Apr 092014

This partial review is part of a blog tour for the recently released paperback edition of Fr. Barron’s Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. This blog tour is focused on reviewing one chapter from this book.

So I will be looking at Chapter 10 – World Without End: The Last Things which is quite appropriate for Lent.

This book grew out of Fr. Robert Barron’s major project to produce a media series that explained the faith using the scenery of 50 locations throughout 16 countries. Having seen the Catholicism series I felt it was very successful at what it aimed to do.

The chapter I am exploring on the Last Things is very indicative of Fr. Barron’s teaching method. Using literary examples, places, and events to set a theme that opens you up to the philosophical and theological points he makes. It is no surprise that Dante’s Divine Comedy was used as more than just a backdrop to illustrate an introduction into the topics of hell and purgatory. A discussion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet also is made use of in exploring this topic. Mostly I enjoyed they way he used the literary narrative to help define terms and to help the reader move beyond just a cultural view of hell, purgatory, and Heaven.

This book is not intended to provide an exhaustive apologetics in this area or to fully look at Catholic distinctive such as purgatory. A 291 page book on the topic of Catholicism is not meant to replace the Catechism, but to take the reader on a tour of the faith. Distilling the Catholicism series down to a book is not a simple task. The black-and-white images in the book just don’t have the majesty of the video locations and so I found them to be only vaguely useful in providing an accent to the topic discussed.

I am a big fan of Fr. Barron’s teaching method and have been a long time fan of his Word on Fire site from the beginning. Unfortunately when it comes to the topic of the last things this chapter left me cold. Generally I found most of it worthwhile, but some aspects I found either missing or presenting more of a personal point-of-view over what the Church teaches.

For example when you lead off a topic mentioning Protestant objections to Purgatory and subsequently reference what 2 Maccabees 12 says I found to be a bit odd. I did not expect a thorough scriptural apologetics defense of purgatory, but there is no reason to bring up Protestant objections unless you are going to try to answer them in even a general way.

Mainly what annoyed me on this topic of the last things was the discussion of hell and the idea that there might not be anybody in hell. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously wrote on this topic and Fr. Barron’s seems to take the same view of Balthasar’s book Dare We Hope?. This idea was repeatedly interjected. Mostly what annoyed me is that nowhere was it mentioned that this is a very minority opinion and that it has no backing from the Church’s magisterium. If you have a personal theological opinion than it should be labeled as such, especially in the case of a general book on the faith. Regarding my own personal opinion I think Balthasar’s idea is severely flawed and for an excellent look on what the Church teaches and why Balthasar is mistaken I would highly recommend Ralph Martin’s Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. Still I am less concerned with the population of hell other than making sure I don’t increase that population by one.

When you have a chapter on the last things I would also have expected some discussion regarding judgment especially as part of the traditional reference to the four last things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. There is certainly some consideration regarding sin in this chapter, but it seemed to me that the non-discussion regarding judgment was connected to his view on the population of hell. I could easily be reading too much into this.

Writing this review rather pains me since if my review had covered pretty much any other chapter in this book it would have been much more positive and without so many caveats. Especially since there was much that I enjoyed in this chapter in particular regarding the angels and the fallen angels. His exploration of a look at the devil via Dante’s Inferno is spot on.

Feb 252014

Fr. Dwight Logenecker’s new book The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is somewhat of a sequel to his previous book Adventures in Orthodoxy. Being that the previous books is one of my favorites I was very happy to see this book.

Fr. Longenecker was kind enough to send me an advance copy of this book last year and I found it quite excellent. Recently I was sent a PDF copy of the final book to review and I had no hesitation regarding a re-read.

Towards the beginning of the book he relates the episode of as a child hearing the story regarding Jesus overturning the moneychanger’s tables.

The righteous religious people told me that Jesus turned over the tables because he disapproved of the merchants selling things in church. …

This, however, never convinced me. I knew the truth. Jesus turned over the tables in the temple because he enjoyed it. He trashed the place. He was angry. He sent the pigeons flying. The sheep and goats went bleating as he gave the thieves a beating. He scattered the proud in their conceit and dashed their little heads against the pavement. The story thrilled me. No longer would I believe only in the gentle Jesus who took little kiddies on his lap and blessed them. …

It is no coincidence that Fr. Longenecker goes on to overturn a bunch of tables himself in this book. Just like his Chestertonian blog name “[Standing on my head][]” reflects viewing things from a different perspective, the landscape of overturned tables also helps you see things for the first time.

Specifically what “The Romance of Religion” successfully does is to view the faith through the eyes of a romantic hero. The type of romantic hero who is seen as a bit of fool from the outside. To take the great stories of just this type of romantic fool and to glimpse the truth that such stories stand upon. We look to articles, newscasts, and other media to fill us with facts while really it is often in the story where we will find the truth of the world. That this adventure in the romance of religion uses Don Quixote, Cyrano de Bergerac, and even Reepicheep to make these points adds to the enjoyment.

For those familiar with Fr. Longenecker you would expect a certain playfulness with words and phrases that both ring out and ring true. The playfulness of his writing with the inherent puns first make you laugh and then make you think. I also enjoyed his looking at the roots of certain words so that you more fully understood them. The title “The Romance of Religion” might seem like an odd choice at first, but he shows how the etymology of “Romance” fits perfectly. If you can’t see your faith as an adventure and a quest then you need a bit of “head standing” to see correctly.

This is a rather sneaky book in that it is the apologetics of the fairy tale. The big questions as seen through the big stories. Really it is surprising how well this technique works in answering some common objections as seen in apologetics.

I found my second reading of this book to be quite worthwhile in that there is just so much to be drawn from both his playfulness with words, but the ideas behind them that reveal the deeper reality.

My previous review of Adventures in Orthodoxy

Mandatory Chesterton quote:

“…If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.”

- The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Jan 222014

In the aftermath of the slew of books by the so-called new atheists there has been a wealth of material in book-form in reply. Of the several books I have read they have all provided good material in answering atheism.

The main weakness of the majority of the books I have read regarding atheism in apologetics is that I also found that these books were not ones that I would really suggest an atheist to read. While reading them I reflected that if I was still an atheist that I would have found the tone to be too condescending or confrontational. My only previous exception to this I found was New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy by Fr. Robert J. Spitzer S.J. Although this book was not a general apologetics work and almost entirely confined itself to where the philosophical and the scientific arguments intersected.

When I first heard that Trent Horn from Catholic Answers was putting out a book on atheism I had high hopes that maybe here would be a book that I could recommend to atheists who were interested in hearing arguments against atheism. I have greatly enjoyed Trent Horn’s answers on Catholic Answers especially when they spend a whole show dialoging with atheists. I am very happy to report that Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity is exactly the book I have been waiting for.

I liked almost just about everything about this book and the serious effort it makes to take atheist objections seriously. You can certainly see the St. Thomas Aquinas approach here where objections are put forth accurately before the “on the contrary” reply to the objection. There are always going to be tensions between writing an apologetics book for a popular audience while addressing technical philosophical and scientific questions. Trent Horn has navigated these tensions rather well and solved part of this problem by moving some more technical discussions to appendixes without leaving out meat in the main chapters. I also really enjoyed some of the arguments employed and some of the nuances that he used that I had not encountered before.

So as the subtitle of this book focused on using logic and charity I think the really hit this out of the park. This is a great book for anybody that wants to brush up on or explore the arguments/ways of knowing that God exists.

This is also a book that can be easily recommended to atheists and not have them just dismiss it in frustration. At one time I was naive enough to believe that a solid book of this type would of its own be a great conversion tool. I have since learned that grace, disposition, and timing is even a more necessary requirement before logic. Yet this book at least will help towards fertilizing that rocky soil.

Dec 032013

In Michael O’Brien’s new book Voyage to Alpha Centauri he enters the genre of Science Fiction. This book is both in some ways totally different from his previous books and very similar. All the themes he explores are present in this story. Elements present in his “Children of the Last Day” series are especially present such as an intrusive government and the loss of religious freedom. The collision of these factors providing tension along with personal conversion. Yet some of this is handled more tangentially than his previous books.

Neil Ruiz de Hoyos as a young man meets with an accident that both marks him and opens up a new vista for him. His later career as a physicist bring him two Nobel prizes. His work leads partially to the construction of a ship that goes on an expedition to Alpha Centauri where he is a passenger. We see the voyage through his journal entries where he writes about the voyage, his life and childhood, and the discoveries they encounter on a planet in the system of Alpha Centauri. An epistolary novel works quite well when it comes to covering the large amount of time involved in such a voyage where journal entries can just highlight what is going on in the main.

As a man Neil is both private and reaching out for friendships. A man raised in a Catholic family, but now with no faith which has been supplanted by a scientific skepticism. Yet somebody who is also skeptical regarding a form of government enforced political correctness and just following along with societal trends. Despite what he encounters and learns from his small core of friends there are some things he would rather explain away than to truly understand. This all provides the backdrop for the momentous events that occur on the trip out and ultimately what they learn on the planet they explore.

I am already a Michael O’Brien and my first love when it comes to books is Science Fiction. So I am totally delighted to have these two together. Just considering the SF aspects of the novel there is a lot to enjoy and adding the deeper theological and societal dimensions you have so much more than presented in so much rather shallow SF. The plot that develops is rather stunning and ties together nicely the blend of SF and theology. I especially liked how many levels the novel had and that the prevalent themes on the journey out became quite different on arrival. Some of the subtler Biblical themes also added to the enjoyment in that he didn’t have to hit you over the head with them. Highly recommended.

Oct 212013

I have read several biographies on Pope Francis and they all did a fairly good job covering his life up to his accepting the chair of Peter. While covering the basic facts rather well and giving some measure of the man, I really did not come away feeling I knew him at all really.

This new book put out by Ignatius Press is more than just another biography. Pope Francis – Our Brother, Our Friend: Personal Recollections about the Man Who Became Pope by Alejandro Bermudez is something a bit different. The book is a series of interviews of people who knew him as a priest, bishop or both. While some basic questions were asked of each person this lead down several pathways in intriguing ways.

The first half of the book were interviews of Jesuits and I found these interviews the most interesting. These interviews for me gave me more of the measure of the man. Especially since all the Jesuits interviewed were not exactly Jorge Bergoglio fanboys. There were plenty of back-handed compliments considering Bergoglio theological orthodox in that he was not considered “adventurous” enough. You could certainly read behind the scenes that some of these Jesuits considered this a defect in what they thought was an otherwise goodman. Still there a a common thread of great respect for the man even from his theological adversaries. He seemed to have won them over not by pretending that these theological differences did not matter, but that he could deeply care for and be concerned with a person he had fundamental disagreements with. This fact was evidenced throughout the various interviews interviews.

Some of the questions asked were what you would expect since they were the hot button ones concerning his life as a priest and then bishop. For example the time he spent as a Jesuit superior at a rather young age during a very difficult time in Argentina along with his actions regarding the dirty war there. All the interviewees were asked about their own reaction when the announcement was made that he was elected. The answers to this question didn’t really add much to the book and it is no surprise that they were surprised.

Other interviews came from layman and some of the journalists involved with books released about him or his book project with Rabbi Skorka (who was also interviewed).

We have heard a good deal about his simplicity and austere lifestyle. His great concern for the individual in talking and listening to them. There are some great stories in this book in how he takes action totally uniting what he preached with what he did. Another great thread is how much he is a man of prayer and also a very capable spiritual director. One of the questions I had wondered about the Pope is his leadership abilities? How he came to make decisions and how he implemented and followed up? There are plenty of good and holy people that have poor leadership skills – Pope Celestine V come to mind regarding this. The answer to this really came through regarding his leadership abilities. That this is a man who seeks advice, but is not afraid to make a decision. Someone who expects things do be done correctly and as he specified. Willing to let people know when things were not being done right, yet showing mercy to those who messed up.

I found this passage by Father Angel Rossi, S.J. to be indicative about what others said about him:

So if I would have to single out only one thing that always remains with me—even though I do not know if I practice it, I am nevertheless grateful for it—it is his sense of mercy. Very few times have I seen mercy at the depths to which he lives it, and it does not consist in allowing anything whatever to happen, but, rather, in taking charge of the hearts of others and suffering and enjoying life with others. And he brought this to the other person with a very refined charity, a charity of gestures.

While it doesn’t really matter if I approve of the Pope or not, I am rather looking forward to seeing his leadership style of both collaboration and decisive decision making as it plays out in the years to come. In his short time as Pope I don’t think we have really seen this played out yet. Although for example his appointment of eight Cardinal advisors is part of his leadership pattern.

One other interesting insight in the book is the events around a particular Te Deum Mass. These Te Deum Masses are common in Latin America on their national independence day. At the time President of Argentina Cristina Fernández and her husband (the ex-president) took as an insult the homily given by Cardinal Bergoglio. It seems likely his homily on poverty and service was aimed at everybody and they out of arrogance thought it was all about them. This event and his later speaking out forcefully against so-called same-sex marriage got him charged as interfering in politics. Some of this is related by Lilian Negre a pro-life and pro-family senator who often consulted with the Cardinal.

Overall I found this to be an intriguing book and one that helped me flesh out the man beyond the normal biographical details.

Oct 142013

The history of Elizabethan England and the persecution of Catholics is quite interesting. When I think of it I think of the recusants along with the priest holes. A time of severe trial for Catholics along with so many martyrdoms. There are some classic novels covering some aspects of this time period such as Edmund Campion by Evenlyn Waugh and Come Rack! Come Rope! by Mon. Robert Hugh Benson. So I was quite interested when I saw the mention of a book called Treason: A Catholic Novel of Elizabethan England by Dena Hunt. When I saw that Joseph Pearce highly recommended it and wrote a introduction to it I was certain I wanted to read it. Add the fact that it is published by Sophia Institute Press and had an ebook edition at a very reasonable price I bumped it up in books I wanted to read.

What I found was that not only was this book an equal to the two classics I mentioned, but in some ways it excelled them. I was so caught up in the story that it was easy to forget that it was historical fiction. What I especially liked was the focus on Catholic families and their struggles. Other books concentrate on specific historical figures and specifically the martyrdom of priests. There is some of that aspect in this book, but also the white martyrdom of the recusants. The complexities of the political situation along with how individuals reacted to it is displayed in such a way that you can better understand the history. Still it is the characters and the writing that so bring this book alive and when you add the rich spiritual dimension you have a great book.

Catholics can find this piece of history interesting as they try to imagine how they would react if Catholicism became outlawed. Especially considering the current attack on religious freedom here in the United States and elsewhere. Yet the reality displayed within the book makes me wonder what my own choices would be. Would I take the path of the recusants or be a hidden Catholic? Looking at the simular situation in China with the Patriotic Catholic churches and the underground churches it is also easy to imagine ourselves as attending the underground church.

One of the other compelling points in the book is the change in the country that began to see Catholics as actual traitors to the country. Obviously the title of the book gives this away. In some ways it hard to understand how this historically Catholic country could so transform itself that Catholicism became a traitorous act. Yet really the tying of a kind of patriotic nationalism and faith is nothing new. Such shifts can occur quite rapidly as the Protestant “reformation” proved. That what political party someone belongs to can say more about what aspects of the faith they accept than the fact that they are Catholic. The tension between what belongs to Caesar and God seems to constantly favor Caesar.

What I loved about this book, despite how bittersweet it was, is what it taught me while totally enjoying the fictional story. A book that I simply did not just leave behind as I started another book. A book that I am still thinking about.

Sep 302013

Two years ago I reviewed Sinner by Lino Rulli which was a very funny and at times serious book and piecemeal autobiography. Lino Rulli who hosts “The Catholic Guy” on Sirius Radio has now written a follow-up book Saint: Why I Should Be Canonized Right Away. This is a very tongue-firmly-in-cheek framework where Lino explains how his life so far qualifies him to be canonized a saint. This is another piecemeal autobiography where he explores parts of his life topically not sequentially.

Along the way behind all the humor there are serious points to be made about living your life as a Catholic. Again what is appealing about his books is the total lack of pretention and the honest look at himself faults and all. Although this is beyond defensive self-deprecating humor and is more along of the lines of simple honesty. The first book contained many funny stories from his life that seemed like almost a running gag punctuated with hard-to-believe facts like that his father left his job to become an organ-grinder. There is even more along that theme in this book involving the circus.

The canonize-me-now framework of the book mostly works as a humor device since you always know it is a device and not pride. So there is some nice comedy regarding this aspect. I especially enjoyed this since I have explored some of the same humor in some of my own posts Saintly Planning and n Planning to be a Doctor of the Church.

One annoying aspect of the book is that I found way to much that I could relate to. I had plenty to commiserate with Lino on. I would rather laugh at Lino struggles, than my own. Still I think many will find points of contact with what he writes. I’ve personally found laughing at my own faults to be a help in both acknowledging them and repenting of them. So I found lots of points of contact, but his later chapter regarding his struggles with his large nose hit too close to home. Although mine is not Italian and more along the lines of W.C. Fields (no surprise I once did him as a character in a show).

I had fun reading this book and it is a nice companion to his first book. Certainly not for everybody, especially those who are sensitive regarding the use of humor alongside of discussions of the faith. I suspect those that read my blog don’t have that problem. Still I occasionally get emails complaining about the mixture of the two.

Sep 092013

Over the years I have heard bits and pieces of author and literary critic Joseph Pearce’s conversion story. I always wanted to hear more since the basic details seemed so wild. I usually find conversion stories as a genre fascinating since while there are similarities in each one, there is also a uniqueness to the individual. Some conversion stories seem much more dramatic such as St. Paul who went from persecutor to Apostle. Joseph Pearce’s conversion story certainly has those striking elements especially how radical his previous convictions were.

So I was quite delighted when I saw that Saint Benedict Press was coming out with Race With the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love. For those who do not know anything about his conversion story the subtitle gives some idea.

What surprised me in this book was just how involved Joseph Pearce had been involved in racist and anti-Catholic movements. He was not just on the periphery of these movements, but was an organizer of them. An editor of the newspaper for the National Front and his involvement from the age of fourteen on is hard to fathom. As a reader you want to come to understand how a young man could turn down this road of racist hate and to devote his life to it.

His father’s racism certainly played a part in this and was an influence. One of the things I loved most about this book was the way people in Joseph Pearce’s life were described. This was especially true in regards to his father’s who he wrote about lovingly, flaws and all. His father was full of contradictions being vocally racist and anti-Catholic he could as the author describes “genuinely love his fellow man.” I can totally understand this. While in the Navy I only met a couple of vocal racists. One I worked with tried to convince me that the music of Jimi Hendrix was actually written and performed by Robin Trower. He had many such crazy racist and misogynist opinions, but when it came to working with others he treated them quite decently.

His portrayal of the complexities of his father really carries on throughout the book regarding the intricacies of the people he worked with in such evil movements. You see the friendships he developed through his eyes and come to understand something more about them than just the corrupting worldview they inhabited. This is a story of redemption and the hope for the redemption of others.

The various chapters first deal with his dissent into racism and the various influences and philosophies that he thought confirmed his choices. His writing put him at the center of the National Front which he worked for full time. Soccer hooliganism also became an outlet for his racial hatred. This carried on to later becoming involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland supporting the Protestant loyalists against the hated Catholics. His attempt to stir up even more trouble resulted in what he called “flirting with terrorism.” As a reaction to “Rock against racism” he started “Rock against Communism” which was largely a skinhead phenomenon as he describes. He was very involved in promoting this effort along with writing about this music in every issue of the Bulldog. He was jailed twice under the Race Relations Act because of his writings. The first time he was jailed he left just as firm in his convictions as when he entered and he and others saw him as a martyr to the cause. By the time he went back to jail his ideas were experiencing a transformation. Retaining his racism while trying to hold in tension other things he was learning.

It was these other literary influences that were opening him up. G.K. Chesterton was one of these great influences and many others followed including Belloc and C.S. Lewis. Yet at first he was only opening himself up to what he found compatible with his viewpoint especially as regard their social vision and alternative to big government.

“Even AS Chesterton, Belloc and Lewis were working their unseen and grace-filled magic, enlightening my mind and healing my heart imperceptibly, I continued to pursue the paths of radical politics as if nothing was changing.”

I think many converts can identify with this in some respect. Being opened to something higher while holding to our previous opinions. Looking back it becomes hard to see how we could hold such things in tension not seeing the contradictions.

Yet the seeds were planted and by the time he finished his second prison sentence he was not the same man who had served the first on. His path out of racism and into the Catholic Church was now on a slow course as his changing attitude was putting him at odds with his personal relationships.

This is such a deeply satisfying biography and conversion story. If I would have seen him as a young man I would have written him off as unredeemable scum. Like the racists it is easy to group people and just write them off. Our hatred for such a philosophy translates to hatred of the person with no willing of the good towards them. In this book he describes a couple of encounters that deeply affected him in regards to people that treated him in a manor that transcended the way he acted and appeared. This is such an unlikely story of racist to biographer and literary critic and such an insightful writer. Yet the movement of grace is wonderful to behold.

Sep 042013

Having admired the reporting and coverage provided by Ann Carey regarding women in religious life in the United States I had been interested in reading her book “Sisters in Crisis.” Considering this book was first published in 1997 I had wished for an updated version especially considering recent history. So I was delighted to see Sisters in Crisis Revisited: From Unraveling to Reform and Renewal which exactly fulfilled my desire.

There was a lot of information I wanted to see regarding the history of women religious in the United States from mostly the sixties forward. Exactly how did we come to the current situation and exactly who were the people that had a fundamental influence on this is something I am very interested in. As a convert I am always seeking to fill in my lack of knowledge regarding the Church in the United States.

A book of this type can become easily polemical and just come down to “religious habits good”, “pant suits bad” along with various stereotypes.

Finally, I am uncomfortable with using the terms liberal and conservative for religious orders because of the political connotations of the terms and also because they carry negatie images for many people. Therefore, I follow the example of sociologist Helen Rose Fuchs Ebaugh by using the term change-oriented to describe sisters of religious institutes inclined to seek a new definition of religious life by expanding the boundaries usually associated with the religious state. I use the term traditional to describe sisters or institues that adhere to the traditional understanding of religious life as contained in Vatican II documents and other Church teachings. Neither term should be construed as inherently negative.

I thinks this was a good decision as I have also dropped using terms like liberal, conservative, progressive etc when describing Catholics as much as possible. Even if I might quibble with the term change-oriented, I find it useful here.

In 2009 when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced a formal doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR and then later the Doctrinal Assessment itself I remember the news being reported as if this was something totally out of left-field and such a surprise. This books shows that if anything it was decades later then it could have been. Still the CDF acts slowly and deliberately and there are many good reasons for this.

This is quite a comprehensive history detailing both all of the personalities involved and the sequences of events. Over and over again I was impressed just how much research was involved. Even more I was impressed by the writing style that lays out all the information without becoming just a dry regurgitation of facts. Mostly the author just lets the facts of the actual history tell the story with minimal editorial content. Ann Carey’s own comments and opinions are short and to the point and nicely punctuate the history. Basically they are snark-free, although you can note the authors astonishment at times regarding the history she is putting forth.

There was just so much I learned from this book that really helped me fill in the gaps. As much as I enjoyed it the book does not exactly make for joyful reading. The author describes how much of this came about as a “perfect storm” that took place among the cultural storm of the sixties and the false narrative of how Vatican II was going to change everything. The fact that religious life really needed a renewal is something easy to forget. There were many aspects of religious life that needed updating or a second look at. The education of women in religious life had been deficient and was only just starting to be addressed. The high numbers of those in religious life in the early sixties partly hid the fact that the healthiness of these religious orders was not all that it should have been.

Really it seems that not only did the baby get thrown out with the bathwater, but that the bath was thrown out also. The term change-oriented is accurate in that it seems change-for-change sake was the order of the day. The Vatican’s call for updating and experimentation was mostly met with a giddy-excitement of the possibilities for new ways of living religious life. What later became knows as “The spirit of Vatican II” seems to be quite evident in this early thinking. Unfortunately it seems the majority of women religious did not actually get to see the documents of Vatican II or were treated with some early translations that were not as accurate as they could have been. Word at the time that Canon Law was also going to be rewritten caused even more turmoil and the false expectation of the changes to be made and the false assumption regarding the applicability of the current Canon Law and other Church documents.

There were so many parts of this history that were very frustrating to read. It was not that tens of thousands of those in religious life decided that everything was now in flux and acceptable. Mostly it seems to me that there were a dedicated core of women who came to believe in a totally different view regarding how religious life is to be lived that often had much more of a political identity and a push towards some specific social justice issues. Over and over you see the names of many of these individuals repeated as part of different groups and efforts. Ann Carey describe how some of this happened as a coup and that seems rather accurate. The transition of the US Conference of Major Superiors of Women’s Institutes (CMSR) to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is rather an amazing story.

What surprised me was just how much dissent, equivocations, and disdain for the so-called institutional Church there was at the start of these events. Documents and guidance from the Church were often met by a very negative response. Any intervention from bishops and the Vatican was sometimes described as violence. If they were not consulted they considered it violent even as they took actions without consulting others in their orders. Some of the behavior I have noticed from the LCWR is quite evident in its history. For example dialogue meaning we are willing to enter into dialogue with you as a delay tactic or until you just give in. How the LCWR came about and its very name is an example of this. This book provides tons of documentary evidence regarding the adversarial relationship these leaders showed to the Church and the tactics used that seemed more akin to dirty politics than to religious life. One piece of information I found in the book I thought to be an excellent example of what went wrong. A building was constructed for retired and infirmed nuns that included a beauty shop but no chapel.

Again it should be emphasized that so often those who became leaders in this change-oriented movement were not necessarily representative of those they were suppose to represent. This is also evident by the fact that the Vatican approved the CMSWR (Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious) a group of traditional-minded women in religious life that broke away from the LCWR. At the time the Vatican had never approved two different organizations representing women religious in the same country.

I really could go on and on with this review since there was just so much information that fascinates me and so many episodes of this history that grabbed my attention. Again I was impressed with how Ann Carey wrote on this topic steering clear of demonizing people and being quite balanced in the telling of this history.

While this book totally satisfied me in regards to a specific history of women religious associated with the LCWR, women’s ordination movements, and other associated groups there are other aspects I would like to learn more about. For example I would love this author or another one to chronicle a history for example of women religious associated with the CMSWR. Mother Angelica’s story has been told already in book form, but I bet there are tons of other interesting stories involving other women’s religious institutes and the paths they took that took a divergent path from the LCWR. Mother Dolores Hart in her book [The Ear of the Heart][heart] also chronicles to some extent adaptations after Vatican II at Regina Laudis which were much more aligned with the intent of what Vatican II called for.

There are references to men in religious life along with priests, especially those who inspired or were sympathetic with the change-oriented orders. There is probably a closely paralleled history regarding them along with some major differences. Plus the other context I would like to see are the currents worldwide in religious life in how they compared and diverged from what happened here.

Aug 052013

Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st Century Opponents is a new book by Radio host Al Kresta. Now I am already thoroughly a Kresta-fanboy in that I never miss his show via podcast (I review his podcast here).

This book takes on a variety of topics that might not be a the forefront of what you think are the biggest opponents to the Catholic faith. It is also interesting what he has not listed in this book. In the introduction he noted a “book can only be so big” and so deliberately not bring up the biggest part of the culture wars regarding abortion and same-sex marriage. As he noted there are many fine books on these topics. Al Kresta addresses four main parts with chapters dedicated to what he describes as opponents.

While this book includes mentions of many famous personalities, this book concentrates primarily on beliefs and philosophies of the people mentioned. The first chapter deals with Oprah and how she mainstreamed so many New Age and other self-styled spiritualities. There is a lot of interesting information here looking at Oprah’s early turning away from Christianity partly over the problem of evil to her openness to entertaining seriously so many individuals who have repackaged the “Law of attraction” and other New Age spiritualists. Part One addresses both competing spiritualities and and abuse of scripture to support them. It is interesting that the area is has concentrated on in this regard is the New Age movement, reincarnation, and Islam. An interesting mix and I think an accurate selection of some of the spiritual competitor to Christianity.

Part Two addresses science and religion a topic that often gets addressed on his radio show. Scientism as a philosophy has infected so much of modern thinking and its usual fruits of materialism and relativism. Expecting that anything true must be proven by the scientific method while maintaining a philosophy not subjected to this method. Scientism has become almost a spirituality for atheists and agnostic along of course with some theists. That he titled this section “Abusers of Science and Reason” is quite apt.

In Part Three we see abuse in the form of revisionism. Mostly a revisionism towards scripture and to an understanding of scripture and tradition passed down. This abuse comes from a throng of opponents such as religions like Mormonism and others who invent a great apostasy to explain why their beliefs can’t be found in the history of Christendom. The same is true of the Jesus Seminar that also takes its preconceptions as a lens to narrow down scripture to only what they already accepted. We also see a sort of revisionism of the human person as regards to Transhumanism. We will make ourselves into our own image of what we should be.

In the last part of the book we see a secularized government that strives to take control of all aspects of our lives to consumerism where a barrage of messages are crafted by business for a constant cycle of desire and hopeful-fulfillment. Often both of these are more than just two sides of the same coin, but maybe both on the same side.

So what this book delivers is an honest perspective of who are opponents are in the realm of ideas. To be able to pray for our enemies we need a good understanding of who are enemies are and specifically the philosophies that drive them. What Al Kresta has been able to do here is to both document and provide analysis regarding these dangers to our faith. This book contains close to a hundred pages of notes at the end of the book providing references to pretty much every thing mentioned and asserted. The balanced view this book applies is not the type that drives you to anger concerning these false world-views, but a helpful assessment of what is out there.