"Choosing to be Catholic" is being promoted as a guide for potential converts and returning Catholics. As such, it can only serve to confuse and mislead. It contains many assertions that are in flat contradiction to the Catholic faith, as that faith has been believed and taught from the earliest times to Vatican II and beyond.
A few examples of Fr. O'Malley's claims:
- The Church's teaching on purgatory is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. (p. 197) [This is self-evidently contrary to Catholic belief, but if you'd like a reference, see Vatican II "Lumen Gentium", #51]
- There's no special moral authority conferred on the pope; he's just a political leader. (p. 114) [Huh? Even non-Catholics know this isn't what Catholics believe.]
- The four marks of the Church -- one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic -- are only "imperfectly" present. (pp. 173-5) [It's my understanding that the writers of the Nicene Creed didn't insert any qualifiers. And how can something be "imperfectly one", anyway?]
- It's good to pick and choose which aspects of the faith to believe in. (pp. 117-8) [Well, no. Not wanting to get all medieval or anything, but this is called heresy. As St. Jerome put it: "Heresy is derived from a Greek word meaning choice, whereby a man makes choice of that school which he deems best".]
- Belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is negotiable. We only need to believe that we share a "weekly meal of gratitude". (pp. 103-4)
Is this all starting to sound rather Protestant? Well, how about this:
- It doesn't matter if you're Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, or Anglican; they're all pretty much equally good. Just pick whichever one you're most comfortable with. (p. 111-113)
How very open-minded! According to this view, the Protestant Reformation must have all been a big misunderstanding. Too bad about all those martyrs, like the English Jesuits (Fr. O'Malley's order) who suffered excruciating deaths rather than convert to Anglicanism. They must feel like a bunch of saps, having realized it was all about nothing important.
That gives me an idea. With minor repackaging, Fr. O'Malley might be able to sell this book to people interested in converting to middle-of-the-road, liturgical, Protestant denominations. It does have a lot of nice things to say on topics like forgiveness, acceptance, and the importance of living out what we believe (whatever those beliefs might be). On the other hand, given the declining membership among Methodists, Episcopalians, et al., the demand for such a book would be low to non-existent. I guess it's more profitable to continue marketing it to Catholics.
Father O'Malley takes another look at the question "Why be Catholic?" in this engaging and accessible book.
And he writes, in his fine chapter on the sacraments, "Perhaps the single most important reason I am a Catholic, rather than some other kind of Christian, is my unshakable belief in transubstantiation, that--somehow--the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ."
As great as this answer is, the questions along the way are interesting too, as O'Malley ponders atheism and the major world religions. Then he discusses Christianity and distills the faith into a short list of "Non-Negotiables".
While I disagree with his interpretation of Scriptures (overly symbolic), he is no moral relativist. As he writes: "If objective morality...changes from age to age, Plato has nothing to tell us about being human. Nor did Jesus, Buddha, Shakespeare, or Dickens. Moral discourse is little more than verbal Ping-Pong, and libraries are a terrible waste of money." (No sugar coating here.)
As to a dominant subtheme in the book, O'Malley exhorts the Laodicean in all of us to be active (and joyful) in the faith. In fact, the book concludes with a nice section on prayer.
This is another good book by the author of "The Voice of Blood".