs for others fill your soul? What are you doing to meet those needs?

Have you ever wanted to pursue a particular path and had your parents or other key people in your life discourage you from doing so? What did you decide to do and what was the result?

 

Chapter 20: Is It Possible to Have More Than One Call?

How would you answer someone who asks how a good God can allow bad things to happen to us?

Have you ever felt that God was playing a game with you, or testing you, to see if you could figure out what to do with your life? If so, describe what made you feel that way.

The author says a call is “neither a divine contest of wits nor a divine message.” What does she mean by this?

In terms of our gifts, how is a call a partnership with God?

Describe what it means to become a spiritual adult.

How would you answer the question that is the title of this chapter? Is it possible to have more than one call? Why or why not?

 

Chapter 21: Is It Ever Too Late to Start Over?

Sr. Joan says life is lived in stages, with each stage having its own meaning and purpose. Describe your life in stages, and identify the meaning and purpose of each one.

What are the consequences for someone who is meant to begin again and chooses not to? Can you think of an example from your own life—either you or someone close to you?

Is it ever to late to start over? Re-read the examples the author mentions on p. 180. Who do you know personally who was willing to launch a new career or a new passion late in life? What inspiration can you glean from them?

As you examine where you are today, are there new endeavors you would like to pursue? Is there anything that seems too far out of reach? What might change your perspective on this?

 

Chapter 22: Where Is God in All of This?

How do you know that what you’re doing is God’s will for you, that you’re not just pursuing your own interests?

How does perfectionism challenge everything else we might say about the goodness, mercy, and love of God?

Where have you struggled with perfectionism? How has this shaped your concept of God and who he is?

Describe in your own words the three “clues” about how to really discern what we are meant to do in life if we are seeking God’s will. How have you recognized these clues in your own life?

The author says when we can say “I know that I am meant to do this in life” is when we become a fully developed human. Take a moment and then share how you would fill in the blank: “I know that I am meant to do _____________ in life.”

At age sixty-five, if there is still another third of life to live, what do you envision your older, wiser self doing? If there some role models you can draw from, what are they accomplishing?

In one or two sentences, state “the deepest inclination of your heart.” How are you following it?


Reading Guide: The Global War on Christians by John L. Allen, Jr.

The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Peresecution by John L. Allen, Jr.

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

John L. Allen Jr. is associate editor at The Boston Globe, specializing in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. He also serves as senior Vatican analyst for CNN, and was for 16 years a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He’s the author of nine books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs, and is also a popular speaker on Catholic affairs both in the United States and internationally. In The Global War on Christians, Allen says it’s time to wake up to the rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment, and physical violence on Christians around the world. Whether it’s Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea, Christian have become a beleaguered minority. In North America and Europe, Christians face increasing political and legal challenges to religious freedom. In this eye-opening book, Allen offers investigative insight into what is being done to stop these deadly threats, and what more can be done.

Introduction

Explain the distinction Allen makes between the “global war on Christians” and the “war on religion” in the West. Why is this distinction important?

The author points out that it’s dangerous to describe something as a religious conflict when there are other forces involved. What might such a situation look like? In spite of this, why would it be wise to take a more expansive view of anti-Christian persecution?

In the world at large, why has silence surrounded the war on Christians, like the Me’eter prison camp described by Allen? Why has the Church been so silent?

Allen says that, aside from the moral and spiritual imperatives, there are three reasons to make the global war on Christians a core concern today. List those reasons, and briefly describe them.

 

PART ONE: ANTI-CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION AROUND THE WORLD

Chapter 1: Overview

The Barnabas Fund came up with a list of ten forms of harassment and persecution against Christians globally. Briefly describe each one. Of these ten, how many were you aware of?

Have you or someone you know personally been the victim of any of these forms of persecution? Describe the situation.

Now that you know such a large percentage of Christians are being so severely persecuted worldwide, what are some ways you personally can combat this persecution?

According to German scholar Thomas Schirrmacher, what are some of the main reasons that Christians are the target of so much persecution?

What is your opinion of the annual “Status of Global Mission” report’s estimate of the number of Christian martyrs per year? Do you think it’s an accurate portrayal of the plight facing Christians, or does it stretch the concept of martyrdom too far? Why or why not?

The Jesuit martyr Fr. Rutilio Grande said, “It’s a dangerous thing to be a Christian in this world.” Do you agree with this statement? Would you say it’s dangerous to be a Christian in the United States today? If so, why?

 

Chapter 2: Africa

Read the story about the Irish bishop, Kiernan O’Reilly, who has been a long-time African missionary. Why has he made the choice to remain in such a dangerous place? What motivates someone to make such a dangerous choice?

The author details many horrors that have taken place in recent years at the hands of Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization founded in 2001. Since this book was published in 2013, those horrors have continued. Recently this group kidnapped some 276 Christian girls. Although some have escaped, some are still being held them for ransom, and in the meantime is attempting their forced conversion to Islam. What effect does this have on you? What can you possibly do to help?

Allen notes that in Nigeria, Christians have not only been victims—some have organized themselves into groups and tried to defend churches, homes, and schools by attacking Muslim homes and businesses. What is your response to this?

Read again the story of Bishop Umar Mulinde, the Pentacostal preacher who survived Muslims attacking him by pouring acid on him as he was opening his car door on Christmas Eve 2011. He says he has forgiven his attackers. What does his story teach us about forgiveness?

 

Chapter 3: Asia

Asia Bibi is still in solitary confinement, her trial having been postponed six times (as of September 2014). There is tremendous global pressure on the Pakistani authorities to release her. Allen says that her release would have no effect on the larger war on Christians, because most suffer without the notoriety that Bibi has. What can be done to help them?

In spite of persecution, Christianity is growing rapidly in many parts of Asia. The author says there is a compelling case that, as Asia goes, so goes the overall fate of religious freedom in the early twenty-first century. How can religious freedom advocates increase their ability to protect Christian populations?

In China, why would Catholics choose not to belong to the Catholic Patriotic Association? Why would Protestants choose not to be part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement? Describe some of the persecutions Catholics and Protestants face in China today for refusing to submit to these organizations.

Since Christianity has always been a small but generally tolerated minority in India, what is it about the Hindu revival that has caused such hostility toward Christians and Muslims?

Do a little research on the Communal Violence Bill, which would give the federal government the power to intervene directly when religious freedom is attacked in a foreign country. What arguments do opponents of the bill make? What are your opinions?

Re-read the story of Shahbaz Bhatti, the lone Catholic in Pakistan’s cabinet who was assassinated in 2011. What insights can you glean from his story and the words of his brother Paul?

 

Chapter 4: Latin America

The story of Dorothy Stang is compelling on many levels. What inspired you the most as you read Allen’s account of her life and experience in the Amazon? Consider watching the documentary They Killed Sister Dorothy. How does the fact that even those in secular circles consider her a saint impact you?

Even though Latin America has such a large Christian population, the global war on Christians is in full force there. Briefly describe the three areas of persecution believers most typically experience.

What affect has the atheist Castro regime in Cuba had upon religious freedom there? List some of the most significant persecutions.

Why do you think Castro visited the Vatican in 1996? What effect, if any, do you think St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba two years later, or Benedict XVI’s visit in 2012?

In addition to Christians being brutally attacked for their faith in Mexico, there is a growing war being waged by traditional Catholics in Mexico against Evangelicals and Pentecostals. What can Catholics worldwide do to prevent this from continuing?

Why has Hugo Chavez referred to Christian missionaries as “imperialists” and feels they are part of a broad conspiracy in Washington, D.C.? How does this add to Christians being persecuted for their faith?

 

Chapter 5: The Middle East

Although Christianity seems to be nearly dying out in the Middle East, Allen says that there is a burgeoning Christian presence in the Gulf States. What can this be attributed to? What persecutions do these Christians face?

Describe the realities of modern life in Afghanistan for a Christian today. How has the Taliban made life difficult for them?

Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, says that Egypt’s new shariah-based constitution is “a real disaster in terms of religious freedom.” Why does he say this and what does he mean?

Have you ever visited the Holy Land? If so, what evidence did you find of Christians being persecuted? If not, do you have a desire to visit some day?

During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Christians were a minority, and they experienced much opposition. However, as Allen details, the situation worsened after Hussein’s fall. Given the rise of ISIS terrorist activity now so prevalent, what new persecutions do Christians face?

Describe what happens to Turkish Muslims who convert to Christianity. What is life like for them?

Some feel that the Vatican should take a more aggressive stance regarding religious persecution in the Middle East. Do you agree? Why or why not?

 

Chapter 6: Eastern Europe

Social scientists say that the Czech Republic, once home to a large Catholic population, is now a society in which atheism is the “state church.” What factors contributed to this change?

Describe the events and factors that have led to the Catholic presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina being cut in half.

Even though the climate for Christianity in Russia has vastly improved since the Soviet era, threats against religious freedom are still present. Describe the two biggest challenges believers in Russia face now and in the foreseeable future.

 

PART TWO: MYTHS ABOUT THE GLOBAL WAR ON CHRISTIANS

Chapter 7: The Myth that Christians Are at Risk Only Where They’re a Minority

Allen says whenever Christians profess their faith openly and take controversial stands regarding human rights and social justice, this exposes them to danger. How does the author define majority martyrs? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

Explain the term martyrs of charity. How do these martyrs differ from the martyrs of previous eras?

Why does the author say it is “toxic” to believe that believers are persecuted for their faith only in places where Christians are the minority?

 

Chapter 8: The Myth That No One Saw It Coming

In your own words, explain what the author means by a “Casablanca defense” in the global war on Christians.

Allen uses the brutal murder of Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese in Turkey as an example of this particular myth that “no one saw it coming.” What events led to this conclusion?

The author says that there are at least four reasons why debunking this myth is important. In your own words, explain each of these reasons.

 

Chapter 9: The Myth That It’s All About Islam

In our post-9/11 world, and especially given the recent activities of ISIS, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that radical Islam is the greatest perceived threat to global stability and attacks against Christians. Why is this conclusion be misleading, according to Allen?

Why is it erroneous to identify Islam only with the Middle East and the Arab world?

As you read the four reasons Islam is not the leading threat to Christianity, how does this affect your perception of Islam?

In addition to persecution coming from Islamic radicalism, Allen lists ten other forces that threaten Christians. List these and briefly define each of them.

In what ways do Christians who take a stand against political corruption and organized crime put their lives at risk?

What is the right response regarding the threats facing Christians in Muslim societies? Why is “politically correct silence” an insult to the dignity of those who are fighting for the freedom of the faith?

How might forgiveness be the most powerful weapon of all in the fight against this war on Christians? Explain, using the example of Sr. Leonella Sgorbati and her Muslim bodyguard.

 

Chapter 10: The Myth That It’s Only Persecution if the Motives Are Religious

Why would someone argue that Christians are being persecuted, but it’s because “they have it coming”? How would you answer such a person?

Skeptics might argue that the persecution that Christians face is inflated to serve some other agenda (usually a political one), or that the persecution that occurs happens only in isolated cases. Has anyone ever expressed this view to you, implying that you’re exaggerating or making things up? If so, how have you responded?

Do you agree with the perception that persecution or violence is only “anti-Christian” if the attacker’s motives are specifically religious? What about the victim’s motives? Why is it important to also understand why the victim was in harm’s way in the first place? Use the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in your answer.

Read the example of Eric De Putter, the French Protestant missionary who was murdered in 2012 in Cameroon. In your opinion, do you see his death as anti-Christian persecution? Why or why not?

Explain what the Center for the Study of Global Christianity calls a “situation of witness.” Can you think of other examples of this in addition to that of Sr. Lukrecija Mamic and Francesco Bazzani?

How might the thirty-six Burundi seminarians be classified as victims of anti-Christian violence? Why might someone take the opposite view? Do you see their deaths as a direct result of their Christian beliefs? Why or why not?

Explain why thinking that it’s only persecution if the motives of the perpetrator are religious ones is an inaccurate way of viewing the global war on Christians? Why might this actually do a serious injustice to the victims themselves?

 

Chapter 11: The Myth That Ant-Christian Persecution Is a Political Issue

Why is it dangerous to think that the suffering of Christians around the world is a political concern How can secular politics, whether left or right wing, distort the way we perceive the global war on Christians?

What lessons can we glean from the life and death of Bishop Gerardi? Why was he celebrated as a “martyr for the truth”?

Describe the differences between Gerardi and Fr. Daniil Sysoyev. How do both of these men’s deaths go beyond political issues, and show that religious persecution is not a political exercise?

Explain in your own words the inaccuracies of the “political issue” myth.

Why does John Allen say that the threat against religious freedom must be framed in terms of universal human rights, not partisan interests? Why is clarity so necessary on this point?

The author says that the examples throughout this book describe people who have in common a “profound conviction that faith matters.” How does this shed light on the idea that they died for their faith, no matter what their political views may have been?

 

PART THREE: FALLOUT, CONSEQUENCES, AND RESPONSE

Chapter 12: Social and Political Fallout

How can you explain the paradox that, while Christianity is not a political party, it has political implications for societies in which it takes root?

What are the three consequences Allen says will result from considering the political implications of religious persecution? Explain the cumulative effect of these three developments.

Allen asks the question, “What might we expect to hear and see from Christians in the global South when it comes to the intersection of faith and politics?” Answer this in your own words, being careful not to over-generalize.

Do you agree with the statement: “Christianity in the developing world tends to be morally conservative and politically liberal”? Why or why not? What are some of the reasons Allen lists on p. 250 to make this point?

In what ways does the political agenda in the developing world defy the political dichotomies of the West?

Beyond violence and persecution, why is the defense of religious freedom such a concern for Christians today? Take another look at the causes Archbishop Lori cites (see p. 253). Which of these causes are of special concern to you?

Beyond agreeing that religion matters, explain how religion matters—give some examples its influence on current political affairs.

Describe the difference between the Christian reaction to secularism in Europe and the United States and how Christians in the Middle East view it. How did Benedict XVI’s 2008 speech seek to bridge this gap?

 

Chapter 13: Spiritual Fruits of the Global War

How do you explain the fact that the places where persecution of Christians is the most intense are also the places where Christianity is growing the most dramatically?

What theological breakthroughs has martyrdom stimulated through the ages?

How might today’s global war on Christians actually energize the Church with new missionary zeal and important theological insights?

What ways does the Bad Urach Call suggest that Christians do to take up the cross of Christ actively?

How can the global war on Christians promote ecumenism? Explain briefly in your own words the three compelling reasons Allen suggests.

What impact has hearing stories of martyrs had on you? Have any of the stories in this book changed you in any way? If so, describe how.

Define the terms “high Christology” and a “low Christology.” Which one do you tend to embrace? What value does each of these different angles offer us?

How could a new theological approach impact Christian universities and the coursework offered?

What is the proper Christian understanding of martyrdom, as modeled by St. Thomas More?

Describe what Evangelicals and Pentecostals call “Great Commission Christians,” and what they mean by the “10/40 window.” What similarities does this have to the Catholic’s call to the “New Evangelization”?

 

Chapter 14: What’s to Be Done?

The author says we should not underestimate the importance of prayer in shaping culture within the Church. Explain in your own words what the phrase lex orandi, lex credenda (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”) means. How might this apply to praying specifically for persecuted Christians?

What are some ways you will pray for the persecuted?

Allen says a concrete response to the global war on Christians is for those of us in the West to do whatever we can to raise consciousness so that the victims of this war are not forgotten. As you think of what this means in your life, what concrete responses do you think you might make?

What ways could you reach out to persecuted Christians directly? How do you think you can make a difference in this way?

What does it mean to have a “global perspective,” and how might you develop this in a deeper way in your own life?

Read the story of Rita Larrivee, the Catholic doctor who started a micro-charity. What two lessons can we learn from Larrivee’s experience?

Name some of the forms getting involved politically can take to combat the global war on Christians, and then share which one or ones appeal to you as something you might consider. How will you begin?

How can organizations help displaced refugees in the US but also be conscious of helping Christians remain in their native countries? What could you do on a local level to help displaced refugees get settled in your community?

 


Reading Guide: Why Be Catholic? by Patrick Madrid

Why Be Catholic? Ten Answers to a Very Important Question by Patrick Madrid

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

Drawing upon author Patrick Madrid’s own experiences—from his childhood in 1960s California to his life’s work as an author and master apologist—Why Be Catholic? offers a personal, biblically-based exploration of Catholicism. Perfect for seekers or beginners, Madrid explains ten simple, clear reasons to be Catholic. In the process, he reveals the remarkable gifts the Catholic Church brings to the lives of the faithful.  Madrid proves that Catholicism really does offer true happiness, satisfying humanity’s deepest longings. The Catholic Church is where God’s face is revealed, His mercy is received, and His love is shared.

 

Chapter 1: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

How can the Catholic Church claim to be the “one true Church” in spite of the number of sex crimes committed by the clergy, as well as the moral decline of its lay members?

What has the Catholic Church’s response been to such overwhelming scandal? Summarize Sean Patrick O’Malley’s statement about the crisis as the newly appointed archbishop of Boston.

What does Patrick Madrid define as the Catholic Church’s answer to the many problems we all face?

Imagine that Jesus Christ was speaking to you about the enticements of worldly pleasure, power, and as he did to the rich young man in Matthew 19:16–26. How would you respond? What would you do with your wealth?

Jesus used a parable of a field of wheat and weeds (see Matthew 13:24–30) to illustrate the state of the world and even the state of the Church, with both good and bad Christians existing together. What are some examples from the Bible where this has been the case?  Why do you think God allows great sinners as well as great saints to exist together?

What is the root cause of any scandal? How does a scandal start?

What is the way to deal with sin? For instance, if you want to deal with the pride you see in your life, what should you do?

What is the purpose of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching?

 

Chapter 2: You Can Handle the Truth

If you grew up Catholic, did you have any conversations with those from other faiths, or perhaps those with no faith at all? What questions or doubts (if any) did these conversations cause you to have? How were you able to answer them?

How can you make sense of all the conflicting aspects of Catholic history? What can “bad Catholics” teach us?

Patrick Madrid asks the question: “What do you think happened between the time of the apostles and the Protestant reformation?” How would you answer this question?

The Catholic Church officially teaches that it is the one, true church established by Jesus Christ. In your experience, how does this teaching affect interdenominational dialog?

What did Protestant John Henry Newman mean when he said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant”?

 

Chapter 3: Brought to My Senses

What is the purpose of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church? How does God use them in our lives?

How are the sacraments more than just “signs”?

Madrid says the sacraments are to the soul what food, water, and nourishment are to the body. Describe some of the parallels between them.

Name the three key effects that occur in a person who receives the sacraments. Have you experienced these effects in your own life? If so, what difference have they made?

How do you think about “spirit” and “matter”? Do you see one as good and the other as bad? What is the Church’s teaching about matter? What does a healthy understanding of matter look like?

What is the difference between “actual grace” and “sanctifying grace”? Why is it important to know the difference?

What is the definition of the word sacrament? How does the Catechism of the Catholic Church further define what a sacrament is?

Patrick Madrid says the sacraments accomplish three essential things for us. List them and give a short description of each.

How do the sacraments of baptism and confirmation “initiate” us in to the Church?

Have you thought of the sacraments as a means to heal the wounds in your life? Or have they seemed more like rituals? In what way can the sacraments—especially baptism, confession, and Communion—be powerful, grace-filled remedies for you?

What are some ways that the sacraments equip us to serve others? How do they do this?

 

Chapter 4: Soul Food: Mass and the Holy Eucharist

Why is the Mass called “the Mass”?

From New Testament times, Catholics have believed that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Jesus or a memorial meal; they believe that the Eucharist is Christ’s Real Presence. As a Catholic, how do you approach this with Protestant friends? What is the significance of Christ’s Real Presence in your life?

In your own words, explain what is meant by “transubstantiation” in terms of what happens to the bread and wine at Mass.

In what way is the Mass the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross here and now, in time and space?

 

Chapter 5: The Cure for What Ails Me: Confession and Healing

How does the Catholic Church provide the remedy for the “malaria” of sin?

Do you agree with Patrick Madrid that Catholics who regularly receive the sacrament of confession are the most psychologically healthy people on earth? Why or why not?

According to C.S. Lewis, how can confession help us when we don’t feel forgiven?

How would you answer someone who says that Catholics go the priest to confess their sins instead of going directly to God?

What has your experience of confession been? Is regular confession a priority for you, and if not, why not?

 

Chapter 6: A Rock that Will Not Roll: Peter and the Papacy

Why do you suppose Jesus chose Peter, with all his limitations, to be the first “pope”?  Describe some of those limitations and describe how God’s grace combined to transform him into a “rock.”

Why did Jesus change Peter’s name from Simon to Peter? What is significant about this?

What clues did Jesus give Peter about the special leadership role he was entrusted with? List some biblical examples that point to Peter’s primacy among the apostles.

In your own words, explain the Catholic doctrine of infallibility, which is found in paragraphs 889–892 of the Catechism.

Why is the concept of infallibility so often misunderstood, even by Catholics? List some the things papal infallibility does not mean.

Read 2 Timothy 3:1–5, and then list some of the ways these verses are relevant for us today.

Patrick Madrid says that the papacy has always been a sign of contention, attracting controversy, opposition, harassment, and even persecution. Through all of this, what qualities have kept the papacy intact?

What are some of the ways St. John Paul II positively impacted our world during the many years he was pope? Have any of these ways touched you personally? If so, describe the influence he had on you.

 

Chapter 7: Mamma Mia! The Blessed Virgin’s Role in God’s Plan of Salvation

The author says we are all attracted to goodness and beauty. Have you felt this pull in your own life? Describe some of the ways beauty has made an impact for you.

How does the Virgin Mary epitomize goodness and beauty?

What does the Catholic Church teach about the unique role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in God’s plan of salvation? How is this different than the way other Christian groups view her?

Explain in your own words what the Catholic Church believes about Mary: her immaculate conception (sinlessness), perpetual virginity, her bodily assumption, and her role as a heavenly intercessor. Have you ever struggled with any of these beliefs? If so, what helped you to better understand who Mary is?

How did Mary’s obedience to God counteract the catastrophe set in motion by Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden?

In what way is Mary truly the Mother of all Christians? Do you see her as your Mother? Describe some of the ways Mary has been a faithful Mother to you.

Is praying the Rosary something that is meaningful to you? How can you keep it from being a merely mechanical, formulaic prayer?

The author describes the dramatic way Our Lady’s intercession on his behalf protected him and his brother. Can you think of a time in your own life where you sensed Mary’s loving intercession on your behalf? Is there something going on right now in your life that you could entrust to her loving care?

What is one way you can deepen your love for Mary during this coming week?

 

Chapter 8: How ’Bout Them Saints? Mystics, Martyrs, and Miracle-Workers

Is sainthood reserved for a select few, or is it possible for everyone? In your own words, define what makes someone a saint.

Do you believe God can transform your sinfulness into holiness? Why or why not?

How can you cooperate more fully with God’s grace?

The author talks about how St. Dominic Savio was one of several saints who inspired him. What saint (or saints) in your life inspires you toward greater holiness? What saintly qualities do you desire to emulate?

What lessons do the saints teach us about being human and the power of God’s transforming grace? Give an example in your own life of how God has changed you.

Reading about the saints the author highlights in this chapter, decide to read more about two saints over the coming months. Which ones will you pick? As you study their lives, jot down the particular lessons that speak to you.

How would you explain the doctrine of the Communion of Saints to a non-Catholic? What four biblical truths could you use to support your explanation?

The author ends this chapter with the power of love. What are some practical ways you can increase your love for God and thus grow in holiness?

 

Chapter 9: Hello, I Love You: The Catholic Church’s Good Works

Service to the poor has always been a priority for the Catholic Church. How does your parish address the needs of the poor? What kind of involvement, if any, do you have in serving the poor?

What evidence do you see personally of how the Church serves others—whether hospitals and healthcare, the work began by St. Vincent de Paul, prisons, schools? Have you or someone you love been helped by the Church in any of these areas?

The author tells the moving story of Brother Christian, one of the French Trappist monks brutally murdered by an Islamic rebel group during the Algerian civil war. As you read what he wrote in his courageous farewell letter (“In God’s face I see yours”), think of situations in your own life where you’ve had difficulty recognizing God in others. How might you develop more of Brother Christian’s response and attitude?

What steps can you take to eradicate the “selfish opportunism” you see around you—in your family, your workplace, your community?

 

Chapter 10: Ah, the Good Life: The Awe, Wonder, and Goodness of God

Have you encountered attitudes and beliefs from anyone close to you that the Catholic Church is anti-scientific and anti-intellectual, full of ignorance and superstition? If so, what kind of response might you make?

List some of the ways the Catholic Church has continually been on the cutting edge of scientific inquiry and progress. List a few of the contributions Catholics have made.

What are some of the ways science has opened “new doors of perception on the unimaginable vastness and variety of the material cosmos”? How does this impact your faith?

How does the author define true happiness? Is there anything you would add to his definition?

Why is freedom of will so vital for us as humans? How does this freedom relate to happiness?

How does the Catholic Church teach people to be truly happy? And if this is true, why are there so many unhappy Catholics?

How would you rate your own level of true happiness? What might you do to increase it?

Madrid says many Catholics have not experienced at the heart level the Evangelical Christian concept of “being born again.” What does “being born again” mean? Have you ever had a “born again” experience? If not, what might you do to experience one?

Statistics show that when Catholic teaching is watered down or compromised, vocations decrease, while when orthodox Catholic teaching is strong, vocations increase. Explain in your own words why this is so.

What are some aspects of Catholic moral teaching that many people scorn as being “medieval”?

Explain in your own words the underlying reasons for the Church’s teaching on sex, contraception, and marriage. How does the Church’s logic help us to “know the true and do the good”?

The author says we all experience the emotion of longing. In your life, what intense longing have you felt, and how has it been answered (or not answered)?

Define what you mean by “living the Good Life.” How does this differ from the world’s definition?

Read the quote from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce on pages 205–207. Describe any insights you may have gleaned.

Now that you have read this book, if someone asked you, “Why should I be Catholic?” how would you answer the question?



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