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Practicing Catholic

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  151 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
A clear-eyed and personal examination of the Catholic faith, its leaders, and its complicated history by National Book Award–winner James Carroll

James Carroll turns to the notion of practice—both as a way to learn and a means of improvement—as a lens for this thoughtful and frank look at what it means to be Catholic. He acknowledges the slow and steady transformation of th
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2009)
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Dec 09, 2009 Terzah rated it really liked it
Warning: this review may be a bit long. This book was thought-provoking, and I want to get some of those thoughts down, because the question I was hoping to answer by reading this book is a big one for me.

That question: should I leave the Catholic church? The reason side of me says an emphatic yes. After all, if I were given a choice to join an organization that openly discriminates against women in several ways (among other--let's face it--really big sins), would I choose to join? Nope. Do I wo
Jun 09, 2009 Tom rated it it was amazing
This book is the author’s story/biography detailing his journey from being a Catholic Christian to becoming a Christian Catholic. The author is one year older than me. Consequently, the book was particularly relevant to me because it is so much a part of my own spiritual and historical journey through the 50’s and 60’s up to the present. At times, the author can be too esoteric and theological but these are brief. There are also times I found myself disagreeing with the author’s line of reasonin ...more
Aug 11, 2015 Allan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, biography
As much a biography of the Catholic Church during the author's lifetime as it is his own autobiography of faith formation, Carroll's accomplishment is to provide a deeply loving, stringently honest catechism for anyone who is sincere about being, or at least understanding what it is to be a practicing Catholic.

That means confronting the bad and the ugly as a way of panning out the authentic good. The stifled hopes of Vatican II reforms, the assertion of Papal authority, particularly as embodied
Daniel Mauck
Mar 29, 2012 Daniel Mauck rated it it was ok
This book was generally rambling and disorganized with a few nuggets of insight standing out among what was mostly a polemic against the Vatican Hierarchy backed up by extremely sketchy theology. I find Carrol's obsession with Humanae Vitae to be quite strange. Especially suspect is his claim that up until the 20th century there had been no consistent Church teaching on contraception, which is patently false. He also seems to have quite a distorted view on Vatican II's doctrine of the conscience ...more
Apr 30, 2010 Mary rated it it was amazing
"Once a believer has learned to think historically . . . it is impossible any longer to think mythically," says James Carroll. I couldn't agree more. Ignorance of how our institutions have developed over time is as dangerous in the religious realm as in the secular (don't even get me started there). In this book, which is admittedly dense at times, Carroll interweaves the story of his own lifelong development as a Catholic with the larger history of the Church, a history that in and of itself re ...more
Scottsdale Public Library
As much a biography of the Catholic Church during the author's lifetime as it is his own autobiography of faith formation, Carroll's accomplishment is to provide a deeply loving, stringently honest catechism for anyone who is sincere about being, or at least understanding what it is to be a practicing Catholic.
That means confronting the bad and the ugly as a way of panning out the authentic good: The stifled hopes of Vatican II reforms, the assertion of Papal authority, particularly as embodied
May 29, 2009 Peter rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, history
James Carroll is a 'bad catholic' in all the positive ways that term has been used over time. A former priest, a devout Catholic, a brilliant scholar and historian and a true poet, this quasi-memoir, quasi history of the Catholic Church in the 20th Century is a challenging and important set of thoughts, questions and conclusions about what it means, what it should mean, to be a Catholic today.
Feb 16, 2010 Hedlun rated it it was amazing
I think this is an important book for any Catholic to read. I found it to be very affirming and renewed my commitment to the faith, and to the Church.
I liked the parts of this where he laid out church history and related it to social trends, although in a lot of ways it was a riff on his documentary film Constantine's Sword (I think was the title) about Catholic anti-semitism. But these are weighty topics and it was good to have lots of context.
I also liked some of his personal experiences in the priesthood, and enjoyed the parts related to Boston culture/politics.
However, at least a third of this is rambling in a kind of precious way about t
Feb 14, 2013 Peggy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The primary meaning of 'practicing' is that...we have some prospect of getting better. ...That we are practicing means, above all, that we are not perfect--not in faith, hope, or charity. Not in poverty, chastity, or obedience. Not in peace or justice."

Carroll applies this understanding of what it means to be a Catholic--a "practicing" Catholic, which is as he puts it the only way we know to be Catholic--and applies it to the whole Church. The Church is not perfect, and if it hopes to "get bett
Apr 20, 2010 Diane rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Brian
Shelves: religion, audiobook
I picked this up by chance because I was going to have to drive for several hours and needed an audio-book for the car. So, it was a pleasant surprise that I was quite taken with the book. The book is the story of Catholicism as experienced by Carroll. He was born in 1943, the same year as I, and many of the significant world events in his life are the events that also shaped my life, ,e.g., the assassination of the Kennedys, and of MLK, and the Vietnam War. He was raised an Irish Catholic and b ...more
Jan 18, 2016 Bill rated it it was amazing
This is a 5 star book for someone like me, having grown up in the Catholic school system during Vatican II. There is much history to learn here --- and Carroll reveals very little about himself, so it is not a great memoir. But it is a very heartfelt story of one man's faith journey (along with a great history of the Catholic church from the 1950's until 2009, the year the book is published)
Dec 08, 2012 Terry rated it really liked it
James Carroll presents a very personal account of his experience with his Catholic faith, and how it morphed from an institutional faith as a priest, to a personal and spiritual experience as Christian Catholic. He explains (rather than apologizes) for the Church's many sins while at the same time discusses the deep and moving spirituality at its core.

I am not Catholic but I've spend much of my adult life near and around the Christian Brothers, so I am well-versed in the theology and occasional
Donna  Gray-Davis
Not since early student days with philosophy professors who were philosophy professors not of east indian guru genre, have I met such an unstuck mind in any way or other. I have not even had the honor to shake this Paulist priest's hand, and I love him. I love James Carroll. Potential readers who might most enjoy this book are those having finished, or are in the midst of, historical humanities studies; however, I recommend him to anyone who seeks a closer, broader too, relationship with Creator ...more
Megan Uy
May 28, 2013 Megan Uy rated it really liked it
I loved this book--loved getting lost in Carroll's prose. I was familiar with Carroll through his longtime column in the Boston Globe and knew vaguely that he had left the priesthood--I seem to remember my parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles arguing about Carroll's editorials during my childhood/adolescence, by turns defending his right to criticize the Church hierarchy and questioning whether he was "going too far." This book educated me further on the developments and strides taken during the Se ...more
Pam Cipkowski
Jul 05, 2009 Pam Cipkowski rated it it was ok
Two-and-a-half stars. Good job of arguing that the Catholic church no longer undergoes change through the power of the church hierarchy but instead changes and evolves according to the will of the people. A little too philosophical for my taste in places, but brings up some interesting points. Felt some of his arguments were a tad weak, but was reassured by his arguments that you can still remain a Catholic and not be a "bad" Catholic if you do not "follow the rules." Recommended for 40-somethin ...more
Jim Mcnulty
Sep 23, 2013 Jim Mcnulty rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It provides a very good explanation of the history of the Catholic Church and it's canon of orthodox beliefs. In particular, it describes the history and evolution of our American experience of the Church. The author presents cohesive explanations of the successes and the shortcomings of the Church. He manages to communicate his points within a respectful and deliberately loving perspective. The energy sewn throughout this book seems very comparable with the message Pope Franc ...more
Ellen Midgley
Mar 29, 2015 Ellen Midgley rated it it was amazing
Thought provoking., challenging and well-written.
K Kriesel
Oct 20, 2013 K Kriesel rated it really liked it
absolutely fascinating account of how history forms Catholic identity. Carroll did an excellent job flowing between personal experience, Catholic theologians, history and contemporary Catholic politics. I learned a lot and loved it!

the only reason I didn't give 5 stars was that Carroll tends to toot his own horn quite a bit. I get it, he's intelligent and reasonable and passionate - he didn't need to ramble on about it.
Suzanne Kittrell
Jul 13, 2009 Suzanne Kittrell rated it really liked it
This was interesting to read how J. Carroll explains how Vatican II held such high hopes for changing the Church - and how it went wrong when Pope John 23 died too soon. And how J23rd's successors (John Paul and Benedict) have tried to bring back the Church into its medieval role with an infallible Pope as its leader.
Paul Heidebrecht
Apr 16, 2010 Paul Heidebrecht rated it liked it
If I was a Catholic, this book would trouble me a lot. Even as a Protestant, I am not sure what to make of a brilliant and passionate ex=priest who denounces pope-centered Catholicism better than any Protestant could do, claiming to be a true American Catholic yet denying the deity of Christ.
Sep 17, 2012 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Carroll is an ex-priest who writes for those of us who hang onto the possibility that the Church might someday begin to represent Jesus. It is a hope far off in the distance--but it is hope. I learned a lot about Roman Catholicism from this book and will read more of Carroll's work.
Peter Cline
Jun 13, 2012 Peter Cline rated it really liked it
Great read for anyone interested in recent Catholic history, ecumenism, and current theological topics. Of course Carroll is a bona fide Vatican II catholic and rather liberal which makes him appealing to me, but might be off putting to others with a more conservative viewpoint.
Jun 22, 2009 Mary rated it really liked it
I learned a great deal from this book about church history. As a woman in the Catholic Church I have frustrated for decades over the rigidity of Rome and the lack of backbone in the current men who serve in the priesthood. I recommend this book to all Catholics who feel my frustration.
Jun 27, 2010 Matt rated it liked it
Sort of skimmed it because it was a fairly repetitive and emotive rehash of stuff I already knew. I don't want to make it sound too bad though, I think it has a lot of good insights on the recent history of the Roman Catholic Church sprinkled throughout.
Apr 11, 2016 Joanne rated it liked it
This is not light reading - Carroll writes historically and densely - but he presents a cogent timeline of Catholicism and his own relationship to it, as young man, as seminarian and then priest, and finally as married man and writer.
Jan 03, 2011 JeanneBee rated it really liked it
it took a while--lots of ideas, history and vocabulary to consider--but it was worth it. my copy is dog-ear'd and I'll read it again. Would be good for a discussion group for theology students.
May 19, 2009 Jackie rated it it was amazing
This book is having a strange effect on me. It almost makes me want to go to Church. I've come to terms with the fact that I have a really love/hate affair with the Catholic Church.
This title, by an award-winning author and ex-priest, is a historical exploration of the Catholic church and an analysis of current Catholic practices.
Sep 10, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing
Excellent excergis about the state of the Church. Because of his former status he can explain the inner wrokings of the instiutional Church and he still stays!
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James Carroll was born in Chicago and raised in Washington, D.C. He has been a civil rights worker, an antiwar activist, and a community organizer in Washington and New York. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1969 and served as Catholic chaplain at Boston University. Carroll left the priesthood to become a novelist and playwright. He lives in Boston with his wife, the novelist Alexandra Marshal ...more
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