In his book, A Faith that Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, Richard G. Malloy, SJ, provides his answer to the serious challenge Catholic believers face today: knowing how to live out their response to the amazing fact of God’s love in this, the 21st Century. The real question, according to Malloy, is not “What would Jesus do?” but “What would Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene do?” (p. 1).
In offering his response to the question, Malloy provides an interesting and helpful framework which integrates the key movements of post-Vatican II theology and suggests their implications for discipleship in the 21st Century. Using the methods and insights of his primary discipline, cultural anthropology, along with the insights of Ignatian spirituality, Bernard Lonergan, contemporary liberation theologians and secular justice movements, he sketches out a form of "cultural Catholicism" by which 21st Century U.S. Catholics can live their faith today. The result is a “faith that frees, a faith that does justice, the living out of which “fulfills us and transforms both us and our world.” (p. 10).
Malloy unpacks the meaning and implications of such a faith in two parts. In Part One: Faith Matters, he describes being Catholic as being involved in "a great adventure" (not at all boring!). It involves Catholics in a transforming relationship, which requires "seeking God in all things" as well as the practice of a disciplined and heroic spirituality. For the development of an authentic spirituality, Malloy suggests the transcultural method of Bernard Lonergan (be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible, be loving), p. 52. The practice of such an authentic spirituality will bring forth a new form of "cultural Catholicism", one that is able to translate the meaning and practice of Catholicism today into new language and practices that truly embody the values of Jesus’ kingdom message.
In Part Two, Justice Matters, Malloy emphasizes that Catholicism is profoundly social, as Catholic Social Teaching also stresses. In the five chapters which constitute this section of the book, he outlines Catholicism as the practice of: the loving exercise of power and authority, of just gender and race relations, of economic justice, of a cross-cultural global Christianity, and of a liberating vision of God’s Reign for the 21st Century. In each chapter, Malloy gathers numerous statistics which describe the present non-Kingdom-like reality of much of our contemporary world and offers his suggestions of what Catholics need to learn and to do in order to bring about the world God intends.
And in a final brief concluding chapter entitled Mission Matters, he poses an interesting and challenging response to the question which troubled the early Christians: When will Jesus return? Malloy’s response to that question is as follows: If we truly are meant to be co-creators with God of human history, then Jesus is waiting for us. In Malloy’s words: “It is only by consciously creating cultures that foster and sustain human communities authentically dedicated to cultural practices that make a world wherein all can grow happy and healthy and holy and free that we can prepare for the second coming….Human agency does matter, and it is precisely in and through our free and freeing choices on personal and societal levels of our being that God is able to work toward the gradual establishment of the reign Jesus inaugurated….Maybe we should realize that God is waiting for us. (pp. 197-8). Quite a challenge indeed and one that for me echoes something of the insight of Juan Luis Segundo that God fashions the final kingdom from the deeds of love done on earth.
As one who has struggled with how to coherently present the succession of post-Vatican theological developments to undergraduates, I find Malloy’s emphasis on culture helpful. I suggest using the book to provide an organizing framework for the teaching of classes in contemporary theologies, complemented with well-chosen selections of writings from appropriate theologians.