About the Book
When Eric Stoltz and Vince Tomkovicz were preparing for ordination as Roman Catholic deacons, there were a few late nights they fell asleep over the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And as they undertook ministry, especially in jails, they discovered there was really nothing accessible they could give people who wanted to learn more about Christianity. So they decided to do something about it.
“In our experience, people want to understand the Faith, but they don’t want it to be an academic experience,” says Tomkovicz. “We believe the process of learning should be enjoyable and beautiful.”
Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation (Paulist Press, November 2009) is the result of three years of work on just such an approach. Lavishly visual, readable and ecumenical, the book includes over 100 full-color images in a stunning layout of brief chapters, sidebar stories and profiles of role models.
“God speaks to us in our own language and through beauty around us,” explains Stoltz. “So why not use the same approach to learning about God?”
Stoltz and Tomkovicz contend that the academic approaches favored by many overview texts on Christianity—especially those from the Catholic viewpoint—tend to be dry and uninspiring. “Look, if we were bored by these books, and we were committed to several years of preparing for ordained ministry, then imagine what others think,” Tomkovicz says.
The real learning experience for both deacons came when they were asked questions about basic Christian teachings by jail inmates. They quickly realized that formal academic answers were useless, but that they also should not talk down to the inmates. So they collaborated on a series of graphically-designed, plain-language handouts they could offer to inmates who asked for them.
“Finally it hit us,” remembers Stoltz. “Prisoners are not the only ones hungering for understanding. This became more apparent to me in my baptismal preparation classes in my parish. People like in-depth discussion as long as it relates to their lives, but they don’t want faith treated academically.” Stoltz points out that the single most common remark he hears after baptismal preparation class at St. Brendan Church in Los Angeles is “Thank you for not talking down to us.” “And I don’t give them lists and definitions. Basically, I tell stories,” he adds.
It is that casual, colloquial narrative style that immediately differentiates Ascend. In plain language that is often blunt, Stoltz and Tomkovicz present the Christian Faith with respect for their own Roman Catholic tradition as well as other Christian traditions. Ascend is not just for Catholics, they say. “You know, 98 percent of what Catholics believe is the same as what is believed by Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans,” Tomkovicz notes. “We can’t present these beliefs as proprietary to our tradition. That’s just dishonest.” Still, the two deacons went through a diocesan review process with their book, and it’s published with the formal permission of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Firmly rooted in a modern approach to communication, Ascend draws wisdom not only from the saints and Christian writers, but also from The Simpsons, Stephen Colbert, South Park and The Beatles. The role models profiled are not only some familiar saints, but also lesser-known Christian witnesses of every culture and race. And they’re not all Roman Catholic.
“One thing we hear over and over when we show the design to others is ‘I know some people I want to give this to,’” says Stoltz. “And that’s where the book came from. For every line we were writing for people we knew, keeping in mind their life stories and concerns. And we believe there are a lot of other young adults—and not-so-young adults—who are looking for a book that does that for them.”
Deacon Eric Stoltz ministers at St. Brendan Church in Los Angeles. He has written for national Catholic magazines, including America and Commonweal. He has co-led three interfaith pilgrimages to the Holy Land made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims. He spent several years in the practice of public relations and is employed as a web developer at a dot-com startup.
Deacon Vince Tomkovicz ministers at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Westlake Village, Calif., where he is also employed as the parish business manager after enjoying a long career in finance. He has been married to his wife, Sue, for 41 years and they have three adult children. Certified as a master catechist, he and Sue also minister to prisoners in Ventura County correctional facilities.
Stoltz and Tomkovicz were ordained by Cardinal Roger Mahony for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2004.
Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation
by Eric Stoltz and Vince Tomkovicz
Available November 2009 from Paulist Press
Published with ecclesiastical permission
U.S. $24.99 paperback, ISBN 9780809146215
7 3/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 245 pages