Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: "Made This Way" by Leila Miller & Trent Horn

Amidst our shifting cultural landscape, a plot of solid ground is valuable real estate. Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today's Tough Moral Issues provides the terra firma that parents are seeking. And while this book brings an abundance of Scripture and Church teaching to bear on issues, its keenest strength is grounding its moral arguments in the natural law - the universal moral truths discerned by reason and known to consciences (Christian, theist, and atheist) the world over.

Trent Horn and Leila Miller are the perfect duo to craft such a book. Trent is one of the most gifted thinkers and apologists on the scene, and Leila is an outspoken mother of eight whose blog and last two books address the most pressing needs of today's children.

Miller and Horn tackle ten issues: Sex outside of marriage, same-sex "marriage," divorce, contraception, abortion, reproductive technologies, modesty, pornography, transgender identity, and homosexuality. Each is addressed via the three-pronged approach of: 1) what the Church teaches; 2) how to address the topic with young children; 3) addressing it with older children. The book is written  in Leila's melodic voice, but the brilliance of both minds is on display.

As I said, readers are given a crash course in Scriptural passages and Church documents pertinent to these issues, but most helpful for parents will be the rubber-meets-the-road examples and faultless reasoning they can bring into conversations with their children, especially their teens. An example from the chapter on transgenderism:
When a person has a body dysphoria unrelated to sex or "gender," everyone understands that the person needs help. When an anorexic looks in the mirror, she might see someone who is obese, even if she weighs much less than everyone else her age. We don't tell that girl, "That's right, you are overweight, and we will help you reach the weight that's right for you." Instead we say, "What you perceive yourself to be, well, that isn't you. In reality, you are dangerously underweight, and because we love you, we aren't going to help you harm yourself." That is the loving response.... 
....[I]f we are rightly disgusted that a doctor would amputate the healthy limbs of a person who suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder [or trans-ableism], then why aren't we equally disgusted by doctors amputating the healthy genitals of persons who identify as transgender? This mental gymnastics of holding both positions at once (trans-able = bad; transgender = good) is not tenable, unless we completely obliterate in our own minds that man and woman mean something objectively, as we know that healthy and disabled do. (p. 210-12)
That is powerful reasoning, one that any teen should be able to grasp and bring with her into conversations with peers of different religious and philosophical backgrounds. My favorite part of their argument on this subject, however, was when they raised the example of Rachel Dolazel, the former head of the Spokane NAACP, a caucasian woman who claims to be "trans-black":

...[I]f Dolazel had claimed she was a black man, then her "progressive" critics would have said she was half right. Yet, how can we tell a person she's wrong about her sincere sense of her racial identity, but right about her sense of gender identity - when both exist only in the imagination? There is no logic to saying we affirm your "sense" of being a man but we condemn your "sense" of being black. Your teens will see the contradiction here. (p. 211)
Yes, I dare say they will - as should anyone sincerely committed to logic and common sense.

Miller and Horn have created a resource that will be cherished by every parent looking to raise their children on tried and true, solid moral ground. Made This Way (Catholic Answers Press, 2018) has my wholehearted endorsement.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Why I'm "No" on the Rapture, But "Yes" on Mary's Assumption

In my last post I shared my reasons for giving up belief in the Rapture.  Introduced to it by author Hal Lindsey, and confirmed in it during my time in a non-denominational church, study brought me to the conclusion that it was not a legitimate element of Christian Faith. Despite its popularity among Christians in the U.S., not only did it have no basis in Scripture, but it directly contradicted what Christianity has always taught - that in the last days, the Church will share Christ's Passion in an intense way, and then at His return, His Resurrection.

The wild thing is, at the same time that I believed so whole-heartedly in the Rapture, I also argued against the Catholic belief that Mary was assumed into heaven.  Do you see the irony?  I was absolutely convinced that Jesus was going to raise the entire Church up into heaven, but totally opposed to the Catholic dogma that Jesus had already done so for His Mother!

My change of heart occurred long before I came to have a positive view of the Catholic Tradition regarding Mary's assumption.  My thought process went something like this:  

  • The Bible does not say that Mary wasn't assumed into heaven.
  • The Old Testament does speak of two other people having been assumed, Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12).If it was true for them, then couldn't it be true of Mary?
  • Matthew's Gospel states that at the moment of Jesus' death, "The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Mt. 27:52-53).  Wasn't it reasonable to believe that after these appearances they too were assumed into heaven?  Again, if it was true for them, then why not for Mary?
  • If the assumption occurred at the end of her life, then wouldn’t portions of the New Testament already have been written? Did the Bible have to explicitly say it for the event to have occurred?
  • There are tons of things not explicitly recorded in the Bible; the Holy Spirit moved John to end his Gospel with that very thought, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (Jn. 21:25)
  • The Assumption coincides with, dovetails into, Scripture; whereas a pre-Tribulation Rapture is in contradiction to the overall picture of the last days painted by the New Testament.
  • Belief in Mary's assumption is witnessed to in writing prior to 400 A.D. (although it claims to go back to the apostles), while the Rapture does not make an appearance until 1850.  
  • The Assumption squares with the Christian reality that glory follows suffering (Mary's share in Jesus' Resurrection came only after she shared in His suffering upon the Cross [Lk.2:35; Jn.19:25-37].)  The Rapture on the other hand, holds out a false expectation regarding freedom from suffering and persecution.
Catholics and Orthodox Christians have of course always said that the Christian Faith was not be limited to those things explicitly stated in Scripture.  (No legitimate point of belief could ever contradict Scripture, but there is not a requirement that it be explicitly stated in Scripture either.)   

If you, however, object to Mary's assumption because you are a "Bible-only" Christian, then you really ought to take a second look at John's vision in the Book of Revelation.  And as you read, please keep in mind how the Gospel of Luke's identified Mary with the Ark of the Covenant (compare Luke 1:39-45,56 with 2 Samuel 6:2-3,6-12,16) and how in the Gospel of John, Jesus always addressed His Mother as "Woman" (Jn.2:1-5; 19:25-27):
"Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold a great red dragon…the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne ... " (Revelation 11:19-12:5)
Something to consider. Catholics do not appeal to any particular verse of Scripture as a proof text for the dogma of the Assumption; but the above verses certainly do not hurt their case! As I looked more into the foundations of Catholic belief in the Assumption, I discovered that it had a much more ancient pedigree than whatone could find for the Rapture.Once Constantine became Emperor and Christianity was no longer a persecuted sect, Christians were able to erect churches over the sites sacred to them (such as the Holy Sepulchre in 336 A.D.). These sites had been preserved in the local church's memory throughout the centuries. One of the sites, close to Mount Zion where the first Christian community had lived, had always been reverenced as place of Mary's Dormition ("falling asleep). It was not the place where Mary's body resided however - only the place where it had temporarily rested before Mary was raised body and soul into heaven.   

Although different local churches could point to the tombs of the Apostles and martyrs and boast of having their relics (bodies), there was never any such claim made in regard to Mary.  Had their been a body, the early Church would have cherished it.  But instead of a body we have this memory, this witness, from the time of the apostles, ingrained within Christians in and around JerusalemJust a little research on the web can provide early witnesses:
"If therefore it might come to pass before the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death does reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your mother and take her with you, rejoicing into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: 'Be it done according to your will" (Pseudo-Melito The Passing of the Virgin 16:2-17; 300 AD). 

"Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption" (Timothy of Jerusalem Homily on Simeon and Anna; 400 AD).

"And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise" (John the Theologian, The Falling Asleep of Mary; 400 AD) 

"The Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord's chosen ones..." (Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles, 1:4; 575-593 A.D.)
 St. John Damascene, living in the desert outside Jerusalem in the early 700's, gave the same testimony:
"In the Holy and divinely-inspired Scriptures no mention is made of anything concerning the end of Mary the Holy Mother of God; but we have received from ancient and most truthful tradition ... the Apostles ... opened the coffin.  And they were unable anywhere to find her most lauded body ... Struck by the wonder of the mystery they could only think that He who had been pleased to become incarnate from her in His own Person and to become Man and to be born in the flesh, God the Word, the Lord of Glory ... was pleased even after her departure from life to honor her immaculate and undefiled body with incorruption and with translation prior to the common and universal resurrection." (Second Homily on the Dormition of Mary, c.715 A.D.)
The celebration of Mary's Dormition in the liturgy was first recorded in Palestine in the late 400's and was taken up throughout the Eastern Church and then the West throughout the 500's.  

In the end, I see the Assumption's credibility as standing head-and-shoulders above the Rapture's:

And thus, I was forced to change my tune.  Which is good because on top of everything I have already shared, in 1950 Pope Pius XII used the power of the keys to definitively state that Mary's assumption is a legitimate point of the Faith that has come to us from the Apostles.  To neglect it is forego knowledge of one of the "many other things" that Jesus did that were not written down in Scripture (Jn. 21:25), but have been preserved within the living memory of His Church.  And that Church is, in the words of Scripture, "the pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: "Reform Yourself!" by Shaun McAfee

This past October marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. A number of solid Catholic books, introducing readers to the key figures of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, were released to mark the occasion; but Shaun McAfee's Reform Yourself!, is an utterly original offering. His subtitle explains why: How to Pray, Find Peace, and Grow in Faith with the Saints of the Counter-Reformation

In the space of 197 pages, McAfee not only introduces us to ten saints of that tumultuous period, but zeroes in on the key virtues exhibited by each and provides practical suggestions for cultivating these habits today. You will be inspired and challenged by Saints Francis de Sales (practical apologist), Ignatius of Loyola (educator), Teresa of Avila (mystic), Robert Bellarmine (scholarly apologist), Aloysius Gonzaga (youth), Pius V, Philip Neri (humorist), John of the Cross (contemplative), Jane Frances de Chantal (humble servant), and Charles Borromeo (pastor). 

Each of us is called to sainthood. To that end, McAfee wisely directs us to look to both the saints we hope to imitate and those with whom we already share a vocation. The book flows well, with biographical sketches proceeding at a brisk pace. (Chapters are capped off with suggestions of full-length biographies for those who want to go deeper.) The heart of each chapter, though, is how to join a particular saint in his or her imitation of Christ; and I was impressed with McAfee's analysis and plans for action. He had me in the first chapter where he points out that, if we want to imitate Francis de Sales' skill as a writer, then we must first become effective readers, which entails: 

  1. Reading at a pace sufficient for our level of study
  2. Keeping notes
  3. Making use of reference guides, compendiums, and commentaries
  4. Trying to enjoy what we read (since that aids memory)

The importance of each is explained and expanded upon. McAfee then proceeds to scrutinize de Sales' success as writer and speaker, and what steps we should take to do the same.

As I said, Reform Yourself!, is a thoroughly original treatment of the Counter-Reformation. Hats off to Mr. McAfee.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Christopher West's "Eclipse of the Body"

I have read several of Christopher West's books, heard him speak, and even had the pleasure of interviewing him once upon a time. His new release couldn't be more timely: first, our already-sex-obsessed culture is sinking, faster every month, into a swamp of confusion and lust; and second, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae's release. (These two subjects are not unrelated.)

West's Eclipse of the Body makes a powerful case that  it was Christianity's embrace of contraception that unleashed the present darkness. I loved that it was a quick read, chock-full of pithy, memorable formulations of the truth. He reminds us of the meaning, the purpose of gender, and traces, step-by-step, how the sterilization of the sexual act has led to the progressive breakdown of family and society. Don't believe me? Please, by all means, pick up a copy of the book and show me where West goes astray. (I've have to warn you, though, you will also find yourself arguing with Blessed Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II.)

Even more important than showing us where we went wrong, however, is West's ability to articulate the answer: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. West deftly explains John Paul II's Theology of the Body, the most thorough exposition (to date) of God's purpose for the human body. This new book is a gift to the Church. (Speaking of gifts - I already passed my copy on to my 17 year old.)

The link above will allow you to order the paperback directly from the Cor Project ($7.95, or buy in bulk, 40 or more/$3 each), but you can also grab it on Kindle for $3.95. I don't usually put prices in my reviews, but this is a steal.  Happy reading!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: "An Economics of Justice & Charity"

I have spent the past year delving into the Epistle of James, looking at the epistle's Jewish roots as well as how its inspired author's thought has continued to unfold within the Church's meditation and subsequent teaching. James had a number of things to say about the proper relationship between capital and labor, the rich and the poor; and it left me wanting to understand the Church's social justice teaching, specifically in regards to economics. I had heard phrases such as, "a preferential option for the poor," and "just wage." I knew of the Church's opposition to communism and that Leo XIII's Rerum Novorum began a series of papal teachings on the topic of social justice; but I felt ill-prepared to dive immediately into such deep waters. I needed a trustworthy guide - ideally an orthodox, one-volume overview of the subject. Archbishop Sheen's Justice & Charity (TAN, 2016) was, of course, excellent; but Sheen penned his lectures in 1938, before John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI made their decisive contributions.

I couldn't help but feel that Providence intervened when I received Angelico Press's email blast announcing the release of Thomas Storck's An Economics of Justice & Charity: Catholic Social Teaching, Its Development and Contemporary Relevance. It was exactly what I was looking for. Storck takes readers through all of the pontificates from Leo XIII to Francis, providing historical context and explaining the key points of their social justice encyclicals and speeches.

As an already-accomplished author and contributing editor of The Distributist Review, Storck's prose and analysis is impeccable. When I finished the book I felt like I had a decent enough grasp on the salient points to begin tackling the papal encyclicals for myself. (Links to the encyclicals at the Vatican website are provided after this review.) Prior to reading An Economics of Justice & Charity, I had no idea that the Church defined a "just wage" as one that allowed a man to care for his family, without need for his wife to work outside of the home. I was amazed to find Pope Pius XI advocating for "profit sharing" in the 1930s! I appreciated the popes' analysis of socialism as a reaction to laissez-faire capitalism. Storck's analysis of John Paul II's Centesimus Annus was especially detailed, and he supported his points well. He also provides an appendix wherein he seeks to explain the Church's ongoing opposition to usury.

If you want to delve into the untapped treasure of the Church's social justice teaching, An Economics of Justice & Charity is the place to begin. Storck is an ideal guide to explore the papal magisterium on this subject.

Links to Papal Encyclicals:
Rerum Novarum (1891)
Quadragesimo Anno (1931)
Divini Redemptoris (1937)
Mater et Magistra (1961)
Populorum Progressio (1967)
Laborem Exercens (1981)
Centesimus Annus (1991)
Caritas In Veritate (2009)
Laudato Si (2015)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Jesus said, "Peace be with you!" (Easter night & Divine Mercy Sunday)

When I pray the Rosary during this first week of Easter, I can never get past the first mystery - Jesus' Resurrection.  Laying in bed and praying last night, I was seized by Jesus' words when He appeared to the disciples that first evening, "Peace be with you!" (Lk.24:36; Jn.20:19).

They are exquisite.  At the end of the day, my head is often buzzing with the things I didn't get done - the things hanging over it that need to be accomplished tomorrow.  And these words of Jesus reminded me that right then, in that moment, the Lord wanted me to let go and rest.  It was time to enjoy Him and then drift off to sleep, "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Mt. 6:34).

But there was/is a much deeper meaning to Jesus' "Peace be with you!"  The Lord means that we are at peace with God.  Our sins?  On the Cross, He offered the Father all of the love and obedience our sins denied Him.  And now, in Jesus, we are at peace with God.  Our shame has been redeemed.  We can rest in the arms of a Father Who loves us, free of embarrassment over our pasts.  That is the gift that Baptism gave us - peace with God, the peace of children.  

And if we have sinned greatly after Baptism?  The Sacrament of Reconciliation restores that peace.  Listen to Jesus' very next words to the Apostles, "Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (Jn. 20:21-23).

We will hear those verses from John's Gospel again this Sunday, on what the Church calls Divine Mercy Sunday (more on that here). If you need to, visit the Sacrament of Reconciliation this weekend and celebrate Christ's mercy, the true and lasting source of peace.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Book Review: "Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary"

Hard for me to pass up a title like Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary. Father Ed Broom, O.M.V. (Oblates of the Virgin Mary), has crafted a series of meditations meant to prepare one to make an act of personal consecration to Jesus, though Mary. This practice, which has grown since the early centuries, was of course given fresh impetus by St. Louis Marie de Montfort and a number of subsequent saints influenced by him (e.g. Maximilian Kolbe, John Paul II). De Montfort recommended thirty-three days of preparation before making such an act. I renew my consecration each November, using a book of meditations assembled by the Montfort Fathers; but this year I thought I would try Fr. Broom's method.

Father Broom's method is an ingenious one - one that I feel sure would meet with St. Louis' approval. Rather than thirty-three days, Fr. Broom suggests thirty-five; each day is given to meditating upon one of the twenty mysteries of the Rosary or one of Mary's seven sorrows. The meditations are very well crafted, seeking to view each event in salvation history through our Mother's eyes and Immaculate Heart. Father has obviously spent a great deal of time in prayer, and he does a wonderful job communicating the fruits he has gathered. I appreciated the inclusion of a gorgeous sketch and the actual scriptural text for each mystery before Father's reflections. I also liked Father's tips at the beginning of the book for practicing Christian meditation.

One thing that I noticed Father occasionally doing, as I have saints, but is different from my own practice, is to ask Mary directly for a certain grace. Sensitive as I am to our Protestant brothers' and sisters' misunderstanding about Mary's role in the Church - a misunderstanding I used to share - I tend to be as theologically precise as possible, even in my devotional language. I ask our Lady to intercede for a particular grace, rather than to grant it. When I read Fr. Broom or, as I said saints, doing otherwise; I realize that they are simply using a devotional shorthand - asking Mary to obtain that grace for them through her infallible intersession. I bring it up here simply to make you aware.

I think that Fr. Broom's Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary is a beautiful and effective way for someone to prepare to renew his or her baptismal promises to Jesus, in union with Mary. I must admit that I missed my book from the Montfort Fathers with its readings and daily litanies (which have been such a powerful tool in my own life), but that is simply a matter of personal preference. I am glad that I tried Fr. Broom's method, and I think you will be too.

Oh, and if you would like more information about consecration, here is one of my past posts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Review: "Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation"

Wading into the history of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation can be overwhelming. Phillip Campbell's Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation is an impressive solution to that difficulty. I had heard homeschooling friends singing the praise of his series, The Story of Civilization, and I now see why. Campbell is a gifted storyteller with a wonderful talent for synthesizing staggering amounts of information and making it accessible to the non-specialist.

Campbell writes from a Catholic viewpoint but makes no attempt to whitewash the sins of churchmen. Likewise, his adherence to Catholic doctrine does not prevent him from giving sympathetic treatments of those with whom he disagrees. It quickly becomes apparent how the Reformation was driven almost as much by culture and politics as it was by religion. 

I very much enjoyed the structure of the book. Each of the sixteen chapters tells the story of one or two of the period's key players, progressing through the 1500's in roughly chronological fashion. We come to know Erasmus, Luther, Emperor Charles V, Calvin, John Knox, Ignatius, Borromeo, and a host of others. At 320 pages, Heroes & Heretics is not a thin book; and yet, the mini-biographies made it a page turner. There were many characters whose names I had heard over the years, but I had never stopped to investigate. (I now find myself especially enamored by the ministry and martyrdom of St. Edmund Campion.)

Whether you are looking to get a better grasp on the history of this tumultuous period or be challenged by the saintly examples of those who persevered through it, Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation (TAN, 2017) is a great addition to the home library.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Early Christmas Gifts (My Theological Justification)

I grew up with a mom who loved giving Christmas gifts early…and I loved it! What child wouldn’t? One minute you are dreaming about playing Yars' Revenge on the Atari 2600, thinking it's still two weeks away; and the next thing you know it is in your hands! It was amazing. And I must confess that I often do the same with my own kids.

Oh, I can see a few of your heads nodding in disapproval. "It's ADVENT; Christmas doesn't begin until Mass on Christmas Eve!" That's the liturgical calendar, alright. But I think the early Christmas gift has a neat lesson to teach us, too.

Christmas is not only when we cast our glance backward in celebration of our Lord's first coming; it is also when look forward - to the day of His return. Many of us, at least unconsciously, feel that Day to be a long way off. (Two thousand years have already elapsed.) But the truth is that it could be just around the corner. We expect certain prophetic events first, but the exact day and moment of Jesus' return are going to come as a shock. It's not on a calendar; we can't watch the seconds counting down in Times Square. One second we will be slugging through difficulties, and the next we will be staring into the eyes of the One we've longed for our entire lives!

That's what the early Christmas gift reminds us of. A child is going along, trudging through the loooong weeks before Christmas Vacation, when BAM! Christmas suddenly breaks out!

The Lord might come for you or me at any second. None of us knows when our lives will end. The post I am writing may never be finished. Or perhaps I will be worrying about the big meeting coming up at work when...Christmas suddenly breaks out! That is quite a thought.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book Review: "What Catholics are Free to Believe or Not" by Fr. H.G. Hughes

I think it's very common to meet Catholics who are confused about what the Church requires of her children and what she does not. Do we need to believe that papal encyclicals are infallible or not? Are we only bound to believe what the popes and bishops have declared through ex cathedra pronouncements or conciliar decrees? Must you believe that Mary appeared at Fatima? Does the Church require daily recitation of the Rosary? 

Sophia Institute's What Catholics are Free to Believe or Not  (2016) is a short, concise guide to answering such questions. Originally published in 1906, I found it to be a trustworthy primer for instructing one in the difference between public and private revelation as well as private acts of devotion versus the precepts of the Church. If you are looking for an in-depth discussion of the levels of authority attached to different papal pronouncements (encyclicals, apostolic post-synodal exhortations, public addresses, etc.) you will need to look elsewhere; but if you want the general guidelines for distinguishing divine faith from pious opinion, then this is the book for you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: "God is Not Nice" by Ulrich Lehner

When I receive a book to review, I try to be timely about publishing my thoughts. That said, I've read this book once - the prerequisite for writing a review - but it is a book that I want to go back through at a later date to spend more time reflecting upon Dr. Lehner's thoughts. 

From the cover, you might expect God Is Not Nice to be a popularly written book, but Dr. Lehner has no qualms about challenging his readers to enlarge both their vocabularies and their libraries. The book is subtitled Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For, and that is exactly what you will find therein. Doctor Lehner mercilessly (and this is a true work of mercy) exposes the lie that God wants nothing more for us than that we feel happy. No, that is not the God who revealed Himself to Israel and took flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. This God is the Totally Other, the almighty creator who calls us to an uncompromising holiness, a holiness that may result in us being martyred in this world but resurrected to an as-yet-unimagined life in the world to come! This God is not "nice," but He is good and trustworthy, and the only "god" truly worthy of devotion.

Doctor Lehner covers a great deal of ground in 136 pages: therapuetic deism, the way that we so often try to "use" God as the means to a lesser end, the absolute necessity of grace to obtain salvation, interpreting the difficult passages of scripture, the revelational aspect of human sexuality, incarnation, repentance, and the surprising beauty of daily family life. There were one or two statements made along the way that I was uneasy with, but perhaps I was reading too much into them. As I said, I want to spend more time with Dr. Lehner's thought. On the whole, I truly admired his project; it was a very firm call to renew my discipleship under the greatest of Masters.

God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For (Ave Maria Press, 2017)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: "Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too)" by Brandon Vogt

Chances are that you have heard Brandon Vogt's name - talented blogger and author, founder of the StrangeNotions website, and content director of Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire. His latest book, Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too), is an intellectually solid, well-written, apologetic that I think is particulary well-suited to millennials.

Brandon divides his apologetic into three sections, corresponding to the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty. I found that to be very wise since most people, although drawn to all, seem hardwired more towards one than the others. ("Truth" has always been the strongest draw for me.) Each section is very well researched but written in a down-to-earth style. Brandon doesn't shy away from any of the difficult issues either: the all-male clergy, Church teaching on contraception and same-sex "marriage," the scandal of priests who sexually abuse children, etc. I think Brandon handled these with a great deal of realism, sensitivity, and charity while simultaneously setting forth the Church's authentic teaching.

Something that stood out to me about the book was the great use of analogy. Let me give you a few quick examples:

  • " G.K. Chesterton observed, 'Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.' We can and should be open-minded about religious questions. We should put all the options on the table and consider them fairly. But such open-mindedness is the beginning, not the end, of the search." (p.60)
  • "A wise friend noted that the right way to judge the Catholic Church is by its best members, not its worst....Just as we wouldn't judge a doctor by the people who refused to take his medicine, and should instead consider the people who actually took his medicine to see if they were cured, so with the Catholic Church." (p.87)
  • "Many people see [the Church's] rigidity as an obvious defect....But change is not a universal virtue. It's not good in all spheres of life. For example, we would never criticize mathematicians for being so rigid about the laws of geometry or the rules of multiplication. These teachings are emphatically rigid." (p.100)

Those are the kind of insights that force readers to reevaluate their preconceptions.

At 175 pages the book isn't intimidating, but it is a nice treatment of all of the big issues: God's existence, the positive value of religion, the divinity of Christ, why Catholicism instead of another form of Christianity, morality, the compatibility of faith and science, the Church's role in building and preserving Western Civilization, the heroic virtue of the saints, the Church's work for social justice, etc., etc. You'll also find suggestions for further study and helpful information  regarding the RCIA process.

Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too) from Ave Maria Press - a great resource.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: "Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers" by Matt Swaim

I have always known that Matt Swaim was a sharp guy. He has a lightning fast wit able to weave the best of pop culture with timeless Catholic truths. He always leaves me thinking, "Man, I wish I was cool enough to have said that."

Matt's intelligence and wit are front and center in his newest book, Catholic Puzzles, Words Games, and Brain Teasers. He has crafted an array of mental challenges: anagrams, code scrambles, crossword puzzles, cryptograms, word searches, and a whole host of other puzzles whose proper names I couldn't begin to guess. And in the process of completing these intellectual challenges we're stretched in our knowledge of: Bible verses, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, papal encyclicals, cities with biblical names, quotations from saints, Catholic scientists, and so, so much more. (Now I'm left thinking, "Man, I wish I was smart enough to have created this.")

This book would be a lot of fun at a Catholic dinner party, college and high school ministry events, or simply for the guy or gal looking to stay as mentally sharp as a tack. And once you've finished Volume 1, you still have Volume 2 to look forward to! Kudos to Matt Swaim on such a cool use of his talents.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Review: "The Apostles and Their Times" by Mike Aquilina

Even before I was halfway through this book, I was already recommending it to others. Mike Aquilina's The Apostles and Their Times is a stellar example of the way that fine prose, extensive knowledge, and an evangelistic spirit combine to make religious study a joy.

To rediscover the Apostles and the life of the early Church, Mr. Aquilina employs a a simple technique that yields wonderfully surprising results: He asks us to forget, at least momentarily, the history attached to religious vocabulary like apostle, ministerliturgy, martyr, and heresy and rediscover what those words originally meant on the lips of Peter and Paul. Take for example the word "minister." The Greek word is leitourgos, and it refers to someone paid to perform a public work. The leitourgos' work was a leitourgia, or "liturgy." It was a common word applied to any public work (road work, sewage, etc.). The realization is powerful: Christian ministers were those who led the Church in her public work - her Eucharistic worship! Or consider Aquilina's elucidation of the term apostle: "The Greek apostolos means 'one who is sent.' It describes an agent or vicar, an emissary or ambassador. More than a messenger, an apostolos is a representative. Scholars believe the word is a direct translation of the Hebrew shaliah; and the ancient rabbis pronounced that 'a man's shaliah is as himself'" (p.34). 

Such insights abound as Aquilina leads us through the period recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. His thorough knowledge of first century Judaism and the early Church bring the biblical text to life and help readers penetrate it at a deeper level. His chapter on Pentecost - and I do not say this lightly - is perhaps the best treatment of the subject that I have read. Here are few quick insights to whet your appetite: 

Some years before Jesus had said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful" (Luke 10:2). The great harvest began, appropriately enough, at Pentecost, the feast of the harvest - the day dedicated to the gathering and offering of firstfruits (p. 51). 
Over the centuries, Pentecost had grown in importance and had gathered layers of spiritual and historical significance. By the lifetime of Jesus and the Apostles, it had become primarily a celebration of the giving of the law to Moses (p.42). 
The cosmic phenomena, the wind and fire, would have been familiar because of the context of the feast day. They had been prefigured when God gave the law to Moses. In those days, "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast....And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke" (Exod. 19:16, 18). Now, on the anniversary, came fire from heaven and a sound like the rush of a mighty wind (p.46).
I have quoted what amounts to a third of one of Mr. Aquilina's pages; this chapter has thirteen pages worth of equally brilliant insights.

I have a confession to make. As much as I enjoyed The Apostles and Their Times, I almost missed out on it. In 2015, NBC ran the miniseries, A.D. The Bible Continues. This book was originally published under the title A.D. Ministers and Martyrs and was advertised as being "Based on the NBC Television Event." I had no interest in NBC's take on Acts of the Apostles so, as much as I admire Mike Aquilina, I never picked up the book.  After reading it, however, I can tell you that Aquilina's work stands completely on its own. Were it not for a little research, I would never have known of its connection to the miniseries. I am grateful that Sophia Institute Press saw fit to re-title and re-release this exquisite work. You’ll definitely want this on your shelf. I can easily see it becoming a classic.