Using the Catholic Church's Baltimore Catechism as a frame, Catholic priest Tom Stella presents his own criticism of the traditional paradigm of the faith, offering in its stead a more flexible, open, passionate, and expansive one. This adventuresome exploration of new life beyond the rules of institutional Christianity is a fine work to be appreciated in tandem with Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity.
What changed the direction of Stella's faith? Early on he admits: "Exposure to contemplative spirituality has been a major factor in the way I view life and religion. Reading the works of Thomas Merton and being immersed periodically in a monastic environment have opened my eyes to a new way of seeing one that recognizes the communion of humanity and Divinity. The realization of this truth pulled the rug out from under my traditional understanding of the function of religion. I no longer believe that I must, by adhering to the rules of religion, strive to win God's favor. Rather, I must learn to be attuned to God present within all creation. Contemplative spirituality has taught me that growth in God is primarily a matter of waking up to the mystery of life's holiness and living it with lighthearted reverence, passion and compassion."
Instead of adherence to beliefs or doctrines, Stella sees faith as a relationship to God that keeps evolving: "Faith is an openness to the unknown. It is a willingness to walk in the darkness, to proceed in life without certainty." The author says that control, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. Most of the waywardness in our religious life comes when we try to take charge and to lock God up in ideas and beliefs that shut out mystery.
Stella is high on hope and has written very wisely about this often neglected spiritual practice. (See the excerpt.) We also were quite impressed with the author's discussion of the Holy Ghost, prayer, sacraments, and grace. Stella takes each and every one of these elements of the spiritual life and expands them way beyond the cramped and confining ways they have been defined by parochial Christianity.