Sunday, June 29, 2008

Two books

Usually I prefer to finish books before writing about them. Usually. But then these books aren't usual. Jesus of Nazareth is the first book our group, Benedict's Book club is reading. Overachiever that I am, when it comes to reading anyway, I've read ahead to the sixth chapter, even though we're currently discussing Chapter 2. Still Chapter 2 is my favorite of the six . . . so far.

The second book, My Visit to Hell, I’m reading on my own, for ‘fun’. A friend recommended it and quite frankly it didn’t sound too appealing when she suggested it. A novel about hell? I have read Dante’s Divine Comedy, and C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, nevertheless, a fictional account of a journey into the nether world does not fill me with eager anticipation. Let’s be honest, who wants to even think about hell, much less read about it? I read Dante only because it was a ‘classic’ I wanted my daughters to read. I started The Great Divorce without realizing what it was about; I finished it because it was so fascinating. But look for books about fire and brimstone, suffering and misery? No. I am not interested. In fact, the thought quite repulses me.

Why put these two books together? Surely Our Lord, Jesus Christ and a trip to hell don’t belong in the same blog post?

Ah but they do! To paraphrase the Catholic apologist and scriptural exegete, Scott Hahn, "Sweet and gentle Jesus?! You only know half of Him!" The reason Chapter 2 of JoN is my favorite is because it’s about the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. Pope Benedict writes a penetrating exploration of each of the three attempts on the part of the enemy to waylay Our Lord. There are depths of meaning in the Holy Father’s explanations like you have never heard before. Most telling of all, it’s possible for the discerning reader to see how each of these efforts on the part of the enemy is only superficially directed at Jesus; the real target is us! We are really the ones in the desert doing battle with the devil; Jesus is there to show us how to parry the thrust and to assist us, so long as we let Him.

My Visit to Hell is a modern Inferno. It updates Dante’s classic journey into the realms of hell before Judgement Day. The visitor is a young agnostic who doesn’t believe where he is at first; his guide is an 18th century slave woman. As I said, I haven’t finished it yet—but I will. So far we have traveled deeper and deeper into an abyss which grows more hideous by the level. The ‘updating’ of Dante will help those unable to penetrate the Italian poet’s description or relate to unfamiliar people, places and events contained in Dante's long-forgotten world. Professor Thigpen’s terms and descriptions, on the contrary, will be all too familiar; indeed you will find yourself wishing they were less so.

Sometimes two very different texts can – and should – be read in conjunction. Although I recommend these books, I don't presume to assign ratings to either. But someone much higher, greater and mightier than I will determine how our lives reflect the teachings contained therein and I tremble at His judgments.

Blessings on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul!

And I say to thee, That Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 18:16

No comments:

Post a Comment