Saturday, July 20, 2019

Book Review: "Love is a Radiant Light: The Life & Words of St Charbel"

Hanna Skandar's Love is a Radiant Light (Angelico Press, 2019) is a book to be savored. Saint Charbel Makhlouf (1828 - 1898) first came to my attention while working on the Tending the Temple devotional. A monk of the Labanese Maronite Order, an otherwordly character surrounded the humble man. After his entry into eternal life on Christmas Eve of 1898, supernatural phenomena started being reported around his tomb; and a flood of miracles issued from his intercession. 

What I treasure most about this book is how the bulk of it is made up of Charbel's homilies. He is a man of great brilliance who, like Christ, imparts wisdom in easily- accessible imagery. Originally published in France, William J. Melcher's translation captures the "poetic" beauty of Charbel's words. Reading his homilies, I felt simultaneously convicted of my sin and filled with joyful hope of what God longs to do in and through me. 
If a human being draws his love from God, he is naturally oriented toward others. If the love is from you, it returns to you. The human being whose love emanates from himself, loves himself through others, while thinking that he loves others (p.86).
There is one homily that, although written for Charbel's 19th century confrères, struck me as especially prophetic of our time:
Human beings have more knowledge than wisdom. Their theories have become in their minds like the fog on the mountains and in the valleys; they prevent them from seeing things as they are...Their buildings rise, their morality sinks. Their worldly goods increase, their value diminishes. Their speeches multiply, their prayer grows scarce. ...They have many paths, but they do not lead them to each other's houses. They have multiple means of communication, but they do not help them to communicate with each other. Their beds are spacious and comfortable, but their families are small, broken up, and exhausted. They know how to go faster without being able to wait. They are always running to make a living, forgetting to lead their lives....Human beings sow thorns which, while still tender and new, caress their feet; but once they have hardened they will tear the feet of future generations.You cut the wood, you pile the logs, you light the fire, you feed it so as to throw yourselves into it, and you wonder why you are burned by it! Humanity has gone astray, man is sick, and the world is catching fire. 
God is love; he is the goal and the guide of this lost humanity. Christ is the remedy of the sick man. The water of baptism in the Spirit is what extinguishes the fire raging in the world....Meet one another, look at one another, listen to one another, greet one another, console one another with sturdy, charitable words, go out from yourselves to visit one another, embrace one another in the love of Christ, work in the Lord's field without growing weary or bored (pp.74-75).
That is only a selection from one of his homilies - this book contains 17! This is the perfect book to take to Adoration and keep by your bedside. I find myself instinctively moving from the page to prayer; and it's a thrill to know that Charbel is praying with me. This isn't a book I can read just once though. These words cut to the heart. I will be bringing this to Adoration for quite awhile.

Love is a Radiant Light: The Life and Words of St. Charbel is a striking addition to Angelico Press's impressive list of titles.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: "Jesus the Priest"

When I see a book with back cover endorsements from N.T. Wright and Brant Pitre, I experience an almost reflexive need to acquire it. Jesus the Priest (Baker Academic, 2018) is the second of a proposed trilogy from Dr. Nicholas Perrin of Wheaton College. I must admit that I had yet to run across his first volume, Jesus the Temple, but would like to read it and his future Jesus the Sacrifice. Dr. Perrin has an incredible grasp of the primary and secondary literature and is a skilled writer. That said, I did not feel that he achieved his goal in this volume - showing, via the words and actions recorded in the gospels, that the historical Jesus primarily thought of Himself as the eschatological high priest. Dr. Perrin offers a great deal of speculation on the background behind specific words and actions of Jesus, but in my mind his arguments never rose above the level of speculation.

As a Christian, I obviously agree with Dr. Perrin that Jesus understood Himself to be the high priest of the new and eternal covenant. Unlike the good doctor, however, I find very little in the gospels - apart Jesus' statements that He would give his life in sacrifice - from which to illustrate my claim. (It is the Church's great Tradition, with pride of place given to the Epistle to the Hebrews, that communicates this truth to us.) Dr. Perrin has a very Catholic vision, proposing that Jesus meant to share His priesthood with His disciples and that the disciples suffering, united to Christ's, is given a redemptive value. He was speaking my language. I simply wasn't convinced by the evidence he offered that:

  • the traditional reading of the Our Father "has a debilitating weakness," and that "with each petition Jesus is [actually] alluding to a different aspect of a single eschatological reality, all centered around a newly consecrated priesthood and sacred space" (p.52).
  • Jesus' baptism was not so much his anointing as Messiah as it was a priestly anointing.
  • The beatitudes were offered by Jesus as a priestly blessing
  • The disciples eating of the grain on the Sabbath was Jesus recreating the priests' eating of the shewbread.
  • The Danielic Son of Man as a priestly figure

Even though I was not persuaded on these large points, I still found the book to be filled with exegetical gems:

  • Parallels between the Aqedah and Christ's transfiguration
  • Parallels between the Exodus and Gethsemane
  • "Perhaps it is our unconscious prioritization of certain formulations of atonement theology over and against the biblical data that has caused us to understate the communal nature of Jesus' suffering" (p.237).
  • The historicity of Mark's account of Jesus' trial before Caiaphas.

Such gems have me looking forward to reading Dr. Perrin's other works.