Set Free to Love: Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body is a new book by blogger Marcel Lejeune. Marcel who is the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M has provided us with book of testimonials of how Theology of the Body has changed people’s lives.
This book could almost have been called “Surprised by Theology of the Body” as a homage to Patrick Madrid’s Surprise by Truth series of convert stories. Many of the stories in this book are indeed conversion stories to the Catholic Church where Pope John Paul’s II’s teaching of the Theology of the Body had a major role. Many of the stories involve living lives at odds with Catholic teaching on sexuality and TOB contributed to helping them understand this teaching and to provide healing. Though not all of the stories are conversion stories. The book leads off with a testimonial by a priest where TOB helped to provide him a deeper understanding. There is a mix of stories from religious, priests, and the laity.
I would see the focus and purpose of this book as a way to introduce people to the Theology of the Body through personal stories. Marcel provides an introduction to the subject and you learn more about TOB throughout the book, but it is not an in-depth primer on the subject and is not intended to be. I think that it would certainly spur people on to learn more about TOB. I found most of the stories interesting myself and it makes me want to finally getting around to reading the Pope’s writings as translated and introduced by Michael M. Waldstein. So as a tool for evangelization I would recommend this book. If I were to make any changes to the book I would have started off with one of the conversion stories instead since I think this would have worked out better for the target audience.
Some time ago The Ironic Catholic recommended Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese. There are not too many books in the genre of hilarious novels involving the Apocalypse. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman certainly set the standard for this small genre and setting a very high bar being laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end.
I was certainly delighted to find that Mercury Falls holds up quite well in comparison. There was much to laugh about, smirk about, groan about, and just plain smile about as I read through this novel. Mercury a rather independent thinking Angel ends up teaming with Christine Temetri a reporter who finds herself only covering nut jobs warning of the coming Apocalypse. Of course this time the Apocalypse has really arrived and Satan has other plans than following the plot spoiler concerning him revealed in the Book of Revelation. Along the way we meet the Anti-Christ who had been living with his mother for support and we learn a lot about the end times and linoleum. Robert Kroese takes these elements and runs with them, puns with them, and shows himself to be a very talented humor writer that should be much more known.
When I received Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life I thumbed through it and though that this was a great coffee table style book. Full of beautiful pictures of a range of art concerning Mary from the early Church until today. The panels of information on the various pictures provided background information on the artist if known and what seemed to me mostly solid information on the art itself with some good insights.
For the most part the book achieves it’s purpose from a art history point of view along with commentary by the author of the book in her own thoughts and reflections. Most of these thoughts and reflections were interesting and useful. This is not to say that I did not have any caveats, I do and to my mind some rather serious flaws.
This book is published by Random House which I would consider to be rather mixed in the books I have received from them for review. I can’t swear to it but I think the words “Feminist Theologian” were used more times than the word Jesus. I really don’t like agenda theologians because it is not that they don’t have valid insights, it is just that their insights could be so much richer if they did not block part of their view intentionally. For example one of the quotes uses is by Mary Daly who who described herself as a “radical lesbian feminist” and the sidebar quote is about the Church’s “sexist theology.” Even odder is the fact that this same quote shows up in the sidebar twice in this book. Another weird choice is quoting Simone de Beauvoir from “The Second Sex.” To be fair the majority of the quotes were fine and included some more orthodox writers.
The chapter titled “Mother Goddess” I certainly could have done without since it was muddled in it’s explanation that seemed at times to make the charge that Veneration of Mary arose out of goddess worship. The proclamation of Mary as Theotokis in Ephesus was a triumph over the worship of Artemis – not a transference of worship. Certainly the Ephesians shouting with joy in the streets about the proclamation knew the difference since this was certainly a time when minor points of Catholic theology could lead to fist fights.
If you are reading a book detailing what is mostly Catholic art through the centuries and the beauty of his art it is rather incongruent to read:
“Understanding beauty as an attribute of faith and ethical living has long fallen out of favor. Suppressed for much of Christian history as a suspect accomplice to the sinful pleasures of the flesh, the worship of false idols, and the enjoyment of present earthly life in disregard of the future joys of heaven, beauty has been made the beast.”
I found that paragraph to frankly be mind-numbingly dumb. “Suppressed for much of Christian history”, by who? While certainly there have been the iconoclasts in first the Ea t (though cured of this) and then later by Protestants, they did not have an effect of suppressing the art produced by Catholics other than wrecking churches. Later she goes on to complain about Vatican I and Papal Infallibility and how polarizing this was – something she references twice in different parts of the book. Here complaints about the use of Papal Infallibility regarding the Assumption and her Immaculate Conception were out of place in an art history book. These argument especially in regards to Protestants she makes I have always found lacking. As if proclaiming these two dogmas broke the Protestant Camel’s back and if only the Pope hadn’t done this they would have been more open to the Church.
The final chapter was another odd choice. If you are going to close out a book on the history of Marian art and picking out some of the most beautiful examples and wanted to highlight a Cathedral in this regard – which one would you choose. Maybe it is just me, but I would not have picked out “Our Lady of the Angels” in Los Angeles with it’s Vulcan looking Mary as the Cathedral to point out.
What I found annoying was that so much of this book was quite good, but the problems I referenced made it something I could not really recommend full-heartidly. Though someone grounded in their faith might be able to overlook these caveats for what was good in the book.