Category Archives: Books

Lady Liberty and The Statue of Responsibility

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl would have to be classed among the most profound works of the twentieth century. A survivor of both Auschwitz and two concentration camps affiliated with Dachau, Frankl — a Jewish Austrian psychiatrist — reflects on his holocaust experience and in the face of it responds to life and its meaning.

Frankl lays bare the human condition at its lightest and darkest, best and worst. Boldly speaking about the imperative of life to find meaning, even and especially, in the face of suffering. His experience gives him license to speak rawly about universal and personal truths, lending it something of the prophetic. Despite his own sufferings and ability to maintain a sense of moral integrity during those testing years, he writes honestly, but without resentment against his oppressors, and without taking the moral high ground against those who compromised themselves under the weight of the Nazi jackboot. His sharing challenges our modern sensibilities—pointing out not the demands we should make of life, as we are taught to, but the demand that life makes of us.

There is so much one can take from this work, of what is really an introduction to Frankl’s Logotherapy. For a Christian, a Christian reading of the text is inevitable. The mystery of the Logos, the Word, and the Cross, seeps through the words on every page.

The Cross as Reality

Through Frankl, the Holy Spirit can help us recapture the true meaning of the Cross in our postmodern landscape where that meaning is all too often deconstructed, institutionalised, privatised and novelised. For the Christian today, faced with the crossless standard of secularism, the Cross runs the risk of becoming nothing more than an identity-concept, an intellectual corner stone, a symbol to muse upon and defend—a point of difference, instead of a reality and mystery to be lived and breathed and believed in.

It’s an imperative for every generation and age to rediscover the truths of our faith, particularly the Cross, which always has and forever will run against the grain of the status quo. The Cross will never be cool, and if in certain pockets it ever does become trendy, it could only be a kitsch version of it. It’s a mystery far too great and gritty to be reduced to something bite-sized or to something that merely flashes on a billboard or dangles upon a neck. It will always be more.

The Wisdom of the Cross speaks uniquely in every age to those with ears to listen (Mt 11:15), but the message remains the same—a call to discover the meaning of life in Christ by shouldering his yoke of love and burden of responsibility.

Liberty & Responsibility

In Part II of Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl says the following:

Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth… Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.[i]

With such a simple proposition Frankl says many things…

Freedom without responsibility is arbitrary, aimlessly egocentric and condemned to meaninglessness. It’s a license for a self-autonomy void of consideration for the other. It’s the kind of freedom that allows an S.S. soldier to push a woman into a gas chamber. Sure, he might find meaning in doing so, but such subjective meaning is arbitrary, false and without substance. One of the many reasons it is exposed as such is because of its inability to register with universally held human values.

Yet what is freedom with responsibility? It is a yielding to the summons of life to be responsible, to take responsibility in the here and now, in fulfillment of one’s vocation.[ii] It demands one’s search for meaning, and one’s execution of their responsibility necessarily supplies it. It is the kind of liberty that rendered the woman being pushed into the gas chamber—St. Edith Stein—free to lay down her life of her own accord (Jn 10:18) despite being forced to die. Sent to the gas chamber but going freely, in her words, “For my people.” It is the kind of freedom that discovers and begets meaning even in situations intended by forces of tyranny to be vacuums of meaninglessness for its victims.

In an opposite strain, the fact that there is only a Statue of Liberty speaks loudly and immaturely of rights, and little of responsibility. It’s indicative of the attitude of the modern western man who first and foremost asks himself, not “What are my responsibilities?” but “What are my rights?”

There’s certainly a place for Lady Liberty but without Lady Responsibility she is like that personification of folly in the Book of Proverbs, who without the wisdom of responsibility leads men astray after the fancies of their own will, for “her steps follow the path to Sheol, she does not take heed to the path of life; her ways wander aimlessly” or we might say—meaninglessly (Prov 5:5-6).

What is this Statue of Responsibility?

We all know well what the Statue of Liberty looks like. Yet what might the Statue of Responsibility look like? There can be no doubt about it. The Cross. History has supplied us with the image, and God with its unexpected force of meaning brought about by the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who shouldered to the peak of Calvary the responsibility humankind owed to God and to itself. And where humanity failed to shoulder its dual responsibility, the humanity of God Incarnate succeeded.

Yet such success was not carried out to deliver us from our responsibilities, but it was carried out to enable us to fulfill them in He who has gone before us—by His strength, His grace and His love.

This is not because God is a Father who demands we earn our salvation by the sweat of our brow, but because to exercise our freedom to live responsibly is the only way to enter into this salvation. A salvation from sin, which is our inability to be perfectly responsible on our own, so that we might be enabled free to love—which is freedom to be responsible, to find meaning, purpose and dignity, not just now and in the face of the grave, but hereafter and beyond the grave.

The Statue of Responsibility is the Cross, and specifically, it is the Crucifix with Jesus nailed to it. Here a flaming torch is not held in the hand, but rather a heart burning with love, consumed by responsibility. The voice from this statue does not declare His rights, but rather invites each Mary and John, each woman and man: “Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Pick up your daily cross and follow me.”[iii]

Here the promised rest is not a false comfort secured by the abandonment of personal responsibility. It is that peace of heart and mind the world cannot give—infused by Jesus into one’s soul, and which begets a meaning no nail of suffering can destroy. It is the symptom of embracing one’s cross. The vertical beam representing one’s responsibility to God, and the horizontal, one’s responsibility to one’s neighbor. It’s not a cross without both these beams, and Jesus invites—commands even, that we shoulder it.

Easy and light? Ridiculous it’d seem. Offensive even. But isn’t that the strange miraculous power of love, that it really is madness to the rational observer, yet pure sense to the one afflicted by it… the one liberated by it? That after all is love—not emotion, but embraced responsibility.

The Ultimatum of Life

In the context of considering the divergent extremes human nature can take in the face of the worst kind of suffering, Frankl writes:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.[iv]

He is not saying we deserve or don’t deserve the sufferings we get, but from the Christian angle—the Cross is there, looming large in the midst of our lives—we cannot escape it. Most of the time it makes its presence felt through little things. Yet sometimes the experience of the Cross is deeply felt, and at times it can be experienced as unspeakably terrible, a result of human evil or sickness, in such a way that its reverberations never leave us. Yet whatever form the Cross takes in our lives, it can either be something that crushes and corrupts us with the bitterness of resentment, leading us to lash out at the world with hatred; or a rare and testing opportunity to grow in depth—to be drawn deeper into meaning, into our humanity, and deeper into the Mystery of God who is our Holiness.

In other words, the Cross is surely forced on our backs by circumstances we can’t control, but we can decide whether it is an occasion that will crush us and break us, or an opportunity to carry it with Jesus for love of God and man.

It’s an ultimatum posed to us by human life itself, and Jesus the Life takes it and eternalises its meaningfulness beyond the human sphere. An ultimatum to choose to be crushed by the cross or to carry it, and our response is up to ourselves as individuals. “Let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Mt 16:24): it’s all in the singular because the proposition is profoundly personal. We cannot judge our neighbours, nor probe their motives, nor are we even capable of discerning the difference between being crushed by the cross and carrying it, for these things can look identical to outward appearance. No, it’s a matter for ourselves to consider, and at most, to invite others into an awareness of this summons. Thus our place is to use our often shoddy discernment not to judge, but to discern how to act as a Simon of Cyrene, instead of a shouting, flagellatory Roman soldier who only makes the crosses of others heavier.

One person may be paralysed and haunted by the profundity of their cross, and it may involve the severest kinds of trauma; or one may be able to meander along under its heaviness, and no doubt life will involve moments of both. Yet whoever we are, whatever our cross, the underlying truth is that to be able to bear and carry the Cross we needn’t be professionals who can run circuits with our cross, but we must simply accept it, even if it takes a while, in the faith that God can use this suffering–big or small–to make us better people, to teach us how to love, to give Him glory, and to help save souls.

The option is there, to either suffer meaninglessly in vain or to suffer meaningfully with purpose. To invoke the Name of Jesus is enough to inject our pain with infinite and eternal value.

“May Raise Him”

Frankl then elaborates:

Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.[v]

“Man’s inner strength may raise him” indeed. Perhaps in our strength we cannot all rise above our outward fate—prisoners as we are of our own weaknesses. Then on the matter of sin—there is no way anyone can rise above that by their own strength. Just as well. God can achieve all these things, and in Christ Jesus, He has already raised us higher than “man’s inner strength may raise him”. The reality of this resurrection awaits us in our cross: those two beams of responsibility which are far from abstract. For already they weigh upon us and demand our response in the very moment we occupy. We need not search for meaning nor liberty elsewhere. In this respect our Statue of Liberty and Statue of Responsibility are really the same thing, it’s the Cross, through which God in Christ mediates the gift of the liberty of grace through our embrace of responsibility.

The Virgin Mary is a testament to this truth. She is the eminent member of our race raised into immaculacy from the moment of Her conception; sanctified, liberated into union with God, from the get-go. She only rose higher with leaps and bounds into this sanctity through Her profound union with Her Son – realised through Her responsibility to God and man, a responsiveness to Him the God-Man. A union made manifest and typified by Her standing by Him at the foot of the Cross—the True Statue of Liberty and Responsibly.

Lady Liberty & Lady Responsibility

Our Lady can thus rightly be called Lady Liberty and Lady Responsibly. For other than Jesus, who else knows better the twin-beams that make up the Cross? That dual responsibility to God and neighbour which crushed Her Heart in a pain worse than death? She was with Jesus in the face of His Cross, and we need Mary in the face of our own. She can teach us how to carry these beams, and calling upon the Name of Mary–confident in, and obedient to the fact that Jesus has given us to Mary, and Mary to us—is enough to realise Her maternal presence and aid already at our disposal.

As Lady Responsibly She will help to hold on to the splintery wood of the Cross, in the face of every kind of interior and exterior hardship. As Lady Liberty She will help us to do so with love, peace and even joy.

The United States has its own Statue of Liberty, its own Lady Liberty—without a signifier of Responsibility—a gift from the French, and all as a sign of national independence. Through faith, may we allow the Holy Spirit to erect in the land of our soul the real and everlasting Statue of Liberty and Responsibility, the Blessed Cross, and its accompanying Lady, a dual gift of God, and a testament to our freedom as pilgrims whose life and citizenship in Jesus, through Mary, is not of this “mortal coil” on earth but in that “undiscovere’d country” where angels smile,

To rest forever after earthly strife.
In the calm light of everlasting life.[vi]

[i] Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 154-155, full text available from archive.org.

[ii] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 130.

[iii] A loose synthesis drawing from Mt 11:28-30; Lk 9:23.

[iv] Ibid., Part I, 87.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light (1833).
Other references, Hamlet, and Phil 3:20.

Book Review: Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro

Conversion and reversion stories never fail to fascinate. Stories of how and why a person freely decides to embrace the Catholic Faith, or return to the Catholic Faith of his or her childhood after having freely rejected it, are intriguing. Such stories edify Catholics in their Faith, giving them more reasons to love it. For open-minded non-Catholic readers searching for truth, these stories open up more avenues for the search.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro tells a unique reversion story. Its subject matter is not a canonized saint or a famous apologist, but Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero whose writings played a major role in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain during the 1890s.

Every Filipino learns in school about Rizal’s life and writings. Inevitably, we learn that at one point in his life, he studied in Europe, got exposed to Enlightenment philosophies, became a Freemason, wrote about the abuses committed by the Spanish friars in the Philippines, and was shot by a firing squad on accusations of treason against the Spanish government. His novels, which we also study as part of the basic education curriculum in the Philippines, present the Catholic Church in an unflattering light: lustful, avaricious, cruel, and power-hungry friars; caricatured depictions of superstitious piety of ordinary folk. Most of the heroes of the novels are free-thinkers; in one chapter of the first novel, one of them scoffs at the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and indulgences.

We also learn that before he was executed, Rizal signed a written retraction of his anti-Catholic writings, but historians debate his sincerity in signing it. Rizal’s admirers seem to think that retracting his anti-Catholic writings would reduce his greatness, and surmise that he signed the retraction only out of convenience – an odd position to take about someone whom one is presenting as a hero worthy of emulation (and which, for me, does not make sense because the retraction did not save Rizal from the firing squad).

However, it is documented that before he was shot, Rizal went to sacramental confession four times and contracted a sacramental marriage with Josephine Bracken with whom he had previously been cohabiting. In one of his last recorded conversations before he was shot, he serenely asked the priest accompanying him if he would go to Heaven on the same day if he gained a plenary indulgence.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro traces Rizal’s spiritual journey from the piety of his childhood, through his estrangement from the Catholic Faith and his immersion in Enlightenment thought, to his return to the Faith of his childhood before he died.

The author, Fr. Javier de Pedro, is a Spanish priest who fell in love with the Philippines, having lived and ministered here for many years.  He has doctorates in Industrial Engineering and Canon law and, according to those who know him, is a Renaissance man like Rizal himself. Thus, he brings to the book a valuable perspective: that of a Spaniard who knows and loves the Philippines and Rizal a lot, who has done extensive research about his subject matter, and who, as an experienced priest in the confessional, frequently encounters the tension between sin and grace in souls.

Indeed, the book is detailed, well-researched, and reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with Rizal’s writings, which the author refers to as “mirrors” of Rizal’s soul.

The book presents not only the life and thoughts of Rizal, but also his historical context, including the intellectual trends in fashion in the Europe where Rizal developed his ideas.  Thus, the book is valuable not only as a source of spiritual edification, but also as a work of history. It avoids the common pitfalls of isolating Rizal from the historical context in which he lived, and of giving the impression that Rizal’s thoughts remained static and did not develop throughout his life.

The pastor’s perspective is another valuable element of the book. The author shares his insights and analysis on what contributed to Rizal’s estrangement from the Catholic Faith as well as what helped him find his way back to it. Thus, the book also serves as a cautionary tale on what may lead a soul away from the Faith, as well as a guide on how to help oneself and others regain the Faith when it has been lost.

I appreciate the author’s affection for Rizal even as the author points out Rizal’s missteps. In the Prologue, the author refers to Rizal as someone “for whose soul I am now raising a prayer, even if I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.” The author understands Rizal and acknowledges Rizal’s legitimate grievances against certain clergymen that arose from Rizal’s real experiences. The author is careful to base his insights on Rizal’s spiritual journey on verifiable facts and texts, and emphasizes that in the end, Rizal’s spiritual journey is an mysterious interplay between his freedom and God’s grace.

The book is a compelling read. I especially like the narration of the last days of Rizal, where the author describes recounts details such as the parallel Christmas celebrations of Rizal’s family and the Spanish guards of the prison where Rizal was incarcerated (Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896).  That chapter is full of drama and humanity.

Unfortunately, the book is not widely available. As of now, the only place I know where it could be bought is the bookstore of the University of Asia and the Pacific here in the Philippines (inquiries may be made here).  In fact, one reason I reviewed Rizal Through a Glass Darkly was to change this by promoting interest in the book.

Indeed, the story in Rizal through a Glass Darkly deserves to be more widely known. It is of particular interest to Filipinos, but it is of interest, too, to everyone else. It is a touching story of a talented man with great ideals and who is credited for a lot of important things, who was at the same time a flawed human being who committed grave errors but eventually found redemption. Like every other conversion and reversion story, it is fascinating.

Former Ignitum Today Writers Who Have Published Books Part I: Shaun McAfee

Pardon us for engaging in a little self-promotion, but Catholic writers from ages 14-45 who are wondering how they can use their talents to bring others closer to God should consider writing for Ignitum Today.  For many of us, writing for this website has been a rewarding way not only to share our faith but to hone our writing and online publishing skills.  This has led some to go places, which meant even more opportunities to share the faith.

One such writer is Shaun McAfee, the author of books such as Filling Our Father’s House, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Reform Yourself!.  Here, he talks to us about how his journey to become a published book author started out with writing for Ignitum Today:

How and why did you get started writing for Ignitum Today?

Shaun McAfee:  “Writing for Ignitum Today (IT) was a smart step in my Catholic writing journey. I wanted to expand my skills and networking; I  wanted to learn from others;  and I thought joining a group-blog would be the best way of doing that. So I scanned some sites I knew but didn’t really know how to get started. Maybe it’s still there, but I noticed one day that the IT site had a link to the effect of “Want to be a writer?” I clicked and submitted my info and was soon contacted by none other than Stacy Trasancos. The rest is history.”

Please tell us the stories behind your book deals.

Shaun McAfee:  “I got my first book contract with Sophia Institute Press. I admit I never that writing a book was the sort of thing I would do—it seemed a pretty lofty goal, and I did not know what topic I could write about.  But in 2014 I got a huge idea to write about the things Catholics can learn from Protestants in evangelization. That book became Filling Our Father’s House and I really felt lucky to have such a strong title with a big time Catholic publisher.

Next, my pastor asked me to write a short book for the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, NE. That book became St. Robert Bellarmine. I enjoyed writing that one a lot, even though it wasn’t a huge book, and it received some nice and humble praise. Still, I was really motivated to read and write about the other saints that Robert Bellarmine interacted with during the Counter-Reformation. I noticed that 1) nobody really had written a book about the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and 2) the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation was coming, and it was a good time to do something innovative. Again, I never thought I’d be published, let alone by such a magnificent publisher, but Catholic Answers Press said “yes” to my proposal, and after a long winter of writing and a summer of editing, Reform Yourself! was published. I’m in the season of promoting that one, still, but I’m working on some other ideas in the meantime.“

What are your books about?

Shaun McAfee: “Filling Our Father’s House is a practical book that discusses the great things our Protestant brothers and sisters do to increase holiness and become such effective evangelists. It talks about everything from “having a personal relationship” to the importance of small groups and taking the faith to the streets, literally. Next, I wrote a simple book on St. Robert Bellarmine. The book discusses his life and his major works. My most recent book is Reform Yourself! with Catholic Answers Press. This is a highly practical look at the lives of the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and shows readers how to seek true reform, holiness, sanctity, and several other attributes of the Catholic life, deriving each from the lives of these special saints. I also wrote a chapter with my wife in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life and have recently done the same, with my wife, for an upcoming book on Humanae Vitae with Catholic Answers Press. I’ve got some hopeful projects coming in the near future, but those are secret for now.”

Do you think your involvement with Ignitum Today helped you become a  published book author?

Shaun McAfee: “Like I mentioned, choosing to write for IT was a very smart choice. IT provided me with a nice base of support. I had an editor for the first time, I was able to solicit feedback from other writers, I was able to monitor and understand stats, find my own mistakes, respond in a combox, and was also able to learn from the finer points I noticed with the other writers. Things like productivity, interesting topics, word count, endurance, knowing when to leave and when to push myself to the next level—I was able to learn these and so much more from writing at IT. Not to mention, IT gave my writing a humble but promising platform. In the most practical of exercises, IT really gave me the opportunity to decide if I really liked writing or not. I realized at IT that it was really up to me to decide how successful I wanted to be.

Soon, I became an editor at IT, then I was asked to start and edit a blog for Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and then I founded EpicPew.com. Now, I write weekly for the National Catholic Register and contribute frequently to Catholic Answers Magazine and their Magazine Online. Writing for Ignitum Today provided a basis for a skill set that has carried me this far.”

Any advice that you have for young Catholic writers?

Shaun McAfee:  “To all those Catholic writers wondering where they’re headed, or if you have big dreams I offer you this advice: stay productive, stay as humble as possible, and always push yourself to do better. Thanks for the opportunity to share some words. “

Note:  Interested writers may contact contact Jean Seah at jean.elizabeth.seah[at]gmail[dot]com, and provide a writing sample.

‘Apologetics and the Christian Imagination’ — A Richer, Deeper approach in connecting Souls With The Faith.

Are stories important for humanity? Is telling a story through books, movies, or the extemporaneous tales of mom and dad delivered to the children at bedtime simply an insignificant means of mere entertainment? In her book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Dr. Holly Ordway shows us that in truth stories are powerful tools of conveying meaning, tools that are important for the work of spreading the Faith and forming souls in it.

While showing great understanding of both apologetics and human nature, Dr. Ordway explores the relationship between reason and imagination and how the human person utilizes each to come to know reality. Furthermore, she instructs the reader on the art of Imaginative Apologetics, which is a richer, deeper approach in connecting souls with the Faith. In this entertaining and easy-to-read book, Ordway makes a convincing argument for this method of winning souls.

                  

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and George MacDonald are but a few of the masters of this technique which Ordway presents. Each figure is a fantastic storyteller with stories that, as she puts it, baptize the imagination that allow the person to find meaning in the Theological world and grow closer to the God hidden beneath the narrative.
Ordway teaches, “Imaginative apologetics seeks to harness the God-given faculty of imagination to work in cooperation with reason, to open a way for the work of the Holy Spirit and guide the will toward a commitment to Christ.” Through the stories told by one practicing this method, the hearers are able to receive more than just a definition to memorize. Instead, the hearers are given a deep descriptive tale that conveys the meaning of the Theological truths that sometime evade the persons being instructed.

The book thoroughly explains how Theological meaning can be lost on some souls who simply misunderstand the words. Dr. Ordway posits that many think poorly of the Christian Faith not because they disagree with what is taught, but because they are without the proper meaning conveyed by what is taught. The author explains, “To those who know Christ, and unfortunately also to many who do, much ‘Christian language’ rings empty. Although words like ‘grace’, ‘sin’, ‘heaven’, and ‘hell’ point to a reality, for many listeners they might as well be empty slogan or the equivalent of the user’s agreement on an upgrade to your phone’s operating system: words that are received without attention, and without grasp of their meaning.”

Being far from one to find the faults and leave us without a solution, Dr. Ordway emphasizes how we apologists can help our listeners create meaning and avoid the sophist misconceptions of our times by way of a good story. She creatively and intelligently instructs the reader by explaining the workings of linguistics and how we understand the various senses of speech that we hear. Furthermore, her understanding and delivery of the meaning of being literal is delightful to read.

With the Church’s call for a New Evangelization, and many faithful Christians responding to bring the Gospel back to the hearts of humanity, this book is an important piece for our times. It instructs the bearer of Good News on how to carry out the work of apologetics as well as doing so in a way that allows the hearer of the Word to better grasp the meaning of the message. Moreover, it leads us to carry out this work in an aesthetic, sometimes even inconspicuous, manner, which would allow for Theological meaning to enter into the hearts and minds of those that might otherwise be opposed to the words delivered in a more outward manner.

Especially in our day, we are witness to many artists, writers, and musicians working to evangelize through beauty. Dr. Ordway’s book is a wonderful companion for those who have heard and answered the call to do this. In fact, it would not be surprising if this book is a catalyst for more talented souls to take on such important work.

Classroom teachers and catechists too can find inspiration to utilize more of Imaginative Apologetics with their students. The way Dr. Ordway presents it, we can see the powerful impact that this method is able to have on the hearts and minds of those being formed, especially the young.

Finally, this book could be greatly beneficial for all people, both within the work of apologetics and without, as we can learn to find Faith and Truth in the stories we hear in our world today, whether these messages are intended or not.

For these reasons I highly recommend Dr. Ordway’s Apologetics and the Christian Imagination to all those working in apologetics and evangelization alike. It is a remarkable manual for leading souls to know and understand the deeply profound truths of our Faith. Hopefully, it will even lead certain souls to become the next C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, or George MacDonald, and enlarge the library of good Christian stories available to mankind today.

Review of “Christian Dating Simplified”

Aaron K. Torch’s Christian Dating Simplified: A Short, Practical Guide to the only Four Questions You Need to Ask is an enjoyable read, weaving scriptural exegesis and personal experience into a compelling analysis of how to date in a holy and healthy manner. As a Catholic who has studied scriptural theology, I have quibbles with some of his statements, but overall I agree with his advice.

Torch begins by describing his attitude to dating right after his conversion – it was legalistic, rule-bound, and ultimately illogical and stifling. While trying his best to live by the words of Scripture, Torch applied Holy Writ and friendly advice to his relationship in a strict, over-literal manner, and this caused him and his girlfriend no end of grief.

He writes: “Too often, things are over-complicated and made unnecessarily difficult, with the guise of being godly… [there is] the danger of putting a weight on your relationship that God never meant for it to bear.”

Torch begins with the story of redemption, going right back to Adam and Eve. He points out that Scripture presents marriage as a ministry of redemption (Ephesians 5:32), mirroring God’s love for us. Torch emphasizes the covenants of the Old Testament, culminating in the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ.

I would have liked Torch to have mentioned the ancient definition of a covenant, being an exchange of persons, so that the other is received permanently into one’s family. Torch refers to the contractual understanding of an agreement, which does not capture the depth of a covenant, and lends itself more to the acceptance of divorce. Happily, Torch points out that the New Covenant demonstrates God’s unconditional love for us, and that divorce is not an option.

Torch then goes through three myths about dating, regarding soulmates, God’s will, and holding the other to a mental checklist of Biblical perfection. He emphasizes the need to look at the other through the eyes of grace, lest we crush them under the weight of our expectations.

He then address the question of compatibility in faith, the importance of true friendship with the other, the purpose of dating, and each person’s vision of the future and “what [their] relationship can offer the world”. He makes it easy to grasp each issue by outlining various hypothetical situations and posing relevant questions to ponder over.

Finally, Torch stresses the need for a supportive community to help your relationship develop into a fruitful, life-bearing witness to Christ.

As someone who has struggled through incompatible, unhealthy and Puritanical relationships, and has recently embarked on a delightful new one with a fresh convert who is doing his best to live a holy life and demonstrate his love in virtuous ways, Torch’s book really resonates with me. I recommend it for anyone who feels overwhelmed by conflicting advice about dating and relationships, and would like a simple, reassuring and frank analysis of how to date in a loving manner.

I was invited to review this book by Top Christian Books.

A Prophetic Trilogy of Real-Life Catholicism

Have you ever encountered a story – whether in the form of a book, film, television – that seemed written especially for you? As I immersed myself in the fictional town of Narbrook, PA, page after page left me marveling at the magnificence and relevance of “The American Tragedy” trilogy – Fatherless, Motherless, Childless – authored by Brian J. Gail.

Beginning in the 1980s and concluding around 2030, Gail journeys through the real-life ramifications as his characters face conflicts surrounding the sexual revolution affecting their professional and family lives. Father John Sweeney serves as the spiritual guide to his beloved parishioners, among whom are Maggie Kealey, Joe Delgado, and Michael Burns.

It was a delight to journey with the characters along their unique trials, so excellent was Gail’s character development. I found myself laughing, sorrowing, and even at times perplexed at these seemingly real humans.

Maggie, oh Maggie – how I delighted in her gradual transformation from a wife and mother who struggled with migraines all the way to the founder of a NFP clinic and takes on Planned Parenthood (called Proper Parenthood in the trilogy) in a lawsuit for the crime of refusing to provide the abortion pill to a young girl.

Through the characters of Joe Delgado and Michael Burns, I received insights into the cynical, at times creepy business world.

Father Sweeney allowed me glimpses into the life of a parish priest and provided me with deeper appreciation for all the priests with whom God has blessed me. I very much related to his discovery/realization of the fullness of truth as described in Fatherless: “For the first time since he was ordained he truly hungered and thirsted for truth — the simple timeless beauty of it, the raw yet ineffable power of it, the magnetizing allure of it” (Fatherless, 469). In the epilogue of Motherless, Father Sweeney shares with a brother priest where he finds his peace and joy:

“In being permitted to walk the walk with the people of God. In helping to facilitate their sacramental encounter with Christ. In watching as He reveals Himself to them, and them to themselves… Earning their trust by challenging them to live as they know they ought. Exhorting them to give themselves away, to accept suffering, to seek the will of God in their lives, and to find their peace… their joy… in their crosses.” (Motherless, 508)

While I personally usually prefer non-fiction books regarding Catholicism, this rare gem in Catholic fiction provided “real-life” insights not found in theological works. It’s one thing to explain the reasoning of various Church teachings, but sometimes, illustrations prove much more powerful in depicting the “how’s” of living out the Catholic faith in the familial and professional spheres of daily life.

What Makes a Book Great?

(Warning: spoiler alert for A Tale of Two Cities after the image.)

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Franz Kafka, author of the highly disturbing The Metamorphosis, wrote:

“If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.”

I personally agree with his first and last lines, not necessarily the content in between. Every book is an opportunity to appraise one’s worldview by considering another’s perspective, seeing the world anew through someone else’s eyes. Yet, I do not believe that it is necessary for a book to be distressing in order to be useful, let alone great. There are certainly disturbing books which are generally deemed great classics, such as Frankenstein, The Lord of the Flies, and dystopian fiction such as 1964, The Catcher in the Rye or A Clockwork Orange. Certainly, these are books which can be considered great because they shake us out of our comfortable lives, making us re-evaluate political or moral systems which we may take for granted as mundane facts of our existence.

However, I believe that truly great books are those which awaken us from our ordinary tepidity by inspiring us to strive for virtue, especially heroic virtue: above all, sacrificial love. It is the books which stir our hearts to burn with love for God and our fellowmen which are the greatest and best – the books which move us to marvel at the divine actions mere man is capable of, and thus awaken the desire in us to be truly great human beings.

There are several great books which can jolt us out of our daily torpor and break the sea of potential frozen in us, above all, the Holy Bible. However, I shall not presume to expound upon the myriad wonders of Sacred Scripture; instead, I shall list a number of other books which have stayed with me as a lasting influence which struck to the depths of my heart, and select one which I love.

Tolstoy’s Master and Man, Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, St Thérèse’s Story of a Soul and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables are among the books which spring to mind when I think of great literature. These books are from different genres, lands and centuries, but they all have a common theme: self-sacrifice for the good of another. Often, it is the unexpected, bumbling or aloof character that rises to the occasion in time of need and gives his life to save someone whom he may hardly know, or whom he has no real obligation to save, as in Tolstoy’s and Dickens’ tales. Sometimes, it is one humble soul who gives all in order to save the world, as in Tolkien’s and Beagle’s fantasies – aided by selfless friends who support them in their weakness. “No man is an island,” said John Donne, and these profoundly human tales demonstrate how our interdependence and cooperation with one another bring about goodness, love and life.

A Tale of Two Cities

Compelled to select a single great book, I nominate A Tale of Two Cities as an exemplar of a novel which displays the beauty of true Christlike greatness latent even in wounded human nature. In this thin book, Dickens sketches the unforgettable story of two lookalike men, Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. Carton is a self-pitying alcoholic lawyer, hardly worthy of admiration. Yet, moved by unrequited love for the wife of Darnay, his unjustly-accused client, Carton takes Darnay’s place at the guillotine; furthermore, he keeps an innocent girl company in the death-cart, buoying her up with thoughts of Our Lord. His last words brought tears to my eyes: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

In this tome, we see the transformation of a near-contemptible man into an unbelievable hero – we see him turned by his selfless love into a saint, crowning his unremarkable life with a deed parallel to St Maximilian Kolbe’s. Our hearts ache in sympathy for him, who had to see his beloved marry another man, after which he became that man’s defence lawyer and finally gave up his life for him. We are rendered speechless by his gift of self – would we do the same in his place? Could we find that strength? He was a weak man, but he could, and he gives us the hope that we can do likewise.

As Mary Flannery O’Connor wrote,

“The serious writer has always taken the flaw in human nature for his starting point, usually the flaw in an otherwise admirable character. Drama usually bases itself on the bedrock of original sin, whether the writer thinks in theological terms or not. Then, too, any character in a serious novel is supposed to carry a burden of meaning larger than himself. The novelist doesn’t write about people in a vacuum; he writes about people in a world where something is obviously lacking, where there is the general mystery of incompleteness and the particular tragedy of our own times to be demonstrated, and the novelist tries to give you, within the form of the book, the total experience of human nature at any time. For this reason, the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul.”

As Catholics, we are constantly challenged, empowered and inspired to become people who can exhibit Sydney Carton’s Christlike love in complete donation of self for the good of others.

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Winner of a Campion College 2014 The Lord is My Shepherd book grant.

The Apparition that Changed the World: A Review of Jean Heimann’s New Book on Fatima

The following review was originally written on the blog Sacrifice of Love. It is republished here with permission from the author.

With depth and simplicity, Jean Heimann’s new book, Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World (Tan Books 2017), instructs and inspires as it delves into the story of Our Lady of Fatima. However, instead of solely focusing on the apparitions themselves, Heimann provides a holistic view which shows the people and societal conditions that were so drastically affected by Mary’s appearances at Fatima. Heimann begins her work by introducing the three young children whom Mary appeared to: Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. She then continues to discuss the Marian apparitions that took place in 1917 and continue to be important 100 years later.

Used with permission.

Instead of simply discussing each apparition and then moving onto the next one, though, Heimann really dives into the messages of Our Lady. Following the scenes of the first two apparitions, she includes a “Lessons from the Apparition” section. This part of the book connects the faithful, humble “yes” that the three young visionaries gave to God with the fiat of Mary, the Mother of God. Heimann also explores Mary’s words, and how typical, “normal” lay Catholics can live out these messages. Instead of just throwing around terms like “reparation” and “Rosary,” she talks about what these aspects of the Faith are. I found the small section on the Rosary particularly inspiring as it discussed the importance of contemplation in this prayer.

In discussing these apparitions, Heimann draws from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary on Fatima, which helps illustrate various symbols that were in the third apparition. She also provides the historical context of political events that were happening in Portugal at the time. Learning about these historical details was eye-opening, and helped me see how pivotal it was that Mary appeared in Fatima at this specific time period, and helped revive the Catholics there.

After diving into the sixth apparition—the famous incident of the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917—Heimann talks about the lives and deaths of the visionaries in the years that followed. I really did not know much about the events that followed the apparitions, and I was fascinated as I read about Lucia’s life in the convent. The book concludes by discussing the different popes who have visited Fatima, and some miracles connected to Our Lady of Fatima that have taken place in the years since the apparitions.

I really enjoyed this book, and think that Heimann did an excellent job crafting a well-researched, thorough resource on Fatima that is very approachable and engaging. Whether you are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Fatima or grew up watching the animated movie about Fatima, this book is a great read that inspired me.  I found that this isn’t just a book about Fatima as an isolated set of Marian apparitions; instead, it shows us how Mary’s appearances at Fatima are part of the beautiful, rich tapestry of God’s work throughout the centuries.

Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World, by Jean Heimann, is available for pre-order at Tan Books and at Amazon. 

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Marian Battle Plan for World Peace: Consecration and Salvation

Last year, I finished Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.

I am sure some of you know about his book 33 Days to Morning Glory sold by the Marian Fathers. The Marian book talks about Marian consecration according to St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.

In The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Gaitley talked about how they printed 1 million Spanish copies of the Marian book and gave 100,000 for free to Mexico.

This was very important because the drug war there led to a lot of killings. One reason why there were so many killings is because of their devotion to “Santa” Muerte, aka “Saint” of Death. The devotion is practiced by gruesome killings. They do this to gain power from the demonic spirits.

He said that this was very important because Marian Consecration in the US and Mexico is being promoted by their bishops etc to combat the killings and abortion. The Mexican bishops consecrated their entire dioceses to Mama Mary.

Does Marian Consecration work? Yes! How do we know? Let me give you two concrete examples in recent history.

Before WWII, Mama Mary got St Maximilian Kolbe to promote Marian consecration throughout Poland. Through this, she strengthened her children for the coming war. The Poles were heroically charitable and generous even in the midst of inhumane persecution and oppression. St Maximilian also went to Nagasaki, Japan to promote Marian consecration there. He also passed by Manila en route back to Poland. Notice anything about these places? Warsaw, Poland and Manila were the most devastated cities of World War II. Nagasaki was the site of the atomic bomb. Mama Mary sent him to prepare the places that would be most devastated by promoting Marian Consecration.

In more recent history; my country, the Philippines, received the best proof of this during the 1987 EDSA People Power Revolution.

In 1985, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines dedicated the year as a Marian Year. All throughout the country, there would be posters of Mama Mary. There would be conferences about Marian spirituality. Parishioners were encouraged to pray the Rosary.

This renewed devotion to Mother Mary was in the midst of Martial Law, Marcos’ dictatorship where thousands were arbitrarily abducted, tortured and killed.

From February 21 until 25, 1986, thousands of people congregated along EDSA street. In the face of tanks and soldiers, they prayed the Rosary, asking for Mama Mary’s intercession for peace in the land. They offered flowers to the soldiers. And miraculously, there was no bloodshed. The soldiers lowered their weapons and accepted the flowers. The dictator Marcos fled to Hawaii. Peace and democracy was restored to the Philippines.

Our Lady of EDSA (Our Lady of Peace)
Our Lady of EDSA (Our Lady of Peace)

It remarkable that EDSA is short for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, “Epiphany of the Saints.” Yes, this was its name even before the peaceful revolution! The day that manifested the power of everyday saints and Mama Mary’s protection and intercession.

In the world today, there is much confusion and chaos. ISIS, Syrian war in the Middle East. Migrant crisis and economic uncertainty in Europe. Abortion and euthanasia in the United States and Canada. The genocide of drug suspects in the Philippines. In the midst of so much uncertainty, the only way the world can find peace is if it turns with trust to Mama Mary. If the Catholics throughout the world consecrated themselves to Mama Mary, her Immaculate Heart would triumph once more.

Remember that this was her promise at Fatima: that if Russia was consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, the world would find peace. St John Paul II accomplished this at Fatima on March 25, 1984. But now our Lord and our Lady are calling us to do the same. We can find peace and healing if we consecrate ourselves to Mother Mary, entrusting ourselves to her perfect care; she will bring peace back to the world as only the gentlest of mothers could.

So now as we near the 100th anniversary of Fatima, I encourage everyone to make take advantage of this special season of grace. Pray the Rosary and consecrate yourselves to Mama Mary. As she has shown throughout history, she can bring about peace in the midst of the greatest adversities. And should God permit us to suffer, she will give us the grace, courage and strength to love one another as Christ loves us on the Cross.

Images: PD-US

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Leia Go is a Filipina law student. She graduated in 2011 with an AB in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on Literature and Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Schools). Her patron saints are Mama Mary, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Faustina. She has been a lector and altar server in her schools’ campus ministry offices since high school. She also loves volunteering at the Good Shepherd Sisters baby orphanage and is discerning a vocation to religious/consecrated life.

The Silence of Mary vs Endō’s “Silence”

In the Martin Scorsese film Silence, based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, the Jesuit protagonists face a terrible choice: to renounce their faith and trample on the image of Christ, or to let their flock of Japanese faithful suffer torture and death.

In saving their flock in the temporal realm, did they not risk losing them for eternity? Did they not betray those who had already been tortured and killed? The pagan Japanese have traditionally understood dying for honor, as in the practice of seppuku. The real-life Japanese martyrs understood dying for God and the eternal salvation of others. Christian martyrs have always held it a privilege to die for the Faith, participating in the redemptive death of Christ.

The Nagasaki Martyrs
Choir of La Recoleta, Cuzco, Peru

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.
St. Paul Miki

Crucifixion with Intercessors (The Crucifixion with Sts Paul and Francis)
Luini Bernardino, c. 1530.

Let us turn to the example of Mary, our Mother.

Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother. If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
– Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass: The Sanctus

She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
– Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Unlike Peter, who remonstrated with Jesus after He said He had to suffer and die, Mary quietly accepted this sword which pierced her heart. She watched in silence as her beloved Son, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, was mocked, cursed, defiled, falsely accused, scourged, spat upon, and crucified, with a crown of thorns jammed cruelly onto His poor head. All through the torture of the One she loved best, she never said a word against God. She trusted in His plan of salvation, though it tore her heart to shreds.

That suffering silence was the silence of a strong and virtuous woman who trusted completely in the foolishness of God, which is far above the wisdom of men. Unlike the priests in Silence, Our Lady held fast to the Word of God, the pearl of great price, the Way which leads through death to everlasting Life. Let us imitate her when we see our loved ones suffering, and stay close to Christ.

…the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright.
– Bishop Robert Barron, “Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Seaside Martyrs

…our world doesn’t know what to make of the Resurrection or indeed of miracles and the supernatural. And so a veil of deep silence falls over them. This, in fact, is the deepest silence in the film: that the Resurrection is not even alluded to. And so, ‘Silence’ is left with a naturalistic tale wherein the most noble goal is to alleviate and reduce suffering. This is unsurprising since the very notion of redemptive suffering makes no sense and is a scandal without the theological virtues.
– Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., “Initial thoughts concerning Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
Matthew 16:21-25

Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt. (“When the word of God increases, the words of men fail.” – Augustine).
– Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini n. 66

As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows.  It  recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.
– Vicki Burbach, “Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

…martyrdom is a gift from God that is born of profound charity. It is a specific and glorious sharing in the life of Christ… Martyrdom is the crown of a life lived with ardent love for God and the people of God.
– Bro. Edmund McCullough O.P., “Life and Martyrdom

Also see: Taylor Marshall, “The Seven Sorrows of Mary are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit”;
Joshua Bowman, “The Last Words of 30 Saints”.

Image: Signum-Crucis (1, 2)

Thérèse by Dorothy Day: One Saint Writes about Another

therese

I adore Dorothy Day. That’s the reason why I picked up this book. Like Dorothy Day, when I first met Thérèse of Lisieux, I wasn’t very impressed. Day describes Thérèse of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul as “pious pap” the first time she read it. But as life goes on and wisdom is gained, opinions change. Dorothy Day, as one reviewer states, may not be a Thérèse of Lisieux scholar, but she may be the Little Flower’s most “adept and significant student.” Before this book, the only book I had read by or about Thérèse was Story of a Soul. Now, with Day’s influence, I’m interested in learning more, particularly about her and her sisters.

This short biography breathes life into this saint and applies her life and teachings to the modern world. It is well-addressed to other people who like Day had trouble relating to Thérèse at first. It breathes life into the saint. The reader gets to see Day really in a kind of dialogue with Thérèse’s life and teachings.

So, what does this saint have to say about the world today? As Dorothy Day says in the book:

With governments becoming stronger and more centralized, the common man feels his ineffectiveness. When the whole world seems given over to preparedness for war and the show of force, the message of Thérèse is quite a different one.

Day was writing this book in 1960, but her insights in this book are just as true, if not more so, 56 years later. With the advent of the internet and social media, we’re now bombarded with rage porn and we’re all screaming into the void. Everyone wants to be internet famous. From the richest billionaire in the board room to the poorest homeless teenager on the streets, everyone is looking for attention, everyone wants the biggest, loudest, fanciest thing.

In this world, Thérèse says the same thing she’s said for over a hundred years, “be little, be small, be like a child, be like putty in God’s hands.” This isn’t to say you can’t stand up against injustice. Dorothy Day, one of her spiritual children, is a good example of that. But imitating Christ isn’t just for big, flashy things. It’s the small acts of everyday life that we will all ultimately have to answer for. And, at the end of the day, God is the only Person you have to please. Forget all the anger, all the fame, all the noise. Forget all the stuff, all the media, all the busyness. Be who God wants you to be right now. Do what God wants you to do right now. Act with God’s love right now. Thérèse’s message is truly counter-cultural. That’s what makes her relevant and needed even now.

Dorothy Day’s book Thérèse is going to be back in print on December 16th. It can be pre-ordered through the publisher here or through Amazon here. I got the opportunity to read it through my membership in NetGalley. Thank you Ave Maria Press for the privilege.

This post originally appeared on True Dignity of Women.

A Review of Benedict XVI’s Shortest Book

daughter-zion

Yesterday I finished the first book I’ve ever read by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I’m quite proud of myself. This isn’t the first one I’ve started. One of the Lay Dominicans in my chapter has made the argument that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. To be declared a Doctor of the Church, you have to be someone that people generally agree wrote or spoke in such a way as to clarify or develop Christian doctrine. Many commentators have pointed out that Benedict XVI was much more of a scholar and professor compared to his more charismatic predecessor St. John Paul II or successor Francis. This is very apparent in all of his writings — this book being no exception.

Even for someone like me with a Master’s degree in church teaching, I could only take this book in small chunks with long breaks. I highly recommend reading until it doesn’t make sense anymore, then put it down. When you pick it back up with a fresh mind, it’ll all make perfect sense again.

It’s dense. As he explains in the introduction, it’s basically three college lectures elaborated, revised and edited into book form. It’s only 90 pages, the last 10 or so of which are end-notes.

It does, however, look deeply and thoroughly into our Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. He actually digs into the Old Testament for proof and explanation. He shows how Mary is truly a daughter of Israel found in the Old Testament writings and prophets just as much as her Son. As an old hymn states:

O Mary of all women,
You are the chosen one,
Who, ancient prophets promised,
Would bear God’s only Son;
All Hebrew generations
Prepared the way to thee,
That in your womb the God-man
Might come to set us free.

O Mary, you embody
all God taught to our race,
For you are first and foremost
In fullness of His grace;
We praise this wondrous honor
That you gave birth to Him
Who from you took humanity
And saved us from our sin.

It was a very appropriate book to work on during the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady.

If you would like to better understand how the Catholic faith fits into the Old Testament, give this book a chance. If you’d like to understand the role of Our Lady better especially in light of her identity as a Jewish woman, give this book a chance. If you wish you could brag to all your intellectual friends that you’ve read something by Benedict XVI, give this book a chance.

I’m glad I did for all of those reasons.

Daughter Zion is hard to find unless you look online. It is available in e-book  and paperback format from several sources. You just need to let your fingers do the walking.

This book review first appeared on the blog True Dignity of Women.