Jan 162017
 

Called to Be the Children of God – Multiple Authors

Listening to the Al Kresta show I heard a interview with Carl E. Olson regarding Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification, put out by Ignatius Press. I bought this as this is a subject I am somewhat interested in and knew just some of the basics. This is a book of essays on the subject from a variety of authors.

In the last essay in the book, David W. Fagerberg provides a good summary in his own included essay.

It is an impressive accomplishment in this book to see the theme of divinization laid out across the broad range of Catholic history: Scripture, the Greek and Latin Fathers, Dominicans and Franciscans, Trent, the embryonic Scheeben and Newman, the French schools, two Vatican Councils, and the current Catechism.

Fagerberg’s essay was on Liturgy and Divinization.

So the essays are very wide-ranging across the history of the Church. Previously I had thought that deification was primarily a focus of the Greek Fathers and and much more emphasized theologically in the Eastern part of the Church. There is a truth to that, but this book demonstrates just how much it is and has been a fabric of the whole Church. Mainly that it is covered under a whole range of words and ideas that express the same underlying concept. These essays show just how fundamental this is and again demonstrates how much God loves us. So this is recommended for anybody who wants to know more about the subject. While scholarly, it is also written for a general audience.

Mary of Nazareth – Michael Hesemann

Mary of Nazareth: History, Archaeology, Legends.

This book presents a very interesting approach to providing a biography of Mary. From scripture we can only gleam a little information, but via historical documents and archaeology there is actually a lot more that we can dive into.

While the text of the Proto-Gospel of James is an apocryphal early work and should be looked at critically. It does contain a wealth of information that can be “verified historically and archaeologically” as the author says along with “that we must assume that it has an authentic tradition at its core”. I knew that this document is where we got the names of Mary’s Parents Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, but I did not realize how much other information there was. The author does a good job of demonstrating what we can likely take as valid information along with what is more dubious.

I especially enjoyed how he was able to combine what is known of the history of the times around events in Mary’s life along with being amplified by archaeologically discoveries. This provides both context and flavor. I especially found interesting the connection with King Herod and the Essenes and a foretelling he received from an Essene by the name of Menahem predicting he would become King of the Jews. This led to the fact that after a great earthquake the Essenes likely moved to Jerusalem. Subsequently that Herod allowed them to be involved in the building of the new Temple, much to the chagrin of the Sadducees. Now I am rather suspicious of historians seeing the Essenes influencing everything, yet this is not the case in this book.

Really I can go on and on about what I found interesting and informative in this book. Information about Mary’s house, the Holy House of Loretto, what we can know about the Flight into Egypt along with her time in Ephesus. The wealth of archaeological discoveries is really amazing in what it provides in backstory.

I only had some very minor quibbles. Some of the dated chronology of events were presented without mentioning alternatives. He favors a birth of Christ being in 5 B.C. as do others. Jimmy Akin has a good post in favor of 3/2 B.C. This and other points of chronology I would have liked to see more of a caveat regarding them. Still I found this to be an excellent read along with many “wow” moments.

Caveat This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Continental Ambitions by Kevin Starr

Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: the Colonial Experience

As a sad note Kevin Starr recently died of a heart attack in San Francisco on January 14, 2017.

This book provided by the publisher I have not read yet. This is a large volume history which I want to get to, so here is the publisher’s summary.

Starr begins this work with the exploration and temporary settlement of North America by recently Christianized Scandinavians. He continues with the destruction of Caribbean peoples by New Spain, the struggle against this tragedy by the great Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas, the Jesuit and Franciscan exploration and settlement of the Spanish Borderlands (Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Baja, and Alta California), and the strengths and weaknesses of the mission system.

He then turns his attention to New France with its highly developed Catholic and Counter-Reformational cultures of Quebec and Montreal, its encounters with Native American peoples, and its advance southward to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The volume ends with the founding of Maryland as a proprietary colony for Roman Catholic Recusants and Anglicans alike, the rise of Philadelphia and southern Pennsylvania as centers of Catholic life, the Suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, and the return of John Carroll to Maryland the following year.

Starr dramatizes the representative personalities and events that illustrate the triumphs and the tragedies, the achievements and the failures, of each of these societies in their explorations, treatment of Native Americans, and translations of religious and social value to new and challenging environments. His history is notable for its honesty and its synoptic success in comparing and contrasting three disparate civilizations, albeit each of them Catholic, with three similar and differing approaches to expansion in the New World.

Faith with Good Reason – Ben Butera

I received Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens from it’s author, of whom I know of from Two Catholic Men and a Blog.

An interesting look at using analytical problem solving to finding truths in the faith. He brings his experience in the field of problem solving for a large company to show how the same rules apply to matters of faith.

As so many have a narrow view of empirical science as being the only access to truth, this book provides the anecdote. He references part of a quote that Saint John Paul II went on to include in Fides et ratio.

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.

Not surprising all the circular logic when so many are trying to fly on one wing.

The book is presented in an accessible style providing plenty of examples, stories and personal stories, and thought experiments. I especially enjoyed his analogies. There is also a lot of apologetics information looked at via his analytical lens. It is always interesting how many tools can be used to look at the faith and to give us new perspectives. He does this ably here and provides tools to use from our reason.

As a note most of the proceeds are going to help the Mystic Monks of Wyoming build their monastery.

From A Dark Wayover – Dan Lord

I was very happy to receive a review copy of From A Dark Wayover: Book Two of the Von Koppersmith Saga (Volume 2) from the author. I totally loved the first book By the Downward Way: Book One of the Von Koppersmith Saga, which I previously reviewed.

Stunningly good and a flight of imagination that carries you along. Traveling from the Garden of Eden to the Pied Piper and its own mythology is brought together to present a fascinating story. A decedent of the pied piper and an evil act that must be atoned for is brought into a world not of his choosing. Enjoyed pretty much every aspect of the story. While it is apparent there are more books to come in this new series, the first book is totally self contained.

The second book does not disappoint and escalates the story. Leo has a lot more to save than just the boys. Lots of surprises along the way as things don’t turn out how you might expect them to do. This one does end on a cliffhanger and so is not as self-contained at the first book. Still my interest is highly peaked to see the final volume. I really enjoy fantasy that builds you up and has a decided moral viewpoint without being message fiction.

Jan 032017
 

On Tolkien’s birthday it annoys me that once when it comes to books I was as irritating as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Fantasy books – no way. Give me Asimov, Niven, Clement. I want hard science fiction not day dreams! Thus I totally ignored this genre.

Even when I finally came around on Fantasy, I ignored Tolkien. Talk about dumb. It was only much later coming into the Church that I kept seeing his name on list of recommended books from Catholics. Since first reading it now they have become something I read it almost annually. They have become almost like spiritual wisdom since they contain so much wisdom. In one of those ironies of life leading up to my conversion I was noticing my increased love of the Fantasy genre because of the heroic and virtuous characters. I loved their willingness to do what is right and willing to sacrifice. I was coming to hate that I could not find those virtues in myself.

Last night I started going through the extended edition Blu-Ray of the movies again. It’s funny how the books and the movies have merged so much for me. Watching the movie I could have sworn there was a scene removed here or there. I could almost remember watching it. The same would happen reading the books. Although this only happened when there was considerable overlap. Mostly watching the movies I can understand the reasons for what was removed. Tom Bombadil and the whole section leading to Rivendell. The decision to remove the Scourging of the Shire, less so and how this changes a lot of things. Funny he could make 3 movies out of the hobbit, but kept to three for LOTR.

Still I really love the movies – especially the extended editions as they undo some of the character damage and do add to the telling. Although what I hate is that when a character is altered it is always for the worse. Faramir and Sam most of all. Sam leaving Frodo – you got to be kidding me. Yeah lots to quibble over regarding the movies, but at least mostly understandable quibbles. Although I can’t not say that for Hobbit trilogy – feast for the eyes, but not the soul. I don’t own any of those movies and I love the book.

I do love John C. Wright’s essay on one of the Hobbit movies. THE HOBBIT: The Desolation Of Tolkien and how it was often struck by the Stupidity Hammer.

Dec 282016
 

Since John Glenn’s death I have been going through books on the various space programs. I wanted to fill in my gaps of knowledge since while growing up in that era I knew little of the Mercury and Gemini programs.

So started with The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s masterful book on the Mercury program. The opening chapters describing a jet pilots life were just great writing with a poetic rhythm. Such a great book.

Next up was “On the Shoulders of Titans: History of Project Gemini.” This was a straight forward history produced by NASA (free PDF). A bit dry, but informative. It kind of freaks me out I didn’t know about the Gemini 6A and 7 accomplishing the first space rendezvous. Had no idea we ever sent up two crews close together.

Now I am reading A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I got the audiobook version of this which is done by my favorite narrator Bronson Pinchot. This one is really blowing me away. This approaches “The Right Stuff” in writing skill. Chaikin eventually was able to interview almost all of the Apollo pilots that were still living at the time. So you see it colored by these interviews adding so much flavor and really bringing you into the moment. Just so well done. I just finished the part on Apollo 8 mission, the first to go around the moon and first using the new Saturn V rocket. I was ten at the time and remember listening to their broadcast on Christmas Eve on my crystal radio set with the single earpiece and braided cord. Listening to them describe the moons surface and then alternately read from Genesis. I remember this so well, although I had no idea what the book of Genesis was. My exposure to scripture was all accidental. In fact decades later I was surprised to find out how many phrases I knew were actually scriptural references. YouTube video with the Genesis reading from the Astronauts.

Regardless the audiobook version of A Man on the Moon is phenomenal. Pinchot’s skill is so evident while being both restrained and dramatic when the story is open to it. A good history is a time machine into the past and this is that in spades. The introduction to the book is from Tom Hanks who describes the impact it made on him for his preparations for Apollo 13 along with others involved. Astronaut Jim Lovell the commander of Apollo 13 was also one of the crew on Apollo 8 and Command Pilot of Gemini 10.

The space programs was transformative for me being that they lead me to my lifetime love of Science Fiction along with technical interests starting as an electronics hobbyist, a Navy Career as an Avionics tech doing component repair of “black boxes”, and then a career working with computers as an application developer. So like many others influenced by this era it is sad to see our space program dwindle so. The sadness of watching live the Challenger explode and the joy of watching the subsequent Discovery launch while I was in Florida on a port visit with the U.S.S. America (CV–66). I remember the night before the successful Discovery launch playing the Commodore 64 Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space simulator from Activision all night long until finally having success.

Dec 202016
 

Some years ago I hear an interview on Al Kresta’s show with Sally Read. She is a a British poet and former psychiatric nurse. The interview involved her conversion to the Catholic faith from then a lifetime as an atheist. Very insightful interview.

So I was interested to find that she has now written her conversion story for Ignatius Press. The book is Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story.

Conversion stories of all types interest me. As a former atheist I especially enjoy conversion stories from other former atheists. After reading this one I realized that the recent books I read about atheists becoming Catholics were all women.

I had recently read Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ which is excellent, but he didn’t become Catholic.

Still an interesting thread in the stories of these women and a couple of similar examples I know of was that these were not women who rebelled against how they were raised. As I remember they grew up in households with no faith, as I did. All firm in their atheism with the Catholic Church, if it was even on their radar at all, was a marked enemy. So I find these commonalities fascinating along with just how different their stories are. Each book I referenced was a journey where they didn’t want to go filled with their own personalities and interests. These stories also tend not to read like an apologetics work common with Protestants who became Catholics. There are different concerns involved.

So I expected Sally Read’s account to have a literary tone to it as I imagined a poet’s account would be. I was not expecting it to feel so much a meditation. The story itself seems so unlikely. A staunch atheist with a view of life common to modern feminism. Yet at times she has glimpses into her situation that she can’t account for from her viewpoint. A realization that something was missing which could not be accounted for.

The journey of her conversion is very frank and striking. What gets her talking to a priest is not exactly a common point in a story of conversion. Yet like all conversion stories there is a confluence of different threads moving together.

Really I am failing spectacularly at writing this review because I don’t have the skill to write the review it deserves. I was totally enthralled in her story and how she weaved in these parts of her life and the influence on her thinking. Not a straight forward sequential biography of going from point A to B. A narrative with themes that presents her story. That she did some of this merging St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” was very effective. It all moved me greatly.

The story of the priest she came to know and argued back and forth with was integral to this story. So glad that this priest showed such perseverance in this. The same goes with her relationship with one Catholic mother that was tumultuous.

I just totally loved this book. So much so that it is one I will probably read is again. So insightful and written so wonderfully. Striking in the absurdity of the story and the movement of grace.

Nov 222016
 

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

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

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

  • Caveat: Review copy provider by publisher.
Nov 142016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Just excellent.

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

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

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

Caveats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 252016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 042016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 062016
 

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

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

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

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

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