Reading Guides

All Reading Guides

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

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

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

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


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

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

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

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



Chapter 1: Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 2: Africa

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

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

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

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


Chapter 3: Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 4: Latin America

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 5: The Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 6: Eastern Europe

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Chapter 8: The Myth That No One Saw It Coming

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter 12: Social and Political Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 13: Spiritual Fruits of the Global War

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

What theological breakthroughs has martyrdom stimulated through the ages?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 14: What’s to Be Done?

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

What are some ways you will pray for the persecuted?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading Guide: Why Be Catholic? by Patrick Madrid

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

Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 2: You Can Handle the Truth

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 3: Brought to My Senses

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

How are the sacraments more than just “signs”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 4: Soul Food: Mass and the Holy Eucharist

Why is the Mass called “the Mass”?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

How does the Virgin Mary epitomize goodness and beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Guide: Consuming the Word by Scott Hahn

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 by Brant Pitre

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 by Ronald Rolheiser

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?


Privacy Policy | Terms of Use