Benedictine professor pens theology primer for average Joe

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Perhaps Mark J. Zia has tried to do for Catholic theology what Julia Childs did for French cuisine: Make it comprehensible, accessible and enjoyable.
“Theology” can be an off-putting word. It can bring to mind thick, dusty books full of jargony, technical language that can cause the eyes of the average Joe and Jane in the pew to glaze over.

That won’t happen with Zia’s new book, “The Faith Understood: An Introduction to Catholic Theology.”
Zia, drawing upon his years of teaching Theology 101 classes to freshman, has created the book that many Catholics have long been waiting for — a basic overview of Catholic theology in language easily grasped by non-theologians.

The inspiration for the book came from Pope Benedict XVI.
“As you know, Pope Benedict opened the Year of Faith in October 2012 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the convocation of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” said Zia.

“Pope Benedict asked, during this Year of Faith, that we spend extra time and pay extra attention to learning our faith,” he continued. “Particularly, he called for us to have a greater familiarity with the catechism and the documents of the Second Vatican Council.”

“The Faith Understood” is intended to help Catholics fulfill Pope Benedict’s vision.

This isn’t Zia’s first book. His first, called “What Are They Saying About Biblical Inspiration?” by Paulist Press, is a more specialized book intended primarily for theology majors and graduate students.

“My second book is written for your average Catholic in the pew,” he said. “My audience for this book is Catholics who don’t have an extensive background in theology and want to better understand the faith they profess at Mass, live out in the sacraments and witness to the world.”

His hoped-for effect? That this book will help Catholics to better understand the faith they profess but often incompletely understand, and to fall in greater love with their Lord as a result.

But he also has a secondary audience: non-Catholics who are open to learning more about the Catholic faith, especially Catholic doctrine.

This book tries to move Catholics beyond simply knowing what they believe.

“It’s not good enough for us to memorize the faith,” he said.

“We can all recite the Creed at Mass on Sunday, but the deeper question is: ‘What does it mean?’”

“I think that any effective work of theology,” he continued, “needs to have a bit of an apologetic value to it to help the reader understand not just what we believe as Catholics, but why we believe it, how it makes sense, and how it is true.”

“The book is heavily focused on the first pillar of the catechism, which is the Creed,” said Zia.

Although there are many aspects of Christian life, “the bulk of the faith we profess is found in the first pillar,” he said.

While hardly comprehensive in scope, Zia hopes that this book will whet the appetites of readers and encourage them to delve more deeply into Catholic theology. It has proven to be a good textbook for college students, for deacon candidates and seminarians, and for those in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs.

“This book is not, by any means, meant to be exhaustive,” he said. “There is so much more that could have been added. But I think if I added more, it would detract from the purpose of being accessible to the average Catholic.”

Which is why he is already hard at work on his next book. As Julia Childs would say, “Bon appétit!”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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