- Question Time - REVIEWS
Fr Anthony Robbie - AD2000 August, 2008,
Why is holy water being removed from some church fonts during Lent, asks one of Fr Flader’s correspondents? Because the unfortunate clergy did not have access to this splendid book in time, we might reply. Fr Flader’s reply is, naturally, more measured and scholarly and also a very tactful one. Those who know Fr John Flader know him to be the very soul of courtesy and gentleness and these qualities are well employed in answering the many timely and pointed questions that appear in his Catholic Weekly column and which are here extracted and accumulated.
He does not avoid the controversial. Many of his questions are on subjects regularly proposed as areas where the Church has lagged behind the world. Here they appear, in the treatment they deserve, with objections faced head on and honestly answered. Women priests are here and the celibacy of the clergy. Freemasons, homosexuality and divorce, those topics beloved of the media, are explained succinctly and tactfully. It would be wrong, however to see this as a work of apologetics. Many questions are by way of explanations of the curious detail- why water is added to wine or the background of the Miraculous Medal. Most, however, are practical explanations of questions that many people (not just Catholics) might ask or find themselves asked, and wonder how to reply. Did Jesus know He was God, what will happen at the end of time? etc. The book is divided into four sections, following the traditional division of the catechisms, -doctrine, the sacraments, morality and prayer. It is an easy book to find one’s way around.
As a parish priest I can testify that the questions that appear in this book are real ones, constantly raised in the pastoral context and which I have myself been called on to answer many times, but without the graceful and kindly response which Fr Flader provides.
This is a book for those who are sincerely seeking the answers to questions about Catholic Faith and practice. They will not be disappointed or fobbed off with a dissembling response which reveals only the author’s unwillingness to stand by an unpopular position. Best of all, here are gathered together some very useful references to documents and official positions, not always easy to come across (for example concerts in churches, Q.47). Fr Flader’s deep learning and careful research is all too evident, but his clarity of argument makes this a very good resource easily accessible to all readers.
In the Catholic Weekly
Almost everyone who has been taught in person by Fr John Flader expresses gratitude. What particularly strikes those who attend his adult education classes is his ability to enlarge horizons and expunge confusion at the same time. The range of his historical knowledge, the breadth and depth of his theological understanding, the clarity of his speech, the humour of his asides, and his profound spirituality encourage students from ages 20 to 80 to implement scriptural truths in their daily lives with renewed vigour.
There are of course many fine clerics whose large moral points, buttressed by beautifully chosen Biblical allusions and strong images from ordinary life, persuade listeners to think again about where they are headed. But priests who vivify ancient truths, as Fr Flader does, with memorable verbal felicity speaking from prepared scholarly notes as well as in spontaneous, compressed, lucid responses to challenging queries are rare.
The fact that the material included in this volume commanded so much interest in The Catholic Weekly that requests were made to publish it in book form is not surprising. In Question Time the pedagogical gifts responsible for enthusiastic attendance at Fr Flader’s courses are everywhere in evidence. Whether he is tackling tough questions linked with salvation, the Last Things, creation, the Blessed Virgin Mary, marriage, Holy Orders, prayer, devotions, or conscience, his reactions are as sound as they are, in many key aspects, unpredictable. Like every outstanding teacher, he thinks in ways that are at once unexpected and impeccable.
Because his manner is so judicious, erudite, and calm, and because he is so alive to the dangers of oversimplification in doctrinal matters, his observations are likely to touch non-Catholics as well as Catholics eager to learn more about the faith. Since he is uncompromisingly forthright on Church teaching itself, his book gives readers unfamiliar with many features of this teaching a broad opportunity to assimilate essential facts and ideas. On the reflections of wise Church Fathers over the centuries, considering a wide variety of topics, he is particularly thorough and helpful. Questioners who express confusion about matters ancient and modern—for instance, whether Catholics and non-Catholics can marry, what the Church’s position on divorce actually is, or similarities and differences between the Orthodox Churches and the Church of Rome—receive answers in prose that is admirably clear and apposite.
Here is just one sample of Fr Flader’s usual approach. The question posed is why Jesus descended into hell after his death on the Cross.
‘First of all, let me say that Jesus did not descend to the hell of the damned, but rather to the place or state where all those who had died before him and who deserved to go to heaven were awaiting his death and Resurrection in order to be redeemed. . . It was not a place of suffering but rather of great happiness, in the expectation of a final reward . . .
‘. . . The problem arises in the English translation of the Hebrew word sheol or the Greek word Hades, rendered in Latin as Inferus. These words could be translated as the “underworld”, the “lower regions” or the “realm of the dead”. In the understanding of the people at that time, it was the abode of the dead, of all those who had died, and was not specifically the place of eternal punishment that we today call hell. St Paul refers to it, writing to the Ephesians: “When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended.” (Eph 4: 9-10).
‘The new version of the Apostles’ Creed avoids this difficulty by saying that Christ “descended to the dead”, a much better translation.’
Question Time is a must, not simply for adults who manage to get to the Catholic Adult Education Centre at Lidcombe in Sydney, but for priests, teachers, catechists, parents, RCIA coordinators, sacramental program organisers, recent converts, and interested outsiders. Besides providing immediate answers to questions asked by the faithful, it is an invaluable resource.
No reviewer, however well-intentioned, could conceivably remember every helpful reminder contained in 313 attractively set out pages. It is over the long haul, when people who really want to know what a deeply informed person has to say about spiritual matters of pressing interest to them, that it is likely to be of greatest use.
In his Foreword, George
Cardinal Pell—who granted the Imprimatur—tells the world that he learned
much from Fr Flader’s book. For those of us whose learning is laughable by
comparison, that remark is likely to re-surface, as is the related observation
that “different questions at different times of the year and at different times
in our lives” will bring readers back to Question Time again and
again. I intend to keep my copy on a night table reserved for bare
Dr Susan Moore is the author of the recently released text book for world youth and others, The Living Word.