Apr 182016

Jeff Cavins latest book When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding is aptly titled. Added to the well known “Death and Taxes” should be added “suffering” as something guaranteed for us. Jesus did not say “If you happen to have a cross, pick it up.” It is how we handle suffering that is the crux of the matter (use pun intended as always).

So how do we handle suffering without losing hope? The whole modern world seems to be aimed at eliminating suffering, but not dealing with suffering we can’t avoid. Often to eliminate the suffering they would eliminate the sufferer. Still in a Christian context there is much more to suffering than mere endurance.

For Catholics we will often hear “offer it up” and we might even have some grasp of what that means. Some of us might even be able to point to 1st Colossians 1:24.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God …

That somehow we can unite our sufferings with the redemptive suffering of Christ. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen use to speak about the tragedy of “wasted suffering” in hospitals. Yet even knowing some of this it is easy to have a trite understanding of this. Which is why I found Jeff Cavins new book to be very useful in explaining this and making the proper distinctions.

This review of the book puts this succinctly:

Cavins separates suffering into two categories: physical and moral. Physical is temporal, of this earth. It is temporary. Moral, on the other hand, can have eternal consequences and lead to the loss of eternal life. He also states that there are different purposes for suffering. Punitive is suffering as the result of sin. In a statement that many people today would be uncomfortable with, he maintains that God does punish us, but He does it for our good. However, not all suffering is punishment for sin. Some suffering is probative, or a testing of our faith. Other suffering is disciplinary, in which God is trying to educate us, once again for our benefit.

The impetus for this book was a period of serious physical pain that Jeff Cavins went through. No doubt he had a fairly good grasp of redemptive suffering before-hand, but the concrete often challenges our intellectual understandings. As a result his winsome writing on the subject delves into the intellectual understanding of the subject and the practical day-to-day aspects of living through suffering.

But if we can attach meaning to our suffering, if there is some value in what we are experiencing, we can endure anything.

There is a good deal I am tempted to quote from the book, but more to the point I think this book is a very useful guide to the subject. A book I will be keeping at hand myself.

Apr 112016

Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians by Jim Papandrea. Published by Catholic Answers Press.

There are plenty of Catholic apologetic books showing the falseness of the idea of Sola Scriptura. As a part of this the subject of Apostolic Tradition is often covered in part. This book goes more in-depth regarding Apostolic Tradition and charts some of the development of doctrine as these traditions handed down become concrete in Church teaching. This charting is done via the Early Church Fathers.

Each Chapter of the book addresses a specific topic and uses a “Featured Father” to illustrate what the Church teaches via that Father’s writings. A brief biography of that Father is given along with sections of their writings. Beyond this each chapter incorporated this aspect with a fuller explanation of the doctrine and the historical context fleshed out.

This is written in such a way to not just be citations from the Fathers, but a coherent look at how a Catholic doctrine was taught early on. Plus this is written in such a ways as to not be just a dry account, but more as a story. I enjoy this format as I have from other authors writing on the Church Fathers in recent years.

A worthwhile read and once again Catholic Answers Press delivers the goods.

I would also point you to this review of the book which provides a far better summary of the book.

Saints Who Battled Satan: Seventeen Holy Warriors Who Can Teach You How to Fight the Good Fight and Vanquish Your Ancient Enemy by Paul Thigpen. Published by TAN Books.

Really all you need to now is that this is a new book from Paul Thigpen and for me that is enough to want to read it. A couple of his daily mediation books like A Year with Mary: Daily Meditations on the Mother of God and A Year With the Saints: Daily Meditations with the Holy Ones of God are daily companions. His book Manual for Spiritual Warfare published in 2014 is outstanding and it right drew applause. In some ways his new book is a followup to his book on spiritual warfare. I would guess his extensive research on the subject was an impetus to it.

This book takes the lessons of spiritual warfare and shows how it was concrete in the lives of the saints. Interestingly he starts with the story of Adam and Eve. A case in point that not all spiritual warfare is successful. Where pride rules, the battle is lost. Still it made perfect sense that the first saint he covers is Mary, the New Eve. As she is our solitary boast it is she of whom we should imitate and intercede to for protection. Next up is St. Joseph who has been called the Terror of Demons.

As we move into the life of St. Paul we start to see more solid examples regarding the spiritual life and concrete examples of spiritual warfare. Apt since St. Paul put into military terms this spiritual warfare. St. Paul gives us so many examples of the cross were are to embrace when we try to grow in holiness. Much to learn here in this chapter.

The book then starts to move on to the early martyrs, early church fathers, and other saints up to the present day. When I started reading this book I mentally made a list of the saints who would illustrate this the best. While the ones I really expected were referenced, I was surprised by other saints that I had not thought about in this connection. I also believed I was well-aware of stories regarding St. Teresa of Avila and was interested for find more.

One thing I found reading these stories is that it was easy to fall into a skeptical view regarding this as exuberant hagiographies. That was what I was thinking about such stories long in the past, then it dawned on me that I was not skeptical regarding very similar stories of saints in more modern times such as St. Pio or St. John Vianney. Stories regarding them are rather well-attested. So I realized my skeptical dividing line was rather arbitrary.

A fascinating read with lots of wisdom from the saints.

Messy & Foolish: How to Make a Mess, Be a Fool, And Evangelize the World by Matthew Warner.

This is a short but very annoying book on evangelization. I thought I had sufficiently immunized myself against personal evangelization efforts and this punched through my excuses. So if you had built up excuses why you don’t have to personally do this, then avoid this book. An enticing short read only makes it more dangerous.

Seriously though, I really like how he has taken Pope Francis’s “Make a mess” and provides a framework around it. While I understood what the Pope was getting at by this phrase, it was not a phrase I was particularly warm towards. I really liked how Matthew Warner has put this into context and provided good real world examples of when you have to make a mess before you can put something in order.

I was more open at the start to being a fool as St. Paul laid the groundwork towards being a fool for Christ (1 Cor 4:10) and saints such as St. Francis elaborated just what this means.

I totally enjoyed how this book could be both light-hearted, but not light on actual content. Really I wished parishes would buy this book in bulk to be given out.

Jan 212016

Usually reading history I feel rather detached from it. The skill of the writer can bring it more to life to me or at least make me interested in the people and events. The usual detachment is not what I felt at all reading The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam by Geoffrey Shaw. While the events detailed in this book happened when I was a young kid, the after effects of the Vietnam war were front and center as I was growing up.

One of the things I have heard the most is that it was not our military that lost the war, but our politicians. This might even be true, but not in the context usually meant. This book I think fairly well shows that our government effectively lost the war even before the major involvement of our troops. Another common thing you hear is how the American media undermined our effort there. This also appears to be true to some extent, but that this also happened very early on. The book gives some quite egregious examples of this.

This book relays a kind of history that can break your heart in more than the usual “what might have been” way. Projecting what might have happened is always fraught with problems. Especially since we rarely project what does happen.

The story of Ngo Dinh Diem along with his brother is pure tragedy. Raised in an affluent Catholic family as one of six sons along with three sisters. He slowly rose in his bureaucratic career and was known for his incorruptibility and his support of nationalism. His career might have grown even faster, but he would not be used by the French as he continually supported the cause of Vietnam as its own country. This aim for a time led him to live in the United States after he got some advice on how best to put forward this cause. While living at a Maryknoll Mission Society seminaries he developed political ties with Cardinal Spellman, various senators, then-Congressman John F. Kennedy, and others. While at the same time performing the same menial household chores as the seminarians. He obviously impressed many with his firm stand against both French Colonialism and Communism. He had studied both Marxism and Communism and what it meant for Vietnam.

Throughout you get the portrait of a man who was a devout Catholic and a man who saw himself as a servant with his involvement in government as a means to serve others. That he did indeed have leadership abilities and was resistant to falling to the pursuit of power over others. In a later crisis that precipitated the coup against him his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu shouted that he should have been a monk and not a president.

His time as president of South Vietnam was fraught with difficulties as he tried to steer his country towards democracy in the midst of Communist insurrections and every attempt to undermine any advancements. This was going on along with the sniping of some elites in Saigon. A very unstable political situation and one devastating to a fledgling democracy trying to find its way forward.

As bad as this situation was, American involvement pretty much made it worse. Having to deflect the charges of just being a puppet government to the U.S. along with getting the support it needed. This included the pressure for democratic reforms at a very quick pace as if nothing else was going on.

The real heartbreaking part of the book is what was going on in the Kennedy administration along with the various factions in the state department. So many competing plans were put into operation with no understanding of the Vietnamese culture and no real attempt to understand the situation on the ground for the most part. Although there were certainly people in the government, including the State Department, that were really trying to learn. Frederick Nolting who became an Ambassador to South Vietnam was certainly one of them, but he was later betrayed himself (in one of histories ironies by a man named Trueheart).

The factions in the State Department especially as led by ambassador-at-large W. Averell Harriman make for some frustrating reading. Administrations often have groups running with their own agenda and there were several cases here where they were in direct opposition to President Kennedy’s wishes. Still Averell plans for negotiating an agreement for neutrality with Laos was supported. This agreement as Frederick Nolting predicted was totally worthless other than to help the Communists continue to use Laos. This group was certainly responsible for the betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem and the setting up of a coup where he and his brother were savagely murdered. This was pretty much the intended outcome of supporting a coup and working with a general who had a grudge against Diem.

Also detailed in the book was how the American press undermined President Ngo Dinh Diem. Not surprisingly they had little understanding of the actual situation and were jumping on stories later discredited. The pinnacle event leading up to the eventual coup was the Buddhist crisis of 1963 and the iconic photos of monks immolating themselves. This book really sets the record straight regarding Ngo Dinh Diem and his actual record regarding religious freedom. Still the reporting in the U.S. put the blame totally on him especially after a battle between Buddhists and policeman that turned bloody. The United Nations eventually investigated whether the government was at fault, but as is usually with them by the time the report was completed the President had already been murdered. They did not find the Ngo Dinh Diem adminstration at fault, but since he was already dead – did not publish the report.

I could probably go on and on about this book, but this summary only scratches the surface. Mostly the lessons learned is that we never learn our lessons. Still as difficult as this book was to read from an emotional standpoint, I am really glad I did. Just learning about the man Ngo Dinh Diem was a good enough reason. Despite some of the villains of the story there are also some real heroes. The book makes the case that Ngo Dinh Diem plans did have a very good chance of succeeding and in fact were making progress. That the extent of the American military involvement would have been much smaller and there was a true path forward for Vietnam.

Interesting to me was a story when Ngo Dinh Diem was captured by Ho Chi Minh, who tried to convert him to the cause of Communism. He refused, but must have impressed Ho Chi Minh with his courage that he was released. This story was more interesting to me since after reading Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler regarding Josef Müller who had also been captured by a top Nazi official and released after showing his courage in resisting him.

Jan 122016

Jimmy Akin has written a commentary on the Gospel of Mark that is available through Logos. Logos is software used primarily for scripture study with a linked library of references and tools. Verbum is the Logos Bible Software with a library specifically for Catholics.

The Gospel of Mark usually doesn’t top of list as anybody’s favorite Gospel. The fact that it is the shortest and little apparently unique within it compared to the other Gospels. Not that any of the Gospels will ever be ignored.

The format of this commentary is not just to have the text of Mark with commentary by footnote. This is a more free-flowing commentary that goes through each chapter and delves into interpretations regarding the text. The format reminded me specifically of Pope Benedict XVI books “Jesus of Nazareth” which is sometimes quoted in this commentary. That is questions are explored with multiple possible interpretations from the current state of scripture study (Protestant and Catholic sources). Jimmy Akin at times will give weight to the interpretation he favors or thinks is the more probable. Still this commentary bring the reader into an exploration of the texts and is not meant to provide definitive interpretations. Exploration is a good term to describe this since you feel like you are indeed going on a journey with a tour guide marking (puns always intentional) the way.

This commentary had me thoroughly engaged over a period of nightly reading. If I had give short-shrift to the Gospel of Mark before, this is no longer the case. There really is so much to explore and tease out of the text. Plus there are intriguing aspects of Mark such as his intended audience down to the way he ordered information such as the fairly well-known Marcan sandwiches. As with most commentaries there is a good amount of comparisons with other scriptures, especially the Gospels. So often these comparisons help to come to a better understanding.

What I especially like about Jimmy Akin’s commentary and the general way he teaches is that possible interpretations are not presented as “pick one.” As he often notes throughout, that these interpretations are often not mutually exclusive. In Catholic circles we sometimes hear of the “both/and” approach and this is often the best approach

This study on Mark is actually a three volume set with the main volume being the commentary. Included is a “Liturgical Study Guide” that goes through this Gospel as it appears in the liturgy along with a verse-by-verse study guide intended for both further personal and group study.

Dec 152015

I was somewhat aware of the various controversies surrounding Pope Pius XII who was the Pope during WWII up to 1958. I remember the book “Hitler’s Pope” which I once saw for sale at a retreat center. Since that book came out their have been various books defending the Pope and setting the record straight in regards to helping the Jewish people. I also knew how the Rolf Hochhuth’s 1968 anti-Pius play “The Deputy” did much to change what was previously a favorable view of the Pope during WWII. That the play might well have been part of a KGB-led disinformation campaign.

So I thought I had a pretty good grasp regarding Pope Pius XII efforts to save Jews during WWII, which was mostly a behind-the-scenes effort. Then I heard author Mark Riebling being interviewed on Al Kresta’s show regarding his book “Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler”.

When he learned of the Holocaust, Pius played his cards close to his chest. He sent birthday cards to Hitler—while secretly plotting to kill him.

Church of Spies documents this cloak and dagger intrigue in shocking detail. Gun-toting Jesuits stole blueprints to Hitler’s homes. A Catholic book publisher flew a sports plane over the Alps with secrets filched from the head of Hitler’s bodyguard. The keeper of the Vatican crypt ran a spy ring that betrayed German war plans and wounded Hitler in a briefcase bombing.

That the Pope actually plotted to have Hitler killed seems to actually be accurate and this book details this. That the Pope took efforts regarding this on his own initiative and worked to separate this as an official act for the Vatican. That in this case he thought Tyrannicide to be warranted. The book is just full of interesting details regarding this. One tidbit was the installation of a Marconi wire recorder in the Vatican to record conversations covertly.

One of the central figures in the book is Josef Müller. His story is one of those that would seem outlandish in a novel. A lawyer who defended Nazi opponents including Jewish people and was part of the Catholic resistance against Nazi Germany. He was a central figure in carrying out a coup and passing intelligence personally to Pope Pius XII along with British intelligence. How he achieved this is simply astounding considering the watchful eyes he was under. He was later arrested, imprisoned, tortured repeatedly, and scheduled for execution. That he survived all this is another amazing story. Especially considering his connection to the various plots to assassinate Hitler including Operation Valkyrie with Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.

I listened to the Audiobook version and often I felt like I was listening to a Robert Ludlum novel. The book is just wonderfully descriptive and totally pulls you into the history. The mass of evidence is presented so integrally. This is likely a book I will listen to again as the story is just so amazing and so well told.

Initially I was going to buy the Kindle version of the book which is $16.99. Instead I bought the audiobook at downpour. The site downpour is a competitor to Audible and provides all their books without any DRM (Digital Rights Management) so that you can play they as you choose on any device. They have a $12.99 a month subscription where you can select one book a month along with buying extra credits at $12.99 (Audible forces you to buy 3 credits to add extra credits).

Oct 062015

There are some things when I run across them in a novel, movie, or even religious discussion immediately set off alarm bells for me. One of them is anything involving the Nephalem. It just never turns out well and most often very silly. Another is Constantine. Constantine gets blamed for a lot by a lot of different groups. At least with the Nephalem, it is something rather mysterious with little scriptural reference. When it comes to Constantine we actually have a wealth of historical information from Christian and Pagan sources. Still Constantine is often used to pointed to as a corruptor of “pure” Christianity and the cause of the great apostasy. From Dan Brown to starters of new religions the start was not from history, but as a required plot line to justify what goes after.

I was naturally delighted when I first found out Rod Bennett was releasing a new book called The Apostasy That Wasn’t: The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church. A semi-sequel to his wonderful Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words. The appellation that somebody “made history come alive” is probably overused. Often I found that the author had made history interesting, but not fully alive to my intellect. Rod Bennett does make history come intellectually alive for me with his deft use of storytelling, historical writings, and the fruit of his research.

The introduction starts with a stroll to a period while he was still a Protestant and coming across a place in Tennessee called “Fields of the Wood” built up by a Preacher scandalized by the divisions in Christianity. Who was bringing back the “true church” and started a new congregation. This struck regarding how often this pattern has occurred. The person scandalized by the divisions who promptly create yet another division. The Bullwinkle-syndrome where the optimist church reformer says “This time for sure!” as he pulls another church out of his hat.

Rod Bennett describes the history of Preacher Tomlinson and this preachers own version of the Great Apostasy. This same pattern can be seen with the Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah Witnesses, Islam, and really most of Protestantism. Rod Bennett’s thinking about this preacher’s history led him to realize “Don’t I have, when it comes right down to it, a ‘Great Apostasy’ theory of my own?” This insight led him to studying church history and the reading of the Church Fathers. I think at this point it is mandatory to insert the Blessed John Newman quote “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Otherwise I could lose my Catholic blogger license.

I was not unfamiliar with this tumultuous and exciting period of Church history. Warren H. Carroll covers this period quite well in one of his volumes of “A History of Christendom.” Still I found it contextualized better and I especially appreciated the lead up in history to Constantine and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The state of the Church and how between waves of persecution it was out in the open with various levels of toleration. Even with Diocletian there was originally some toleration before the worst of the persecutions began. It was all much more complicated than the incorrectly simplified history of Constantine being the first to grant such toleration. Especially the erroneous idea that he made Catholicism the official religion of the empire.

He also paints the state of the empire with Rome depopulated and great cities like Alexandria lapsing from their Catholic faith. This historical backdrop sets the stage for such a fascinating piece of Church history. The rise of the Arian heresy by the priest Arius, the calling of the council, and the whole wonderful story of St. Athanasius. The story of Athanasius came so alive for me along with the conjecture that he had gotten involved with St Antony and the Desert Monks at a rather early period of his life. I often felt like I was reading a novel as this history played out. The real story is so odd and seemingly implausible that it only works as history.

Rod Bennett really is a master storyteller and fully employs his skills in describing this period of history along with presenting the actual texts that we have. This is certainly a period of history with many surviving texts from those involved along with of course the Councilar texts. His subtitle is “The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church” and this certainly fits the billing. The Arians had all the power on their side. They had most of the episcopacy of the Eastern bishops and the ear of the Emperors. The figure of Athanasius was unimpressive, but his mark on history wasn’t.

I totally loved this book. So much so that no doubt it also goes on my re-read list.

Sep 082015

When it comes to books on the Early Church Fathers there seems to be an increasing wealth of good books on the subject. One of my favorite books in this area is Rod Bennett’s “Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words”. The reason I so loved this book is that Rod Bennett is a natural storyteller along with being a good historical researcher. His writing not only brought these men alive, but the historical era as well.

So I was delighted to find another book on the Church Fathers that was as readable as “Four Witnesses” because of storytelling and grasp of the history. This book is Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s “When the Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers.” This book covers the period from Saint Ignatius of Antioch to St. Gregory the Great. The actual category as to the time period of early Church Fathers is rather loosely defined and subjective as the the end of it. Marcellino D’Ambrosio offers a good definition. “The Church Fathers are those great Christian writers who passed on and clarified the teaching of the apostles from approximately the second through eight centuries.” This definition makes more sense when you think of early ecclesiastical writers such as Origen and Tertullian as it does not rely on the writer’s sanctity or full orthodoxy.

I am generally read in this era of history and so the stories of the men contained were not unfamiliar to me. Still I learned a lot along with history being put into further context. This book is much more than a historical litany of facts. The presentation brought to me a larger view and helped me integrate the information I already knew with the wealth of stories regarding these men. Plus while this book contains a good sample of their writings, it makes you want to go to the sources to read more. This was totally an engaging read that will not just pass out of my memory in a fog of facts. When I compared this to Rod Bennett’s book I consider that high praise indeed and these two books together certainly have my recommendation.

Aug 162015

Matthew Kelly has a new book in his “Rediscover” themed books. Originally “Rediscover Catholicism”, then “Rediscover Lent” and now Rediscover Jesus: An Invitation.

This is a book for the seeker or somebody that wants to investigate who Jesus was. In the middle of this book he states something I found rather accurate.

Most Christians have been inoculated against the Gospel. They have been given a “vaccine” that contains a small-enough dose of Christianity that they have become immune to the Gospel. Somewhere along the way they where given a little bit of Christianity and now they think they know all about it. Millions who have rejected Christianity have no idea what they have rejected. Many Christians have been inoculated against Christianity. They may go to church on Sunday and in many ways be good members of society, but the inoculation prevents them from truly embracing the Christian faith.

G.K. Chesterton put it more succinctly.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” -What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

Still there are certainly people who want to rectify this situation and to move from Jesus as cultural background noise to something deeper. This book starts from the central question Jesus asked the Apostles “Who do you say I am?” and asks the reader the same question. I then builds on this as to what Jesus said about himself and his actions.

This book with forty chapters is meant to be read daily as the question is explored about who Jesus is and our reaction to the truth of this. The chapters are short and succinct as the cover each topic. At the end I found the topics to be nicely balanced covering the important aspects of sin, repentance, redemption, and growing in holiness. These are the basics and they are well presented and manage to cover a lot of territory. Plus coverage of practical aspects of leading the Christian life. The approach of this book is a generic Christianity for a larger audience beyond just Catholics. It mostly succeeds doing this.

So for the audience this book is intended for, it covers the basics and can be useful for helping someone go further.

My only caveat would be that there are aspects to his writing that annoy me. Much of language is in “motivational speaker mode” like “God wants to see your amazingness” and the-very-best-version-of-ourselves. Also he uses the word “radical” way to often and even more than once in the same sentence. Although as I read this book in one setting, I was more aware of the continuous use of this word.

rediscover Jesus

You can pre-order your copy of Rediscover Jesus_ on either Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. Readers who pre-order the book by August 16, 2015, have a chance to win one of several prizes, including an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy with Kelly and those going on the Dynamic Catholic Pilgrimage to Rome this November. To learn more about this sweepstakes, visit DynamicCatholic.com/RediscoverJesus/entry. _Anyone who pre-orders the book will also have access to an exclusive webinar with Kelly, during which he will talk about his writing process, why he decided to write Rediscover Jesus, and why he thinks this is the most important book he has ever written.

This post is part of the the #RediscoverJesus blog tour! To read the next stop, please visit Lisa Cotter writing for FOCUS on the 18th.

Aug 052015

One book I have been meaning to get to is Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer by Leah Libresco since I was sure it would be interesting. So finally got around to buying it and totally enjoyed the whole book. Just stunningly good.

For those unaware of Leah Libresco, she was previously an atheist blogger at Patheos. Her blog “Unequally Yoked” originally had the tagline “a geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend.” In June of 2012 she posted about her decision to become Catholic.

The title of her book, which came from her publisher, in part describes this book. When you come to the Catholic faith from an atheist background and never having believed in the existence of God, there is a big “what next”. This was certainly my experience where there was some intellectual understanding of the faith and a submission of intellect and will, but actually praying was totally alien to my experience.

This has to be one of the most unique books regarding prayer I have read. She takes to prayer methodologically as she works to integrate prayer in her life. What I really enjoyed is how she describes these struggles and the methods she used to start to overcome problems. This is not really a “how to” book on prayer with suggestions that will work for everybody. More of an approach to praying and being attentive to your own difficulties and seeking solutions that will work for you personally. Just like “Life hacking” has become a term used, I think “Prayer hacking” kind of fits in describing this approach. There is a wealth of devotional practices within the Church along with guidance in prayer and contemplation. Yet each individual must also discover what suits them best.

The most wonderful aspect of this book is the analogies as they are so rich and explanatory. She takes examples from across the spectrum of culture, science, fiction, math, etc. One thing I always appreciated about Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin is his geeky analogies from multiple fields of discipline. Leah Libresco has that same ability to help you understand something more deeply using these analogies. While some of her analogies are quite obscure, she explains them well. So you get the double-advantage of learning something knew while also coming to understand something more. Her chapter on confession was phenomenal with her relating of the “folk ballad of “Tam Lin” in regards to holding on to sin and how it shifts as you examine your conscience. This example is something I doubt I will ever forget. It explained my own experience succinctly and helped me to understand it better with a helpful visualization. This book is just chock-full of insights.

I also really enjoyed her clarity of thought and the natural way she teaches. She is obviously brilliant, but you never feel talked-down-to. More like you are joining her on a journey in discovering and integrating prayer.

I immensely enjoyed every moment I was reading this book and the fresh way it opens up avenues to pursue in my own prayer life.

I really hope we will be seeing more books from Leah Libresco in the future. I would certainly purchase anything she wrote on any topic and so look forward to her next book. There is a well-known (but totally false) story about how Queen Victoria, charmed by Alice in Wonderland, wanted to receive the author’s next work and received an inscribed copy of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants. Well if her next book was on math, I would read that.

Leah Libresco blogs at “Unequally Yoked” for Patheo’s Catholic Channel.

Jul 162015

I admit to be a total fanboy when it comes to author John C. Wright. Read and enjoyed all his books including short story collections along with being an admirer of his blog. So when a new book of his comes out I buy it on the first day.

His newest book is Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm. The opening paragraph from his publisher says:

SOMEWHITHER is the first part of A TALE OF THE UNWITHERING REALM, a new science fantasy series from science fiction master John C. Wright. It is an adventure, it is a romance, and it is a coming of age story of a young man who is not a man, in a world that is only one among many. It is a tale of a greater and darker evil with longer reach than anything he could imagine, of despair without bounds, of pain beyond measure, and of the faith required to surmount all three. It is a story of inexorable destiny written in the stars and the stubborn courage that is required to defy it.

This takes some fantasy tropes and expands them. The young man who doesn’t really fit in and whose family seems different from the surrounding. A father who disappears one trips for an expanded period of time who job is really not known. So from the start you know the main character Ilya Muromets is going to find out who he really is and go on some epic adventure. What follows though could only come from the mind of John C. Wright and of course there is a Space Princess involved.

Trying to pin a genre on this novel is rather difficult. His science fiction has a pagan mythos and his fantasy has scientific aspects. So there is often a blend of these genre informed by mythic elements. Finely blended so that it seems natural. Especially true here where there are many worlds and travel between them, but also a full range of mythical creatures.

There was so much I like about this story. There is a certain playfulness in his characters such as lya Muromets here or Montrose and del Azarchel in the Count to the Eschaton Sequence. Perhaps my only criticism of this book is that these two characters are reminiscent of each other with the bravado and inventive cursing. At first another aspect of this book was putting me off regarding an extended sequence involving escape. Later I realized how necessary this sequence of this book was to the plot involving a Calvinistic world that is a deterministic nightmare. Again I am amazed by how inventive he is with plot ideas. There are several here where a competent author could take just one of them to make a good book.

As a lover of SF and Fantasy, along with being both a geek and a Catholic, there are not many books that bring satisfaction on the geeky Catholic level. There are tons of geeky references in the book and I think I caught on to most of them, but doubt I caught them all. This was part of the playfulness of the book. Still it was a pleasure regarding all the Catholic aspects. Ilya Muromets as a hero is a Catholic and one that prays and calls to saints whenever he is in danger. He has to appeal to saints a lot. Even better it is an appeal to an appropriate patron saint regarding the situation. So I enjoyed how this was weaved into the story and was a natural part of it and really added to the character.

There is so much to discuss about this book, but too hard to move into spoiler territory in any discussion. So I will leave it at that. I enjoyed this book immensely and like every start in a new series eagerly await the next book.

Still I feel kind of like I had shoplifted this book since the Kindle price was only $4.99. Just doesn’t seem right considering how much enjoyment I got.