Apr 292015
 

As a convert to the faith I have become quite interested in the history of the Church during the whole lifetime of the Church. Pretty much every age of the Church is quite fascinating. The ups ands downs, the saints and sinners, all the ecclesiastical conflicts. These tensions in Church history are chronicled from the New Testament on.

After reading a new book I reflected on the fact that one aspect of Church history I have read a good deal on is primarily the last fifty years and the aftermath of Vatican II. Or more particularly the Spirit of Vatican II aftermath synergistic combined with cultural upheavals. This period really intrigues me as I try to understand the culture of dissent that has risen. I also noticed that the number of books regarding this period were mostly about the Church in America.

Having this interest I was happy to receive a copy of The Coup at Catholic University: The 1968 Revolution in American Catholic Education by Father Peter Mitchell published by Ignatius Press. I was somewhat aware of Fr. Charles Curran, professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, and the controversy that rose up around him. This was an important event and was a sign of things to come. A case that became an unfortunate model at other Catholic universities to emulate.

This is a very well researched book and goes into great detail of what happened when first Fr. Curran’s contract was not renewed by the Board of Trustees of CUA (all bishops). What happened next was a revolt by the faculty in Fr. Curran’s favor and the Board of Trustees reversing themselves. There are plenty of sources used in this book which includes personal papers of those involved, published documents, Fr. Curran’s autobiography. The author of the book also personally interviewed Fr. Curran.

What engaged me in this book was the wealth of detailed information delivered in a non-polemical fashion. Certainly the title of this book let’s you know how the author thinks about this history, but still this is presented rather straight-forward. Although like most history regarding dissent it is as frustrating as reading the daily paper. As this is still rather recent historically you wonder about how things could have been handled differently.

The bishops involved acted correctly in their concern regarding Fr. Curran’s orthodoxy. Yet as usual instead of addressing the problem more head-on, tried to side-step it in a rather ham-fisted way. Instead of actually addressing the theological concerns they attempted to just not renew his contract and have the whole problem go away. Very Pollyannish considering that the theology faculty had approved his remaining and that he should be promoted. Obviously there were deeper problems going on with the faculty. This really emboldened dissent regarding contraception after the release of Humanae Vitae.

What I found interesting was the template developed that we see so often now. The media-savvy dissident theologian who knows how to garner support and to get the mainstream media involved. To present themselves as rather humble and the only reason they got the media involved was to right an injustice and that the action was for others, not about them at all. That the hierarchy was totally out of touch with theological concerns of society and thus were holding the poor theologian down and preventing their growth. Women theologians have taken the page out of Curran’s dissenting cookbook and added to it by blaming everything on the maleness of the hierarchy. Basically all reciting the line from Monty Python’s “Holy Grain” – ‘Help! Help! I’m Being Suppressed!’”

Of course the banner Academic freedom was flown every which way by those involved. Phrases like Academic freedom are what I would call bunker phrases. They aren’t meant for any serious intellectual engagement, but are something to hide behind. Anybody could come up with examples of proper limits for Academic freedom and edge cases where it would not aptly apply. Still bunker phrases are meant to be invoked like magical spells freezing their opponent from being able to say something back. You can’t mean you really are against Academic freedom and research into science?

One thing I am reminded off when reading about the state of Catholic education is the Israelites desire to have a king like the other nations around them. It was not enough that in a special sense God was their King. They were warned about the consequences of having a king and the problems they bring. No mostly they were upset that they didn’t have the same form of government as the nations around them. They wanted to be like everybody else. So faculty in Catholic universities also looked around and saw what they perceived as greater liberty in other institutions. As Israel cast of the Judges, these faculties cast off the Magisterium. Embracing an understanding of the Church that reduced it to any teaching authority. Dissidents did not really believe in a parallel magisterium, but that they were the magisterium.

I think of Hillary Clinton’s “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”, until of course the dissenters are in power. The same is true in this case if you attempt to dissent from a dissenter. This book provides one case where this was especially true and all the talk of Academic freedom and conscience meant nothing in their treatment of a priest faithful to the Church.

If you are interested, as I am, in books of this type than this is well-worth your attention. This book is very well written and the appendixes include many of the documents sourced.

Apr 202015
 

Stephen J. Binz’s book Scripture–God’s Handbook for Evangelizing Catholics is one that in my review stack that I had not prioritized in reading. I had stereotyped it in my mind as another general book on the subject urging Catholics to go deeper into scripture. Besides the title is easily misconstrued. In fact in social media, where my progress through this book was recorded, several people thought that this was a Protestant book based on the title.

What I found in this book was something much deeper than encouragement in reading scripture and how Catholics should read scripture. I don’t really like how often the term holistic is used, but in this case it is what comes to mind. This author who has written on Lectio Divina before builds on this and how we can approach scripture with the senses along with the sense of beauty. How the use of a Catholic informed imagination can bring scripture to us and let us meditate on it.

I also liked his descriptions regarding blocks to reading scripture. For example relativism as blocks to scripture “We cannot witness to God’s word unless we not that it is not subject to changeable opinion or personal whim.” Relativism is also closely tied to individualism where we don’t read with the mind of the Church, setting personal interpretations as the highest arbiter of truth.

I especially enjoyed the chapter regarding the example of six saints and how their contact with scripture changed them. While St. Augustine was not one of the examples given, I was recently thinking about this in regards to him. Having not long ago re-read his “Confession” I was struck by how much Scripture permeated everything he wrote. This was especially true regarding the chapters after he describe this conversion. I saw so many more scriptural allusions this time around in reading it. Of course the only way for us to be also permeated with scripture is to read it, meditate on it, and allow it to change us.

The main theme of this book is evangelization with examples of this throughout Old and New Testament history. Letting the reading of scripture deepen our own conversions to be able to go out and evangelize others. This book contains much to reflect upon and to incorporate. For me it has been helpful in slowing down and not just reading scripture as if involved in a Evelyn Wood speed reading competition.

Apr 162015
 

I have often heard on Catholic radio that the size of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is intimidating for many people. I am not one of those people since a 802 page tome is like a good start for me. Still I can totally understand why this is so for many people. The Church understands this also which is why there is a Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Still having a range of other formats is a good idea such as the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YOUCAT). In a Church of over a billion people it is a very good idea to explore multiple ways to deliver the teaching of the Church.

When I received a copy of Tweeting with God #Big Bang, prayer, Bible, sex, Crusades, sin, career I was wondering exactly what this book was. I figured it was filled with short pithy messages 140 characters or less. Besides before the Tweet was invented we had a long history of short prayers called ejaculations or aspirations.

That is not what this book is at all. What the author Fr. Michel Remery has done is taken the idea of Twitter and used it as a thematic format to present information about the faith. This book uses lots of formatting to present information. Graphics, use of colors, textual formatting, along with a Twitter thematic format.

There are lots of ways this thematic metaphor could go wrong, but I found for the most part that the format actually works. Each page presents a numbered Tweet about the topic. These are used like paragraph references throughout the book. Paragraphs are presented with subtitles implying a sort of hash tag. Photos, graphics, info graphics, are also used to present information or illustrate a point. Related information is presented in a orange panel with black text. At the end a summarizing Tweet is used in another panel. You can see an example of the format here.

As a layout it works pretty well to present information and to divide up content. I found I had no problem reading through the content without being distracted by the format. Although I would not be surprised that some will not like the format at all. When ever you have heavily formatted content you will run into subjective tastes.

Reading through the book my main interest was exactly how accurately the faith was portrayed. Being that this is published by Ignatius Press it wasn’t a major concern. Still I wondered if it would be heavy on formatting and light on actual content. Exactly how would so-called hot button topics be presented?

What I found was that the topics were handled very well and accurately. Having only one page with a facing page to present a topic is a difficult task. Especially considering the amount of nuance often required. So I was happy to find that the Church’s teaching were presented quite accurately and not watered down at all. Over and over I was quite impressed with the presentation and that there was no effort to back down from hard teachings. This does not mean that I had absolutely no quibbles with information contained. Some things could have been phrased better. Plus when you try to condense so much history there is going to be information loss.

Another facet of this book is that it is not meant to be a Catechism, but more of a book exploring a range of topics and aspects of the faith. There is an apologetics aspect to this book, although I don’t think that is its main thrust. Mostly I see this book as a tool to help Catholics learn more about their faith. From the theological, to prayer, to living the faith, to just building on knowledge of Church history along with all the various nomenclature we should know. There is a ton of basic knowledge in this book, but probably a lot of what should be basic is not well-known.

This book can be used as a resource in a couple of ways. Since it is divided into topics somebody could use it as a reference to read more about something. There is some repeating of information to be able to make each topic standalone without having necessarily read a related topic. So you could go through this book rather scatter-shot just reading what is of interesting or reading through the whole thing. Plus the numbered Tweet references point to related material.

At over 400 pages this book covers a great deal and easily covers all the topics you would expect. Still there is one topic I wish was addressed. That is the various Rites of the Church. The Roman Rite was mentioned once, but there was no explanation of what a rite was, much less the number of rites in the Church. This is a bit of a hobby horse for me, which is why I noticed it.

Now a book with a social media metaphor you would expect some social media connection with the book. Well there is a Tweeting with God which has links to a iOS or Android app. This app actually includes much of the text from the book, but not all. Each topic tweet has the introduction along with subtitles and their content. Missing are the info panels and graphics other than the header graphic. Still it is certainly a way to consume some of the content along with sharing information on social media. In the book under the header graphic is a scan icon. You can use the app to scan the image in the book to bring up that section in the app. This is interesting integration, but questionable how useful it actually is.

They of course have a Twitter feed, a related hashtag #TwGOD, and Facebook page.

Julie D. at Happy Catholic also was impressed by this book and has her review here which includes links to pages from the book.

Mar 182015
 

When I see a book about about the scientific evidence for God I have some trepidations. Especially since there are many ways this can go badly. So when I received The Reality of God: The Layman’s Guide to Scientific Evidence for the Creator by Steven R. Hemler for review I had that in the back of my mind. Since it was from Saint Benedict Press I should have known not to be concerned.

This book is rather straight forward and divided into three major categories regarding God’s existence. The cosmic, biological, and then philosophical arguments.

Generally the first part covers arguments regarding proofs of the universe having a beginning irregardless of what competing theory of the universe you go with. As part of this the Kalām cosmological argument is presented. After this are section regarding the fine tuning argument. How the universe seems to be fine tuned for life and that even minor variances in universal constants and laws would have rendered life impossible. I found the information well presented and easily understandable. While I have read several related books on these topics I still picked up some more information.

The trepidations I mentioned at the beginning of this post usually regard the handling of biology and evolution. I have gone through different phases regarding this myself. Originally held the view of evolutionary naturalism as a result of atheistic materialism. My conversion included a brief stop in creationism I picked up from Protestant radio. My mistaken belief was that if I was going to take the existence of God seriously that this went with it. After that I was more into the view as popularized by the intelligent design movement. Now my opinion is more along the line “Whatever God did is fine with me.” So the view usually called theistic evolution raises no hackles with me. This is the view this book goes into. I really liked how the subject was covered including necessary caveats. To often this topic is presented as either/or when really both/and is really called for. Regardless I am open to wherever the evidence leads.

The last part deals with what the author calls human evidences such as conscience, the light of reason, and the philosophical ways of knowing of God’s existence classically put forward by St. Thomas Aquinas. Again I found this presented well.

This is a fairly short book and so there is a lot of information to be covered and gone through. Really most of the topics covered usually require full-length book treatment. Still I think the book meets its objective as a layman’s guide. So as an introduction to these topics I consider this worthwhile and at a level for high school students on up. There are plenty of references to other books that do go in more depth. Fr. Robert J. Spitzer works are mentioned throughout. I found his book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy to be outstanding even if it made my brain hurt. Although that book is not for the casual layman and is can be quite technical in parts. As an introduction to some of the basic arguments for the existence of God I found The Reality of God as something I would have no problem recommending.

Mar 022015
 
  • Bergoglio’s List – Nello Scavo This book investigates the time from when Fr. Jorge Bergoglio was 39 years old and on. In the multiple biographies I have read on him I have seen some mention of the work he did to get people out of prison and out of the country. It is fascinating the degree to which this happened and it was not just a couple of occasions. The book estimates he saved 100 people from torture, imprisonment, and even death. I don’t thinks this is much exaggerated as the book also spell out many details I had not read before. I also found it interesting the amount of tradecraft he had developed. That term is mostly used regarding spies, but Bergoglio had lots of practical advice to people to keep from being picked up or noticed by the government. He even ran a Jesuit retreat that mostly involved hiding some people. There is even a rather funny story told regarding some priests he was giving an Ignatius retreat.

    The author writes that he went in investigating this story not sure if the investigation would put the now pope in a good or bad light, but that he would just follow the story. The number of people he helped and the range of people he helped is impressive. It goes way beyond the priests under his care to helping people here were not friendly to the Church at all. This is not a man who just talks a good game, but lives it out despite what would have been real dangers for offering this help.

  • Growing in Faith: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics Including Reflections on Faith – Fr. Packwa While this is a relatively short book, it does take some time to go through and that is a good thing. Fr. Mitch Pacwa has digested an number of scriptures related to faith in systematical way chapter by chapter. At first I was annoyed that the verses which were to be studied were referenced and to be looked up outside the book. Instead I found this helpful moving back and forth between the study guide and the Bible. I think I retained more and put these verses better in context with this training method. Quite worthwhile.
  • A Voice Undefeated – Collin Raye I’m not a Country Music fan and only knew of Collin Raye tangentially through Catholic radio. Still I was quickly immersed in the story of his life. There were many things that surprised me about his life which were not the track I expected of a Country Music Star. I found so much about what he had to say as something I could relate to respond to. The amount of suffering in his life is staggering with the uncountable hours in hospitals because of family members. This is a very intimate look into his life and the cross he carries. While his fairly early conversion to the faith as a traveling musician was not the pinnacle of the story, it is his faith displayed with almost Job-like obstacles. I might not be a fan of Country Music, but now I am certainly a fan of this man and the faith he lives daily. Good Lenten reading along with other times
  • Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World – Brandon Vogt One of the sad signs of the time is the polarization and politicization of social justice. A phrase that has come to mean a subset to some of the wide range of the Church’s doctrine regarding this. The term Social Justice Warrior (SJW) has come to mean a specific type of liberal activist. These are just some of the reasons whey Brandon Vogt’s book is a important corrective to this limiting of social justice and what it fully means in the context of the Church. Brandon addresses some of the polarization, but concentrates on the examples of saints and others to more fully explore what it is to see the Church’s teaching in action. The range of people he uses add to this book and introduces the stories of some saints I was not aware of. I found this book quite impressive and useful and look forward to more books from him.
Feb 212015
 

For a while on my book wish list sat one called Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon. It finally landed on my actively reading list. I was pretty much totally caught unaware by the talent of this author, although somehow it made it to my wish list. Reading Swan Song I kept drawing comparison to Stephen King’s The Stand my favorite of King’s books. There are comparisons to draw, but they are also very different stories and I found Swan Song]swan to be even superior in parts. Heresy to my mind considering how much I have loved The Stand. So I was soon book binging on some other books recommended to me and found repeated great storytelling in a genre I so enjoy.

Recently I read his Boy’s Life and once again was absorbed in this time a Ray Bradberry-esque story combined with McCommon’s own gifts. At the end there was a set of acknowledgements. These I often don’t read, but this one caught my attention. So I was already enthused with this author, but wow I so love his acknowledgements which I can so relate to.

My thanks to Forrest J. Ackermann; Roger Corman; Boris Karloff; Vincent Price; Lon Chaney Senior and Junior; Jungle Jim; Sky King and Penny; Screen Thrills Illustrated; Ian Fleming and Bond, James Bond; Eudora Welty; Bob Kane; Barbara Steele; Big Daddy Roth; the Boys from Hawthorne though a young man is gone; Clutch Cargo; Space Angels; Super Car; the Captain and Tom Terrrrific; Yancy Derringer; Famous Monsters of Filmland; Gordon Scott ; Vic Morrow and the Combat squad; Jim Warren (sorry, Forry!); Boston Blackie; Zorro; Cisco Kid and Pancho; the Whistler; Kirk Douglas in Spartacus; the Rolling Stones; Thriller and those pigeons from hell; the Hammer Films bunch; Peter Cushing, the ultimate Van Helsing; Christopher Lee; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Red Skelton and the passing parade; Creepy and Eerie; Ray Harryhausen and the Ymir; Mr. Television , Milton Berle; It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad (Did I miss one?) World; Edgar Allan Poe; Lester Dent or Kenneth Robeson or whoever cranked out all those great Doc Savages; Three Dog Night (hello, Cory!); Clayton Moore, the one and only Lone Ranger, Richard Matheson; Roy Rogers and Trigger, X-Men; Buffalo Bob and Howdy; the Brothers Grimm; Bela Lugosi; Paladin; The Outer Limits; Brigitte Bardot (I didn’t spend all my time with Geographics!); Basil Rathbone; Mister Dillon! Mister Dillon!; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Invaders from Mars; Gene Autry; Steve Reeves; Aunt Bea; Dr. Richard Kimble; the Who; Hans Christian Andersen; 13 Ghosts and those weird glasses; Sergeant Preston of the Yukon; Mr. and Mrs. North; the Thin Man; Peter Lorre; Alfred Hitchcock; Here, Lassie!; Errol Flynn, the perfect Robin Hood; a man named Jed; the Aquanauts; Steve Roper and Mike Nomad; Clint Walker, Kookie, my hair’s falling out!; Gorgo; Rodan; Reptilicus; Charles Laughton; Oral Roberts heal thyself; The Gallant Men; Victor Mature swinging that jawbone; Walt Disney; Mr. Lucky; Burt Lancaster, Through the Looking Glass; Bronco and Sugarfoot; the Mavericks, wild as the wind in Or-e-gon; Joe and Frank; Fantasia; that house on haunted hill; Guy Madison and Andy Devine; The Mysterians; Dementia 13 (Yikes!); Captain America and Bucky; Harper Lee; Steve McQueen (Cooler!) on that motorcycle, jumping the barbed wire; Tom Swift and His; and so many, many more whom I will think of as soon as I believe I’ve finished writing this.

To two very special influences on this boy’s life and writing: Mr. Rod Selling, for his talent and imagination that continues on far beyond the Zone; and to Mr. Ray Bradbury. Your lake will always be deeper and sweeter than mine, your jar hold greater mysteries, your rockets travel truer to the heart. Thank you so very, very much.

McCammon, Robert R. Boy’s Life (p. 610). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Feb 172015
 

There is one genre that I would like to see grow and then have no need for at all. That is the conversion testimony of those who were once pro-abortion and were involved in the business of providing abortions. There have been some startling conversion stories such as founding member of NARAL the abortion doctor Bernard Nathanson. In recent years it was the story of an ex-Planned Parenthood manager Abby Johnson in her book Unplanned. I enjoy reading conversion stories since while there are commonalties they are as unique as the person who wrote them.

That is certainly true of a new book by Ramona Treviño titled Redeemed by Grace: A Catholic Woman’s Journey to Planned Parenthood and Back. While the late Dr. Nathanson and Abby Johnson were converts to the faith, Ramona was raised in the Church. While she grew in a rather difficult family atmosphere with an alcoholic father, it was one she persevered through. While their Mass attendance was off and on she was attracted to the Church and through the movie The Song of Bernadette was attracted to religious life. A desire to give her self to others. This all went astray with the entering into her life of an older boy who ended up leaving her pregnant and eventually marrying her. This did not go well at all and setup many of the difficulties she later encountered in trying to provide security for her daughter.

Told by a friend about Planned Parenthood hiring people she applied and they were impressed with her enough to put her into a management position of a Planned Parenthood clinic. One that did not do surgical abortion, but nevertheless provided referrals to the Planned Parenthood clinic that did.

What I found very interesting in the relating of her story is regarding how she justified her work as a Catholic. The idea of helping people was what really led her and I saw the same in Abby Johnson’s story. That they really came to believe in the mission that Planned Parenthood pretends it has and that they were really helping people with contraceptives and providing the safe-sex message. Being Catholic and thinking the Church is nuts regarding contraceptives is not exactly a rare-breed of Catholic. The basically uncatechized Catholic who has some idea of what the Church teaches, but lacks any understanding of the cohesive and deeply rational nature of those teachings. Besides anybody that makes any endeavor into self-knowledge quickly realized all the rationalizations we come up with to justify some behavior apprehended as a good. We quickly quiet our conscience like shushing a baby.

Over the period of time she worked for Planned Parenthood there was certainly an awakening of conscience and the awareness of the cognitive dissonance between the upper level management of Planned Parenthood and their supposed concern for women. In her personal encounters with people she was seeing this more and more.

I had suspected this and it is interesting to see corporate Planned Parenthoods response to the Live Action videos. It was not a case of “this is terrible we really need to train our people better”, it was all about suppression and being on the lookout for Lila Rose. The outrage was all regarding being exposed. She describes other instances regarding corporate management that again shows a total lack of concern for women, but just a typical lust for profits.

The work of Catholic media also had a strong influence in her conversion. In this case Catholic radio where she heard what she did not want to hear such as on Barbara McGuigan’s show. Yet it was still something she came to listen to. One aspect of radio was that it was something she could listen to in an atmosphere that was not threatening and could be done in the privacy of her commute. EWTN’s offering of content to small but continuously growing Catholic radio has got to be the greatest human tool for conversion currently. It was greatly influential for me and I have heard this repeated many times by others on their call in shows. Catholic Answers fairly new series “Why Are You Pro-Choice?” also played a role for her.

A wonderful part of her story is all the people that helped her out. From a priest in the confessional who did not try to tell her contraception was a personal issue to the number of people in the pro-life cause. She was met by love and help at every turn. Whether it was members of 40 days for life or the one women she first met that was gentle and had words of God’s love for her even after she told her she was the manager of the clinic. Such a valuable lesson to remember when helping others escape sin.

My review only gives a thumbnails view of this book, how she tells her full story and the wisdom she has gained is what really makes this worth reading. The struggles and the continuing struggle to stay true to her convictions and putting problems into God’s hands.

Feb 162015
 

Once again Lent is coming around again in it’s a annual cycle. Yet with Easter being a movable feast we still are always a bit surprised by the start of Lent regardless of whether Ash Wednesday starts earlier or later than average. Lent is almost something you can look forward to. We know we need that spring cleaning of the soul and that we have some work to do to get our spiritual lives untangled. Still if we think of an upcoming Lent at all we also know that we want to make good use of it.

Yet once Lent starts we can hardly wait for it to be over. The saying “no plan survives contact with the enemy” is often true of Lenten plans and we do have an enemy that would disrupt any plan towards growing in holiness. So exactly how do you maintain a good Lent? No doubt there are plenty of strategies to do so that we learn to adapt to our own personalities.

I’ve always found spiritual reading greatly helpful in this, but our moving inward must help us also move outward in the world. Fasting is very useful, but it also has to move into the dimensions of the spiritual works.

So I was presently surprised to find an excellent book with all this in mind. Marcellino D’ambrosio sent me a couple of his recent books including 40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look at Lent. While there is a treasury of books with daily meditations during Lent, this book has that solid core while also being filled with practical suggestions. These suggestions help with concrete examples of how to live the faith. To externalize what you are learning. To take us out of ourselves.

His personable style brings what he has learned in his own life through examples easy to relate to. This book is something to help challenge you through Lent and to make of Lent what you always intended but still fell away like a New Year’s resolution. Two to three pages a day makes reading this through Lent quite doable.

I especially liked this points at the end of the book regarding Easter and the Easter season. Lent gets all the attention, yet it is the joy of Easter we are striving towards

After reading it I now look at the reviews and see that my own opinion was matched by many others whose opinions I trust, including my previous bishop.

Marcellino D’Ambrosio offers the neophyte as well as the seasoned Catholic a potpourri of Lenten reflections that are as engaging as they are practical. If you want to fall more in love with Jesus, then nourish yourself with 40 Days, 40 Ways!

Victor Galeone, Bishop Emeritus of St. Augustine, Florida

Jan 212015
 

When I first came across Alice Von Hildebrand while watching Mother Angelica Live I was rapidly impressed with her. Her quick wit, intelligence, and common sense was a delight. Since then I have been interested in what she had to say. Around the same time I became acquainted with the works of her late husband Dietrich Von Hildebrand. I have by no means fully dipped into all his works, but I want to go further. His Transformation in Christ is a book I dearly love.

When her biography of her husband came out The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand I quickly attained and read it. Such an amazing story and an equally amazing man. You would think somebody who was a named enemy of Hitler would have his story more well known. There is at least a new book out called My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich.

When I read Soul of a Lion I wondered about his later years since the story ends, as I remember, after his escape and ultimately ending up in New York. Some of this is covered in Alice Von Hildebrand’s new book Memoirs of a Happy Failure. While this autobiography does go into how she met her future husband and some of her life with him, she is mostly quiet on her personal life in this regard except when there are interactions with her students.

What this book does cover is her life growing up in Belgium before World War II and her subsequent move to the United States during the war. The book starts out with her on a ship headed for New York that was threatened by a German sub with orders to evacuate before being sunk. I was quite interested in her descriptions of being raised in a very Catholic culture and the descriptions of her family members including the roles they played during the war. There were differences in both sides of her family that caused some tension.

The large majority of this book covers her years as a teacher at Hunter College which is part of the City University of New York. This was to be where she ended up teaching philosophy throughout her career. Now having heard her speak I was aware of the difficulties she had regarding students versed in moral relativism as she taught the objectivity of truth. I just didn’t realize that this was a continual philosophical battle.

What shouldn’t have surprised me is that this was rather minor considering even worse problems with the other faculty and those above her. The stories she relates regarding how she was treated by her fellow academics in such a pitiless back-biting manner raises your ire as she relates them. A Darwinian survival of the fittest where the fittest meant you had the right politics and sneer regarding subjective truth. Part of this was due to her being a women, but no doubt a lot of it was due to her being Catholic or really for being a faithful Catholic. Academics have no problem with Catholics just as long as they don’t believe that stuff. She describes how her education as taught by nuns little prepared her for such an atmosphere of prejudice and ill will.

What I enjoyed most was her stories of students. It was quite obvious her love of teaching and her love of her students. There are many wonderful stories regarding the opposition she got and when the truth of what she was saying clicked with many of her students. Even stories of students converting to the Catholic Church despite the fact that she never talked about the Church at all in her lectures. Not all the stories regarding her students go well and some are rather sad. Still there were several that came into the orbit of her personal life along with her husband. Despite the opposition she was getting from the school and the many attempts to sabotage her career and to force her to leave, she endured. It must have really annoyed them the number of students who elected to take her classes over other philosophy professors more in tune with the zeitgeist.

The title of her autobiography is quite apt. From the measure of the academic world she was mostly a failure. From the measure of her students that was not correct and even ultimately the school had to grudgingly admit this. I enjoyed the good humor she uses as she relates all these episodes. Experiences that might leave many bitter, yet her happiness shines through along with her love of the truth.

On a side note this book provides another example to me regarding the cultural revolution of the sixties. In that it was not as if everything was in good condition before then and that this was a sudden revolution. Her examples of attitudes in the 1950’s show just how much the culture was infected with moral relativism and that it was even worse in academia. Cultural termites had already weakened the foundations of the culture.

Jan 132015
 

My conversion to the faith and the rise of the Internet and social networking occurred in roughly the same time period. So my interest in this intersection regarding how it relates to the faith has been continually of interest to me. EWTN and Catholic Answers both had websites around 1996 and the Vatican came on board around 1998. If you look at the Vatican’s site circa 1998 it’s appearance hasn’t much changed. The year 2001 mostly marks the year specifically Catholic blogs started to grow. Catholic podcasts started to appear in 2006 (the Catholic Cast by Jayson Franklin was the first one I as far as I know). Most of the growth in Catholic new media over the years were mainly individual efforts with some organizations being early adopters.

Diocesan and parish websites also started to come on the scene. The diocesan site my diocese came on board in 2002 and I slowly watched as parish websites started appearing. These Diocesan and parish websites also from the start seemed to lag behind in about every way with other websites. Sometimes I like to go to The Wayback Machine to see a snapshot of a what a web site looked like a decade ago. The sad truth is that I don’t need The Wayback Machine for most parish sites since either their design is stuck a decade ago or that was the last time it was updated. I am usually quite frustrated when looking a parish web sites in my diocese, but this problem certainly in not just local.

So I was quite interested when I received a copy of Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church Through New Media by Scot Landry. While there are few bright spots regarding diocese taking new media seriously, the Archdiocese of Boston I would consider to be the brightest spot. They have set standards for others to follow regarding diocesan blogs and their podcast The Good Catholic Life and other other social networking endeavors. Since Scot Landry has been involved in this he know of what he is talking about.

In this book he makes the case for using new media for communication and evangelization from primarily the diocese on down. Why time and effort should be expended using these new technologies. What I appreciated about this book is that it does not get bogged down in the technology involved. As Scot writes “For me, new media outreach is much more about communications than technology.” There is always a temptation to follow the latest buzz-word approach that might not actually be of much help. Evangelization requires communication and so we must consider the most effective ways of transmitting the Good News.

In the first chapters he takes Pope emeritus Benedict XVI example of the digital continent to explain some of these capabilities. Since Scot considers himself more of an immigrant to this digital continent instead of a early adopter he provides a valuable perspective. As a geek if I was to talk on the subject it would be all about responsive design, content management systems, and making sure passwords used for diocesan and parish sites weren’t kept just in somebodies personal files. His approach in the whole book gives a much larger perspective.

As he moves from the case for use of the new media he then moves towards the more specific regarding planning for implementation and overcoming embracing of this form of communication.

My belief is that the biggest and most inclusive reason Catholic parishes have not embraced social media is because their culture and the main activities are preoccupied with maintenance (or survival) instead of mission.

I think this statement by him applies quite generally to many parishes beyond just social media. We tend to have mission statements full of jargon and not really missionary. Getting bogged down in building maintenance instead of building the Church (hey even St. Francis got that backwards at first). What this book gives us is sound advice and a constructive plan regarding implementing this. That a parish can build up this capability and as they become more confident expanding out. He provides concrete examples regarding parishes that are making an impact why this is not beyond your average parish.

Several appendixes to the book provide specific implementation plans and a “Rate your Parish Website” checklist (available also at Catholic Tech Talk). The Archdiocese of Boston did take on a survey of parish web sites to see the current state and what needed to be done.

I found this to be a very helpful and positive book exploring what can be achieved and providing a plan regarding how it can be achieved in your own parish. Ideally a diocese should be spending effort in the new media and guiding and helping parishes to achieve the same. Still if you can get involved in helping your own parish in this regards I would strongly recommend picking up this book.

Now while the book is rant free regarding the current state of new media in the Church, I am not rant free on this topic. So I will leave with just one example regarding how a parish website is usually being handled.

Say for example a parishioner volunteered to take care of the parish bulletin. Then this parishioner started mimeographing copies and delivered copies some weeks but not others. When copies were provided they were weeks or months behind in content. Would a parish find this acceptable? Of course not, they consider it important enough that money is spent for professional printing and up-to-date content is provided. The quality of design regarding bulletins has also vastly improved as bad liturgical clipart has finally met its day.

Yet the parish web site is treated exactly in the manner of this individual produced mimeograph bulletins. We can be very thankful for the volunteer that stepped in to produce something with their time and effort. Some of these volunteers might even have the professional skills required. Yet an endeavor that requires such maintenance and fresh content should not be left to just a talented volunteer. For most parishes this means having a site created, training to maintain it, supervisory focus to provide content. The parish web site is more and more going to be the face of a parish. It can be a center-point for the new evangelization or just another missed opportunity.