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READING GUIDE: Consuming the Word

Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church by Scott Hahn

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

This classic book by Dr. Scott Hahn is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the New Testament writers understood the Word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist. Within its pages, readers will come to see why, long before the New Testament was a document, early believers saw it as a sacrament. The author examines some of Christianity’s most basic terms to upack what they actually meant to the apostles and their first hearers, providing a powerful and welcome guide as Catholics are challenged to engage in the new evangelization—the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.


Chapter 1: The Sacrament of the Scroll

St. Hippolytus of Rome talked about the connection between reading the outside of the Scriptures and understanding the inside, referring to the Old and New Covenants. St. Jerome talked about “eating the open book.” As we begin this study, what do you think these saints meant?

St. Gregory the Great said, “What the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible…. Therefore the Old Testament is a prophecy of the New Testament; and the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament.” In your own words, explain what St. Gregory meant by this.

Why is a true understanding of the New Testament, the New Covenant, especially urgent today, as the Church embarks upon the New Evangelization?

Scott Hahn says, “We cannot deliver what we do not possess.” What steps can you take to really know “the Word” in order to take that Word out to the world, in the same way the first Christians did?


Chapter 2: Before the Book

We refer to the New Testament in literary terms, thinking of it as Christianity’s sacred and authoritative text. Scott Hahn says that the first-century believers didn’t think of it this way. What did the New Testament mean to them?

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be alive in New Testament times? Unless you were very wealthy, you would not have had access to books of any kind. How would this have changed the way you would have experienced Scripture back then?

Describe how the early Christians understood the term “canon.” How does this differ from the meaning we usually give it today?

Scott Hahn says that if we truly seek to understand the way early Christians understood the faith, we should expect to be surprised. What do you think he means by that?


Chapter 3: The New Testament in the New Testament

What did the first Christians mean by the term “New Testament”? What did Jesus mean when he used the term, translated as “new covenant” in Luke 22:20? In what way does it refer to more than just a “text”?

If the Greek word diathēkē and the Hebrew word berith can both be more accurately translated in English as “covenant” rather than “testament,” how can we explain the preponderance of the English term “New Testament” instead of “New Covenant”?

Christians throughout the ages agree that Jesus’s death was a once-for-all sacrifice (see Romans 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18). But why? What made Jesus’s crucifixion a sacrifice? And why would this concept have been unthinkable to a first-century Jew?

If you could only hear the readings and prayers in the liturgy (and not be able to read them for yourself), how might this be different from the way you hear the words of the liturgy today?


Chapter 4: The New Testament After the New Testament

Describe how the early Christians and Church Fathers thought of the New Testament as a “dynamic reality,” not just a collection of writings.

How is the strong use of covenantal language—a description of the early Christians’ family bond with God—key to our understanding of the Eucharist today?

Why is it important for Christians today to gain a familiarity with the practices and day-to-day life of first-century Jews in Palestine? Why do we need to understand Israel’s institutions and social structures?

How is the way an early Christian understood the terms covenant, sacrifice, and sacrament different from your understanding today? How can you regain the primary sense of these biblical terms?


Chapter 5: The Original Setting of the New Testament

In what way did Jesus declare the New Testament not a text but an action?

Why were the books of the New Testament the only books approved to be read during the liturgy?

What did Jesus do at the Last Supper that transformed his death forever from an execution to an offering? What did the Last Supper have to do with what happened on Calvary?

Explain in your own words how Christ’s redemption only truly makes sense from the perspective of the Eucharist.

What did the terms todah and eucharistia suggest to first- and second-century believers? What impact on your own life might a deeper understanding of these terms have?


Chapter 6: The Church of the New Testament

In our media-saturated culture, it’s hard to imagine a world without books and publishing. What means did Jesus employ to share his message?

Why was Jesus so intensely interested in the idea of “succession”—the handing on of the Good News and the New Testament? And if the process wasn’t about establishing texts and institutions, what was important to Jesus?

How can we become, like John, “beloved disciples” of Jesus? How can we develop an increasingly intimate relationship with him, and what clues does John’s response to seeing a vision of Jesus in his power and glory leave for us?

How do apostolic tradition and apostolic succession “define each other,” according to Pope Benedict XVI?

St. Clement of Rome observed that tradition and succession produce natural benefits of peace and good in the Church’s earthly society. What examples of this can you identify in today’s Catholic Church?


Chapter 7: The Old Testament in the New Testament

Describe how Christian worship in the ancient world can be compared to today’s mass media.

Define the process we know as “canonization,” and explain why it is important.

Scott Hahn says that, for the Apostles, Jesus himself is the key to understanding the Old Testament. Why do you think this is true?

Why does St. Peter insist that Scripture should not be a “matter of one’s own interpretation” (see 2 Peter 1:20)? What are some problems that can arise when people try to understand Scripture apart from the Church’s teaching? Can you cite some contemporary examples of this?

Explain in your own words the proper relationship between Scripture and the Church.

What do you think St. Augustine meant when he said, “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New”?

Why did the Christians in the West come to call their short creeds the “rule of faith”?


Chapter 8: The Canon of the New Testament

In second century Rome, people could choose to study with “fashionable teachers who claimed to be Christian, but who were definitely out of step with the bishops of the Catholic Church.” What ramifications did this have back then? Can you think of some contemporary examples today? What are some of the results of thinking and acting this way?

What were Marcion’s main religious beliefs? How did his heresy influence the world?

What response did the Church make to Marcion and other heretics of this time? What providential purpose do heresies serve, according to St. Augustine?

In your own words, explain how and why the Church had the authority to make the infallible decision about what Scriptures were included in the New Testament.

Now that we have the New Testament, why is the Old Testament still essential? Why would Pope Pius XI say that, “spiritually, we are all Semites”?


Chapter 9: The New Testament and the Lectionary

Catholics are generally thought to be less familiar with the Bible than their Protestant brothers and sisters. In essence, though, describe how a Protestant might only receive a limited “biblical worldview” compared to a Catholic who attends daily or even just Sunday Mass.

Where did the lectionary come from?

How is the Catholic approach to Scripture precisely the opposite of the approach Scott Hahn used when he was a Protestant pastor?

Define in your own words the term “Christian dogma.”

Explain what the phrase lex orandi, lex credenda (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”) means for us today. How does it relate to the lectionary?


Chapter 10: Trusting the Testaments

Scott Hahn says there is a close relationship between the pages of Scripture and the person of Jesus, both of which we call the Word. How do these two mysteries illuminate each other?

List some of the ways Jesus brought the sacred texts of the Old Testament into his preaching. How did he view the Old Testament?

How should we view Scripture? How can we trust that it comes from God and is divinely inspired?

The apostle Peter says that Scripture should never be a matter of one’s own interpretation, but that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). How is this Holy Spirit more than just a “helper”? Describe the Holy Spirit’s and the prophets’ part in the words of Scripture. How can we have full confidence in the Bible and its message?

The author says that no matter when the books of the Bible were written, God speaks through the ages to address the present situation of the faithful. Is this how you view the words of Scripture? Give an example of how the Bible is relevant to something you are facing today.

Have you ever questioned the divine authority or the credibility of either the Bible or of Jesus himself? What stumbling blocks in the Bible have challenged your own beliefs? How were you able to answer these questions for yourself? How can you help someone else to view the Bible and Jesus in light of faith?

Scott Hahn says that the way the Bible communicates is perfectly harmonious with the mystery of Christ himself. In your own words, explain what he means by this.

Why do you think God chose to convey his deepest truths through fallible human instruments? Why does he choose to show his power through human weakness?

In your own life, can you see evidence of God’s power being manifested in your own weakness? Describe how.

How can faith and reason work in tandem in how we interpret the Bible? How can we avoid intellectual arrogance and pure rationalism?

What is the definition of “hermeneutic of suspicion,” and how can we avoid its trap?

What does “intellectual humility” look like, and how can this help us to understand the Bible’s truth?


Chapter 11: The New Testament and Christian Doctrine

How did the Church fathers deal with Arius and his heresy? What finally settled the Arian controversy?

Do you see any heresies today in the Church, and if so, what are they? How do you see the Church dealing with them?

What positive benefits for the Church can come out of heresies and the controversies they bring?

What is Catholic dogma and why is it important? How does it relate to the Scriptures and to Jesus himself?

As Catholics, how should we read and interpret Scripture? How can an understanding of dogma help us gain new insights into sacred texts—more so than if we were to understand the Bible purely on our own?


Chapter 12: The Mysterious Plan in the New Testament

How are Old Testament and the New Testament united? What did St. Paul mean when he wrote about “the plan of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9; 1:10)?

The Greek word for “plan” used by St. Paul is translated as “economy.” What did Paul and later the Church fathers mean by “economy”?

Another word that the Bible uses differently than we think of it today is covenant. Describe the biblical definition of a covenant. How is it different than some sort of a contract?

What is the goal of “the divine economy,” and how is it revealed by the many covenants God makes with his people throughout salvation history?

What is the “divine pedagogy” as used by Paul and the Church fathers? Have you seen evidence of this in your own life in the way God has dealt with you?

If you view the Bible as one long story of God’s loving care and instruction for his children, does this change your experience of reading it? How does this change your understanding of who God is?

Scott Hahn says the God revealed in Scripture is a Father who “stoops down to his children and lifts them up to share in his blessings.” Is this the way you perceive God? In your own life, how has God been this kind of a Father to you?

What should be the goal of all Bible study and Scripture interpretation? How can you better actualize the truth of Scripture, rather than just gaining information? How can the Word go from your head to your heart?

In what ways can each of us be a part of salvation history? How do you see Christ active in your own personal history?

How can we regain a sense of the saving power of the Word of God and the response God desires from us in the liturgy? How is the liturgy more than a symbolic ritual?

Why are the sacraments important? What effect do they have in our lives?

The Scriptures have a dual authorship, both human and divine. How is the liturgy similar to this? In your own words, describe the sacramental vision of the Church.


Chapter 13: The Sacramentality of Scripture

Why has the Catholic approach to biblical interpretation always been literal and historical?

Explain in your own words the interplay between divine inspiration and human authorship in the Bible—how is it the product of both God and man?

Describe how we can apply classic literary tools—grammar, logic, rhetoric—in our study of the Scriptures. What is “literalism,” and why do we want to avoid it?

Scott Hahn says the “letter is a sign”—what does he mean by this?

Why is it important to always view the literary sense of the Bible within a historical context?

Why is it important to understand the historical context to understand the spiritual and ethical truths the Bible conveys?

The author says that it’s important to also consider the religious meaning when studying the Bible—the understanding that in Bible times, life essentially was “religious.” Why does Hahn say that without this understanding, you can’t really uncover the integral meaning of events?

The Church teaches that grace builds on nature. What does this mean? What place does grace have in our lives?

In the same way, Scott Hahn says that faith builds on reason. In your own words, describe what he means by this.

The Church tells us we are mean to read the Scriptures “in the Spirit in which they were written.” What does this mean, and what is the result of studying the Bible this way?

How does a spiritual sense of the Bible transform the literary and historical meaning of the text?

Do you feel intimidated at the thought of serious Scripture study? How might you deepen your desire to really understand and become familiar with the Bible? How can you really absorb its message?

How can you approach both the Bible and the Eucharist in a way that authentically feeds your spirit? What should be the goal of your Bible study? How can the Word of life (the Bible) lead you to the Bread of Life (Christ in the Eucharist)?


Chapter 14: The Testament at the Heart of the Church

What does the phrase “the heart of the Church” mean? How can we read the Bible from the heart of the Church? What dispositions should we bring when we approach the Scriptures?

Have you ever thought that you are part of a heavenly “Bible study group” consisting of the saints and voices of Catholic Tradition and led by the Holy Spirit? How might this change the way you engage with the Bible?

Why is it important to read the Bible in light of the liturgy, not merely in private?

Scott Hahn mentions three principles for studying the Bible faithfully. List them here.

Explain what it means to study passages of Scripture in their true context.

How does studying the Bible in light of Catholic Tradition help us to test our own interpretations and protect us from arrogance?

Explain the role of Catholic dogma and doctrine as they relate to the Scripture.

Have you been a part of a Bible study group? How did this experience help you to grow spiritually? Why did Benedict XVI emphasize the importance of always coming back to a participation in the liturgy as part of faith-filled Bible study?

Why did Benedict XVI say that unless we acknowledge Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, we will have an imperfect understanding of Scripture?

What do you think Benedict meant when he said that the Bible is not merely informative, but “performative”?


Chapter 15: Coming Full Circle

How is the experience of Augustine as a teenager and young adult similar to today’s culture and schools of thought?

Augustine came to believe that it was possible to “unravel the tangle woven by those…with their cunning lies” and deceptions. When you look around today, do you have this same confidence? How might you help to inspire this belief in those around you?

Describe how Ambrose was able to explain the Old Testament to Augustine in a way that helped him understand the New Testament.

Augustine came to see that truth was not to be found in endless discussions and arguments, but in the Church’s liturgy.  Pope Benedict XVI also said, “The primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church.” How does this change the way you think of the Bible—and of the Liturgy?

As a final question, sum up what it means to truly “consume the Word.”


READING GUIDE: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by Brant Pitre

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

Biblical scholar Brant Pitre shares fresh insights about the Eucharist by looking at it through Jewish eyes. In this way, by discovering the Jewish roots at the heart of the Christian faith, readers will gain new understanding of the Last Supper, Jesus’s final Passover the night before his crucifixion. By exploring the realities of Jewish life in the first century, the author provides a simple, clear, and profound understanding of the Eucharist’s true meaning.

Chapter 1: The Mystery of the Last Supper

Why might the “Jewishness of Jesus” be important to us as contemporary Catholics today? How relevant is his Jewish identity?

Read about Jesus’s first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth (see Luke 4) and explain how Jesus began to reveal his identity as the Messiah in a way that reflected his Jewish roots.

Although Jesus often used the Old Testament as inspiration for his teachings, he also said things that seemed to go directly against the Jewish Scriptures. Why do you think he would do this?

The Jews were known for their refusal to consume the blood of animals. When Jesus commanded them to “drink his blood,” wouldn’t this mean breaking a very explicit Jewish law? What would a Jew listening to him think? How would you have felt as one of those Jewish listeners?

Many modern readers find the Jewish Scriptures to be challenging and unfamiliar territory. What is your reaction to the Old Testament? How comfortable are you with it? How motivated are you to study its meaning?

How familiar are you with other ancient Jewish writings, such as the Talmud and the Mishnah? Why might these writings be important for a Christian to at least be aware of?

Brad Pitre lists six important Jewish sources that he draws from in this book. List them and briefly describe each of them.

Chapter 2: What Were the Jewish People Waiting For?

What did the Jews of Jesus’s day believe about the coming of the Messiah? What were first-century Jews actually expecting God to do?

What did these Jews think the Messiah would be like? What did they believe would happen when he finally came?

Why is it an exaggeration to think that all Jews were waiting for a Messiah who would bring political deliverance (as the Zealots did)? What other hopes for the future did first-century Jews have?

Brad Pitre lists four essentials of the new exodus that Old Testament prophets foretold. List these key events and describe briefly what the Jewish hope for a “new exodus” meant. Also list the three keys the new exodus provides that unlock for us the mystery of the Last Supper.

The Jews expected the Messiah to be a “new Moses,” whose actions would parallel the actions of the first Moses. What were some of those actions?

Reflecting on the first exodus, describe your understanding of what it was really about.

Pitre notes that the exodus covenant was sealed in blood, and that the making of this covenant doesn’t end with the death of sacrificial animals, but with a banquet. What connection does this have with the new covenant ushered in by Jesus?

Apart from being the place of worship, why was the Tabernacle so important to the ancient Israelites?

List some of the ways the Old Testament prophets described the new Temple God would build for them in the new exodus. Why is this hope for a new Temple so important for us to be able to understand the expectations of the ancient Jews?

Would Jesus himself have been waiting for a new exodus? If he was, what impact did this have on his words and actions? How did Jesus think the new exodus would begin?

Chapter 3: The New Passover

Why is the connection between the Last Supper and the new Passover so important? How does it shed light on Jesus’s command to eat his body and drink his blood?

Describe your understanding of the Old Testament Passover. What did it really mean to ancient Israel?

List the five basic steps involved in keeping the Passover that were laid out in the Old Testament.

What is the importance of the Passover Lamb being male and “unblemished”?

Why was it so important that no bones be broken during the sacrifice of the Passover lamb? Why could only a priest sacrifice the lamb?

See if you can list three key points about the Passover lamb’s blood. Why they are significant?

What was the ultimate goal of the Passover sacrifice?

Why was it important for ancient Israel families to not only sacrifice the lamb but also to eat its flesh?

Ancient scholars suggest that the Passover was a todah sacrifice—a thank offering. What would the ancient Jews have been thankful for?

Why was the Passover meant to be an annual feast instead of a one-time celebration? Why was it important that it be a “day of remembrance”?

What was the Passover like at the time of Jesus? How was this Passover different than the Passover of the exodus? Brad Pitre says there are at least four key differences. List these and briefly describe them.

Many of us think of the Passover at the time of Jesus being like the contemporary Jewish Seder. What is one key way that the Seder is fundamentally different than the first-century Jewish Passover?

How was the Last Supper instituted by Jesus similar to other Jewish Passover meals? How was it different?

At the Last Supper, Jesus communicated that he himself was the new Passover lamb of the new exodus. How did he communicate this and what are some of the implications of his words?

At the Last Supper, did Jesus mean his words realistically or only symbolically? Did he really mean “This is my body” or did he mean “This represents my body”? What was the apostle Paul’s understanding of Jesus’s words?

Chapter 4: The Manna of the Messiah

Why is it important to explore the connection between the Jewish expectation of manna from heaven and the Last Supper? How is this manna different from the Passover lamb?

Read carefully the account of the manna found in Exodus 16:4–5; 11–15. See if you can list four highlights that are important in this story but might be overlooked in a more superficial reading.

Many people these days don’t think of the manna as being miraculous; instead, they think it was some kind of natural phenomenon. Looking at the biblical account closely, what are some reasons you can find to support the miraculous nature of the manna?

What did Jesus himself belief about the manna from heaven?

Brad Pitre says the bread from heaven was a “double miracle.” What does he mean by this?

How did God communicate to the Israelites that the manna was not only miraculous but holy?

What is significant about the manna tasting like honey?

In order to understand Jesus’s teaching about the new manna from heaven, Pitre says it’s important to look at some of the ancient traditions. One is that some Jews thought the manna was “preexistent” and “protological.” What do these terms mean and why are they significant?

How did the ancient Jews view the world? How is this different than the way contemporary Western civilization view? How do you view the world?

Many ancient Jewish rabbis believed that the future manna was linked with the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of his kingdom. Pick one of Pitre’s examples and describe it in your own words.

In what way or ways did Jesus refer to the new manna, linking it to the Last Supper?

In the Lord’s Prayer, what do you think Jesus was trying to teach his disciples with the line “Give us this day our daily bread”? What does this line mean to you when you pray this prayer?

Name the different ways scholars debate the meaning of the Greek word for “daily”—epiousios? What did St. Jerome mean by his definition of “supersubstantial”? How might thinking about these various definitions change the way you think about what “daily bread” means?

Read the Bread of Life discourse found in John 6 and try to look at it from the perspective of a first-century Jew. What significance would the manna from heaven have? Why did Jesus choose manna instead of the Passover lamb to explain what he meant by the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood?

If a Jewish listener believed that the old manna was miraculous, would he think the new manna was merely ordinary bread and wine?  Why or why not?

How did Jesus’s disciples understand his words about the bread of life? How would these words sound to first-century Jewish people, and why did some of his followers abandon him?

When Jesus asked his disciples if they would also go away, Peter responded by saying in effect, “I don’t fully understand what you said, but I do believe.” Are there certain areas where you might not fully understand but still have faith? Describe.

How did Jesus help his disciples to understand the mystery of his divine identity and the mystery of the resurrection instead of just leaving them in the dark? Why is this understanding integral to understanding the Eucharist?

Describe how you would explain the way Catholics understand the Eucharist to one of your Protestant friends.

Chapter 5: The Bread of the Presence

How did Jesus think God would be worshiped after his death and resurrection? How would God be present to his people?

Today many of us are not familiar with the mysterious “Bread of the Presence.” What is the Bread of the Presence, and what significance does it have for our understanding of the Eucharist?

What further insight do we gain if we look at the most literal translation of presence: “face”? What does the Bread of the Face signify? What are both the earthly Tabernacle and the earthly bread visible signs of?

How does the Bread of the Presence relate to the “everlasting covenant” between God and Israel?

Brad Pitre says the Bread of the Presence was more than a symbol; it was a sacrifice. How was this bread both a meal and a sacrifice?

Who was the mysterious King Melchizedek, only mentioned twice in the Old Testament? What is his significance?

Did Jesus ever refer to the Bread of the Presence? How did he see it fitting in with the new exodus he was inaugurating?

In Matthew 12, by what three ways did Jesus justify the actions of his disciples when they ate the heads of grain? Explain the significance of each of these ways.

Scholars have puzzled over why Jesus didn’t take the roasted flesh of the Passover lamb and identify it as his body, if the Last Supper was in fact a new Passover. Why instead did he focus on the bread and wine and identify himself with those elements? How does the Last Supper relate to the Bread of the Presence?

How did the first Christians come to believe that the Eucharist really was the body and blood of Christ? And how can Jesus truly be present under the appearances of bread and wine—how is this even possible?

Chapter 6: The Fourth Cup and the Death of Jesus

What does the author mean when he says that Jesus’s Paschal mystery is literally a Passover mystery?

Describe the four cups of wine around which the Jewish Passover was organized and offer a brief explanation of each one’s significance.

At a typical Passover meal, the father of the family would explain the meaning of the various parts of the meal: the lamb, the bread, and the bitter herbs. Why was this act of explaining so important?

At the Last Supper, many people think there was only one cup of wine, but the author explains that there were at least three. Describe these three cups.

What about the fourth cup? Did Jesus not finish his last Passover meal? Why?

Did Jesus ever finish the Passover meal? When, if ever, did he drink the fourth cup? How did Jesus define the fourth cup?

During a crucifixion, the Jews had a custom of giving wine to the dying man. The Bible says they offered wine mixed with myrhh to Jesus, but he declined it. Why would he do this?

How would you explain the full meaning of Jesus’s last words, “It is finished”?

Chapter 7: The Jewish Roots in the Catholic Faith

What is your reaction to the topics covered in this book so far? How has recognizing the Jewish roots in the Eucharist changed your understand and experience of receiving Communion?

What made the Last Supper, Jesus’s last Passover, different from any other Passover? What impact did this have on the earliest Christian writers and how they wrote about the Eucharist?

How does St. Paul, for instance, explain the moral implications of Jesus’s identity as the new Passover Lamb? How does he instruct Christians to prepare for the Eucharist?

Look at the various passages from the Catechism Brad Pitre mentions. How do these passages shed light and confirm what the author has been sharing in this book? How familiar are you with the Catechism? How could reading the Catechism deepen your understanding about the Eucharist as well as other areas of the Catholic faith?

Describe some similarities between the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Last Supper. How does the Feeding of the Five Thousand both refer back to the manna in the desert and look forward to the Last Supper?

Why does St. Paul take such pains to emphasize that Christians must recognize the significance of the supernatural food and drink we receive in the Eucharist, relating it back to the Israelites in the wilderness receiving manna?

The author says that there are many profound insights into the Bible that are overlooked by us. Knowing that they are there, waiting for us to discover them, what steps can you take to become more aware of them?

Explain the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus. What does the Real Presence mean, and how is it central to the Catholic faith?

Chapter 8: On the Road to Emmaus

If Jesus believed that he was giving his body and blood to his disciples during the Last Supper, how did he think he would be able to give it to anyone else? How did he think other believers would be able to participate in the Eucharist?

When Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emmaus, how did he respond to their lack of understanding? What means did he use to explain the recent events?

Why did the disciples only recognize Jesus after he sat with them for a meal and broke bread with them? And why did Jesus disappear as soon as they recognized him?

On the road to Emmaus, how does Jesus fulfill what he set out to accomplish at the Last Supper? What significance does this have for us today?


READING GUIDE: The Holy Longing

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

Written fifteen years ago, The Holy Longing has become a classic on the topic of spirituality, touching the lives of devout believers and questioning seekers alike. Father Rolheiser isn’t afraid to ask tough questions, and he offers honest, straightforward answers that quickly get to the heart of common difficulties we all encounter as we seek to channel our restlessness and passion into a healthy, vibrant spirituality. If you’re searching for a deeper understanding of Christian spirituality and how it’s relevant to your life, you’ll be both challenged and delighted by this book.

Chapter 1: What Is Spirituality?

Ronald Rolheiser defines “desire” as our fundamental “dis-ease.” Explain some of the ways he describes desire. Which of Rolheiser’s descriptions resonate with you the most?

How would you define “spirituality”? Is it a religious term, or do you see it having a larger application? Do you see yourself as “spiritual”? How does the way you have thought of spirituality differ from the way Rolheiser defines it? How are desire and spirituality related?

What is your reaction to Fr. Rolheiser’s description of Mother Teresa, Janis Joplin, and Princess Diana? How might all three of these women fit the definition of being spiritual?  Describe a key lesson you can learn from each of them.

Rolheiser writes that we all act in ways that leave us healthy or unhealthy, loving or bitter. How has your spirituality shaped your actions up until now?

If you agree with Rolheiser’s definition of a saint being someone who can “channel powerful eros in a creative, life-giving way, what other examples can you cite of someone (either now or in the past) who fits this description, and why?

How do you define a “soul”? How does Fr. Rolheiser define a soul?

What happens within us that causes us to such experience intense struggles at times, according to Rolheiser? Can you share a time when this happened to you? What triggered it, and how did you deal with it?

Explain the difference between a healthy spirituality and an unhealthy spirituality, according to Fr. Rolheiser.


Chapter 2: The Current Struggle with Christian Spirituality

Reflect on these questions, posed by Fr. Rolheiser. Pick the one that speaks most to you and try to answer it.

  • Am I being too hard or too easy on myself?
  • Am I unhappy because I’m missing out on life, or am I unhappy because I’m selfish?
  • Am I too timid and uptight, or should I be more disciplined?
  • Why do I always feel so guilty?
  • What do I do when I’ve betrayed a trust?

Rolheiser says that past societies were more overtly religious than we are today. While they had less trouble believing in God, they also struggled with other things. In what ways do those struggles inform belief in God, and what can we learn from them today?

What is “particularly peculiar” to our own religious, moral, and spiritual struggle? Where do you personally struggle to channel your own spiritual energies?

Fr. Rolheiser lists three struggles that he defines as being unique to our time. What are they?

Past cultures seemed to understand the nature of energy—especially spiritual, erotic energy—better than we do today. Why do you think that, despite our advancements, we are more naïve about the nature of energy? What are some of the results of this naiveté?

Fr. Rolheiser rightly notes that depression is one of contemporary society’s biggest problems. How does he define depression? How would you describe the opposite qualities of depression?

Have you struggled with depression? How has it manifested itself in your life? How have you dealt with it?

Where have you felt delight—the sense of being spontaneously surprised by the goodness and beauty of living? What triggered this for you? How often do you find yourself feeling this way?

What are some of the factors Rolheiser identifies that keep us shallow and prevent us from having real interior depth? What factors especially affect you?

Many today think religion is anti-sex, anti-creative, and anti-enjoyment, while the secular world is seen as full of the opposite. Have you encountered friends or family members who view religion this way? Have you ever struggled with this view yourself?

A growing number of people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. They want a relationship with God, but they don’t want to be part of an organized church. What social trends encourage this separatist view of God and religion?

Christians are often split between a passion for social justice and a private piety. Where do you find yourself on this spectrum?

In your own life, have you encountered any struggles with being selfless versus being taken advantage of? Describe the situation, and also how you resolved this conflict.

How do we keep moving forward, while at the same time staying realistic, about the unique pressures we face today? How can we creatively channel the erotic, spiritual fire within us in order to enjoy “creative days and restful nights”? How can we experience peace with God, ourselves, and each other?



Chapter 3: The Nonnegotiable Essentials

As Rolheiser says, it’s not an easy matter to live out what is essential to our life of faith. What should we be doing with regards to our faith? Who should we listen to?

What defined someone as a practicing Roman Catholic thirty or forty years ago, and how does this differ from someone who is a practicing Catholic today? Should there be any difference? Why or why not?

List some of the religious baggage that secular society has carried over the years. Discuss some of the effects of these ideas.

What are some of the spiritual voices you hear around you today? How have these voices influenced you, both in good and not-so-good ways? How do you know which voices are the right ones? Which ones are healthy, and which are unhealthy?

The Catholic Church teaches that not all truths are equal. How do you personally distinguish between truths that are essential and those that are accidental? Define what is meant by an essential truth and what is meant by an accidental truth, according to Fr. Rolheiser.

What are the four nonnegotiable pillars of the spiritual life, revealed to us by Jesus Christ? Briefly describe each one. In your own life which of the four pillars are the strongest? Is any pillar missing?

Why is being part of a church community so important? Why can’t the spiritual life be just “Jesus and me”? In your own life, have you struggled with this nonnegotiable? What has been your experience of parish life, both positive and negative?

Reflect on this statement: “How we treat the poor is how we treat God.” Do you agree? Consider they ways you engage with forms of poverty, and how you can strengthen those bonds.

Do you agree with the statement: “Sanctity has to do with gratitude; to be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude”? Do you think it’s possible to be truly saint-like without being grateful? What difference does having a grateful heart make in your day-to-day life?

Rolheiser mentions fasting as a way to stay “warm of heart.” How might fasting accomplish this? Have you had any experience with fasting? If so, what was the outcome?

Bernard Lonergran, one of the great religious intellectuals of the century, attempted to define what constitutes a true religious conversion. He came up with six dimensions. See if you can name them, and then share which of the dimensions are active in your own life. If one or more is missing, why might this be?




Chapter 4: Christ as the Basis for Christian Spirituality

Imagine Jesus himself asking you, as he asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” What answer would you give him?

What does Rolheiser mean when he says that the incarnation is “under-understood”?

Scholars have discussed at length what the apostle Paul meant by the term “the Body of Christ.” Did he mean it in a corporate or a corporeal way? What is the difference?

According to Fr. Rolheiser, if it is true that we are the Body of Christ, then God’s presence in the world depends very much upon us. How do you see yourself helping to accomplish this? Share some practical examples.

What difference does it make if you believe in God but not in Jesus? What difference does believing in Jesus make?


Chapter 5: Consequences of the Incarnation for Spirituality

Reflect on the verse at the beginning of this chapter from Matthew 7. Have you experienced times when asking, knocking, and seeking didn’t work? Why do you think God doesn’t always answer our prayers?

Do you agree with Rolheiser that, as part of the Body of Christ, we are meant to be concretely involved in answering our own prayers? Why or why not? Why is sometimes leaving things up to God not a Christian way to pray?

Think of someone you know who is struggling with depression or perhaps some type of illness. In addition to keeping this individual in your prayers, what could you do that would put “skin on” your prayers? How might God console this person through you?

Protestants and Catholics have long disagreed over how our sins are forgiven, with Protestants believing that sincere contrition before God is enough and Catholics emphasizing the need to confess our sins to a priest in the sacrament of confession. Has the way you’ve thought about the forgiveness of sins changed over the years? In what way?

Are there loved ones in your life who no longer share your faith, your values, and your morals? Maybe it’s a child that no longer embraces your faith. Or maybe your spouse no longer believes in God. Do you believe that “your touch is Christ’s touch”? What difference does this belief bring to bear on such uncomfortable situations?

Rolheiser says that spirituality for a Christian should never be an individualistic quest for God outside of community, family, and church. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Explain what is meant by this statement: “The God of the incarnation is more domestic than monastic.”

Rolheiser makes the insightful observation that, up until age forty, genetic endowment is dominant, and so someone who is selfish can still look beautiful. After age forty, though, Rolheiser says that we look like what we believe in. What does your face reveal to you in terms of what you believe?

How does Rolheiser believe a Christian remains in contact, in love, and in community with his or her loved ones that have died? In what ways can you incorporate these views into your own grief?




Chapter 6: A Spirituality of Ecclesiology

In the words of Reginald Bibby, “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them.” Rolheiser attributes this to indifference and a culture of individualism. Have you observed this in your own life or in the lives of those you associate with? How are some ways the Church can address these issues?

What are some misconceptions people have about what it means to be a church? Of the five misconceptions Fr. Rolheiser identifies, what are some of the dangers of embracing them? Is there a particular misconception that you have encountered in your own spiritual quest? If so, how have you dealt with it?

Fr. Rolheiser says that to be baptized into a Christian church is to be “a consecrated, displaced person.” What does he mean by this? What are the implications of being consecrated to something or somebody, of being “called out of”?

Today many people are unable to see the Church as an instrument of grace due to certain aspects of the Church’s history as well as its present infidelities. How can we forgive the Church for these things?

Rolheiser says that to be “catholic” means to have a heart that is universal, wide, all-encompassing. He says that the spirituality of the church must emphasize wide loyalties and inclusivity. How can the Catholic Church achieve this today without falling prey to an “anything-goes” philosophy?

Fr. Rolheiser lists eight reasons we should go to church. Of these eight reasons, which resonate the most with you, and why?


Chapter 7: A Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery

What is the paschal mystery of Christ? How do we enter that mystery and live it?

What is the difference between terminal death and paschal death? Between resuscitated life and resurrected life? Lastly, what is the difference between life and spirit?

Rolheiser says that the paschal mystery is the secret to life, and that ultimately our happiness depends upon living it out. What does he mean by this? And how can we live out the paschal mystery in our daily lives?

Rolheiser identifies various deaths we need to experience in the course of our lives. He first mentions the death of our youth. In your own life, how have you experienced this? What lessons have you learned?

In talking about the death of our wholeness and the death of our dreams, Rolheiser speaks of the need for an ascension, the need to allow the old to ascend so we can receive something new. In your own life, what are you ready to let ascend? What dreams might you need to let go of? What can you look forward to if you do?

Are you undergoing any relational deaths? Name them here, and recognize and affirm the new relationship that has emerged instead. If a honeymoon period has ended, Rolheiser says God wants to give us something richer and deeper. Where do you see God birthing something new in your life?

Is the God of your youth different from the God you are faced with today? Is there anything you are clinging to that God is nudging you to release so you can recognize the God who walks beside you today?

Henri Nouwen wrote about mourning our deaths and losses, especially when we reach midlife. Why is it important to mourn properly? What hurts, losses, disappointments, or shattered dreams do you need to mourn? Spend some time in quiet reflection and then journal about this.

Rolheiser says it’s necessary to both let go of the old and allow it to bless us. What do you think he means by this? How can you let a painful or abusive experience “bless” you?

Describe your childhood roots. In what ways can your personal roots bless you?


Chapter 8: A Spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking

What does it mean to “act justly,” as Micah 6:8 says? What is Christian charity? How is justice different than private charity?

How can we help alleviate injustice without our actions resembling the violence and unfairness we are trying to change?

Reflect thoughtfully on Fr. Rolheiser’s words about abortion. He comments that too often neither side (those who favor legalized abortion and those who oppose it) acknowledge the deeper, systemic issues that underlie the problem. What are some of those issues, both for and against?

What does Fr. Rolheiser see as the ramifications of justice motivated merely by liberal ideology or indignation at inequality?

How would you define a biblical foundation for social justice? What affirmations does the Book of Genesis provide?

Achieving a more just world order is the goal of many groups, but too often these efforts have not been successful. Rolheiser says this is due to a kind of naivete, and he lists six fallacies that permeate justice and peace groups. Have you encountered any of these fallacies? Do you recognize your own naivete in any of them?

Many of us think of God as a force for redemptive violence—the use of violence to overthrow evil and establish justice and peace. But in effect, what happens is that goodness has now been more violent than evil. What is the difference between redemptive violence and the Christian story of redemption? What is the source of Jesus’s real power? What ultimately brings about justice and peace?

What does God’s power look like? How does it feel to feel as God does in our world? Fr. Rolheiser gives several examples. Which, if any, of them resonate with you? Describe why.

What does Rolheiser mean when he says, “The struggle for justice and peace is not ultimately about winning or losing but about fidelity”? What does fidelity have to do with it?

According to Rolheiser, what are our true weapons in the struggle for justice and peace? Which of these true weapons have you used—and with what results?


Chapter 9: A Spirituality of Sexuality

Define a mature spirituality, according to Fr. Rolheiser, and explain why this is at the center of the spiritual life.

What does a healthy sexuality look like? How can we understand and channel our sexuality correctly? Describe the main elements of a Christian spirituality of sexuality.

Rolheiser makes a critical distinction between sexuality and genitality. Explain in your own words the differences between these two terms.

What did the Greeks mean by the term eros, and how is this different from the typical way the term is understood today?

In your own words, describe how you, as a Christian, define sexuality. Give some examples from your own observations.

List the nonnegotiables Rolheiser says provide the anchor for a healthy Christian spirituality. Do you agree with all of them? Why or why not? Which ones are part of your spirituality?

How can the inner dynamics of sex lead people to sanctity?

How is chastity different than celibacy? What does it mean to be chaste?

Rolheiser says Christians must have the courage to let go of some of its fears and timidities regarding sex and learn instead to celebrate the goodness of sex. What are some ways Christians can celebrate the goodness of sex?

How can we as Christians better understand the times we live in and deal with the issues that result from living in the time between Christ’s resurrection and the end of time?

Instead of letting our restlessness drive us outward to more activity, distraction, etc., how can we turn it into solitude? How does solitude differ from loneliness? Why is solitude beneficial? Discuss the steps that Henri Nouwen suggests.

Do you ever wonder why Christ remained celibate? Rolheiser suggest a better question: What did Christ try to reveal through the way he incarnated himself as a sexual being? What was he trying to teach us?

How was Christ’s celibacy a key element of his solidarity with the poor? Describe how those who aren’t able to experience sexual consumption can be considered poor.


Chapter 10: Sustaining Ourselves in the Spiritual Life

Since it’s not enough to just have knowledge of the truth, how can we sustain ourselves on our long earthly journey? How can we move beyond our fatigue, loneliness, laziness, bitterness, and bad habits so we become gracious, happy, self-sacrificing, generative, mature Christians? Where do you tend to struggle the most?

What practices and exercises are helpful for you as you struggle to live a healthy Christian life in our agnostic, pluralistic, materialistic age?

Rolheiser talks about being a mystic. What does he mean by this, and how can we become mystics in our modern world?

Describe the value of personal prayer in our quest to sustain ourselves spiritually. What is the result of not praying?

How can we fulfill the Scripture, “Pray always”? What does the Bible mean by “pondering” and how can this help us to pray without ceasing?

Fr. Rolheiser says that carrying tension for God’s sake is the mysticism most needed in our day. When everything in our culture tells us to avoid tension, what do you think he meant by this?

What did Martin Luther mean by saying, “Sin boldly!”

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and why does the Bible say it is an eternal sin that can never be forgiven? What does this sin have to do with dishonesty and rationalization?

What is the value of ritual and community? What are some rituals that sustain your daily life?

Rolheiser lists some misconceptions about God that people have had in the past, as well as some evident today. Do you share any of these faulty views of God? How do you see God? How does Rolheiser describe God?


Reading Guide: On Heaven and Earth

On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the Twenty-First Century by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka

 Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

In this thought-provoking book, Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, longtime friends, share their thoughts on religion and the challenges facing our world in the twenty-first century. Both men are deeply committed to promoting interreligious dialogue and in this book the two discuss various theological and worldly issues—God, atheism, science, education, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, capitalism, globalization, and more. Written before Pope Francis was elected to the papal office, On Heaven and Earth is a piece of history, a firsthand view of the man who, in March 2013, became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

On Dialogue

Cardinal Bergoglio says we often succumb to attitudes that prevent us from dialoguing with each other (see p. xiv). What are some of those attitudes? What are some instances you can think of where you’ve observed them?

What is required for true interreligious dialogue to occur?

On God

Bergoglio says the initial religious experience is that of walking (see Genesis 12:1). With this in mind, how does he describe the way one encounters God? What does an encounter with God look like?

What can we say to people about God, when today the idea of God is so profaned and so diminished in importance?

What can we learn about questioning God and the experience of suffering from Job’s experience, according to Bergoglio and Skorka?

Bergoglio describes what he calls “the Babel syndrome.” What is this, and what are some evidences of this in our world today?

On the Devil

Bergoglio says that, in his experience, he feels the devil whenever he is tempted to do something other than what God wants for him (see p. 8). How do you sense the devil or see evidence of his fruits in your life and world?

Describe what Bergoglio calls “man’s battle on Earth.”

On Atheists

Why do you think Bergoglio says that when he speaks with atheists, he discusses social concerns with them, but not the problem of God’s existence unless they bring it up?

Bergoglio says that in the experience of God, “there is always an unanswered question, an opportunity to be submerged in faith.” What unanswered questions have you encountered in your experience of God?

On Religions and Religious Leaders

Skorka says that doubt is a necessary requirement for faith—that faith actually emerges from one’s feelings of doubt. Where have you struggled with doubt, and how has it strengthened your own faith?

Bergoglio said that the justice of the “integral religious man” creates culture; St. John Paul II boldly said that a faith that does not produce culture is not a true faith. How is culture produced by faith different from the “idolatrous cultures” we see in society today?

Why does Bergoglio emphasize the importance of initial discernment when one feels called to a religious vocation? What does this discernment process involve?

List some of the qualities of a great leader according to Bergoglio and Skorka, and then contrast this with their descriptions of a bad leader. Can you now think of a current example of a good leader? A bad leader?

How can you tell a “false prophet” from an authentic religious leader?

Bergoglio says he has a natural distrust of phenomenal healers with their revelations and visions. Why do you think he feels this way? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

What do you believe about the issue of physical healing? How do faith and medicine fit with each other?

On the Disciples

What are some ways the Church facilitates the formation of a person who decides to answer a religious vocation? List the four pillars of formation Bergoglio mentions and give a short description of each one.

What is the difference between a true vocation and someone who is mistaken in their discernment?

Why does Bergoglio say that the worst thing that can happen to a priest is to be worldly? How does he define a “light priest” or a “light bishop”?

How can priests and religious today keep from getting caught up in what is trendy in their quest for communicating true spirituality to people?

Along the same lines, how can faithful lay Catholics live in the world without being carried away by the spirit of the world? In your own life, how are you able to achieve this? What struggles do you encounter?

How do you feel about the Church’s stand on celibacy for priests? What are the pros and cons? Do you agree that relaxing that rule would be beneficial because it would encourage more vocations? Why or why not?

Why does Bergoglio say that the problem of pedophilia is not linked to celibacy? Do you agree? Why or why not?

On Prayer

Skorka says that, according to Jewish law, prayers become more powerful if they are recited together in a group of at least ten Jews. What has been your experience with group prayer? How are the prayers said during the Liturgy different than just praying on your own?

Bergoglio says that courage, humility, and adoration are all essential elements of prayer. Describe how these elements come into play in your own prayer life.

Bergoglio defines worldliness as “narcissistic, consumerist, and hedonistic.” How does this worldliness creep into the Church today? Where do you see it in your own family? In yourself?

Bergoglio says hypocrisy is like “schizophrenia for the soul.” What are some steps you can take to keep from falling into it?

What does true repentance mean, according to Bergoglio?

On Guilt

Describe in your own words the two types of guilt described by Bergoglio (see p. 65).

Why is being overly scrupulous unhealthy for us? How can we avoid this?

Why did St. Augustine call the sin of Adam and Eve the “happy fault”?

On Fundamentalism

Rabbi Skorka asks Cardinal Bergoglio, “What is the role of the priest in Catholicism?” What threefold answer did Bergoglio give?

Describe the differences between being a good teacher and an authoritative “boss.”

In your own words, explain what Bergoglio means by the term “fundamentalist.” Why does he say fundamentalism is not something God wants? How does fundamentalism take one away from the living God?

Many people think they can bribe God somehow into giving them divine protection. Have you ever found yourself trying to bribe God? Describe the situation and what you learned from it.

On Death

Define the differences between the Jewish and Catholic views regarding original sin and what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Skorka says that death is life’s greatest mystery. How do you view death? What effect does your view of death have on the way you live your life here on earth?

Bergoglio says that man receives an inheritance from God and then is meant to leave behind something better. How does this belief affect the choices someone makes versus the person who lives only for the moment?

What kind of inheritance do you see yourself leaving, not only to your children but to the world as a whole? What steps are you taking now to secure that inheritance?

How does Bergoglio describe the experience of “seeing God,” as Moses did in the burning bush?

Have you ever sensed the reality of an afterlife? Describe how, and also how this affected you.

How is anguish linked to the fear of death?

How do you feel about Bergoglio’s statement, “There is no anesthesia for anguish, but there is the capacity to bear it”? Do you agree with him? Have you experienced the capacity to bear tremendous suffering or anguish?

Bergoglio says that we have a creative responsibility to fulfill the command of God to “grow, be fruitful, and subdue the earth.” In your own life, what avenues has this creative responsibility taken?

Describe the difference between hope and optimism, according to Bergoglio and Skorka.

What is quietism, and why does Bergoglio say that it is dangerous?

Are there goals in your life that you have not been able to achieve? Do you wish you had chosen a different career path, perhaps? How do you deal with these unfulfilled desires?

On Euthanasia

Bergoglio describes two types of euthanasia: active and covert. What are the differences between them, and how does covert euthanasia affect the elderly in our society today?

How does Bergoglio’s response to the issue of suicide differ from Skorka’s? Who do you agree more with?

Have you ever known someone who committed suicide? What effect did this have on those closest to him or her? How did you process it?

How is “debilitating futile life support” different than “active euthanasia”? When should extraordinary medical methods be used in the case of someone who is ill?

On the Elderly

Skorka makes the point that, in our worldly society, the elderly often are seen as disposable. What evidence of this do you notice in your life? How are the elderly treated in your extended family? Your parish? Your neighborhood?

How can you help the elderly in your life to feel more a part of society? How could you provide opportunities for them to share memories about themselves, their culture, their ancestors? What value might this bring to you and future generations?

Cardinal Bergoglio says that he would like to age gracefully, like a vintage wine, not one gone sour. Can you think of an older individual in your family, neighborhood, or parish who fits that description? Can you think of someone else who is full of bitterness? What do you think makes the difference between the two?

If honoring one’s parents were easy, God would not have needed to give us the fourth commandment. How do you show honor to your parents? Do you struggle with this, and if so, why and in what ways?

What kind of inheritance have your ancestors left for you—not only materially but spiritually? What special wisdom have they imparted to you about life?

On Women

In Catholic tradition, the priesthood passes through men. Bergoglio says women have another function in Christianity, reflected in the figure of Mary. Describe that function. What are its key components?

Do you agree that the fact a woman cannot be a priest in the Catholic Church does not make her less than a male? Why or why not?

An ancient second-century monk noted that there are three feminine dimensions among Christians: Mary the mother of Jesus, the Church, and the Soul. How might the feminine presence within Christianity be emphasized more visibly, given these dimensions? Do you believe chauvinism has contributed to its hiddenness? Discuss.

Why do we speak of the Catholic Church in feminine terms?

Why and how does feminism detract from the dignity of women? Bergoglio calls it “chauvinism with skirts.” What do you think he means by this? Do you agree?

What similarities exist between Catholic and Jewish theology regarding women?

On Abortion

Bergoglio says that the moral problem with abortion is of a pre-religious nature—a scientific problem, not a religious concept. What does he mean by this, and do you agree with him? How could his definition change the way you look at abortion?

In our society, many people talk about abortion as if it were no big deal, as if it were normal. How does this reflect on the value we place on the sanctity of life?

How informed are you on the issues surrounding abortion? Is your opinion based on knowledge of the subject, or is it formed by the popular opinions voiced through the media?

On Divorce

Marriage until death is a very strong value within Catholicism. Nevertheless, how has the Catholic Church changed toward those who are divorced in recent years?

Skorka says that, in the Jewish religion, divorce is not considered a matter of faith as it is in Catholicism; Jews take a more fluid position that that of Catholics. What does he mean? Describe in your own words the differences between how these two religions look at the issue of divorce.

How is divorce looked at in your own family? What are your views on it? If a friend came to you who was struggling in his or her marriage, what advice would you give?

On Same-Sex Marriage

How might approaching the issue of same-sex marriage from an anthropological study and analysis inform how we understand the issue of same-sex marriage?

Berogoglio says that we are meant to speak clearly about values, limits, commandments, but we are not to engage in spiritual or pastoral “harassment.” What does he mean by this? How would this affect the way Catholics interact with homosexuals?

Do you have any personal experience of trying to relate with love and respect to those who have a same-sex marriage? What challenges have you encountered? What lessons have you learned?

If the issue about marriage about two people of the same sex is not based on religion, but rather on anthropology as Bergoglio insists, how does this change the way Catholics might relate to homosexuals?

On Science

How should we view science and religion? What part has each played in the development of our civilization?

Skorka says that science seeks to understand the “how” of things, while religion tries to understand the “why.” Bergoglio says that science must be respected and encouraged, but should not overstep its bounds into the transcendent. What do you think he means by this? What evidence do we see of this in today’s culture? What is the result?

On Education

Both Bergoglio and Skorka agree that religious instruction should be a part of education in schools today. How do you feel about public schools teaching a religious point of view of life and in history?

What happens if children don’t hear about God? How does this shape their worldview?

Do you think sex-education should only cover issues of anatomy and physiology, or should it include basic values? Why or why not?

Describe the concept of transcendence. Why does Bergoglio say it is essential that we communicate this idea to our world?

God gave parents the right to educate their children in religious values. What do these values include? What kind of cultural and religious inheritance have you received from your parents? If you have children, what religious values are you passing on to them, and what resources are helping you to do so?

Bergoglio makes a distinction between a professor and a teacher. What are the differences between them? How can we assist men and women to be true educators?

On Politics and Power

This chapter talks about the concept of mestizaje, which in Spanish means “the blending of races and cultures that brings about a uniquely rich, varied cultural identity. What evidence of mestizaje do you see in the United States today?

Bergoglio says in Argentina they live as brothers, despite the fact that there is always “a crazy bomb thrower, some extremist.” What lessons can the United States learn from Argentina, especially in light of the many school shootings that have happened in recent years? How can we live as brothers and sisters without undue fear?

What part do you think religion should play where politics is concerned? Should it be on the sidelines, as Skorka suggests, becoming involved only when certain situations arise? What situations would those be?

According to Bergoglio, what is the difference between Politics (with a capital P) and politics (with a lowercase p)?

How does the media influence the news they report? How do they portray religious leaders’ words?

What is clericalism, and why should priests and bishops avoid this? What evidence, if any, of clericalism do you see in your own parish or diocese?

Bergoglio says that the Church defends the autonomy of human events. What do you think this means, and what are some examples?

How should politics be an elevated form of social charity? How can credibility in the political arena be regained?

Skorka suggests that everyone read about the various political platforms and use analytical skills to differentiate among them. How much research do you do for an upcoming election? How much effort do you spend in order to understand the competing platforms? How is this honoring democracy?

What means can we employ to safeguard values that may be in jeopardy without becoming overly scrupulous and preaching against groups or individuals?

Bergoglio says our “Homeland” is our patrimony. What does he mean by this? What images help us understand this concept?

How do you see religious leaders and politicians ideally working together?

What responsibility do you think Christians have to get involved with the political issues of the day? How involved are you with local politics in your area? What did you learn?

How can we understand the concept of power in an anthropological way? What is the difference between healthy power and its misuse?

Describe the qualities of a “mediocre person with power.” Why is this dangerous to those this person leads?

Bergoglio talks about the “sin of careerism.” What is this, and how does it manifest itself? Do you see any evidence of this in the Church today?

On Communism and Capitalism

Describe the differences between Communism and Capitalism, and then describe how each one is an “opiate.”

What are some of the manifestations of worldly people who manipulate religion? What does this type of “religion” look like?

Catholic doctrine says that one cannot exempt oneself from fighting for progress in this life by using paradise as an excuse. How can you balance this with those who passively entrust themselves to God, expecting him to act?

Think of some challenges you’ve faced in the past or are currently dealing with. What do you think God expects from you in such a situation?

When God told man to “have dominion over the Earth” in Genesis 1:28, what do you think he meant? What does this mandate mean for us today? Do you agree with Rabbi Skorka that this means we should live life here “as fully as possible”? Discuss what living life fully looks like.

On Globalization

How does Bergoglio define the term globalization?

How does his definition differ from an imperialist and liberal definition?

Skorka talks about the “destructiveness of materialism.” Discuss the ways materialism is destructive and how globalization might contribute to this.

According to Bergoglio, what is the purpose of globalization?

 On Money

Skorka says that the Bible contains “an economic plan,” found in the Book of Leviticus. Discuss some ways that plan is still relevant for individuals and society today.

What does Bergoglio say about business owners who put the revenue from their business in foreign bank accounts? Why does he say this is a sin?

Define the concept of social debt. Why does Bergoglio say this is an important concept for Catholics?

How does Bergoglio explain the way the Vatican manages its finances?

Why does Bergoglio say that the worst thing that can happen to a religious person is living a double life? In your experience, have you encountered such a person? What were some of the consequences that person experienced?

On Poverty

Bergoglio says: “The attitude we must have toward the poor is, in its essence, that of true commitment.” He adds that it must be “person to person, in the flesh.” In your own life, how committed are you to helping the poor? What kind of personal contact do you have with individuals struggling with poverty?

Don Bosco created a new model for the destitute children he cared for by creating technical schools for them to attend. Why was this preferable to sending them to local public high schools?

Skorka defines charity as “assistance that is urgently needed and extended to those in need quickly and immediately.” List some ways that you practice charity in your day-to-day life.

Do you think of having a job as affirming your human dignity? How might looking at work this way transform your day-to-day experience in the workplace?

Define what is meant by “protective paternalism,” and explain why this is “a great danger” to the poor.

Read again Bergoglio’s story about the gold Rolex watch. Why did he feel so strongly about this, calling it a “caricature of charity”?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, who does Jesus say is the true neighbor? In your own neighborhood, what ways do you find to be that true neighbor? Can you think of someone who has been that kind of a neighbor to you?

List some of the ways Catholic social justice can be practiced in society today. Of these ways, is there one that strikes a chord with you more than others? What could you do to get involved?

Why does Bergoglio say the greatest dispossession for someone is being denied the dignity of work? With so much unemployment in our society today, have you seen evidence of this sense of dispossession in your own life or the life of a family member? What consequences has this had?

In your community, can you think of examples of Christians and other religions working alongside each other to serve the poor? How effective is this? Are there ways you can think of to reach out in other ways?

On the Holocaust

This chapter begins with a question: “Where was God during the Holocaust?” How would you answer this question?

How do you explain the fact that man has free will and autonomy with the idea of God’s involvement in human affairs?

Both Bergoglio and Skorka agree that some questions do not have answers in this life. What is your reaction to this? Why do we feel the need for an explanation?

Bergoglio says that Jesus is in every suffering person; we complete what is lacking in Christ’s passion. Do you see Jesus in those who are suffering around you? What could be lacking in Christ’s passion? And when we suffer, how can we help complete that lack?

How did the Church act during the Holocaust? What did they do to stop the Nazis? Do you think they could have done more? Explain why.

Describe how Pope Pius XII acted during this time. Do you agree with how he handled the situation and the choices he made?

How did St. John XXIII open the way for a worldwide dialogue about the Holocaust? What risks did he take? How did he speak out? What can we learn from his actions?

How would you describe the differences between Pius XII and John XXIII?

Define “interreligious dialogue.” How do you interact with those who practice other religions? What kind of conversations do you have with them?

On the 1970s

During the 1970s, how did the Catholic Church in Argentina act? What good did Catholics do? What mistakes did they make?

How does seeing the Church as made up of saints and sinners impact the way you view the Church as a whole?

What are the key lessons we can take away from this chapter? When you observe injustices around you, even small ones, what can you do to make a difference?

On Some Historical Facts: The Conquest, Socialism, and Peronism

Bergoglio says that when we look at the Church’s participation in the Spanish Conquest, we have to understand the historic interpretation from the hermeneutic interpretation of that time, or we distort history. Explain in your own words what he means by this.

What is your understanding of the reasoning behind the Crusades? Does looking at it from a cultural context change the way you may have thought about it?

Why does Bergoglio say that we cannot analyze history from an “ethical, purist point of view”? How should we look at history?

Why do the ultranationalists in Argentina criticize Bergoglio, accusing him of heresy?

Skorka says that it’s very difficult to define where faith ends and idealogy begins. He wonders if sometimes those who seem to be fighting against God are really fighting against religious structures. Do you see any evidence of this in the Catholic Church today?

How do some believers live their religion in such a way that they become “walls” instead of “bridges”? Do you see any evidence of this in Catholicism today?

Bergoglio speaks about “the trap of becoming ideological.” What do you think he means by this?

Bergoglio makes this statement: “You cannot defend the people by killing the people.” What does he mean by this?

Define Peronism, and explain what can we learn from the Church’s response to it.

On the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Other Conflicts

What do you think about Skorka’s suggestion that the Gaza Strip be transformed into the Hong Kong of the Middle East? What does he mean by this, and how would this look?

Bergoglio says when ancient Egyptian monks had a conflict, they put themselves in the other person’s place so they could discover what was not working well inside of themselves. Bergoglio says that this is the way to resolve animosities and find a way through conflict. Think of a conflict you are experiencing currently. By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, what might you discover? How could this change the dynamics?

Bergoglio makes the statement that the media, by putting things in black and white, always favors conflict over unity. What current evidence do you see of this today?

Bergoglio says favoring conflict only puts obstacles in the path toward unity, but “to search for ways” leads to unity. Think of a current conflict in society today. What are some ways you can come up with that could lead toward unity and resolution?

Given what Bergoglio says about the media, how should we read the newspapers or listen to the evening news? How can we know what is happening in the world without being misinformed and influenced by the media?

Since conflict has been with us since the beginning of time and is to be anticipated, how can it be resolved according to the Word of God?

Explain what Bergoglio means by a “true philosophy of conflict.”

How did the German theologian Oscar Cullman suggest that the different Christian denominations could come together? Do you see evidence of this in your city or town?

On Interreligious Dialogue

How did Bergoglio revolutionize the Te Deum Masses? What changes did he make, and what impact did this have on interfaith dialogue?

Skorka congratulates Bergoglio for trying to “break old, vicious cycles,” and he says this is both our work and our challenge. Discuss some ways you meet this challenge in your own life, family, and community.

On the Future of Religion

In our increasingly secular society, do you believe that, as Skorka says, religion will always have a future? Discuss why or why not.

As society and culture change, what impact do you think this might have on the forms religion will take? How could these changes impact the Catholic Church?

St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Do you see evidence of this restlessness in yourself? How has this sense of restlessness led you to encounter God? Do you think you will always have some restlessness while you are on this earth?

How does the future of religion relate to the future of mankind? Can one exist without the other? Why or why not?

Bergoglio says he is in favor of a return to “parochialism.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with him? How would this look in your own parish or diocese? What are the potential benefits, and are there any pitfalls?

How can culture shape religion without changing or watering down essential dogma? Describe this using some current examples you see around you.

A sense of belonging gives life to a parish. In your own parish, how connected do you feel? What could you do to foster a greater sense of belonging there—either for yourself or others?

Have you ever felt like escaping from the world and living an isolated contemplative life? Why does Bergoglio say instead that Catholics are meant to engage the world, that Christianity involves a commitment, not an escape?

Explain the true power of religious leadership. Can you think of some examples of true leadership?

What is Bergoglio’s perspective on the shortage of religious vocations?

Describe how the true reformers in the history of the Catholic Church are the saints. What have they accomplished?

What happens when hedonistic, consumerist, and narcissistic culture infiltrates Catholicism? Why does Bergoglio say he fears this most of all? What is the solution to this? List some evidences of that solution today.

Explain the difference between evangelization and proselytism. What is proselytism, and why is it dangerous?

What attitude should we take toward new religious movements in the Church? What makes a new movement authentic? Have you been involved in any spiritual movement within the Church? If so, what has been your experience?



Reading Guide: Catholicism by Robert Barron

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith by Robert Barron

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

In the pages of Catholicism, acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian Robert Barron has created a unique and intimate journey into the heart of the Catholic faith, capturing its essence in a way that is both eclectic and inspiring. He explores the mysteries of faith, the depth and beauty of the timeless truths, and the defining elements that make up the core of Catholic faith. From art and architecture to theology and the saints, Fr. Barron looks at what makes Catholicism distinctive among all the competing philosophies, idealogies, and religions of the world.


Introduction: The Catholic Thing

Blessed John Henry Newman said that the great principle of Catholicism is the Incarnation—the enfleshment of God. Father Barron says that the Incarnation is what makes Catholicism stand out among all the competing religions and ideologies in the world. He also says the Incarnation reveals the central truths concerning God and us. What does the Incarnation mean to you? How would you describe the difference between Catholicism and other Christian churches that also embrace the truth of the Incarnation?

If someone asked you to define Catholicism in one or two sentences, what would be your response? Why?

How would you describe the uniqueness of Jesus? What sets him apart from all other philosophers, mystics, and religious founders?

St. Paul referred to Jesus as “the icon of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). What do you think he meant by this?


Chapter 1: Amazed and Afraid: The Revelation of God Become Man

St. Thérèse of Lisieux said that the heart of sin is taking oneself too seriously. What do you think she meant? Do you think God has a sense of humor? If so, how would you describe it?

Jesus wasn’t concerned with what other people thought about his teaching or how the crowds interpreted his actions while he was on earth; he wanted to know what people thought about his identity—who he was. Jesus asks us the same question today. Who do you say Jesus is? What do you believe about his identity, his being?

How would you describe the fundamental principle of Christian discipleship?


Chapter 2: Happy Are We: The Teachings of Jesus

How would you define the secret to true happiness? How does this correspond to Jesus’s teaching through the Beatitudes that love for God must be central to your life if you want to be happy?

Is your love for God central in your life? If not, what is central? Does it lead to happiness? How can you move closer to a unique union with God?

Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. Father Barron says that when we try to satisfy the hunger for God with something less than God, we will naturally be frustrated. How do these four substitutes show up in your life? What areas of frustration do you see in your own life, and which of the four substitutes for God is at the root?

Robert Barron defines love as “actively willing the good of the other.” Are there situations in your life where you are good to others just so they are good to you in return? What examples in your life can you describe where you actively will the good of someone else with no thought of receiving anything in return? Has there been someone in your life that has shown that kind of love to you?

As Fr. Barron describes the parable of the prodigal son, which son do you relate to more—the one physically estranged from the Father, or the one spiritually or psychologically estranged?

The elder brother saw himself as “working like a slave” for his father, “obeying all his commands.” In your relationship with God, have you ever seen yourself this way? How does this affect your relationship with others and with yourself?

Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, said, “We should turn a nation of go-getters into a nation of go-givers!” How is this statement relevant for today’s culture?

Fr. Barron says that once we truly see that God is love, we are no longer afraid to risk the path of love. When have you been fearful of taking a risk? How might your way of thinking change in light of believing in the gospel, and what actions might you take because of this?


Chapter 3: “That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought”: The Ineffable Mystery of God

Thomas Aquinas defines the difference between God and everything else using the terms “essence” and “existence.” What does he mean by this? How is God different than his creatures?

What did God mean when he spoke from the burning bush and told Moses, “I am who am”? (Exodus 3:14)

Fr. Barron says God is both “radically immanent and radically transparent.” What does this mean?

Thomas Aquinas came up with five arguments for God’s existence, and in this chapter Fr. Barron talks about just one, the contingency of the world. Describe in your own words the key points of this argument.

St. Augustine described God’s unique way of being as “intimior intimo meo et superior summon meo,” which Barron translates as “closer to me than I am to myself and higher than anything I could possibly imagine.” Using this definition, what does it mean to be in right relationship with God?

Deists believe that God orders the universe, but in a distant way, as the source of its laws and basic structures. Why is Christian theology different from this?

How would you define God’s providence? How does this impact our earthly affairs?

When we consider the problem of evil and why a good God would “allow” it, Augustine, Aquinas, and others taught that God permits evil to bring about a greater good. What events in your own life or the lives of those close to you—serious illness, job loss, natural disasters—have led to some kind of greater good? Describe the calamity and the resulting good.

Augustine said that when we look within ourselves, we see a mirror of the Trinity. What similarities does the Trinity have with human consciousness?


Chapter 4: Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast: Mary, the Mother of God

Fr. Barron writes that Mary has “beguiled the finest poets of the West, from Dante to T. S. Eliot; she has been the subject of paintings by the greatest masters, from Fra Angelico and Michelangelo to Rembrandt and El Greco; over the centuries, millions of people have visited her shrines seeking her aid and calling out to her, their mother.” Why do you think Mary has had such a staggering impact? What is it that she conveys to us?

In the Garden of Eden, when God gave Adam and Eve permission to eat from all the trees in the garden except one, what did God intend them to experience? What does this signify about what God desires for us to experience as fully alive human beings?

The church fathers described the contrast between Mary, the Mother of God, with Eve, the mother of the human race. How does Mary’s obedience reverse the disobedience of Eve?

Hans Urs von Balthasar taught that Mary’s fiat (“Be it done to me according to your word”) opens up a space within which God can work. Mary’s freedom, which she surrendered completely to God, creates the possibility for all forms of outreach in the life of the Church. In your own life, are there times when you have relinquished your freedom to God in order for him to accomplish something through you? How difficult did you find this surrender, and what were the results? Conversely, what has occurred when you have clung to your own plans?

The Greeks thought that death meant that one’s soul escaped the trappings of the body, a much longed for liberation. Fr. Barron explains that Christianity does not see salvation as a separation of soul and body, but the very transformation of one’s entire self. How do you view death? What does the familiar phrase in the Apostles’ Creed that speaks of “the resurrection of the body” mean to you?

Have you struggled with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception? If so, why? What biblical support can we find for this?

What do you understand about Mary’s mission as mediator and intercessor? How is Mary’s role different than that of her Son’s?

Mary is an ongoing presence in the life of the Church, and her basic task is always drawing people into a deeper fellowship with her Son. What is your experience with Mary? Describe how she has helped you, and also how she has led you to Jesus.


Chapter 5: The Indispensable Men: Peter, Paul, and the Missionary Adventure

The two key players in early Christianity are Peter, the head of the apostles, and Paul, the first Christian theologian. Fr. Barron says that these two men should not be merely historically interesting to us; instead, due to their centrality, they “live on as determining archetypes” from the early Church to the present day. Summarize what you see as each of their indispensable contributions to the Faith.

Fr. Barron shows how the artist Caravaggio captures the moment of transformation in his masterpiece The Conversion of Saint Paul. Once full of confidence and power, Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus leaves him helpless, blind, and powerless. He was being prepared for “a new journey, a new kind of fighting, and a new way of seeing.” Have you had a similar transforming experience in your own life, one that set you on a different path and opened the eyes of your heart in a dramatic way? How did such a transforming moment change you?

The heart of Paul’s message was: “Submit to the lordship of a new king, Christ crucified and risen.” This message was meant to turn the world upside down. Fr. Barron writes that “authentic Christian proclamation is as subversive and explosive as the earthquake that shook the prison walls in Philippi” during Paul and Silas’s imprisonment. Can you identify some current examples of this type of authenticity and zeal, some modern day apostles who combat tepid and uninspiring preaching? What makes them stand out?

The Church is more than just a community of like-minded individuals; Paul suggests that it is an organism of interdependent cells, which all derive their life from the primal energy and power of Jesus. Paul talks of “entering into Christ” and “trusting in Christ.” How would you describe your own relationship with Christ? How do you participate in his very life? What does it mean to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14)?


Chapter 6: A Body Both Suffering and Glorious: The Mystical Union of Christ and the Church

In our culture, many people are like the woman in sociologist Robert Bellah’s text Habits of the Heart: piecing together religious beliefs from many sources and according to one’s whim. Bellah identifies this as the distinctively American form of religion: eclectic, superficial, and willful. Do you see shades of this eclectic form of religion in your own life, or in the lives of those around you? How does it manifest itself? How does this differ from being called to be members of the Church, the mystical body with Christ at the head?

We have been called out of the world—the whole network of institutions, beliefs, behaviors, and practices. What does this look like in actuality? How can we maintain our Catholic distinctiveness and not get swept up in the ordinary, accepted way of being?

The Second Vatican Council sought to inspire a new generation of Catholics who would carry the holiness they learned in the Church out to the secular world in their specific areas: nurses and doctors, teachers and writers, business leaders and lawyers. This is quite different than keeping one’s faith private. How does the vision of the Second Vatican Council manifest itself in your life? How has your faith spilled out into the lives of those around you?

What exactly is the Church called to do? Describe her mission in your own words.

Like blind Bartimaeus, we have been blind, “lost in our sin and unable to see the world aright.” We have been called instead to a new lifestyle with new patterns of thought, as part of the “one holy catholic and apostolic” Church. As Catholics, what are the specific bonds of unity that make us one within the body of Christ? What are the elements that foster Christian unity?

Our culture puts a lot of value on variety, tolerance, and diversity. How does this fit with Robert Barron saying that saints are people whose lives are about one thing? How does the Church deal with this problem of unity and diversity? How is the Church able to embrace the positive dimensions of culture without being disrespectful or by compromising the truth?

The Second Vatican Council said there are “rays of light,” echoes of the fullness of truth, in all non-Christian religions. John Henry Newman talked about the Church’s power of assimilation—meaning its capacity to adapt elements from the culture and adapt them to its own purposes. What “rays of light” do you see in other religions? Where do you see examples of the Church being able to do assimilate these echoes of truth today?

Fr. Barron writes that holiness is “a kind of wholeness or integrity, a cohering around a center.” He goes on to say that holiness “is the integration that results from putting God unambiguously at the center of one’s concern; it is the coming together of all of one’s faculties—mind, will, imagination, energy, body, sexuality—around the single organizing power of God.” How have you defined holiness in the past? How does Fr. Barron’s definition change or expand the idea of holiness for you?

When we say that the Church is holy, it does not deny the fact that the Church is also made up of sinful people, some at the highest levels, who have done horrible things. How can both these statements be true? How can we reconcile them?

What does it mean that the Church is “apostolic”? Of what benefit is this to us as its members? What personal impact does it have for you?

When we say the pope is infallible, it does not mean he is omniscient, able to predict the future, immune from making poor judgments, above criticism, or incapable of sin. What does infallibility mean and how would you explain it to those of another faith?


Chapter 7: Word Made Flesh, True Bread of Heaven: The Mystery of the Church’s Sacrament and Worship

Reflect for a moment on how you typically think of the Mass. What words come to mind—serious, pious, holy…? Have you ever thought of the Mass as play? Describe how this word relates to the celebration of the Liturgy according to the definitions provided by Aristotle and Romano Guardini.

Dietrich von Hildebrand says that this “play” or “praise” of the Liturgy rightly orders the personality, since we find interior order to the degree that we surrender everything within us to God. What signs of balance and order do you see in your own life when you are fully surrendered to God? How does this “play” out in your day-to-day life?

Modern secularism is based on the assumption that we essentially are our own persons, belonging to no one, self-determining and self-directing. By contrast, Catholicism teaches that “your life is not about you.” How does the Sign of the Cross at the beginning of Mass signal this?

How do you define “worship”? How does your definition differ from the old English word its derived from, “worthship,” which means demonstrating that which is of the most worth to us?

How are some ways you demonstrate placing your “worthship” on God, not pleasure, money, or power? What has been the result?

Describe in your own words what the posture of sitting signifies. Why it is important?

How do you view the readings at Mass? Fr. Barron says that if people listen attentively to the Scriptures at Mass, they leave the confines of the familiar and enter a new psychological and spiritual space. How might Fr. Barron’s perspective change the way you feel about these readings?

What are some vital differences between a priest’s homily and a Protestant minister’s sermon?

From the Catholic point of view, what is the significance of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

How would you explain transubstantiation to someone who was unfamiliar with the term? What keys does Thomas Aquinas provide in his definition?

What does Fr. Barron mean when he says that because Jesus’s word is the divine Word, it is not merely descriptive but also transformative?

In his meditations on the story of the three kings, Fulton Sheen says that no one comes to Christ and goes back the same way he came. How has this been true in your own life?


Chapter 8: A Vast Company of Witnesses: The Communion of Saints

Fr. Barron says that the story of Jesus getting into Peter’s boat in Luke 5 reveals the essential feature of sainthood. What does he mean by this? What does this story have to do with the saints?

What key insights have you gleaned from learning more about the life of Katharine Drexel?

Why do you think that spiritual greats like Dorothy Day, Edith Stein, Thomas Merton, St. John Paul the Second, and Hans Urs von Balthasar were such fans of Thérèse of Lisieux?

Describe Thérèse’s “Little Way” in your own words. What impact have her teachings had on your life?

How did Edith Stein’s love for God elevate and transform her courage as she faced her capture and eventual death at the hand of the Germans?

Describe the “transfigured temperance” that we see manifested in Mother Teresa. How did she go far beyond the normal requirements to serve so selflessly?

Why do you suppose God allowed Mother Teresa a lack of his presence for such a long time? How can we explain the fact that during these years she still functioned at a very high level, “directing her community and traveling the world as a teacher and evangelist”?

When God’s pure, white light shines through individual human lives, it manifests as an infinite variety of colors. Who in your life radiates God’s light? What unique dimension of divine holiness does this individual (or individuals) manifest?


Chapter 9: The Fire of His Love: Prayer and the Life of the Spirit

There are many forms of prayer: Speaking, singing, being silent, emptying one’s mind, sacred reading, petitioning, even dancing can all be considered forms of prayer. But is there a common denominator, a fundamental characteristic, of prayer? How would you express what this common thread is?

How is “being with God” different than the “prayer of petition” (asking God for things)? What has been your experience of just “being with God”?

Thomas Merton is a contemporary example of someone who experienced many of the same anxieties and effects of secularism that we do today. What motivated him to seek and dedicate himself to God? What lessons can we take away from this thoroughly modern, thoroughly human spiritual master?

How can St. John of the Cross help you to understand why most of us are so unhappy most of the time, so dissatisfied? What does St. John of the Cross offer as a solution to the overarching materialism and secularism so prevalent today?

Define the difference between being depressed and experiencing what St. John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul.” What is the goal (or outcome) of such a dark night?

In St. Teresa of Avila’s life, we see an example of someone who experienced mystical visions of Christ, the Blessed Mother, and the saints. During these times she would enter a trance-like state; other times she was known to levitate. How do you feel about such experiences? Have there been times in your own life, or in the life of someone you know, that God made his presence known to you in an unusual way?

The heart of St. Teresa’s teaching is based on her realization that Christ dwelt within the depths of her soul. She compared his divine presence to an interior castle. How would you describe what it means to be grounded in Christ, to have him dwelling within you?

Jesus urged his followers to persevere in petitioning God in prayer. But if God cannot change, what is the point of asking him for anything? If he “knows what we need before we ask,” why should we bother telling him what we need?

When we pray and don’t receive what we ask for, what might God have in mind? Can you think of an example in your own life where your prayer went unanswered? How did you deal with this, and what did you learn from it?

Thomas Aquinas speaks of God “praying through us.” What does this mean?

Thomas Merton described contemplative prayer as “finding that place in you where you are here and now being created by God.” What does it mean to pray contemplatively? Have you had any experience with this type of prayer?


Chapter 10: World Without End: The Last Things

How can we reconcile the idea of a good God and the existence of an eternal hell, a place of unending torture?

What does the Catholic Church teach about heaven, hell, and purgatory?

Fr. Barron discusses Dante’s masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. How familiar are you with this meditation on the next world? Reading Fr. Barron’s commentary, what new understanding do you have regarding the meaning of hell?

Describe the differences between mortal and venial sins.

If venial sins can affect the soul in a twisted, negative way (even though they have long been forgiven), what means has God provided to heal those wounds?

What is your understanding of purgatory? Has your thinking regarding purgatory changed in any way after looking at it from Dante’s perspective?

Many Protestants believe that purgatory is not biblical, and it’s true that the word “purgatory” is never mentioned in Scripture. What is the basis for the Church’s teaching on purgatory?

How do you describe the angels? Are they involved in human situations, and if so, how?

St. Paul tells us that we battle not against flesh and blood but with angels and principalities. How might unseen powers exert a harmful influence on the affairs of human beings? Are there any situations in your own life where you have experienced this type of battle?

How would you define Satan after reading this chapter?

Fr. Barron offers descriptions and explanations of heaven from spiritual greats like Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis. What new insights have you taken away from what they say?

Three metaphors for heaven are: 1) the beatific vision, 2) the city, and 3) the new heavens and the new earth. Which metaphor resonates most with you, and why?

Describe what the beatific vision means in your own words.

How can heaven be compared to a city? What characteristics does a city have that might parallel what heaven might be like?

Describe the “resurrection of the body.” What form do you think this will take?

Many Christians see the goal of the spiritual life as getting out of this world and “going to heaven”—the soul leaving the body and journeying to a purely immaterial realm. Fr. Barron says this is not what Christian hope is truly about. How have you thought about what it means to go to heaven? What is the Christian belief about what happens to our bodies when we die?


A Coda

Fr. Barron ends the book by saying that what Catholicism really is all about is God. Now that you’ve finished the book, how has your understanding of Catholicism changed? Can you articulate two or three key takeaways?




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