Review: Catholicism


It seems presumptuous for a 279 page book to have a title like “Catholicism” with its history of thousands of years and a deep, beautiful faith. Yet, somehow, Father Robert Barron‘s book captures its essence surprisingly well.

My hopes for the book, the written accompaniment to the excellent Catholicism DVD series, was high. Moreover, Fr. Barron is someone I follow and respect so my expectations were further elevated. While I have not seen the full DVD series, I have seen those portions broadcast on television. They are a work of art: an excellent narrative skillfully told, breathtaking video, beautiful soundtrack – all skillfully woven together. This book essentially takes the story told there and presents it in a complimentary form.

The story is presented in classic Father Barron style. If you are familiar with his videos, you will find the same sort of insight, reasoning, excitement, phrasing and pacing in the book. I heard him reading it to me.

One thing the book is not – a fast read. It took me much longer than usual for a book this size. Not that it was particularly difficult, but because it is thought provoking.

Like Catholicism itself, the target audience for the book is really everyone. Don’t like Catholicism but are fair minded? Thinking about possibly, maybe, tentatively looking into Catholicism? In any stage of RCIA? Fallen away from your Catholic faith? Faithful Catholic head-over-heals in love with your faith? Read this!

Father Barron describes it thus: “What I propose to do in this book is to take you on a guided exploration of the Catholic world, but not in the manner of a docent, for I am not interested in showing you the artifacts of Catholicism as though they were dusty objets d’art in a museum of culture. I want to function rather as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the mystery of the incarnation in the hopes that you might be transformed by its power.”

I think that he succeeds. I was particularly pleased with Father’s presentation of the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life. You will not find a dull, mechanical catalog of its component parts together with an overview of the vessels and vestments used (as I have found by some authors). Instead, Father Barron eloquently and beautifully presents the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as it really is. A small snippet:

From a Catholic point of view, this coming together of faith in the Incarnation and faith in the real presence is of great significance, for the Eucharist is nothing other than a sacramental extension of the Incarnation across space and time, the manner in which Christ continues to abide, in and embodied way, with his church.

The book is structured into 10 fairly long chapters:

  1. Amazed and Afraid: The Revelation of God Become Man
  2. Happy are We: The Teachings of Jesus
  3. “That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought”: The Ineffable Mystery of God
  4. Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast: Mary, The Mother of God
  5. The Indispensable Men: Peter, Paul, and the Missionary Adventure
  6. A Body Both Suffering and Glorious: The Mystical Union of Christ and The Church
  7. Word Made Flesh, True Bread of Heaven: The Mystery of The Church’s Sacrament and Worship
  8. A Vast Company of Witnesses: The Communion of Saints
  9. The Fire of His Love: Prayer and The Life of The Spirit
  10. World Without End: The Last Things

Also included are Acknowledgments, an Introduction (“The Catholic Thing”), A Coda (“It’s All About God”) and an Index. Black and white pictures of people and places are sprinkled throughout the text. The center of the book includes a nice bonus: 8 pages of full-color artwork and other images printed on high-quality paper.

I recommend this book without reservation and have added it to my Great Books list (very few, very select, highly recommended books). I am in very good company recommending it: Archbishop Charles Chaput, Scott Hahn, George Weigel, Raymond Arroyo, Mike Aquilina and many more. Buy it for yourself and give it as a gift. You probably know a lot of people who could benefit from it.

Full Disclosure:  This book was provided to me at no charge by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. They seek only my honest, real opinion and that is what I give!

Review: The Broken Path

The Broken Path

Over 20 years ago, author Judie Brown co-founded the American Life League – a grassroots, Catholic, pro-life education organization. She was appointed to the Pontifical Academy for Life by Pope John Paul II (twice) and Pope Benedict XVI. She is solidly and faithfully Catholic.

Judie’s new book The Broken Path: How Catholic Bishops Got Lost in the Weeds of American Politics is not for everybody. Those who are not yet mature in their faith, who are poorly catechized or who are exploring the faith might not be ready for it.

For those who know that Jesus founded one, visible Church – the Catholic Church; for those who know that Christ and his Church are inseparable; for those who love our Lord and His Church; for those who place the genuine teaching of that Church above all else; for those whose faith is unshakable by individual failures of our shepherds — this book IS for you and I strongly recommend it. In fact, I am adding it to my very discriminating Great Books list.

The back cover describes the book as “a work of love for the Church: a must read for every Catholic with a desire to return our nation to a righteous path and our society to a culture of life.” It also notes however, that the truth is not “always flattering: contemporary Catholic leaders in the Church, worthy of praise, are singled out as are others warranting greater scrutiny.” The book delivers mightily on that, detailing events and naming names of bold individual successes, missed opportunities and some sad failures. It is not conjecture or an event log, but a coherent, connected and compelling study of events, both good and (far too often) bad.

This is the backstory that led to Obama’s war on religion. Failures to lead, failures to correct and sometimes tacit support emboldened the president to take unprecedented, immoral and even illegal actions against life, family and religious freedom. To truly understand “how we got here”, read this book. From the first chapter:

The history is evident. What is not clear is why so many priests, bishops, and theologians have opted to dissent from Catholic teaching and have not been chastised. These individuals remain entrenched in the Church without correction of any kind. What is equally mysterious is how we got to this stage when the Church has such a vivid history of fighting against all odds to maintain and defend truth, even at the cost of lives. I cannot think of one martyr, for example, who would have preferred to agree to discard a little bit of truth for the sake of popularity, financial support, or political entrée. The true heroes of the faith would rather die before turning their backs on Christ — and many of them did.

The book is organized into chapters as follows:

  1. How It All Began
  2. A Diseased Body
  3. The Catholic Priesthood in Chaos
  4. Kingpins
  5. Bureaucrats Speaking for Bishops?
  6. Catholic School Daze
  7. The Politics of Catholicism
  8. Holy Souls or Sacred Cows – The Canon 915 Dilemma
  9. Obama Plays Catholics for Fools
  10. Perverse Health Care Ethics
  11. Contraceptive Cowardice
  12. Why Do Bishops Reject Personhood?
  13. Holy Priests Are The Cure

This book could not be more timely, yet was published just before the recent HHS mandate and Obama’s war on religion. The 269 page book includes a table of contents, a foreward by Bishop Rene Gracida, acknowledgments, introduction, an appendix, extensive footnotes (30 pages), and an index. It is available in both inexpensive paperback and Kindle formats. Every bishop should read it.

The book ends quoting A Prayer for Priests and Bishops from the Roman Missal:

O God, who hast appointed Thine only-begotten Son to be the eternal High Priest for the glory of Thy Majesty and the salvation of mankind; grant that they whom He hath chosen to be His ministers and the stewards of His mysteries, may be found faithful in the fulfillment of the ministry which they have received. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Full Disclosure: This book was provided to me at no charge by American Life League in exchange for this review. They seek only my honest, real opinion and that is what I give!

Review: Jesus-Shock

Jesus Shock

I like a lot of books, but most I would not read again. Not that they are bad, but because I have already gleaned from them much of what they have to offer. Very, very few books are so good that I look forward to rereading them. Mass Appeal is one of those books. Jesus-Shock by Peter Kreeft is now added to this very exclusive list! This is the kind of book that you want to buy in quantity and give to everyone you know.

Jesus-Shock explores the reception of our Lord during His life and in modern times. Not just by enemies, but by friendlies – by Christians and specifically Catholics. Author Kreeft packs a lot of punch in every paragraph. I recently read a book that while good, buried the important points under an avalanche of words making them hard to find. This book is the opposite of that. It is very engaging, eloquent, thought-provoking and hard to put down. It includes some good quotes, but is itself eminently quotable.

The book cover gives this good summary:

What was the bitterest controversy of the Protestant Reformation, both between Protestants and Catholics and between different Protestant denominations, the one that had both sides calling the other not just heretics but devils?

Answer: It was not Justification by Faith, the hallmark of the Reformation, even though that question is about nothing less momentous than how to be saved, how to get to Heaven. It was not the relation between religion and politics, even though that was a matter of life or death (literally, on battlefields and at guillotines and hangings) and not just a matter of truth or falsity, or of good or evil. It was not about the sufficiency of the Bible, or the corruption in the Church, or the relation between the Bible and the Church. It was not about the Pope, and the governance of the Church. It was not about Mary or saints or angels or Purgatory. It was not about the Incarnation or the Trinity or the Atonement.

It was about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Jesus-Shock, in addressing this controversy forcefully and faithfully, shows the reasons why to this day the name of “Jesus” stirs up controversy, even revulsion, in polite society. In the true spirit of ecumenism, it also points the way toward a true rapprochement among His modern-day disciples.

The book is hardbound but small, roughly of Catechism dimensions of 7 x 4.4 inches. It’s 176 pages are divided into 6 chapters: Seven Beginnings, The Data: Jesus-Shock, Jesus-Shock in the Gospels, Its Foundation: Real Presence, What Do We Do Now? and Seven Postscripts. There is also an index and list of biblical references.

I recommend this book for those looking to know Jesus better, for Protestants, for Catholics, for priests and for everybody else. It would make a wonderful Christmas present too.

Why is He history’s greatest divider? Why is He the razor edge of the round world? What does He do to you, to put you on that edge, no matter who you are and no matter what you believe or don’t believe?

Review: Mass Appeal

Mass Appeal

The Mass is nothing less than awesome! All of it. Time is suspended, heaven and earth are joined, our Lord is literally present, He speaks to us through our priests, angels and saints worship with us, we are present at the Last Supper and kneel at Calvary. The Mass is not a play or re-enactment and is far more than just a worship service. It is an incredible, supernatural mystery.

Too many Catholics know the Mass mostly in a routine way. They know the “people part” of prayers, the flow and the essence of the big picture. There are some who would have a difficult time articulating the differences with a Protestant worship service. It is a serious problem of catechesis that can lead to loss of faith. It is so, so sad.

There are plenty of books on the Mass, many focusing on mechanics, history, vestments, vessels, trivia and so on. The supernatural aspects, the whole point of the Mass, are often under-explored. I am not talking about weird theories, but an orthodox, solidly doctrinal presentation.

There are probably others I have yet to find, but I have found one (thanks Rigsby!) and it is excellent: David DesOrmeaux’s Mass Appeal – The Depth and Beauty of the Eucharistic Celebration at an Understandable Level. As far as I can tell, this is David’s only book and was written 10 years ago when he was only 22. That makes him light in credentials, but is well made up for in enthusiasm. It is quickly evident that he knows his “stuff,” loves the Mass and has researched carefully listing over 60 references in the bibliography.

Structurally, the book is a 132 page paperback organized to follow the liturgy. Where options exist, David picks one such as Eucharistic Prayer II (the other 3 are in the appendix). The table of contents is extensive allowing quick access to any part of Mass. References to scripture are extensive.

Since the book is 10 years old, it is obviously does not quote the new, corrected English translation of the Roman Missal. It would be a nice touch if it were updated, but that is not a serious drawback.

This book is inexpensive and perfect for a wide audience. If you are “more Catholic than the pope,” you will still find this insightful and a good resource to tie together bits and pieces you already know. If you are interested in Catholicism, you will be surprised how the Mass is thoroughly based upon scripture and hopefully get a small taste of its wonder. Everybody in between will simply get a beautiful, deeper appreciation for the Mass. It would make a great gift too, especially for those being confirmed or returning to the faith.

The Mass is an essential part of this divine action, for in it Christ, the Son, true God and true man, offers Himself to God the Father for the sake of his Bride, the Church. Jesus was sacrificed at the Crucifixion and that sacrifice is eternal. He stands as the slain Lamb in Heaven (Rev 5:6) forever and ever. This sacrifice took place so that our sins, the sins of Christ’s Bride the Church, would be forgiven. Instead of us suffering, Christ put our burden on his holy shoulders and offered Himself to God the Father. “No greater love can a man have than to give his life for a friend” (John 15:13). Now Christ’s Bride is pure because of what He did and his spotless Bride is worthy to be his wife.

The offering that Christ makes of his own life to the Father is also eternal. It is the same action He makes as He returns the perfect life and love to the Father, for He is the perfect life and love. Jesus gives Himself in the Trinity just as God the Father gave Himself to the Son. This not only takes place in Heaven, it also takes place on the altar at Mass. Christ is offered to the Father by his earthly servant, the priest, who stands in his place (in persona Christi). Therefore, because the Mass imitates the perfect action, and the action that takes place within the Most Holy Trinity, it is the highest action that we as humans can participate in here on earth.