So, Barry, why did you write this book?
It was the combination of two life experiences. First, while teaching theology at a Catholic high school, nearly a decade ago, I was assigned to teach eleventh grade religion. That course was on morality, and about half the year covered Catholic social teaching. Sadly, though I had grown up Catholic and earned two theology degrees, I knew only the most basic things about CST. So I started doing a lot of reading about it, because I wanted to teach it well. The more I read, the more I realized I didn’t know. It was a real eye-opener. “The Church teaches that, huh? And that?”
That experience was followed by a couple of years of living and working in southern West Virginia, in the epicenter of Appalachian poverty, where I was absolutely gobsmacked by the truth of CST and how relevant it is to real life. That’s when I knew I wanted to, even had to, write this book. The point was to do something to help other Catholics get to know this remarkable set of teachings better.
How is Faith Meets World different from other good books out there on Catholic social teaching?
Who it’s written for, mainly. Many of the best books on Catholic social teaching that are available are pretty academic in approach. There’s the wonderful collection of commentaries on the encyclicals called Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations, jam-packed with history and ideas and commentary. There’s Donal Dorr’s Option for the Poor. There’s Charles Curran’s Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis. And others, too. I love those books. They’re great. But they can be heavy lifting for many folks.
My book is not better than those are and cannot replace them. Indeed, it depends on them. It’s for a different type of reader, though. It’s for the non-scholar, the non-theologians, “the people in the pew.”
I hope what it offers is a great and compelling and accessible presentation of work that popes, bishops, and theologians have done. It’s for those who want to explore ways that the Catholic faith intersects with daily life in society in some important and consequential ways. That might be adults going deeper into their faith (through a parish program or on their own), high school or college students getting to know Catholicism and Christian morality better through a course they’re taking, or teachers who want to strengthen their own background knowledge on the topic.
Is it liberal or conservative?
Let’s face it, that’s the question that will be on the minds of many as they pick up the book for the first time. That’s the polarized climate in which we find ourselves. I think and I hope that many will have trouble answering the question, even after they’ve read it cover to cover.
It’s Catholic. For many people (especially Catholics who put being “conservative” before being Catholic) that will mean it’s “liberal.” And for many other people (especially Catholics who put being “liberal” before being Catholic), that will mean it’s “conservative.” Many will think it doesn’t fit either category well, and they’re right, it doesn’t. The Catholic faith is not a political party or platform. And it has aspects that directly challenge some of the basic presumptions and convictions of both major parties in America today.
I get a kick out of the fact that people who try to figure out whether I’m pushing Republican ideas or Democrat ideas, conservative ideas or liberal ones, end up either flummoxed or frustrated, as though I’m trying to pull something sneaky or being coy about it. I’m not trying to pull anything. I’m exploring and presenting Catholic doctine. If you’re a die-hard Republican or a die-hard Democrat, I promise it will make you uncomfortable from time to time. (We can add that on the positive side, if you’re either one of those, it will also offer significant support for some of your convictions, too.) The challenge of being a Catholic is to allow this body of doctrine, this Good News, to form us more thoroughly and truly than any party platform.
Got a favorite part of the book?
Of course, I love all the content a lot. Why would I have written it if I didn’t, right? But one piece that stands out as an especially favorite part comes in the conclusion of the book. I tell the true story about a small group of Spanish Dominican friars living on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island that was the site of the first European colonies in the early 1500’s. These friars saw the terrible things that the Spanish colonists, their fellow countrymen, had begun to do to the natives in “the New World,” and they knew they could not remain silent. So together they prepared a sermon and chose one of their number to deliver it. They called together all of the movers and shakers on the island one day — this was in December of 1510 — to hear it. And it was a humdinger. “You are all in mortal sin! You live in it and you die in it! Why? Because of the cruelty and tyranny you use with these innocent people!” And on it went.
Of course, centuries of European tyranny against the native peoples on this continent followed this, so it’s hard to say that their efforts made much difference. But the point is, there was this small group of faithful people who refused to let the way things were or the moral blind spots that most people of the time lived with get in the way of their faithfulness to living and proclaiming the Gospel in their own time and place, especially where the Gospel most directly challenged the status quo.
You have seven kids — six at home — and a full time job. Where do you get time to write a book?
Early mornings, mostly. I’m up around 4:00 or 4:30 am most days, even weekends. (Sometimes I rely on a little Colbie Callait to help get the blood flowing.) I do a lot of my research and writing then, along with walking the dog. At 7:00, I wake up the kids, pour the breakfast cereal to get things moving, then I’m off to my day job (one I love, thankfully), leaving the rest of the morning process to my wife who is a stay-at-home mom. I don’t recommend this system as a way of doing writing projects if you can avoid it — working in short bursts of a couple of hours at a time is not ideal. But it’s what works for me, at this stage in life anyway, because it means my research and writing does not take much away from family time.
This sounds great, Barry. How do I get a copy of Faith Meets World?
Thanks for asking! You can pre-order it online from the publisher, Liguori Publications (they have a snazzy new website), or from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or an independent bookseller. Thank you for considering it.