by Father Mark Goldasich
So, do you prefer apophatic or kataphatic?
Every year around this time, I suggest some books to consider if looking for Christmas gift ideas, or maybe to add to your personal wish list. Guessing that most people prefer kataphatic, this list reflects that.
Now, what the heck do apophatic and kataphatic mean? The words describe two ways to pray. Neither is better and both are firmly found in Scripture and Christian spirituality. Simply put, kataphatic prayer uses images, words, ideas and symbols; apophatic prayer stresses silence (such as found in centering prayer) because God will always surpass human understanding or concepts.
OK, if you’re still with me, you probably see why kataphatic prayer — one that uses images and words — is easier for most folks to practice.
Let’s start with images. Two incredibly stunning books highlight the role that Christian art plays in portraying and deepening faith.
• “Catholica: The Visual Culture of Catholicism,” by Suzanna Ivanič (Thames & Hudson, 2022; 256 pgs.; $35) is chock-full of the vast variety of artistic expressions of our Catholic faith — paintings, statues, architecture, religious objects and much more. Its 450 illustrations will intrigue and amaze.
• “Jesus in Art and Literature,” by Pierre-Marie Dumont (Abrams, 2022; 288 pages; $50), as the title suggests, compiles 150 spectacular color illustrations of Jesus and events and people associated with him. Complemented by selections from literature and Scripture, as well as engaging explanations from art history, this book is a bargain for the price.
The next two books help Catholics find practical ways beyond Sunday Mass to make their faith real throughout the week. Rather than keeping faith a solely private matter, these authors show how to grow the faith in families and engage the world that we live in.
• “The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life,” by Melissa Musick and Anna Keating (Image, 2016; 418 pgs., $17) is a treasure chest of marvelous ideas and explanations. From its opening chapter of “Smells and Bells” (about Catholic objects and devotions) to celebrations specific to the seasons of the church year (like appropriate prayers and crafts) to navigating the seasons of life (like suggestions for gifts for first Communion, confirmation, etc.), this book covers it all.
• “Practice Makes Catholic: Moving from a Learned Faith to a Lived Faith,” by Joe Paprocki (Loyola Press, 2011; 201 pgs; $9.95) is one that should be on every Catholic’s shelf. The author explores five areas of Catholic life: a sense of sacramentality; a commitment to community; a respect for human life; a reverence for Scripture and tradition; and an attitude of faith and hope. If you think this is some dry, boring manual, you’d be sorely mistaken. The layout of the book is fresh and airy; it’s filled with illustrations, simple explanations of Catholic beliefs, cartoons and prayers; and it offers creative ways to put “flesh” on faith’s “bones.”
The biggest advantage to the above books is that you don’t need to read them cover to cover. They can be opened to any chapter or particular interest and provide plenty of food for thought and prayer.
I’ll conclude with these wise words of Napoleon Bonaparte, “Show me a family of readers and I will show you the people who move the world!”
Read, family of faith, and change the world.