Hahn, Scott. Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Pp. 276. Hardcover. $23.00.
Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots is part apologetic, part devotional, and part catechism. Scott Hahn brings to bear his decades of study and devotion and explains Catholic belief and practice from the seemingly mundane actions of dipping your fingers into holy water upon entering the sanctuary to the central Christian tasks of worshipping the triune God.
Plenty is covered in between like the Sacraments; sacred times, spaces, and meals; and those notorious practices that give Protestants fits like indulgences, prayers for the dead, and relics. Hahn covers each subject in a few short pages and ends each chapter with a quotation from a saint, pope, council, or otherwise revered teacher that the reader is invited to ponder in their heart.
Interestingly enough, not every practice addressed is exclusively Catholic. For example, in chapter 16 Hahn covers Bible Study, which Protestants certainly engage in, but he does so from a Catholic perspective with reference to the revised lectionary of the 1970s and Dogmas, which are “the Church’s infallible interpretation of Scripture” (115). Prayers of Aspiration (chapter 12) aren’t unique to Catholics either. It’s quite normal for Protestants to recite memorized prayers or scriptural citations throughout their day.
But without detailing every custom covered let me just say that in general Hahn is to be celebrated for bringing his living faith in the living Christ to a broad audience in the most helpful of ways. Hahn writes simply without being simplistic and it is evident on every page of the book that he has thought through each of these practices deeply and more importantly, the reader gets the impression that he practices what he preaches.
As he notes in the introduction, his selection of material is “not quite random, but not quite inevitable either” (15). Rather they are the things that are important to him and Hahn’s “meditations are not definitions”; they’re his “reflections borrowed from this saint and that pope and combined in a way that’s [his]” (15). He invites the reader to ponder these things and things not mentioned and reflect on them in their own way.
Catholic readers will find much to build up their faith and Protestant readers will learn much about Catholic customs without being totally convinced that each one has sufficient biblical warrant (in other words, don’t approach this book as a definitive defense of Catholic practice, doctrine, or tradition); but there is something to be gleaned by every reader of this book. If nothing else the reader will come away with a strong sense of one Catholic’s appreciation of and devotion to his faith.