Reading this book was a series of gasps in response to feeling awestruck, tears from an understanding of His love, and rereading sentences to fully grasp what George Weigel was writing. This book review will not do it justice or come close to how I felt reading Letters to a Young Catholic.
I’m a beginner when it comes to spiritual reading, but if authors like Weigel continue to uncover the beauty and richness of the Catholic teachings and depth of God’s love for us through books, I am all in.
*Before you continue: I would suggest reading the book before reading the rest of this post, as the purpose of this post is to share my thoughts on the book. I wouldn’t want to share any of its goodness without you fully experiencing it for yourself first!
With each new chapter, Weigel brings readers to a new place in the world, whether it be a basilica or pub. While we explore these destinations on the surface, his research and insight leads us to a deeper meaning within them.
In all honesty, I could take you through every chapter of this book and point out the beautiful ways I was spoken to. But I’ll pull out the chapters and quotes within them that impacted me in big ways.
Letter One: Baltimore and Milledgeville – Acquiring the “Habit of Being”
“It’s something you experience aesthetically as well as intellectually, with the emotions as well as the mind, through friendships and worships and experiences-beyond-words as well as through arguments and syllogisms.”
Through this quote I was pulled back into the times where I experienced this feeling. To the times where intentional conversations with my friends showed me how Christ cares for us. To the times when songs have sung exactly what I needed to hear. To moments that cannot be explained, but bring me to tears all the same as I come close to understanding how much Christ loves us.
Part of Flannery O’Connor’s story was also told in this chapter. Her work had come up in my English class assignments, but to learn she was a Catholic surprised me. Her writing has some darker content, but as she explained her reasoning behind it, I learned she was describing what life would be like without Christ. She and Weigel reiterate that all that history is Christ’s story that we are a part of.
Letter Two: The Papal Basilica of St. Peter’s, Rome – The Scavi and the Grittiness of Catholicism
This letter highlighted Peter’s yes to Jesus in dropping everything to follow Him. Weigel writes that “faith in Jesus Christ costs, not just something, but everything. It demands all of us, not just part of us.”
The disciples’ response to Jesus’ call is courageous. They have followed Mary’s fiat and have called us to do the same. It reminded me of a Bible study where we determined if Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or Lord. The disciples leaving their old lives behind and some becoming martyrs later on confirm He is Lord. They are ready to be a part of the something that will change the world, which is God’s love.
Letter Three: St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai / The Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem – The Face of Christ
“This old Polish priest, who had displayed unshakable courage in the face of the worst modern tyrannies, was determined to pray at Calvary. The place where all the world’s fears had been offered by the Son of the Father in order to set humanity free from fear. And he did–meeting a deep longing of his own Christian soul and vindicating the proposal he had urged on the Second Vatican Council forty years before–that the church should bear witness to the Christ who reveals to us who we are and thereby enables us to be truly, fully, radically human.”
The image of Pope John Paul II in this paragraph was beautiful. He exemplifies the urgency to know Jesus. Pope John Paul II understands our need for Jesus who loves us as we are, shows us who we are meant to be, and who can transform our lives.
Letter Four: The Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem – Mary and Discipleship
“‘Do whatever he tells you’ is Mary’s gentle invitation to make her fiat your own.”
Weigel’s exploration of Mary’s fiat and how it relates to our own discipleship taught me about fully trusting God’s plans for our lives. Weigel writes that through her Annunciation, she is providing an example for us in how to trust in the Lord. She reflects the way God desires to reunite with us in heaven through her Assumption. In the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary, she is present in Jesus’ ministry, advising us again to follow God’s will during the Wedding at Cana.
Even better, Weigel reminds us that she didn’t have an exit strategy or a plan B, as most of us are bound to dream up when thinking about our future vocation. Even when the future was unknown, she trusted in the Lord’s plan for her life. She truly is pointing us to Jesus in her trust with every yes she gives the Lord.
Letter Sixteen: The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City – Inculturation and the New Evangelization
This was something I needed to hear in my life right now.
“In the Church of New Evangelization, which many of us have come to call ‘Evangelical Catholicism,’ the people of the church must understand that, on the day of our baptism, each of us received a missionary’s commission. ‘Mission territory,’ in the Church of the twenty-first century, does not involve exotic locales from the pages of National Geographic; ‘mission territory’ is all around us, and you enter mission territory every day–in your home, in your neighborhood, in your school; in your life as a consumer and a citizen. It’s all mission territory.’”
Letter Seventeen: The Old Cathedral, Baltimore – Freedom for Excellence
This letter explained the importance of life. Weigel urges adult Catholics to have “freedom for excellence–the freedom to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, as a matter of habit.”
This is something I believe we are all striving for, even on the days when we don’t say the right words or sin gets in the way. Jesus forgives us and continues to call us to love others well, the same way He loves each of us. At SLS20, Curtis Martin said “This generation of Catholics is responsible for this generation of people.” Every day is a new opportunity to live intentionally, love others well, strive for freedom for excellence, and be reflections of Christ in people’s lives. The Lord is with us through all of it.
Letter Nineteen: The Basilica of the Holy Trinity, Kraków – On Not Being Alone
In the last chapter, Weigel beautifully sums up the takeaways of every letter, in how they align with our role as Catholics and revealing the ways God speaks to us through the Church.
I think this book should go on your must-read list. It provides excellent historical research while tapping into the truth of Christ’s love for us through the Catholic Church’s teachings and history. Furthermore, Weigel advocates for why all of this is so important. After all, this is the real love of our Heavenly Father and the way He calls us to live boldly for Him.