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Book Review: Confession of a Catholic Worker

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To appreciate Larry Chapp’s new book, Confession of a Catholic Worker: Our Current Moment of Christian Witness, one must understand what he means by “confession.” The book’s central claim is “that as modern Western Christians our cultural situation has flushed us out of our neutral corner and forced us to choose for or against the Gospel,” something our age tries desperately to forget—that is, to avoid confessing.

Thus, Chapp’s Confession is necessarily political, but not in anything like the usual sense. This is not the Catholic Worker’s answer to Rod Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option. Nor does Chapp attempt to situate himself in either a “progressive” or “conservative” Catholic camp. Rather, he invokes Peter Maurin’s “vision of organic change, rooted in the conversion of hearts through the lived witness of an alternative Christian way of living.” This is how Chapp has practiced his own faith, but he presents this confessionally rather than prescriptively.

He also offers readers a writing mode that is genuinely strange. It tells the story of a humanity and of a man who lived an intellectual life in the Church’s service—and both have forgotten too much of themselves. Chapp the confessor thinks out loud from first to last. Sometimes his sentences crackle and pop. Sometimes, they explode. He is inviting you—provoking us—to think with him.

Writers and thinkers of ressourcement and the Nouvelle Theologie figure prominently in Confession, but not to the exclusion of other theological development sources. Rather, Chapp writes as a reader and thinker in conversation with thinkers and writers from a vast expanse of history, disciplines and experience.

Famed Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, for example, is one companion, but Chapp does not insist the reader also receive Balthasar as a traveling companion. To read Chapp most profitably, however, one has to let him include his companions as he shares his journey’s story.

Another companion is the great Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell (1926-2018), who dedicated much of his significant literary output to the conduct of what he called his “quarrel” with the profession of philosophy: an argument internal to the philosophical way of life, for which philosophy’s professional academic discipline was at least one legitimate incarnation of the philosophical impulse or impetus.

A decade has passed since Chapp abandoned a similar quarrel with the DeSales University theology professional academic discipline and retreated to the Catholic Worker farm he owns and operates with his wife in Pennsylvania. But he has not foresworn the impulse to his confession of theology. Readers of his Confession will be glad he hasn’t.

Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021).

Confession of a Catholic Worker: Our Current Moment of Christian Witness by Larry Chapp; Ignatius Press, 2023; 224 pages; $17.95

This article appeared in the October 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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