Arts and Culture

A Marvelous Book

Faith & Thought

Having learned that a priest I greatly admire had written a book, I eagerly looked forward to obtaining and reading a copy. When Msgr. Dennis M. Regan’s “Free and Holy Where You Are: The Daily Life of a Catholic” arrived in the mail, my first reaction was that I wondered if the book had a good title. The format of the book is a collection of two- or three-page essays, a format that I usually don’t find attractive, and so I was concerned that I might not like the book. My concerns disappeared quickly as I read the text. Msgr. Regan has written a marvelous book, and the title is perfect.

Early in his book, Msgr. Regan writes the following:

“For many Catholics, including the religious culture in which I was raised, there was an excessive emphasis on saving your soul by keeping the rules taught by the Church …. Fortunately, since we have always lived in God’s love, people’s generosity often produced holiness and sanctity. But keeping rules for most people did not promote experiencing the joy and adventure of freedom. Hence for many committed religious people, a missing ingredient was enthusiasm. The Spirit seemed to use the Second Vatican Council (early 1960s) to uncover intriguing challenges, inviting each of us to a greater maturity and deeper spirituality. We were no longer along for the ride but must become a vibrant and living community of disciples of Jesus — a Pilgrim Church peopled by co-creators with God of a redeemed and unfinished world.”

With that statement, Msgr. Regan had hooked me, and reading the rest of his book was a challenging, instructive and often an inspiring experience. Even re-reading the statement now excites me.

To be a co-creator with God is an exciting vocation. Christians believe that they have this vocation, but for various historical reasons, there were periods of time in the church’s life when this was not sufficiently emphasized.

Msgr. Regan’s book is an excellent corrective to a view of Christian morality that makes the Christian life seem inhuman. There is a view of Christian morality as life denying. Actually the opposite is true: Christian morality calls us to a way of life that can lead to the most profound joy.

Along with the seemingly countless wonderful insights that Msgr. Regan offers in his book, what especially appeals to me is his emphasis on freedom and joy and his view of the Christian moral life as an adventure in love. Unfortunately, that view was not emphasized in the moral theology that I studied in college and the major seminary. I had finished my formal study of theology prior to Vatican II.

Msgr. Regan beautifully weaves the insights of the Catholic moral theology and spirituality that was developing in Catholic theology before Vatican II and that has been stressed by many theologians since Vatican II.

In philosophy classes I teach at St. John’s University, I stress the importance of freedom. In various ways I try to convince students that they hold their lives in their hands, and by making free choices, especially free choices related to life commitments, they are co-creating themselves with God.

I say that while there are many influences both positive and negative in our lives, influences that can help us to be more free and influences that do not encourage us to be free, I believe that we are responsible for who we are. Frequently I make a statement something like the following: “Of course many factors have played a role in my life, but I believe that the priest-philosopher speaking to you is the priest-philosopher he has chosen to be.”

“Free and Holy Where You Are” is the type of book that can nourish the kind of enthusiasm that existed among Catholics at the time of Vatican II. I certainly do not wish to give the impression that Msgr. Regan is presenting a theology that is watered down or that makes following Christ easy.

A first-rate scholar, Msgr. Regan has the wonderful talent of writing clearly, but that does not make his views less challenging. He is calling readers to Christian commitment, and he presents the Christian life as an adventure that can lead to the most profound joy.

Msgr. Regan entitled one of his essays, “Immersion in God.” That title expresses the view of life that Msgr. Regan has and to which he is calling his readers. At one point in his book, Msgr. Regan states that the purpose of every essay in the book is to deepen and enhance our freedom. He says that can happen to us because of the almost incredible love that God has for each of us. Msgr. Regan suggests that when we reflect on that truth, our proper response should be, “Wow!” I think that is also a good response to Msgr. Regan’s wonderful book.

Father Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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