Hopelessly exuberant about being Christian

William J. O’Malley SJ, The Wow Factor: Bringing the Catholic Faith to Life Orbis Books

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 The Jesuit priest and educator William O’Malley has long poked, prodded, cajoled and inspired his readers, writes  Susan Lang Abbott in America.

His initial challenge: “We’re educated. And Catholic. But probably very few are educated Catholics.” O’Malley declares: “This book is about all the things that should have happened at confirmation and almost certainly didn’t.” 

Always in touch with popular culture, O’Malley mentions reality TV, noting that we live in a world “where instant gratification takes too long.” 

Lack of wonder is rampant today, in our spiritual lives and in the world. Not even moon landings excite us. Having been warned that “pondering God is an adult activity,” we are challenged again: “Can we be grown-up enough to surrender at least in part our hard-won knowledge and sophistication to re-grasp the imagination, surprise, and wonder of children in order to come at the Truth afresh?” 

O’Malley helps us tackle this challenge but not before asking, “Is it just possible you’ve been treating your ‘soul’ no differently from the way an atheist would?”

In good Ignatian fashion the author encourages his readers to read Scripture with all of their senses, but cautions not to settle for a false image of God. God is neither a micromanager nor the “dewy-eyed Jesus of our cowboy hymns who just wants us to ‘be not afraid’ and leave the driving to him.” 

Jesus cherishes us, but don’t ignore the Jesus who also challenges us. Here is the promise: “Something exhilarating could happen to your living if you ever owned the truth that the Unspeakable Holy One, the Architect of infinite quasars and infinitesimal quanta—the Ultimate Wow—knows you by name, calls you his, finds you precious.”

How do we come to own that truth? Much of the book examines how we understand and teach the sacraments of reconciliation and confirmation. This dimension of the book makes it essential reading for all engaged in sacrament programs.

O’Malley is “helplessly exuberant” about being Christian, admitting, “It is difficult to ponder a crucifix and still content oneself with being ‘reserved’.” Throughout the book readers get a glimpse into the author’s unreserved faith. Jesus and the real presence in the Eucharist have been the “bulwarks” of his nearly 80 years, what he calls “my validation, and my incentive to keep going.”

This is a lovely book, even in, or perhaps because of, its challenges and taunts.

FULL BOOK REVIEW: Helplessly Exuberant (America)


William J. O’Malley SJ (Wikipedia)

William J. O’Malley SJ (articles in America)

Click here for a 20% discount on these and other books from Church Resources and John Garrett Publishing

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