Review: Heart of the Christian Life

Heart Of The Christian Life

In the dozens of books written by Pope Benedict XVI, some will be remembered as major influences on Christian thought. Others are of a different genre and focus like this one. Heart of the Christian Life, Thoughts on Holy Mass, is a compilations of homilies that touch on the Mass and Blessed Sacrament.

The book is described as: “the celebration of the Eucharist, in which Jesus Christ becomes present, is the center of the Catholic faith. This volume brings together substantive texts of the Holy Father on the many aspects and dimensions of the Mass and the Mystery of the Eucharist, a rich source for every Christian and a spur to reflection and personal prayer. Delivered in addresses and homilies to a wide variety of audiences, these reflections reveal the depth and breadth of Pope Benedict XVI’s profound and life-long love for the Holy Eucharist.”

I enjoyed the thought provoking and fresh insights the Holy Father shares in these pieces. Even topics like the parable of the prodigal son, well known and thoroughly discussed already, is presented from a new vantage point. The story does not change, but is instead presented in a way that seems current and with which we can readily identify.

It was then that he began to reflect and wondered if that really was the path to life: a freedom interpreted as doing what I want, living, having life only for me; or if instead it might be more of a life to live for others, to contribute to building the world, to the growth of the human community…

So it was he set out on a new journey, an inner journey. The boy pondered and considered all these new aspects of the problem and began to see that he had been far freer at home, since he had also been a landowner contributing to building his home and society in communion with the Creator, knowing the purpose of his life and guessing the project that God had in store for him.


The son realized that it is precisely work, humility and daily discipline that create the true feast and true freedom. So he returned home, inwardly matured and purified: he had understood what living is.

Of course, in the future his life would not be easy either, temptations would return, but he was henceforth fully aware that life without God does not work; it lacks the essential, it lacks light, it lacks reason, it lacks the great sense of being human. He understood that we can only know God on the basis of his Word.

Speaking of the mystery of the Eucharist, the Holy Father said:

And still, we have not yet explained in depth the message of this sign of bread. The Lord mentioned its deepest mystery on Palm Sunday, when some Greeks asked to see him. In his answer to this question is the phrase: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

The mystery of the Passion is hidden in the bread made of ground grain. Flour, the ground wheat, presuppose the death and resurrection of the grain. In being ground and baked, it carries in itself once again the same mystery of the Passion. Only through death does resurrection arrive, as does the fruit and new life.

This is a good book to read in “bite-sized” chunks. Although each homily is related to the Mass and Eucharist, each stands alone and most can be read in a few minutes. It is probably best to read them one-at-a-time, reflecting on the each message.

The book is hardbound, 117 pages in length and contains 17 homilies. They are:

  • The Bread of Life
  • Without Sunday We Cannot Live
  • Mary, the Eucharistic Woman
  • In the Hour of Jesus
  • The Wine of True Love
  • The Eucharist as the Way to Holiness
  • Jesus Christ: Incarnate Love of God
  • Friends of Jesus Christ
  • The Hope of the Grain of Wheat
  • The Church as Eucharistic Community
  • God Is Not Far from Us
  • Sacrament of the Life of God
  • Eucharist: Source and School of Love
  • The Passion of Jesus
  • The Gift of the Self-dedication of Christ
  • The Soul of Sunday
  • To Stand before You and to Serve

The book is followed by 7 pages of acknowledgments, detailing the date, location, event on the liturgical calendar and references. Dates range from May 2005 through March 2008. The book itself was published in March 2010 by Ignatius Press.

I like and recommend the book, especially for those who are already Catholic. I found it to be particularly fitting at Eucharistic adoration.

Review: If Protestantism is True

If Protestantism Is True

Devin Rose is a smart, thoughtful Evangelical convert and Catholic apologist. His book, If Protestantism is True is not his conversion story. It is a rather unique exploration of Protestant claims and beliefs.

Instead of saying Protestantism is in error and why the truth is in the Catholic Church…   author Rose simply takes Protestant claims at face value, methodically explores them and draws the conclusions which logically flow were they true. Many topics are covered and at the end of each, the conclusion is presented beginning with “If Protestantism is true, …”

For example, on “Heresy and Schism in History” Rose gives 4 pages of the background leading up to the Reformation and concludes:

If Protestantism is true, then throughout all of the history of the Church until the Reformation, a heresy was a heresy and a schism was a schism, but the schisms caused by the Reformers were instead new branches on a tree, in spite of the fact that they caused divisions from the Church like every other schism in history had done. Martin Luther was well-intentioned and saw true abuses and evil practices by some leaders in the Church, but unlike the great saints before and after him, he decided to disobey the Church and abandoned any attempt to reform her from within. Had he made different choices, we would likely be calling him St. Martin Luther the Reformer — in the true sense of the word.

In another section, he looks at the disintegration of mainline Protestantism concluding:

If Protestantism is true, then no one Church has the fullness of the truth, but all churches teach a mixture of true and false doctrine. So it makes sense to find one that agrees on enough of the truth that you deem essential and also that appeals to your tastes and preferences. In addition, as your tastes change and your church feels less relevant, it’s your right to find a different church that meets your needs.

As a final example, at the end of the section on the sacraments:

Most practically, if Protestantism is true, then Protestants have some mighty decisions to make — all on their own, as there is no other true authority than their own interpretation of the Bible. They must decide which Protestant (Luther or Calvin) was right about baptism, which Protestant (Luther or Zwingli) was right about the Eucharist, which Protestants (the liberals or the conservatives) are right about marriage, which of their many and varied teachings on confession and forgiveness are valid, etc. I don’t envy the Protestants this task.

Each of these conclusions (and many more) are reached after a non-emotional, straight forward presentation of facts. Most objective readers will probably not take serious issue with that. Committed Protestants will have a natural aversion to where it must lead!

The book is 178 pages divided into 11 chapters (counting the conclusion), supported with acknowledgments, notes and index. The chapters are:

  1. A Search for Truth
    • Anywhere but the Catholic Church
    • A Note About Terminology
    • Protestantism Then and Now
    • About Indulgences
    • The Purpose of This Book
  2. A Call to Honest Self-Examination
    • The Difficulty of Conversion
    • The Subtlety of Bias
    • Is Truth Accessible to All?
  3. The Catholic Church in History
    • Ecumenical Councils
    • The Papacy
    • Divine Authority
    • The Four Marks of the Church
    • Celibacy for the Kingdom
    • Beneficial Requirements
    • The Saints
  4. Reformation: Schism or Branches?
    • The Reformation
    • Heresy and Schism in History
    • Mary’s Perpetual Virginity and Her Title of “Mother of God”
    • Martin Luther’s Personal Holiness
    • The Catholic Perspective on Protestants Today
    • A New Reformation Needed?
    • A Need for Reformation in Every Century of the Church
  5. The Canon of Scripture
    • The Centrality of the Canon
    • A Brief History of the Canon
    • Martin Luther’s Rejection of Four New Testament Books
    • The Seven Deuterocanonical Books
    • Accepting the Canon from an Apostate Church
    • The Myth of the Self-Authenticating Canon
    • The “Fallible Collection” and “Reasonable Certainty”
    • Sola Scriptura‘s Logical Consequences
    • The Canon of Shakespeare
  6. The Reformers’ Legacy: Protestantism Today
    • The Protestant Meltdown over Questions of Sexuality
    • The Protestant Flip-Flop on Other Moral Issues
    • The Disintegration of Mainline Protestantism
    • “I Have No Authority But Jesus”
  7. Protestant Objections to the Catholic Church
    • “The Catholic Church Manipulated Historical Texts”
    • “No One is Infallible, so the Church Cannot be”
    • “The Catholic Church Prevented Vernacular Translations of the Bible”
    • “The Catholic Church Puts God in a Box”
    • “The Catholic Church Does Not Produce Good Fruit”
    • “The Early Church Was Like Protestantism”
    • “The Catholic Church Invented Doctrines Late in History”
  8. The Sacraments
    • The Sacraments
    • The Unanimous Teaching of Baptismal Regeneration
    • Baptism, Sola Fide, and Salvation: Two Different Understandings
    • Infant Baptism
    • The Protestant Rejection of Marriage as a Sacrament
    • Anointing of the Sick
    • The Eucharist
    • Confession
    • Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession
  9. Tradition
    • The Closure of Public Revelation
    • Oral Tradition and John’s Third Letter
    • Evangelical Protestantism and Tradition
    • The Family of God Versus “Me and God”
  10. The Scriptures
    • Are the Scriptures Difficult to Understand?
    • Protestantism’s Lack of Interpretative Authority
    • The Perspicuity of the Scriptures
    • Misinterpreting the Great Commission
    • Interpreting the Bible with a Modern, Scientific Mind
  11. To Find the Truth, Follow the Trail of Authority
    • Authority is God’s Intention
    • Interpretation vs. Authority

This is a very readable book, easily consumed in sections. I recommend it for anyone interested in understanding the claims of Protestantism. It will be especially helpful for Protestants who are reconsidering their denomination’s direction, folks who are interested in Catholicism and all seekers of truth. Lapsed Catholics now in Protestant communities and other poorly catechized Catholics may also find it useful.

From the conclusion:

Jesus Himself gives us the confidence that in seeking Him we will find Him, Who is the Truth and ultimate Authority: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). May Christ bless and guide your search to find and worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23), and may He unite us all as one in the fullness of the truth.

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: A People of Hope

A People Of Hope

I like Archbishop Dolan. In my short time being Catholic, he has been on my radar screen more than once. I included him in my “excellent shepherds” post last November.

For those who do not know who he is, the Most Reverend Timothy Michael Dolan has been the Archbishop of New York since 2009. He was previously the Archbishop of Milwaukee, inheriting (and healing) a very troubled archdiocese from Rembert Weakland in 2002. Last year this time (November 2010), breaking with tradition, he was elected as the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

There are about 400 bishops in the US, of which maybe a dozen or two will have significant impact outside of their dioceses in the next decade. Archbishop Dolan is one of them. John Allen’s new book A People of Hope (published today), gives us a keen sense on who he is.

For the most part, the book is a series of interviews so most of the words are Dolan’s own. The discussion is wide ranging, covering everything from hot-button issues to personal philosophies. From it, you get a really good sense of what makes Dolan “tick.”

Allen uses the phrase “affirmative-orthodoxy” to describe Dolan’s approach. It fits well. Put simply, instead of focusing on rules or “no,” Dolan prefers to focus on the positive, uplifting, affirming “yes” of Catholic teaching. The orthodox part describes Dolan’s upfront faithfulness to the true teaching of the Church, our doctrine, Magisterium and Holy Father. Dolan does not shy away from the press and will respond to their attacks (as he did Maureen Dowd at the New York Times).

A good illustration of affirmative-orthodoxy in practice is Archbishop Dolan’s approach to those with same sex attraction. Allen asked “What is the Church actually saying to homosexuals?”

First of all, we’re saying that it’s absurd to identify yourself with your sexual urges. When somebody comes to me, as people often do, and says, “I must tell you, I am a homosexual,” or “I am gay,” I say, “Well, thanks for your confidence. Nice to meet your, sit down, you’re welcome here, but as a matter of fact, no you’re not. You happen to be John Jones, who is a child of God and redeemed by the blood of his only begotten Son, destined to spend eternity with him. When God looks at you, he sees a work of art. That’s who you are. You happen to be sexually attracted to men, but that doesn’t define who your are.”

One thing that comes through quite clearly is that Archbishop Dolan is a nice guy. He genuinely cares about everybody and certainly does not see people who disagree with him as an enemy. He is the kind of guy you just want to enjoy a hot dog and beer with – which he enjoys too. He is liked by many and doesn’t create rabid detractors which is quite a feat for a solidly orthodox guy. These traits make him a particularly effective PR front-man for the Church in the US (you may have seen his extended interview in March on 60 Minutes).

Author Allen does not explicitly state his personal leanings, but it is apparent that it is from the liberal / progressive direction. In some chapters the tone of his comments or questions can be a distraction. He is none-the-less thorough and the answers are all Dolan.

Structurally, the book is 228 pages plus a 27 page introduction. It is divided into sections and chapters as follows:

  • Who Dolan Is: The Dolan Story
  • Challenges Facing the Church: The Sexual-Abuse Crisis, Women in the Church, Pelvic Issues, Faith and Politics, Authority and Dissent
  • Catholic Faith and Life: Affirmative Orthodoxy, Beyond Purple Ecclesiology, Tribalism and Its Discontents, Prayer and the Sacraments, Why Be Catholic, Hope

I recommend this book for Catholics interested in the institutional Church in the US. John Allen skillfully interviews Archbishop Dolan, taking us on a comprehensive tour of his leadership style and promise.

Full Disclosure: This book was provided to me at no charge by Image Books, A Division of Random House, Inc. in exchange for this review. They seek only my honest, real opinion and that is what I give!