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 292014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 21 – 28 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Homilies

Letters

Messages

Speeches

Papal Tweets

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 222014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 8 November – 19 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

General Audiences

Homilies

Letters

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “It is so important to listen! Husbands and wives need to communicate to bring happiness and serenity to family life.” @pontifex, 16 December 2014
  • “The Lord put it clearly: you cannot serve two masters. You have to choose between God and money.” @pontifex, 18 December 2014
  • “If Jesus is to become the centre of our life, we need to spend time in his presence, before the Tabernacle.” @pontifex, 19 December 2014
Dec 182014
 

I know this is a bit overdone, but I felt like overdoing it seeing so many “Reasons for the Season”‘s that forget we are sinners and Jesus came to us to save us from our sins. When we look at the child wrapped in swaddling clothes we should not forget Jesus wrapped in a shroud dying for our sins.

 

reasonForTheSeason

 

 

Dec 162014
 

My Advent hymn listening is about to wind down as I start listening to Christmas carols on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Since traditional Christmas carols played a part in my conversion I am really looking forward to this. Listening to Advent music only for most of Advent is only a couple year tradition for me, but partly I find for myself the delay in listening to my favorite carols lets me appreciate them even more. Plus I have found that Advent hymns are also pretty awesome especially as performed on Advent at Ephesus.

I have a fairly good collection of these carols once on a CD and now living in the cloud. Unfortunately the production values on too many of them are not very good. Especially ones involving choirs. I remember being disappointed after buying the “John Rutter Christmas Album” for the Cambridge Singers. While the hymn selection was excellent, the sound is low and just not that sharp.

So I am always on the lookout for a higher quality collection of Christmas carols that mixes the familiar with the lesser known. I received Christmas in Harvard Square for review and was happy to find it perfectly fulfilled my requirements.

The album is performed by [The Boys of St. Paul Choir School][http://stpaulchoirschool.com]. This is the only boys’ choir school in the United States of America and students attend full time between the forth and eighth grade. I just looked at the information regarding this album on Amazon and found that they used John Rutter & Sir David Willcocks arrangements and that the schools is based in Cambridge. So after I just complained about a specific album I found this a bit ironic.

Now I only gave this album one listen or else my personal Christmas carol embargo would have fallen and I would be playing them 24/7. One listen was certainly enough to make me love it as the boys voices come shining through with high production values. The majority of hymns on this album are the lesser known, or at least the lesser played. Still all of these selections should be better known. All I know if that I am going to give this specific album a listen daily just before and during Chrismastide.

Another polished well-produced piece of sacred music is O Day Of Resurrection! – Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday by the [New Camaldoli Hermitage][hermitge] a group of Benedictines located at Big Sur. These recordings of the Liturgy of the Hours in plainchant is captivating. I found it to be perfect background music while doing spiritual reading.

On another note (pun always intended) I sometimes hear complaints about Christmas carols being played early in stores and shopping centers. Now normally this is a complaint I could appreciate, but I have been thinking that perhaps we shouldn’t really grumble about it. At least Christmas carols are still being played in public and political correctness has not yet wiped it out for fear of offending the ear of the non-Christian. Sure the mix of these songs in public lean more towards the Christmassy secular songs, but actual carols slip through repetitions of “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” So I have decided to enjoy this while it lasts.

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 152014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 20 November – 13 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Note: The Vatican has translated very few documents into English for the month of December.

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Dec 132014
 

When I first started seeing headlines about Pope Francis saying animals go to Heaven I pretty much ignored the headlines and their supposed content. I doesn’t take much intelligence to know that this would be either total fabrication or something close to that. The headlines have had staying power and have continued throughout the week in various forms of media.

Thus I figured it wouldn’t be long until Jimmy Akin had a post refuting the whole thing. Today he published Did Pope Francis say animals go to heaven? in which he summarizes at the start “But the thing is … the whole story is false.”

Now Pope Francis speeches are not known for their exactness and are prone to generalities over precision. So in the back of my mind I thought there was a possibility that this tendency lead to this story in the typical distorted amplification of his words. Wow not only did they invent Pope Francis’s words for the story but came up with some new ones for St. Paul. Must have been from the lost Gospel of Fido.

Now even if all animals went to Heaven I would have serious questions about the salvation of journalists and editors and members of news agencies. This is just another case in a long line of cases where journalists have no love for the truth or any concern regarding the truth. Maybe Pontius Pilate is the patron of journalists. This case being even more egregious than normal. No fact checking just passed along from one news agency to another. The false quote of St. Paul should have been a major tipoff. It is so obvious that zero attempt was made to acquire even the most basic facts or even spending 5 minutes on Google.

So how does such a story get passed on? No doubt there are multiple reasons. When it comes to reporting on the Church any stick will do to beat the Church including one used to play fetch with their pet dog. Page views and driving traffic for advertising dollars is probably another aspect. Sensationalism in journalism is nothing new, but click-bait headlines and stories low or totally barren of facts bring this to a new level and a declining one at that. Sure such stories are gist for the mill of headline writers.

I found CNN’s Did Pope Francis open a doggy door to heaven? to be the funniest of the lot. The story itself tried to update itself but failed even at that.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story, citing a newspaper, attributed a quote to Pope Francis. The quote actually comes from Pope Paul VI.

The problem with that is we have no evidence that Pope Paul VI said it either. As Jimmy Akin points out:

7) Did Pope Paul VI say to a bereaved boy what is attributed to him?

Who knows?

If you search the Vatican web site for the relevant quote, you get nothing.

At this point, I don’t see why anyone should trust anything attributed to a pope about animals going to heaven—not without a solid reference to a checkable, primary source document.

I have heard several attempts to try to side step this understanding especially when talking with children. A lot of people really want the idea of their pets going to Heaven. So it seems strange to me that if Blessed Paul VI ever said this that the quote would be in use in a larger circulation. C.S. Lewis also speculated on this in his book “The Problem of Pain.” Still it seems to me there is often more an emotional appeal to a theological appeal.

The CNN article goes on.

While Catholic teachings don’t reject the notion that animals have souls, traditional dogma has long held that animals don’t go to heaven.

Well Catholic teaching has long held distinctions between, plant souls, sensitive souls (such as animals), and the rational soul such as we have. All living things have souls as the soul is the form of the body. St. Thomas Aquinas detailed the thrust of the distinctions as we currently understand them. Still as far as I know there is no magisterial teaching on this as to the classes of souls. Much less a dogmatic (hey that’s pretty funny in context) teaching that animals don’t go to heaven. The CNN articles tries to be somewhat skeptical of the story, but still totally blunders in its corrections. As Mark Shea says about reporting on the Church is that you can take off 50 IQ points.

Another aspect of the ridiculous coverage of the Church that I have notice growing in the last year is how often so-called traditionalists fall for them. Most serious Catholics are highly skeptical of Church reporting for good reason. Yet I keep seeing more and more stories on “traditionalist” sites that take these stories as Gospel. Instead of any stick to beat the Church it is any stick that can beat Pope Francis. There not skeptical of the stories because they are skeptical of Pope Francis and see even bad reporting via confirmation bias. This annoys me since I have common cause with many of the liturgical complaints of “traditionalists”, but this hatred or loathing of Pope Francis makes them as agenda driven as most secular journalists.

On the lighter side the brilliant “Eye of the Tiber” presents Pope Francis confirms casts still going to Hell. I have a couple of cats, but that is still pretty funny. Surely the Cat-echism say otherwise.