Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bringing Lent Home with St. John Paul II - Book Review

It is the beginning of Advent, so why am I reviewing a book about Lent?  Well, with Ash Wednesday arriving on Feb. 18th, this new release from Donna-Marie Copper O'Boyle is going to make an amazing stocking-stuffer for the readers on your Christmas list! (See? I've got your back.)

Honestly, Donna-Marie's newest is much more than a "book" - pages read and then retired to a shelf. It is a means of bringing our beloved pastor, Pope St. John Paul II, into our homes and allowing him to lead us through another Lent, joining ourselves to Jesus in His Passover. As you know, wherever John Paul went, he was accompanied by the Blessed Mother; and I am sure that you will find that to be equally true when you bring him into your home.

As a mother of five, Donna-Marie is keenly sensitive to moms' and dads' responsibility to help their children grow in the spiritual life. With that thought at the fore, she has crafted daily meditations and activities appropriate for the entire family. Each day contains (1) a reflection for parents to engage in prior to beginning prayer with the children; (2) an excerpt from John Paul II's audiences or writings for the family to read aloud; (3) a family prayer time; (4) a story from John Paul II's life; (5) and then a daily suggestion for how the family can fast, give alms, and offer short individual prayers throughout the day. It is ingenious. Allow me to share a few examples:
Parent Reflection
There is so much to accomplish in the course of one day, and we sometimes fly from one activity to the next worrying that we won't get everything done...Try to read St. John Paul II's words several time today. There is so much meaning in them to ponder. Help the children understand them. Perhaps you can discuss them for a few minutes at dinner tonight.

John Paul II's Words (read during brief time of family prayer)

...Seek to penetrate the meaning of [Jesus'] crucifixion if you do not want to be ashamed of it; the meaning of his wounds, if you want yours to heal; the meaning of his death, if you want to gain eternal life; and the meaning of his burial, if you want to find the Resurrection. - General Audience, June 2, 2004

Today fast from wasting time or procrastination...

Have the children draw a picture or make a card for someone they know who lives alone and try to deliver it soon.

Prayer (to be used throughout the day)
Jesus, I trust in you!
What I found especially ingenius of Donna-Marie was how the stories she shares from John Paul's life take us chronologically from his birth (shared on Ash Wednesday) straight through to his own personal passion and death (on Good Friday) and his canonization (Easter Sunday). It is such a powerful way of reminding us that Jesus is recreating His earthly life in each of us. And walking with John Paul through the most horrific events of the last century, not to mention personal tragedies, allows us bear our own crosses and see how the glory of Christ's Resurrection is shot through even the darkest of experiences.

"Joy" - that's the word that keeps coming to mind for this book. It planted joy in my soul, that same joy that beamed from the eyes and smile of John Paul II, the same joy our Blessed Mother surely had gazing upon her Son, Jesus. Bringing Lent Home with St. John Paul II - it is quite the treasure.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Glory of the Crusades - Book Review

This past April, Pope Francis called upon the international community to stop the murder and displacement of Iraqi Christians by ISIS. My mind immediately went to the eleventh century and Pope Urban II's call for European Christians to intervene in the Seljuk Turks' slaughter of Christians in the Holy Land. 

Naturally, I wanted to read up on the subject. Hillaire Belloc's The Crusades had been on my shelf for over a decade, but something in the style kept me from going past the first few pages. I'm happy to say that I had the opposite experience with Steve Weidenkopf's The Glory of the Crusades (Catholic Answers Press, 2014). I sailed through it in the course of a weekend.

You are probably wondering about the use of the word "Glory" in the title. Weidenkopf certainly doesn't glorify violence. He using the word in its original Hebrew sense, meaning "heavy in weight." In the preface he explains, "To recognize the glory of the Crusades means not to whitewash what was ignoble about them, but to call attention to the import in the life of the Church" (p.14).

Weidenkopf is a fantastic story teller, and he uses that talent to rather effortlessly lead the reader, in just over 240 pages, through six centuries of crusading history. In this sweeping narrative we are introduced to characters such as Godfrey de Bouillon and Richard the Lionhearted, as well as saints like Francis of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. King Louis IX of France. 

What I value most about this book is the way it unmasks the many myths about the Crusades - that they were wars of aggression, motivated by greed, the first movement in European colonialism. Weidenkopf shows how these false characterizations arose in the Reformation and Enlightenment. He provides a good review of the early Church's view of military service and the requirements of a "just war," contrasting these with Islamic jihad.

When you finish this book, however, I doubt that you will have a triumphant feeling regarding the Crusades. You will understand the noble motivation that set them in motion - defense of pilgrims to, and Christians living in, the Holy Land - but you will see how frequently participants' fallen natures led them astray. There are many bright spots to be sure: acts of courage and sanctity - as well as divine providence, as at the Battle of Lepanto. More often than not, however, you will be reading accounts of failure, both moral and military. 

Weidenkopf's The Glory of the Crusades is a marvelous history - concise and eminently readable. Given the state of the world today, and the conversations going on around us, we need a reliable guide to understanding the religious/military conflicts of the past.