A Post-COVID Catechesis
By Victor Lee Austin
Cascade Books, pp. 88, $14
Review by James Stambaugh
It may have been premature in the Year of our Lord 2022 to publish a book with “Post-COVID” in the title, but “Catechesis” is an apt description for the work this slender volume accomplishes. This is a book for teaching the Faith in an engaging and accessible way. It is perfect for a parish discussion group.
Austin has a gift for packaging nuanced theological concepts in down-to-earth language. In fact, “Catechesis” is one of the only occurrences of jargon in the entire book. In a concise five chapters, Austin gives us a theological tour designed to hone our ability to hear God speaking to us amid the mess these pandemic years have been.
In the first chapter, “Creation,” we reflect on what it means for God to have created all things that exist, for God to sustain all things that continue to exist, and what that has to do with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and life in its aftermath.
The next chapter, “Sin,” presents a compelling version of the sin-as-nothingness argument. God doesn’t wish sin to exist because, in some mysterious way, sin doesn’t exist. It is a “hole in reality.” Austin nods to the concept of original sin as it relates to systemic sin, but I would have loved a few more pages broadening this discussion to explicitly address the many systems of sin and societal evils that beset us along with the pandemic. Alas, it is a tiny book and Austin makes no promises to do all our thinking for us. To the contrary, the book is an excellent provocation toward further study and reflection.
Austin’s third chapter explores God’s desire to speak to us, that is, to reach across the Creator-creature divide and be our friend. “God wants to be not only the author of the story, and a character in the story, but also to be the end of the story, to guarantee that the story will turn out to be a good one.” Did I mention this book is full of sharp, winsome, and entertaining sentences?
The last two chapters focus specifically on Jesus. In “Jesus’ Life and Teaching,” Austin argues that “If you want to see a real human being, you need to look at Jesus.” This means we are never more human than when we forgive, heal, rebuke evil, connect with others, tell stories, and give up our lives — just like Jesus.
In the final chapter, Austin explores the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us now: “To die as a Christian is to believe that the most important events of all human history took place at a cross and nearby tomb over three days some two thousand years ago — and that, in these events, God has proven true.”
Never discounting the suffering and adversity of the past several years, Austin nevertheless helps Christians frame our pandemic experience in the light of God’s in-breaking grace and invincible love. This book is a gem.
The Rev. James Stambaugh is rector of Holy Apostles’, Penn Wynne, Pa.