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.

Dec 292014
 

One of the gems I got for review late last year was A Year With the Saints: Daily Meditations With the Holy Ones of God. by Paul Thigpen. In the past when I got a book in this format I would just read through all the daily meditations to see if everything was good. I tried to do that with this book but quickly found that I did not just want to read through this book. I wanted to use it as intended as daily meditations. So that is what I did and I think I will just put this book on annual replay since I love everything about it. What makes this book standout is the wide and varied source of quotations from the saints. Here and there you will find something familiar from a familiar saint. Still I found do much wealth in the sources he gathered.

The format is a thematic title followed by a quick introduction to the text regarding the saint or the context the the text was written for. This is followed by a short reflection on the text and a closing prayer. Often I find in books of this format that the short reflection wasn’t all that worthwhile. That is hardly the case here as they really do spur spiritual reflection. So I pretty much love everything about this book of meditations.

So when I found out he had a new book coming out I was more than a bit excited. Manual for Spiritual Warfare. It seems book subtitles seem to be getting longer and longer and can take longer to read than the book. So it was nice to have a book where the title stands for itself.

As the introduction spells out:

Sacred Scripture speaks of our ongoing battles with the world, the flesh, and the Devil (see Jas 4:1–7). This book focuses on our struggle with the last of those three adversaries …

He gives his reasons for concentrating on this aspect based on disbelief in Satan’s existence, lack of knowledge regarding resources available, and that even our struggles with the flesh and the world can be influenced by the Devil’s interference. This is a book of considerable balance and prudence. There are plenty of caveats for a book of this type and Paul Thigpen takes care to make all the proper distinctions. One of the important distinction is regarding aspects that are reserved for the priestly role and what the laity is able to do. These distinctions are reinforced throughout the book. This manual avoids the Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady cry of “Could it be SATAN?” while specifying the reality of spiritual warfare and demonic influence.

The first part of the book is a primer on the scriptural and theological aspects of spiritual warfare. The reality and urgency of what are response should be is spelled out as we really do have a mortal enemy who wants to seek our destruction. While we are alive there can never be a ceasefire regarding spiritual warfare and spiritual pacifism is just surrender of our soul. I really enjoyed this whole section of the book as it lays out the theology reinforced with a solid bedrock of scriptural references.

The second part of the book broken up into multiple sections providing the tools and the weapons for spiritual warfare.

  • Church teaching about spiritual warfare from Catechisms, Councils, and Papal documents.
  • Biblical reference that provides a glossary, biblical history involving the Devil and Demons, and related scriptural verses.
  • Wisdom from the saints on spiritual warfare. Like his saint’s meditation book I totally loved this section for the wide range of pertinent quotes. This is a part of the book I will want to revisit from time to time.
  • The last section includes specific prayers, devotions, and hymns related to spiritual warfare. This section is about a third of the book and is a great resource for prayer. Included in this are Rosary meditations for each mystery along with some very nicely written prayers from the author.

So this is surely all you need to be interested in this book. Yet there is one more aspect that makes this book even better. That this manual was published like an “old school” prayerbook meant to be kept at hand and well used. It is described as “Premium Ultrasoft with two-tone sewn binding, ribbon marker and gold edges.” This is just beautifully made. I am pretty much converted over to only using ebooks and I did read this as a PDF, but I was totally delighted when I received this book in the mail.



Here is a short interview with the author about this book,

Dec 222014
 

For the last two years my habit has been to re-read Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Just perfect reading leading up to Christmas to review all the scriptures related to the story of Christmas. After reading a book review by William Newton I have found another book to add to that annual reading. Scott Hahn’s recent book Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).

In some ways they are companion books especially as Joy to the World references Pope Benedict XVI book throughout. The underlying chronology is of course similar as you would expect when the primary sources are a limited number of passages in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Reading them together back-to-back they reinforced certain themes while also have different emphasis. If you line up 15 scripture scholars together you are likely to get 15 different opinions regarding reconciling some texts and that is also the case here to a small degree.

In Joy to the World I especially enjoyed one chapter on the angels and his saying “… Christmas appears in the Gospels as an explosion of angelic activity.” I found this phrasing rather striking and such an apt descriptor. He then canvases the Old and New Testaments to all the appearances of angels. While angels are certainly not lacking in the Old Testament the arrival of Jesus really does bring in an explosion of angels. We also learn from Jesus that angels are really good at multitasking. The Guardian Angels can both guard us and worship the face of the father.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 18:10)

Don’t blame Scott Hahn for the multitasking observation since it is my own. Really Scott Hahn kept his punning to a minimum in this book. Still I was laughing over his observation comparing the styles of St. Matthew and St. Luke in a chapter regarding the Magi. There is much in Mr. Hahn’s writing style I appreciate as his love of scripture is always infectious. I also enjoy his phrasing of things.

“We live in a world of marvels, but we are schooled to put these aside if they do not fit the broadest generalities in categories confirmed by the scientific method and approved by a magisterium of skeptics.”

Another point he brought out that struck me and stuck with me:

“Though the Gospel is certainly rich in allegorical meaning, it is first of all history. If there is allegory in the infancy narratives, it is fashioned by God, and not simply with words, but rather with creation itself—with the very deeds of sacred history. God writes the world the way human authors write words.”

This observation really applies to all of scripture. There is just so much parallelism and echoes in scripture. Mark Twain said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Reading salvation history there is more than rhyming involved, and an agency involved with God as poet. All the crooked lines of human history being straightened with repeating refrains. Scott Hahn goes into some of these parallels as they relate to the infancy narratives such as the parallels between the New Testament Joseph and the Old Testament Joseph. While he doesn’t reference the parallelism of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant in this book he has covered it elsewhere. Those scripture parallels give me virtual goosebumps as God’s plan is revealed in a series of parallels passages between the Old and the New Testament regarding Mary. You can read his article on the subject here.

Dec 152014
 

For some book reviews I am almost tempted just to mention that some author has a new book out and that should be sufficient to pique your interest.

Case in point is Peter Kreeft’s new book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas. This is an author always worth reading. Since he is also a rather prolific author, directing your attention to specific books of his is also worth doing.

Peter Kreeft’s books have had a positive impact on my life. His book Handbook of Christian Apologetics coauthored with Fr. Tacelli really helped me in my limbo from atheism to belief. It was the book’s format like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae with objections and the answering of objections that helped me to get passed some of my doubts. That I didn’t have to jettison my reason for faith and in fact required fuller use of it.

In the intervening years I have found his other books to be helpful also. His latest book Practical Theology has quickly become my favorite book of his. The concept of the book is rather simple. Peter Kreeft uses St. Thomas Aquinas works and organizes them in a way beneficial as spiritual direction. As he reminds us this Doctor of the Church wrote his Summa Theologiae for “beginners” and that the same audience this book is intended for. Still it is rather hard for most people without a solid philosophical background to easily read St. Thomas’ works. I remember once picking up “The Pocket Aquinas” and being totally lost trying to read it. Fortunately that is not a problem here. Besides the saints words Mr. Kreeft provides an abundance of clarifications. Even when quoting passages he briefly interjects information to clear up St. Thomas’ meaning. After these passages he then further illuminates it.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was just how focused it was. For the most part the topics are contained to just one page with few going beyond that. Combined with Peter Kreeft’s playfulness you have a nice touch of humor that doesn’t intrude on the topic. When I first received this book I figured at 366 pages I could read it in a week and then prepare a review. That plan was quickly wrecked as I more slowly read through the book and let it marinate in my mind. This was not a book I wanted to rush through. In fact I think I will shortly read it again. Only this time I will limit myself to reading just one or two chapters a day. With 358 topics this book is a good candidate for a topic a day to read through in a year book. Flannery O’Connor use to spend at least 15 minutes with the Angelic Doctor each night.

One aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings that really spoke to me was not just the answers he gave to questions, but the questions he asked. This really brought to my mind this comment from G.K. Chesterton.

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. – Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

I have no doubt the saint would have totally agreed to this comment as his theological output was a playing in this playground. There are many who can’t see the forest for the trees and can’t see the playground because of the boundaries. There were questions he asked that I times I had wondered about, but figured nobody would have giving them any serious attention. So the best thing about “Practical Theology” is that it helped me to play in this playground and to remember that spiritual direction and spiritual reading can really fill you with joy.

Dec 072014
 

John C. Wright’s latest SF short story collection is called The Book of Feasts & Seasons.

Stories are arranged from the Liturgical Calendar starting with “The Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God.” This provides a thematic presentation of the stories although many of the stories would only generally fit into specific feasts and seasons. All of them are SF stories and include time traveling, contacts with aliens, and even a ghost story. The first story “The Meaning of Life as Told Me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer in New Jersey” is really rather fun.

While I enjoyed all the stories, some of them were exceptionally good. Short stories are not my favorite medium, yet I found several stories I want to revisit later. Two of the stories I had read before. “The Ideal Machine” was one I read in volume 1 of the “Sci Phy Journal” not that long ago. Still I enjoyed it even more on the second time around as a unique alien visitation story that takes place in a parish with a priest and two military men. The other one I had read before was “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” which was posted on his blog. A very powerful story perfect for Christmas or really the Feast of St. Nicholas”. A story that brought tears to my eyes again as did another story in the collection.

The rather unique ghost story “Pale Realms of Shade” was one of these and one that fit with the theme of the book. One of other themes of this book was marriage and sacrifice and surprisingly by the title “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” fit in there. His explorations of the consequences of time travel as in his other short story collection are really fresh and unique as in this specific story. The one titled “Nativity” is another time travel story going into a territory explored before regarding going back into the time of Christ. In “Nativity” we a presented with a husband’s grief over the death of his wife and his travel into the past seeking answers to his questions. The question of evil and whether anything ultimately matters. I hadn’t found time traveling stories into the time of Christ very worthwhile in the past. Some were much better than others such as Brandon Sanderson’s novella “Legion”, but none of them really made contact with me; much less contact with the premise. “Nativiy” presented in the Advent section of the book is great Advent reading which contains both the wonder of good SF along with the wonder of Christ and was the other story that brought tears to my eyes.

As the theme of this collection suggests these are stories that have a philosophical and theological dimension. Yet this is not pious SF that sacrifices storytelling for piety. These are excellent stories that happen to have a deeper dimension. His description of crucifixion in “Nativiy” was especially vivid to me and strangely I would love a set of reflections on the Rosary from his hands. There was a realism in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that I liked, yet some sentences in this story brought the horror of crucifixion fuller to my understanding, especially some very unglamorous aspects. Well done Mr. Wright.