Nov 222016
 

Just in time for Advent is Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations by Heidi Hess Saxton. With St. Teresa of Calcutta’s recent canonization, timely indeed.

This devotional is similar to many daily’s. An introductory snippet of scripture, a mediation for the day, a moment to reflect, and a closing prayer. The meditation is centered around an aspect of St. Teresa’s history, quotes, or both. I found the mediations worthwhile considering they are limited to a page or page and a half.

The number of days in Advent changes each year as to how much of a full four weeks of Advent there are in relation to Christmas. This book is able to cover a full four weeks along with Feast Days and Solemnities that occur. So it is pretty easy to follow.

  • Caveat: Review copy provider by publisher.
Nov 142016
 

Jimmy Akin’s latest release from Catholic Answers Press is A Daily Defense: 365 Days ( plus one) to Becoming a Better Apologist.

I have become quite found of books in the format of reading a short page a day. In Catholic circles these usually involve the writings of a specific saint, saints in general, or other spiritual topics. This is a good format that you can always make time for and I have found them to be quite worthwhile.

Still I have never seen this format used for a specifically apologetics work. I have been taking A Daily Defense a day at a time for the review instead of just rush-reading the whole. Now I more than suspected that this would contains clear and concise summaries on typical apologetic topics as is Jimmy Akin’s style. What I had not quite expected was how often they were presented in a fresh way. As an avid reader and listener of Catholic radio I suspect I have heard the vast majority of questions and answers on these topics. Yet the daily topic on Sola Scriptura was quite different than the usual objections. Just cut to the quick regarding what it would mean in application for much of the life of the Church.

Even the presentation of common arguments was enjoyable just for their precision and deft use of analogies. Plus no surprise that even Star Trek gets referenced and put to use.

So while this is a daily format book, it is also intended as a resource. At the end of the book is an Alphabetical Index where you can quickly look up topics you might be interested in. Plus throughout when topics are linked in some way to another topic, this is referenced with the related topic number.

Just excellent.

Another recent release by Jimmy Akin is Justification by Faith and Works?: What the Catholic Church Really Teaches (A Quick Read Book 1). I believe this is self-published on Amazon. The format as the title says is a Quick Read book, 17 pages for this entry. This format dives into a topic more in-depth than a typical tract.

The issue of justification has long been a divide for Catholics and Protestants. But there is not just confusion regarding what Protestants in general think Catholic believe about justification. Really many Catholics themselves have a confused idea regarding faith and works. He cuts through these confusions to show where there is actually convergence on this topic and what is actually divergent. Part of the problem is terminology differences and another is what aspect of justification is being talked about. The distinctions made are very helpful so that dialog is not just talking past each other.

I hope he is able to do more of these quick reads. His full length book The Drama of Salvation: How God Rescues You from Your Sins and Delivers You to Eternal Life goes into this topic in a fuller way – bite size chunks regarding specific aspects could have their own audience.

Caveats:

  • A Daily Defense was provided for review by Catholic Answers Press.
  • Justification by Faith and Works? was provided for review by the author.
Nov 082016
 

Hostile Witnesses: How the Historic Enemies of the Church Prove Christianity is one of the latest books from Catholic Answers Press and continue their excellence in offerings. I had previously read Gary G. Michuta’s book Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger and was impressed by his thoroughness.

This book takes a very interesting tack. It is sort of a compilation of back-handed compliments to the Church. How the assumptions made by her attackers in fact gave credibility to what the Church proclaims.

I had assumed that the book would take up the common extra-biblical sources of earlier non-Christian historians that I was somewhat familiar with. Instead it starts with the New Testament itself as the apt historical source for how people reacted to Jesus. For example assigning the source of Jesus’ miracles to demons, shows that they admit hew was a miracle worker. Time and time again he takes the New Testament critiques of Jesus and his disciples and shows what it affirms. Surprising how much information he was able to cull from this.

Later he does move on to Pagan and Jewish sources concerning what we can find from those hostile witnesses. Again the detective work he engages in confirm so many of Christianity’s claims from those who would deny them. There is a good deal more of this from sources than I expected. One detail concerning a change in law regarding the Holy Land I found quite surprising in that I had never run across it before. Not that I am such a scholar or expert – it is just that this piece of information would be one you would think would be more well-known.

He covers information in this period from the 2nd century to the time of Julian the Apostate. Besides the previous mentioned Pagans and Jewish writers, there is also information to be retrieved from Christian heretics of historical value.

Interestingly later chapters involve Islam, the Inquisition, the Protestant “Reformation”, Lourdes and Fatima, up to WWII. Once again there is a surprising amount of information to be gleamed from the Church’s enemies that actually validates the Church and her teachings.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book and not dry reading at all. He addresses various controversies regarding some historical sources fairly and makes sure to spell out where there are disputes regarding historical writings.

Oct 252016
 

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body is a collection of short stories with a theme involving the Theology of the Body.

If St. John Paul II ever summarized his Theology of the Body, it may have been when he said, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” But how does this sincere gift look when lived out by human beings with all their failings? What happens to our humanity when we withhold that sincere gift? What does life require of us when we give most deeply?

I have mixed feelings about this collection of stories. Mainly because I have mixed feelings regarding message fiction.

Still I found myself involved in most of the stories and the thematic tellings isn’t blunt instrument message fiction. It mostly succeeds in telling stories about people and their difficulties that feel pretty true-to-life. Since these are all ToB related they of course involve the sexual sphere and the consequences involved.

Most of the stories are cautionary tales that try to provide insight into the characters situations and the natural consequences. So mostly I enjoyed the stories, but it is pretty hard to get theological nuance without exposition. Although surprisingly one of the stories which is Science Fiction was rather good in that regard.

I struggle to think exactly what the audience for this book is. As just a collection of thematic short stories, it works to some extent. As a teaching tool it better succeeds into opening up a ToB viewpoint in a relaxed way.

Oct 042016
 

Karina Fabian latest novel is a SF first contact called Discovery.

First off there was just so much I enjoyed. I just love the concept of an order of Religious sisters dedicated to rescuing people involved in accidents in space (Our Lady of the Rescue).

An apparently dead alien starship is detected in the Kuiper Belt on an asteroid and a team has been sent out to investigate. The “Rescue Sisters” were sought out to join the mission and to provide training and oversee safety.

An interesting premise, but what I think I loved most was the characters in the story. There is lots of tension involving competing groups and individuals with there own ideas on what first contact might bring. A clash of worldviews. Their is some depth to the characters in the story. Various levels of brokenness among the crew and the sisters.

The faith of the sisters play a large part in the novel and the resolution of it. Villians in the plot are not two-dimensional characters just to provide tension and to move the plot. They have a realism to their motives and for the Rescue Sisters there is more than just physical rescuing.

Sister Rita, a central character, is having to face a situation she in part ran from as someone from her past is part of the crew. There were many ways this plot point could have gone cliche, but didn’t. The character of Sister Ann was quite memorable. She had a way of speaking in non-linear way of expressing the spiritual dimension of things. Perceptive and wise, but also having her own problems to resolve.

Add to this the discovery of something on the alien ship that throws the crew into conflict.

As a SF novel I thought the story was quite good on it’s own merit. How character-driven this novel was enhanced the story. I have read several of Karina Fabian’s books and the majority were comic novels making the most of a fun concept. Discovery is a more serious SF novel, but her wit does poke through from time to time. I would certainly like to read more of the Rescue Sisters.

While the Catholicism of the book is central to the main characters, it is integral with the story and is in no way “hit-you-over-the-head-message-fiction.”

Here is a recent interview she did with Ellen Gable Hrkach that I found interesting.

Sep 062016
 

When I received Faith Under Fire: Dramatic Stories of Christian Courage by Matthew Archbold I thought I already had a good idea regarding what it would cover. Figured it would focus extensively on the situation in the Middle East and elsewhere with the focused murder and persecution of Christians in those lands. While that is one aspect, this book is much broader than that important focus.

I found stories both familiar and ones I had not heard of. They follow the gamut from some form of persecution to martyrdom. Mostly they are stories of Christians living their faith in season and out of season. Stories of Christians who stepped in to problems situations to make them better. To fully give of themselves to others. The age of people chronicled in these stories also ranged from the young to the elderly.

Many of the stories are bittersweet and involve tragedy, yet the tragedy is not the final answer. Christianity has always been the way of the cross and Jesus told us the consequences of following him. While currently in the United States their is increasing persecution regarding religious liberty, it is still a soft persecution – even if disruptive to some people’s lives. It is how we live our faith in these circumstances and more severe ones that tell if we have really given our lives to Him.

Despite the bittersweet or tragedy, I found these witnesses to the faith encouraging. These stories are inspiring and remind us to turn to the Holy Spirit. That we are all called to be witnesses despite the circumstances. If we can live our faith fully with little or no pushback, then praise God. If we do receive pushback then praise God also in the spirit of Job’s words.

I also really enjoyed how the stories were told and framed together. This is not just some patchwork of news stories, but a result of research and interviews where possible.

Aug 112016
 

There is certainly a wealth of book regarding apologetical arguments to use with Protestants. Some that help you get across these arguments at the personal level. Devin Rose’s new book Navigating the Tiber: How to Help Your Friends and Family Journey Toward the Catholic Faith combines both of these aspects.

I really enjoyed how this book was laid out. The first chapter addresses the fact that Protestantism in not monolithic in any way. So it is important to have at least a general idea of the beliefs of the major branches of Protestantism. One branch of Protestant theology might be at odds with a specific aspect of Catholicism while will either practice or be close to the same belief. So when talking to someone you have to have some idea where they are coming from and what their specific nuances are.

Most importantly one of the underpinnings of this book is being in relationship with people. He describes several of his experiences with co-workers in getting to know them. It was only in getting to know people that he was able to decide when to broach subjects regarding religion or whether to broach the subject at all. While reading this I was thinking of the phrase used in apologetics “Win an argument, lose a soul.” This book is very aware of that pitfall and he references conversations he had over a period of time. There is always the pratfall of Biblical ping-pong slinging verses back and forth and point-scoring. So there is also prudence involved in knowing a conversation just is not going to be fruitful for either party.

Along the way the book builds on fruitful avenues when working with Protestants and some of the typical blindspots. Lots of solid apologetic material. Again though the strength of this book is relationships and how to have conversations on these subjects that actually brings light instead of heat.

Aug 082016
 

Whenever Trent Horn of Catholic Answers releases a new book I am always eager to read it. This time around he writes about Bible difficulties taking a systematic approach to approaching these difficulties and hard sayings.

Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties

I have read some books in this area, but as Trent Horn notes there is generally little by Catholic on the subject in recent times. I read and enjoyed Free from All Error: Authorship Inerrancy Historicity of Scripture, Church Teaching, and Modern Scripture Scholars from the late Fr. Most. Still this is an area that continuously needs to be addressed especially as the new atheism takes a fundamentalist jab at scriptural passages.

What I most like about this book is that it builds up a series of rules to use in interpretation and then recaps these 16 rules at the end. This book does not start out at the gate at looking at “campaigns of genocide”, but starts out looking a the Catholic view of scriptural interpretation. This is a necessary start which flows to the rest of the book. Understanding the canon of scripture and how it developed along with the various genres scripture uses.

This book does not attempt to go through every supposed difficulties but develops the rules using many well-known difficulties and the paths to resolve them. As is often the case there often multiple paths in understanding scripture and ways to resolve what at first seem to be stumbling blocks. Using these rules you are provide a template in resolving apparent contradictions. This does not mean that you might personally come up with a solution to such passages that you will perfectly satisfying. But it does help to see more in such paths to understanding.

So I found this book excellent by providing a rule based methodology to understanding Scripture from a Catholic perspective which can aid you into going deeper and building on this with the traditional understanding of the four senses of scripture.

Jul 052016
 

Deep Adventure

Listening to EWTN I have heard conversations with Bear Woznick a couple of times and found what he had to say interesting. At the time I knew nothing about him, but found that he is a two-time Masters World Champion Surfer. He mixes his experience in this and other sports with wisdom from the Greek philosophers and the treasury of the Church.

I found his new book Deep Adventure: The Way of Heroic Virtue to be fairly worthwhile and a good read. As you would expect there are a lot of sport metaphors in regard to living the spiritual life as a Catholic. St. Paul started this trend so this is something new. Sport metaphors work quite well when done right. I once remember a book that used Hockey to good ends in this regard.

Surfing is a sport I know next to nothing about, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying what he had to say. He takes you into this world in such a way that you can really see the attraction of it. He writes about his own spiritual struggles and coming to grips with truly living his faith in contrast to the lessons he learned from trying to master sports. This all works rather well and doesn’t feel contrived at all or attempting to illustrate to much out of his surfing examples.

In addition in between chapters is a story of a rescue he performed and this makes a nice narrative thread throughout. At times I was waiting between chapters to find out what happened next.

So if extended sports metaphors don’t put you off, this is some solid spiritual reading.

The Soul’s Upward Yearning

Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. is such a geek and I mean this is the best way possible. He has currently finished the third book of a four book set. I previously reviewed the first book in the series Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts (Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence). This time I have gotten around to The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason: 2 (Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence).

It is just astounding the various areas he covers in this book. Various studies on the history of religion and what this can teach us regarding the numinous experience. Epistemology and what we can learn from how we learn and how this points to God. Our desire for truth and how we naturally expect that there are answers and that the world is intelligible. Proofs for the transphysical and a look at what is called the “hard problem of self-conciousness”. Along the way there is plenty of philosophy and physics. Some of this is summarized from his book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

This is not exactly light reading. Fr. Spitzer though is good at explaining his material and provides the right amount of repetitiveness to help you to remember and to grasp the content. Still you certainly have to put some effort into reading this book to get the most out of it. I was able to grasp most of it so that pretty much means most people will also be able to do so. This series of books is quite geeky and covers a large range of human knowledge. I just loved how this particular book swamps you with lots of things to consider regarding our transcendent nature.

Jun 142016
 

So I had noticed a social media acquaintance had published a book, and so bought it in the interest of friendship. When it comes to self-published books I have lost some of my prejudice towards them as I have found some exceptionally good ones.

Specifically I am speaking of Vikings at Dino’s: A Novel of Lunch and Mayhem by William Duquette who blogs over at Cry ‘Woof!’.

The initial premise is that when Michael Henderson goes to lunch a band of Vikings trash the place performing all kinds of mayhem, and this happens every time he goes out to lunch. He starts with a Douglas Adams quote which sets the tone. Now I do enjoy when a funny premise is taken advantage of and that is certainly done here. The comic tone of Michael as he deals with these unpleasant intrusions of murderous Vikings was pretty funny at times.

What I did not expect that the story would evolve to a extremely good Science Fiction story. He brought the premise out of the comic realm into believable situation. This was expertly done. Even better he took what might have had average time travel elements and did something new with them. Done in a way that time travel paradoxes had nothing to do with the story at all.

Being aware that William Duquette is both a lay Dominican and a programmer I was not surprised to find some elements of that in the story. So there is some philosophical treatment of understanding the mechanics of what makes this a SF story. The central protagonist also being a programmer provides a partial problem-solving worldview in dealing with this odd situation. This aspect is totally integrated into the story and make it a better story. As a programmer myself, it certainly made me smile at times.

This was just an excellent novel that fired on all cylinders. That took basic tropes and built upon them developed characters. There was much in this novel I did not expect, but nothing I did not immensely enjoy. I really really hope this novel develops into sequels since it is easily one of the best things I have read this year. So for selfish reasons I urge you to obtain this book, because I want more!