The Perfect Gift for a Catholic Friend

21 12 2007


I’ve just finished reading Ray Galea’s book Nothing in My Hand I Bring. It truly is an excellent little volume, which would make a very thoughtful and beneficial gift to Roman Catholic friends.

Galea writes as something of an insider. He was brought up in a Maltese Catholic family in Australia, and had a happy upbringing. His is no spectacular story of hard hearted Catholicism or abusive priests, but one of a good childhood in a community of love and openness. However, at university Galea came into contact with the Gospel and came to saving faith in Christ alone. This left him with a problem: could he continue within the Catholic church as an evangelical believer, or would he have to face the painful process of leaving the Church in which he had been brought up? This led him to analyse the differences between his upbringing and the Truth of the Gospel to which he had come. Those meditations are set out in this book, and they make for thrilling reading.

Galea assesses the variety of Catholic belief across the world, before laying out the reasons why he had to leave the Church of his upbringing once its teaching had been held up to the light. He achieves this by looking at ‘Christ and the Mass’, ‘The Bible and the Church’, ‘The Way of Salvation’, ‘Grace’, and ‘Mary’. Each of these themes forms a chapter, and they are penetrating to read. Galea pulls no punches in his assessment of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, but at the same time maintains a respectful, loving tone in his writing.

As someone who grew up within evangelicalism in Northern Ireland I would often hear it said from pulpits and amongst people that they hated Catholicism, but loved Catholics. As a child I was confused by this statement, as it seemed clear to me from some of the invective that was used about ‘the other side’ of the community that the love and hate ratios were out of kilter. In reality I was brought up in a situation where the communities were polarised, and where there was mutual suspicion and antagonism. The model for ‘love Catholics, hate Catholicism’ that I witnessed in those days didn’t work – and was, in its worst extreme, expressed through some of the dreadful deeds and statements which have made the Province of Northern Ireland notorious.

For me, Galea does actually manage to achieve this balance. He will not draw back from stating where, and how badly, Rome is in error; but never once does this come across as being vitriolic, resentful, or sectarian. For this reason I value the book highly, both as a means of educating evangelical believers about the teachings of the Catholic church, and as a means of reaching the hearts and minds of those who come from a Roman Catholic background.

A sample from two sections of the book will show the balance that Galea achieves:

‘The truth is, I find it hard to remain cool about Catholicism, because as a newly converted Christ-follower looking hard at my Catholic heritage, I kept running up against painful but unavoidable contradictions. At almost every point where Catholicism taught something distinctive, the effect of the teaching was to undermine the person and work of the Christ I had come to love, and wanted to honour and serve.
This upset and disturbed me. It still does’
[98].

‘One thing I’m hoping that this book hasn’t done is inspire you to corner unsuspecting Catholics and beat them around the head with your new-found insights into Catholic theology. It does us good to remember that, like Paul, we preach Christ crucified and not some anti-Catholic message. This won’t mean that these issues shouldn’t be explored – there will be a right time and place for doing just that. But if we are going to argue for “grace alone”, we should speak with grace alone as well – that is, with gentleness, respect and love’
[103].

I heartily recommend this book to all, and particularly to those within the Roman Catholic faith who have questions about the differences between what they believe and evangelical Christianity. If you fit into this category, and are living within Ireland or the UK, please send me an email via the address in my sidebar and I’ll send you a copy free of charge, and with no obligations.

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