Book Review: The Bad Catholic’s Guide To Good Living

The Bad Catholic’s Guide To Good Living:  A Loving Look At The Lighter Side Of The Catholic Faith, With Recipes For Feasts And Fun, by John Zmirak & Denise Matychowiak

Like the other books in this series [1], this is a funny book that features food and witty comments about Catholic culture.  This particular festival is organized around the calendar, with a discussion of the events and some of the people whose saints’ days and stories fill up the year of a Catholic’s life.  A great deal of the commentary is hilarious and also pointed, and the reader finds out about various saints for things and the stories of their lives as well as food and drinks that suit various festivals of obligation that occur during the year.  As this is not an area I happen to know well, I was surprised (like many readers will be) about the fact that Ascension Thursday is apparently a festival of obligation for Catholics, having never heard of it although it is actually an event that one can find taking place ten days before Pentecost in Acts 1 and thus a festival that has greater biblical warrant than many days which appear as religious days.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it discusses the Catholic calendar from January to December with an eye towards various aspects of culture, including obligatory days of worship throughout the year, daring and hopefully tasty recipes that meet the particular feast days and their symbolic meanings, biographies on the lives of mostly obscure saints whose examples can be fitting reminders for contemporary readers, and even summaries of the seven sacraments, told with a high degree of good-natured humor.  The authors discuss how Groundhog Day was originally a Catholic festival that got secularized through connection with marmots, provides recipes that involves squirrels, bunny rabbits, and a dish known as Nun’s farts.  The authors remind the reader of Catholic martyrs and the serious state of devotion and faith in a sometimes hostile world, and also provides a look at saints with some levity while demonstrating that fun and seriousness about faith need not be a contradiction, something that is a good reminder to some of us.

One thing that makes this book a worthwhile and entertaining one is the way that it keeps an earthy sense of humor about its subject material.  Whether talking about the realities of Jesus’ circumcision (one of the festivals included on the Catholic calendar) or discussing the way that certain saints had lives that demonstrates the hard hand of God with those who invite it in, the author invites the reader to ponder whether in fact it is good to ask to be a saint or not, because the result can be dramatic.  Much less dark in its meaning is the discussion by the authors about the sort of food and drink that can be used to celebrate notable days on the calendar.  Some of the dishes look particularly striking, like a flaming salad and cheese for Pentecost (I’ll have to add this to my pot luck repertoire) and in general the book serves like other volumes in the series to remind the reader of the more lighthearted aspects of Catholic culture that are worth remembering and occasionally well worth adding to one’s own personal traditions and habits.  Some readers should note that parts of this book are sarcastic, such as the advice to readers to follow the example of Sybillina to download the latest liturgical decrees and to discuss the results of the deviations of the local pastor’s practices from these decrees with the pastor, who will likely not at all be appreciative of such observations.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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