Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: "How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church" by Kevin Lowry

Last September, I was asked if I would consider endorsing a new work from my friend Kevin Lowry. I was deeply honored. Sure, there was the element of being asked to give en endorsement when I'm really not that well known; at least 95% of the honor, however, was due to the author. In 2012, I reviewed Kevin Lowry's Faith at Work and considered it the finest book on the integration of daily work and faith out there. Like our Lord's earthly preaching, Kevin communicates the gospel through stories - suffused with humor, honesty, and grace.

I had the blessing of meeting Kevin a few months later, during my first visit to The Journey Home. Kevin was COO of the Coming Home Network at the time, and I was able to grab lunch with him after taping with Marcus. That lunchtime conversation has always stood out to me as (from a personal perspective) the best part of the trip. I couldn't help but feel that the time I spent with Kevin was time spent in the presence of Christ. (If he reads this he will no doubt be cringing at this point - but that's what saint do, right? Their closeness to the Lord only makes them all the more cognizant of their remaining flaws.)

Kevin's new book, How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church, is the often-times hilarious story of how God persistently pursued a rebellious, Protestant preacher's kid (pursuing "a double-major in beer and billiards"), and brought him to a college degree, fulfilling work, committed marriage, and ultimately, the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church. The final third of the book provides Kevin's more intensive answers to the major stumbling blocks encountered by Protestant Christians: the Eucharist, Confession, the Mystical Body of Christ, Mary, faith vs. works, authority, and the Church's imperfections. 

It is an absolutely fantastic book; and I was thrilled to see my thoughts about it included in the opening pages: "When you finish this book, I have no doubt that you will find yourself not just challenged but empowered to open your heart wide to God's transformative grace and the fullness of the Christian faith." At 155 pages it is a page-turner that I had finished the next day. And seriously, who doesn't want an awesome title like "How God Hauled Me..." sitting on the bookshelf? That's an evangelistic conversation starter if I ever saw one - grab your copy here!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Review: "Champions of the Rosary" by Fr. Donald Calloway

This is a legitimate magnum opus. Fr. Calloway continues to outdo himself. His Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon has been advertised as the most comprehensive book written on the Rosary, and I find that point impossible to dispute.

I fell in love with the first chapter. Fr. Calloway titled it, "From the Angelic Salutation to the 12th Century: The Antecedents of the Rosary"; but I refer to it as a biblical theology - the first for the Rosary that I have read. He weaves his theology around the image of a sword, developing the truth to be confirmed throughout the rest of the work: The Rosary is a uniquely powerful weapon for vanquishing Satan. The Rosary has this power because it is "equipped with the only thing capable of defeating him - the saving mysteries of the God-Man" (p.27). The mold for the sword was the Word of God, and the elements poured into that mold, the Our Father and Hail Mary. He discusses the historical development of the Hail Mary, from the joining of the Angelic Salutation (Lk. 1:28) and the Evangelical Salutation (Lk. 1:42) in the sixth century to the addition of its intercessory culmination in the fourteenth. 

Fr. Calloway gives a sweeping history of the Rosary, championing the traditional view that its antecedents were not joined to meditation on the mysteries of Christ's life until St. Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), was granted a vision of the Blessed Mother, who extended the Rosary to him as a preaching tool to combat the Albigenesian heresy. You will read how the Rosary was employed by popes and saints to not only bring about conversion but win military battles against overwhelming odds (such as at Muret and Lepanto). I learned of miracles and Church-approved Marian apparitions that I had never heard of, such as Our Lady of Laus. Of special interest to me was the section dealing with the modern denial of St. Dominic's role as the original promulgator of the Rosary. Fr. Calloway traces this denial to the early twentieth century work of a Fr. Hebert Thurston, S.J., a priest with ties to the occult and an often-unwarranted criticism of the supernatural elements of the Catholic Faith.

The second section of Fr. Calloway's book is devoted to the great men and women who have championed the Rosary, from well known saints such as Pius V and Louis de Montfort to lesser known individuals, like Servant of God Joseph Kentenich.  Short biographies are provided for twenty-six individuals along with quotes witnessing to the power of the Rosary in their lives.

The third section of the book leads readers in the praying of the Rosary, from providing the texts for all of its vocal prayers to verses of Scripture to meditate upon in each mystery. It's is even capped off with a full-color appendix showing the Rosary in art down through the centuries, as well as paintings commissioned for inclusion in this book from artists Vivian Imbruglia and (what a great surprise, my friend) Nellie Edwards.

Fr. Calloway's Champions of the Rosary is the very definition of a masterpiece.





NEW RELEASE - Sept 15th

The new booklet is almost here...and it had its humble beginning right here on this blog.

The good folks at En Route Books and Media allowed me to develop those initial reflections into the work pictured at left. What can you expect to find in Marrying the Rosary to Divine Mercy Chaplet ?

The booklet encourages you to intersperse your praying of the decades of the Rosary with a decade from the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I share twenty rosary meditations (and their corresponding chaplet intercessions) that arose during my own marrying of the devotions. In the Joyful and Luminous Mysteries I recognized how our Lord's Cross cast its shadow backward over his entire life. In the Sorrowful Mysteries my understanding of Jesus’ pain was deepened; and in the Glorious our Catholic conviction that the Cross is the precondition of glory was powerfully affirmed. 

When we move from a decade of the Rosary to a decade of the Chaplet we join Mary at the foot of her Son’s Cross, voicing the prayer that filled her Immaculate Heart on Good Friday, “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of thy dearly beloved Son…” With her we join ourselves to Jesus’ offering and intercede for the fruits of his sacrifice to be generously poured out upon the Church and world. 

Each mystery of the Rosary is introduced by a Scriptural reference that you are encouraged to read. My meditation flows from that verse, weaving in other passages of Scripture. We then allow our meditation to inspire the petitions we pray in the Chaplet. By following this pattern (Read - Meditate - Pray), we engage in the first three elements of lectio divina.


The booklet also contains a QR Code allowing you to download a free audio version to help you meditate and pray as you walk and drive.

Oh, and I am incredibly honored to report that the booklet has a foreword from Fr. Donald Calloway (which can be read here) as well as endorsements from Kathleen Beckman, Dr. Kevin Vost, and Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle (here)!

The booklet will be available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com on September 5th (and your local Catholic bookstore not too long after that), but En Route is offering a special 30% discount for anyone who orders directly from them prior to that date. Hope you will take them up on it!  God bless.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Looking to Further Your Catholic Education?

At the heart of all conversions we encounter people. People who, by their example and leadership, guide those who are seeking into fullness of truth. Augustine had Ambrose. Aquinas had Albert the Great. And we, who do we have?

Maybe you have enough disposable income to take coursework through an orthodox college or university. The majority of us do not. We have our minds, our books and an ocean of information on the internet that we aren’t sure if it is fact, opinion, truth or heresy.

We need someone to help us discover truth. And we need a means to be able to connect with that someone, one that is both inexpensive and time manageable.

The Dominican Institute is that someone.

My friend, T.J. Burdick, has created a learning platform for those who seek the timeless truths of the Catholic faith but do not have the economic or scheduling stability to do so. Courses cost less than 10% what you would pay at other Catholic Colleges and Universities and more courses are begin added all of the time. To top it off, each professor has earned their Masters Degree or their Doctorate in their subject discipline and all are 100% loyal to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

This project is exactly what the new evangelization is all about. It creates a space for the Ambroses to meet with the Augustines, the Alberts with the Aquinas’. It places Christ at the center of learning and illuminates the minds of truth seekers in the light of objective truth. What’s more, since St. Dominic is the founder of the Order of Preachers, the site provides evangelistic content worth sharing- videos, memes, posts, you name it, they’re preaching, and they’re winning souls.

Had this site existed when I was going through my conversion, I would have become Catholic a LOT quicker. Even now that I’ve crossed the Tiber, the first place I’ll look to learn more will be through the Dominican Institute. Do yourself a favor and go and explore what they have to offer. I promise you won’t be sorry.

In fact, they are running a massive giveaway at the moment and you could land yourself a free spot in one of their courses on top of a multitude of other free things.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: "Navigating the Tiber" by Devin Rose

Navigating the Tiber: How to Help Your Friends and Family Journey Toward the Catholic Faith is a marvelous sequel to Devin Rose's The Protestant's Dilemma (see my review here). In his previous work he masterfully equipped readers with the Scriptural and logical reasons to embrace the fullness of Christian Faith in the Catholic Church. He now shares the fruits of his many years of conversing with friends and colleagues to help Catholics present those facts in the proper way, leading others to consider their positions critically, and (with God's grace) assist them to enter full, visible communion with the Church.

Rose begins his book with the needed reminder that Catholic evangelists are called to be fishers of men (not hunters). He presents a helpful summary of the many different strands of Protestantism from which conversational partners will hale. Rose then begins laying out a blueprint, a logical hierarchy of critical points, we should invite loved ones to consider. 

He directs us to begin with the means of salvation Catholics share with our separated brothers and sisters, Scripture - specifically, how we know, authoritatively, which books make up the Bible, and whether Scripture is the sole medium through which God communicates His Word to us. This of course leads to an investigation of Tradition and Apostolic Succession.

From there Rose moves to specific beliefs that will invariably arise in your conversations - justification and baptism - pointing out the way that both Catholics and Protestants marshal Scripture in support of their differing beliefs. This of course illustrates the fact that Scripture is not self-interpreting and necessitates a God-given means for arriving at its definitive teaching on a host of subjects - even one as essential as how we are saved! This leads directly back to the all-important topics of Tradition and Apostolic Succession and the further introduction of the Church Fathers (whose writings confirm both of the aforementioned elements) and witness to how those closest in time to Scripture's composition understood it.

The book bursts with personal examples, brilliant apologetic content, and equips readers with cut-to-the-chase argumentation stated as positively as you could ever hope to find. You will find chapters devoted to the papacy, Blessed Mother, divorce and contraception, the crusades and inquisition.

Rose offers a real world picture of lengthy process of helping loved ones come home to the fullness of their already burgeoning faith. He reminds us that it is a true dialogue, with its ups and downs, requiring sincere love and patience. I appreciated the way he concluded each chapter with a prayer with which you and those you are sharing the Faith with can bring your interraction to a close as well as boxes containing specific, nitty-gritty evangelization tips and reading suggestions.

Devin Rose is a gifted writer and Navigating the Tiber a valuable help to all desiring to become fishers of men.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: "Hard Sayings" by Trent Horn

Trent Horn's Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties is an intelligent, well-nuanced response to all those critical of the Church's claim that the Bible is completely free from error.

In the course of just over 300 pages, Horn takes the reader through a tour-de-force of biblical difficulties. In the process of answering these difficulties he illuminates 17 rules for Bible reading that will keep us from reaching wrong interpretive conclusions as well as pointing the way to answering questions posed by others.

What kind of matters does Horn tackle? The work is divided into answering three kinds of objections raised against Scripture:

1) External difficulties - where the Bible appears to make statements at odds with today's science or independent historical records. Examples:

  • Genesis' seven days of creation are at odds with the theory of evolution 
  • In Leviticus 11:13-19 bats are mistakenly identified as a type of birds
  • The Bible teaches the existence of mythical creatures such as unicorns (Job 39:9-10).
  • Lack of archaeological evidences disproves the Exodus narrative.

2) Internal difficulties - where one passage of the Bible seems to contradict another passage. Examples:

  • Differences between the different gospels' accounts of Jesus' baptism and resurrection.
  • Differences in the lists of the twelve apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16).
  • Did Jesus expel the money changers from the Temple at the beginning (John 2:11-25) or end (Matthew, Mark, Luke) of His public ministry?
  • The Bible's use of anthropomorphic language, such as attributing a human emotion, jealousy, to God.

3) Moral difficulties - where God appears to command or endorse a moral evil. Examples:

  • Capital punishment for crimes such as adultery
  • The Bible's "endorsement" of slavery (Ephesians 6:5-8)
  • Uzzah's death when he touched the Ark of the Covenant, in the attempt to keep it from falling (2 Sam. 6:7)
  • God's apparent command to destroy not just enemy combatants in war, but women and children (Deut. 20:16-18;  1 Sam. 15:3)

These are just a handful of the issues that Horn tackles in each of these sections. His responses are meticulously referenced and, although his book seems to addresses all of the difficulties that I have either personally with wrestled or heard raised, Horn's notes and bibliography (eleven pages) point the way for anyone wanting to study these matters in even greater depth. Horn does not offer definitive solutions to every scriptural difficulty examined; in some cases he proposes different solutions, some more probable than others, and wisely leaves the reader free to arrive at his or her own conclusion. 


One comes away from this book with a deep appreciation for the Catholic Church's manner of reading Scripture. It wisely navigates between the opposing errors of biblical fundamentalism on the one hand and the impugning of Scripture's inerrancy on the other. Trent Horn has crafted an expert primer for tackling the apparent difficulties within the pages of the Bible, and I heartily recommend making a place for his Hard Sayings on your shelf.



Saturday, July 30, 2016

THIS MONDAY, AUGUST 22nd - My Return Visit to EWTN's "The Journey Home"

Believe me, no one is more surprised than me. Marcus Grodi came across my The Epistle to the Hebrews and The Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics, liked it, and invited me to come back on the program to share some of the content with viewers. We filmed the episode this past week, and it will air on Monday, August 22, at 8 p.m. Eastern/ 7 p.m. Central. Hope you can tune in or catch it later on YouTube. We discuss Hebrews 10:19-25 as the "New Testament Plan of Salvation" as well as how the author of Hebrews finds the Word of God in not just Scripture, but Tradition. I recall us also jumping into a discussion of the Church Fathers. Please pray that it is received well by those who see it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

So, you wanna go to heaven . . .

This morning on the Son Rise Morning Show I was talking about the "Plan of Salvation" as revealed in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:19-25 seems to encapsulate it perfectly:


 
The New Covenant Process of Salvation



Hebrews 10:19-25

Jesus’ Life

Given to the Father in the Holy Spirit

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh


We enter by

Faith and Baptism

and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.


We continue and grow in Him by our
Grace-Filled Works,  

Membership in Jesus Body
 
and Participation in her Prayer/Eucharist


Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful;

and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,


not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and

And, in the end,
inherit Final
Salvation

all the more as you see the Day drawing near.






Thursday, April 28, 2016

Visiting Matthew Leonard's "The Art of Catholic"


I recently had the opportunity - on my birthday no less! - to record a podcast with Matthew Leonard, Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. I've written about Matthew's work before, so having the chance to talk with him about The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics was a huge honor. Matthew has released our chat in two parts. Here are links to each with a brief description of the content:


Who wrote Hebrews and why it’s one of the most argued topics in Scripture study
Why Hebrews has special relevance today given the current condition of the world
How Hebrews bridges the gap between the Old and New Testaments
The Jewish background of Hebrews (does that sound redundant?)
How the doctrine of the Trinity is unveiled in Hebrews

How Hebrews lays out the Catholic “plan of salvation” in 7 verses
The grittiness of Jesus’ humanity and how he learned obedience through suffering
What the famous faith “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 teaches us about heaven and the communion of saints
Why critics of Catholicism who say there’s no mention of the Eucharist in Hebrews (“so it can’t be a Catholic book”) are dead wrong


Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: "The Porch and the Cross" by Kevin Vost



Christianity has long held that our Faith is a reasonable one. From the recognition of God’s existence to the right use of our sexuality, human reason powerfully reaffirms our deepest convictions as Catholics. Not only do we Christians need to be able to present our beliefs in a logical way, but as our society descends further into secularism it behooves us to be able to show how the traditional understanding of morality and family life are not simply “antiquated religious notions,” but are demonstrably true to any person willing to employ their reason in living according to nature. This is where philosophy, and Stoic philosophy in particular, has always been of value to Christians. As St. Justin Martyr explained in the second century, “In moral philosophy the Stoics have established right principles, and the poets too have expounded such, because the seed of the Word was implanted in the whole human race” (Second Apology VIII, 1). And that brings me to the new book from my friend Dr. Kevin Vost, The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living. I am incredibly gratified that Angelico Press recognized it as an ideal complement to my work of biblical exegesis/apologetics, The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics.


In The Porch and the Cross, Dr. Vost introduces us to the lives, teachings, and legacies of four of the most influential Stoic philosophers – Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. (Amazingly, two were historical contemporaries of the Lord Jesus; we even read of Seneca’s brother, Gallio, in Acts 18:12-27!) Unless you are already steeped in the Stoics, I have no doubt that, like me, you will be amazed at what you discover in this book.


Allow me to follow Dr. Vost’s lead and begin with Musonius Rufus. The man was a first-century “pro-life” activist! Not only did he publicly protest the gladiatorial games in Athens, but he also extolled the ancient laws prohibiting abortion and contraception. He taught that marriage was the natural union of one man and one woman, entered into for the beauty of life-long companionship and the welcoming of new lives (hopefully, many new lives) into the world. Parents, and not an amorphous state, bore the responsibility for educating their children –and that applied equally to sons and daughters (since both possessed the same powers of reason).


Dr. Vost then presents us with pride of the Stoics, Epictetus – the slave (his very name means “acquired”) who gained his freedom and rose to prominence as a professional philosopher. Epictetus taught that happiness, no matter one’s state in life, lay in interior freedom. It is what we say to ourselves, and not our circumstances, that determine our emotions and actions; and it is our moral purpose that distinguishes us from animals. He addressed practical means of growing in virtue and combating what we Christians would come to call the seven deadly sins. Is it any wonder that his Handbook was adapted for use in Christian monasteries? Further, Epictetus’ insights  served as the basis for psychotherapists Albert Ellis’s rational-emotive therapy and Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy.


I realize that I have two Stoics yet to discuss: Of Seneca let me simply note that his maxims were especially loved by the early Dominicans and that St. Thomas Aquinas made copious use of them when extolling the virtues in his Summa Theologica. (Is there a stronger endorsement?) Dr. Vost’s chapters covering Marcus Aurelius are truly inspirational – a Roman emporer who embraced simplicity, sexual purity, and was convinced that all human beings, no matter their station in life, possessed dignity. Listen to him for yourself: “[M]y philosophy means keeping that vital spark within you free from damage and degradation, using it to transcend pain and pleasure, doing everything with a purpose, avoiding lies and hypocrisy, not relying on another person’s actions or failings. To accept everything that comes and everything that is given, as coming from the same spiritual source” (Meditations, II, 17). It is the grace of Christ that makes it possible for us to do just that!


The Stoics had their short comings, but Christians have always recognized them as powerful cultural allies in explicating a morality rooted in the natural law and the inculcation of virtue. Dr. Kevin Vost’s The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living (Angelico Press, 2016) is a much needed reminder that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, has always valued its Jewish and Gentile heritage:  We embrace Revelation and philosophy, faith and reason – all in the service of Christ, Truth incarnate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Thought from the Road to Emmaus

I have shared before how the story of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of my favorites. It overflows with meaning. After years of meditating upon it, I am still coming to new realizations.

This morning, and I don't know what triggered it, I was struck by the way that the disciples' "eyes were kept from recognizing Him" as Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Lk. 24:16, 27). It is a reminder to us of the innumerable times that the Lord addresses us through the members of His Body. We do not register that it is the Lord addressing us; but it is. Let us rejoice anew at the promise Jesus made to His apostles and disciples, "He who hears you hears me" (Lk. 10:16; Mt. 10:4), because He continues to make good on it today through their successors!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Review: "Meditations on Mary" by Jacques-Benigne Bossuet

"Elegant" strikes me as the perfect word to describe Meditations on Mary (Sophia Institute, 2015). From the simple beauty and feel of its cover to the profound prose within, one comes away from this collection of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet's meditations with the distinct sense of having been elevated above the coarse and mundane. These meditations from the famed 17th century French bishop and orator are appearing in English for the first time; my sincere thanks to translator and editor, Christopher O. Blum.

This is a compact book but not a "quick read." Like all rich fare it is best consumed slowly. Bossuet's insights are so striking, and his call to self-examination so constant, that I had to limit myself to one or two meditations (there are twenty-four in all) at a time. This makes it ideal to bring into your prayer time.

His reflections upon our Blessed Mother are strike me as "modern" - scriptural, with an abundance of awe, and phrased in such a way as to be sensitive to, and to kindly lead, our separated brothers and sisters to a recognition of their spiritual mother. I fell in love with these words from the first meditation, "The True Eve." After quoting Irenaeus (c.180 A.D.), Tertullian (c. 210), and Augustine (c. 410) as to Mary's role in our salvation, Bossuet continues:
Truly we misunderstand God if we think that his glory would be diminished by being shared with his creatures. God is not like us: in giving away a part, he retains the whole. If this seems strange consider that God is the only one who can give without loss...When he joins his creatures to his work, it is not to unburden himself, but to honor them, and so all of the glory remains his. When the Fathers taught us that Mary was associated in a singular way with the great work of the Son of God, they in no way diminished the Savior's glory (p.3-4).
Or consider the way Bossuet's meditation on the Assumption anticipates John Paul II's Theology of the Body:
Mary's sacred body, the throne of chastity, the temple of Incarnate Wisdom, the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and the seat of the power of the Most High (Lk 1:35), could not remain in the tomb. The triumph of Mary would have been imperfect if her holy body, which was in a way the source of her glory, had not participated in it (p.117).
Authentic Marian devotion is focused not upon our Lady, but the Lord Jesus; and so, Bossuet's meditations constantly progress from Mary to Jesus, and from pondering God's activity to directly addressing Him in prayer. Like the best religious works, it flawlessly weds theology and devotion. I may not affirm every minuscule point that Bossuet makes - likely shortsightedness on my part - but Meditations on Mary is a work of spiritual elegance that I hardily recommend.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Conquering Pornography - A New Course from Devin Rose

Devin Rose is a masterful apologist with a fire for seeing men become all that they were intended to be in Christ. I want to draw your attention to a new, online course that Devin is offering.
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Allow me to set the table for you. In this course you will be getting:
  • Nine exclusive videos giving you the strategy to follow.
  • Devin's ebook, Unbreakable Purity, the guide to conquering pornography
  • Access to his Bootcamp, with daily instructions on specific actions to take
  • The option of joining a private forum with other men in the course to encourage one another and share tips
  • The opportunity to email Devin personally anytime you need support or encouragement
If you or anyone you know is suffering from this addiction, I urge you to take advantage of this course. There is a great deal more to say, and you can view course content more in-depth by visiting Devin's website. May the Lord grant you the freedom you are seeking!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: "Hounds of the Lord" by Kevin Vost


Hounds of the Lord: Great Dominican Saints Every Catholic Should Know is one of four new books from Dr. Kevin Vost that I have read in the last twelve months. To call his literary output "astounding" hardly does it justice. The amount of research alone, not to mention the exquisite prose and meaty content, is beyond anything I could even imagine producing.

In Hounds of the Lord Kevin widens his gaze from his spiritual mentor, St. Thomas Aquinas, to contemplate the religious order that molded him, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), now celebrating its 800th years. Using the Thinker-Doer-Lover paradigm, already familiar to readers of his Three Irish Saints, Kevin provides chapter-length biographies of:  The order's founder, St. Dominic de Guzman, Bl. Humbart of Romans, Bl. Fra Angelico, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Martin de Porres, St. Rose of Lima, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Kevin has also included additional page-length biographies of Bl. Jordan of Saxony. St. Hyacinth of Poland, St. Agnes of Montepulciano, St. Vincent Ferrer, Pope St. Pius V, Ven. Louis of Granada, St. Catherine de Ricci, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, and Servant of God Mother Mary Alphonsa Hawthorne.

I don't think one could read of these incredible men and women without finding new inspiration to study, pray, and pour oneself out in love. Kevin's style of writing takes me back to an earlier time; he writes with the intellectual flare and wit of a Bishop Sheen or Frank Sheed. Hounds of the Lord is ideal reading for Lent or any time of year.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Why Are You Terrified?"

Jesus and the Apostles were out at sea. Jesus was catching up on some well-deserved sleep when a violent storm hit, so violent that the boat began taking on water. Jesus kept right on sleeping - until the Apostles woke him, screaming, "Don't you care that we are perishing?" Jesus rose, "rebuked" the wind and sea and then spun to face the Apostles, "Why were you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?" (Mark 4:40).

After having been with Him, after seeing Him heal and cast out devils, after hearing His proclamation of the Father's great love for them, Jesus was shocked by the Apostles' abject terror. They had yet to look at the world through His eyes and to understand that nothing outside of them had the power to snatch them from the Father's hand - not even death. They would not understand until Jesus had been raised and the Spirit poured out on Pentecost.

In the light of Christ's Resurrection, the Apostles finally saw the world as it was: under the Lord's dominion. Nothing is outside His power. Yes, men can commit gross evils, but only because God allows them to exercise their freewills. And, the divine power can turn evil back upon itself with a simple command. The rulers of this world crucified the Lord Jesus; but the Father raised Him and Christ now sits enthroned at His right hand, ready to judge the living and the dead (Acts 2:23-24, 36). That is reality.

Our culture is disintegrating. Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa are persecuted and killed, and some form of persecution seems to loom on the horizon for us (in addition to that already occurring in academia and the court of public opinion). But I hear the Lord say, "Why are you terrified?"; and I remember the reality to which Jesus witnessed to before Pilate, and Peter and John before the Sanhedrin:
[Pilate said,] "Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11). 
[The Sanhedrin] called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).
We follow Jesus, Who had power to lay down His life and take it up again (John 10:18), and Who has promised to raise us up, too (John 6:40). What do men and women who have been promised a resurrection from the dead have to fear?  I hate to insert Star Wars into such a serious post, but Obi Wan Kenobi's words to Vader at their final duel capture this truth perfectly: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."What can possibly terrify a Christian? Nothing, except allowing ourselves to be robbed of that transformation and eternal treasure. We must continue praying for the grace to persevere and not give into a fear of pain. We must pray, so that
...we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
This reality should fill us with a deep, authentic joy. Thank You, Lord. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

New Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press

Ave Maria Press and the Apostleship of Prayer have partnered to provide two amazing tools for helping us to go deeper into prayer this Lent. (And at a combined price of $7.70, they're mighty kind to the pocketbook!) One of the themes that has dominated my thought these past five years is the way our sacramental and devotional lives unite us to the human prayer of Christ Himself (CCC 2740). Two of the devotions I discussed in Through, With, and In Him were lectio divina (sacred reading) and the Stations of the Cross. These new resources from AMP not only provide wonderful introductions to both, but lead you step by step to make real progress in their use.

I've decided that Sacred Reading for Lent 2016 by Douglas Leonard, executive director of the Apostleship of Prayer, is going to be my daily devotional this Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and going through Easter Sunday, it provides readers with six simple steps for practicing lectio divina with the Mass's daily Gospel reading:
1) A short prayer for intentionally placing ourselves in God's presence 
2) The text of the day's Gospel reading 
3) Text-specific prompts to help us notice what we think and feel as we read the passage 
4) A prayer starter for speaking to the Lord about what we have read 
5) The words the author felt that Jesus impressed upon his own heart while meditating upon the passage and the invitation for us to listen for Jesus' words to us 
6) A prayerful invitation for God to show us, concretely, how we are to live this day in the light of our reading and listening.
Lectio is such a simple manner of prayer, but it yields powerful results. In His humility the Lord Jesus, the Word Incarnate, listened as the Father spoke to Him through Moses and the prophets (Luke 9:28-31). When we practice lectio, Jesus manifests this aspect of His prayer in us. 

[ALLOW ME TO OFFER TWO BRIEF CAUTIONS. First: If you sense that the Lord is saying something to you during the listening portion of your prayer (#5 in this resource) that is at odds with the Catholic Faith, then it is not the Lord that you are hearing. Second: In the Introduction to Sacred Reading, the author encourages us to speak to the saints in our prayer as well to the Lord. I wholeheartedly agree. Use your imagination as to how the Blessed Mother, Peter, and the other saints in the Gospel reading felt witnessing those events. Speak to them about what you've read and ask them to intercede for you. Do not, however, make the mistake of asking the saints to share his/her thoughts with you. Our communication with the saints is meant to be one-way (unless the Lord should take the highly unusual step of sending them to speak us; and then we shouldn't give the message any credence until we taken it to a trusted spiritual director or knowledgeable priest).]

The Fridays of Lent are of course even more intense times of
prayer, and the Stations of the Cross are a time-honored means for uniting ourselves to our Lord in the midst of His Passion. This new book of meditations from Father William Prosper, however, focuses our gaze on the way that each of the fourteen stations speak to us of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Faith.

Stations of the Cross with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus reawakens us to the awesome truth that what Jesus accomplished in His Passion becomes present to us at every celebration of the Eucharist. Each station is introduced by an image and either a passage of Scripture or quotation from a saint. These are followed by a page-length meditation penned by Fr. Prospero and conclude with the prayer, "Heart of Jesus, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, I offer myself to you for the salvation of all."
William Prospero, S.J.
The book's foreword adds significance to the words of that prayer. It reveals how "Fr. Will," the author, walked the way of the Cross with Jesus, trustfully surrendering himself to the perfect will of the Father as he suffered kidney cancer, chemotherapy, and fungal pneumonia before his death on Sept. 18, 2014. Father Will's meditations bear the stamp of authenticity.

Hats off to Ave Maria Press and the Apostleship of Prayer for such solid resources...and please pray throughout Lent for the repose of the soul of our brother, Fr. Will.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Awe of St. Antony of Egypt

Since reading Bennett's The Apostasy That Wasn't over Christmas, I've felt drawn to the example of St. Antony of Egypt (also known as St. Antony the Abbot). Here was a man who followed Christ with all of the fire of the Apostles - abandoning wealth and the complacent Christianity of Alexandria, to seek Christ amidst fasting, physical labor, the acquisition of virtue, and constant prayer in the desert. He sought Jesus in solitude; but when the Lord sent him disciples, Antony shared his way of life with them. And when the Spirit stirred him to reenter society and face-down the Church's persecutors, Antony obediently went. He was instrumental in molding God's faithful soldier, Athanasius.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at today's readings and discovered that it was this great man's feast. I am celebrating by reading St. Athanasius' biography of Antony. The PDF is available here. Like most ancient books (Athanasius wrote c. 360), it is a relatively quick read - 80 pages. I hope you'll give it a look; I bet you'll be hooked within the first five pages. I particularly love the way that Athanasius continually reminds us that it was Christ accomplishing all these things in Antony.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: "The Mystery of Suffering" by Hubert Van Zeller, O.S.B.

This is a tough review for me to write... because it is impossible to do justice to what is clearly a modern classic. Accepting the fact that God allows suffering into our lives - and means to make use of it to perfect us - is what separates "real" Christianity, lived Christianity, from the false gospel so prevalent in American culture. I have been meditating upon this subject for several years; and yet, as I leaf back through this book, I seem to have highlighted at least one or two sentences per page (and there are over a hundred pages).

Dom Hubert Van Zeller, the Benedictine monk, author, and sculptor, departed this life in 1984; but he bequeathed many valuable treasures to the Church militant before doing so. His The Mystery of Suffering is a frank, profound, and sympathetic discussion of the most difficult reality we human beings face. Van Zeller writes in such a way, though, that you read his words and think, "Of course." Let me give an example:
"The truth is that in this matter of religion, and more especially in this matter of the perfect service of God which is here envisaged, the really important things come to us disguised. The more important, the more disguised. Obvious examples would be the ways in which our Lord comes to us disguised as an ordinary baby, as a prisoner hanging on a cross, as a piece of bread. So it is hardly to be expected that the cross, which is such an essential part of religion, and of perfect service, should proclaim its nature with a neatly printed label...The quality of hiddenness is certainly present in the matter of suffering." (p. 16-17)
What can you say after that, except "Amen"?

Van Zeller's approach is balanced. Our goal is love - to love God in the midst of both suffering and enjoyment. (One of the happy surprises I experienced while reading this book was an increase in my thanks to God for life's "simple" things.) Van Zeller reminds us that suffering can be a corrective punishment, but that it is usually just part and parcel of our living in a fallen world. What changed with the coming of Christ, however, was that we have the opportunity to unite each discomfort to the sufferings of Christ crucified and thus, to invest them with meaning and value. (By entrusting ourselves, with Christ, to the Father, we simultaneously grow in supernatural faith, hope, and charity, and increase our likeness to Christ.)

I need to read this book several more times. There is truth here - so great and so at odds with this fallen world and the patterns of thought we all share, that I will need to return to it again and again to better acclimate myself to Reality. I appreciated the foreword supplied by Al Kresta. He first read the book while suffering through the loss of a leg to flesh-eating bacteria, and, as a result, is able to offer real world testimony to the power of Van Zeller's insights.

Allow me to close with one more quotation:
"Our darkness may be as nothing compared to the saints - just as theirs was nothing when compared with that endured by Christ when he cried from the Cross, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mt 27:46) - but the chances are we shall be floundering about and unable to see our way through to the other side. Darkness cannot be fought: hitting out at darkness gets you no results. Nor can darkness be argued into light: you cannot think your way toward God in suffering. The only thing that helps is prayer." (p.15)
The Mystery of Suffering (Ave Maria Press, 2015)