Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Reading -- Please Join In

RANN at This, That and The Other Thing is doing a Lenten Reading Meme which I've decided to participate in. Normally I shy away from this sort of thing simply due to time, but I've decided to give this one a try and see how it goes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say. Anyway, it's not too difficult. All you have to do is copy the questions below, paste them in a new post, answer them (obviously), and leave a comment back to me to let me know you want to participate. It's an excellent way to discover good recommendations for Lenten books.

1. What books have you read and/or reviewed in the last year that you would recommend to people looking for Lenten reading? What book/s is/are you reading this Lent?

(If you don't have a blog, leave your answer here in a comment)

2. Include a link back here.

3. Leave a comment here with a link to your post.

4. Encourage your blog friends to participate. Let's see if we can help each other find books for Lent and beyond.

My answers: Books I've reviewed this past year, or the one before, which I would recommend for Lenten reading include first and foremost, Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. Our book club read that last year and it's awesome. Then I'd have to list two from my list of 'books worth reading over and over...': Abandonment to Divine Providence and The Practice of the Presence of God. Those books can be read every year for the rest of your life; they're quick reads, perfect for Lenten reflection or anytime. Recently I read an incredible book all about trust which profoundly changed my relationship with God; it's called, Pathways of Trust and would make a great Lenten read.

Finally, Benedict's Book Club is reading Death on a Friday Afternoon which I happen to think is the best book of all time for Lent.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Way of Love: Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est' (Part 1)

If you're going to read The Way of Love reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, plan on taking your time with it. It's not a book you want to rush through.

Benedict's Book Club has been reading the Pope's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, (DCE) for the past two months, during which time I've been reading one of the essays/reflections from TWoL approximately every two or three days. I was adding short reviews of those individual papers until the review got too long and cumbersome. Nevertheless, I'm glad I wrote them as I went along because it helped me record the evolution of my impressions both to the encyclical and to other authors' ideas contained therein. Initially I saw no connection among the various pieces, each seeming to look out from the original work as from a geographical center. However, a little over a third of the way into the work, the overlap became readily apparent, most notably in discussions concerning the interplay between érōs and agápē.

TWoL is a collection of twenty-seven reflections written on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (DCE) by professors from Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. The writings comprise scholarly articles from a variety of perspectives but all seeking to address the theological and philosophical issues raised in the Pope's first encyclical, DCE.

I'll be the first to admit, I'm no scholar. Yes, I read a lot. But I haven't attended formal schooling in years. These writings are scholarly pieces and no lightweight reading. I found more than a few of them to be dense and very challenging. Fortunately they're mostly less ten pages in length, mostly. It was good for me to stretch myself with this book. I know I got so much more out of DCE as a result of reading TWol. I highly recommend it; I hope there will a book like this for all of Benedict's encyclicals.

Here are the reviews for the first nine articles.

1. Introduction: The Way of Love, Camillo Cardinal Ruini: provides an introduction to the book as well as giving an overview of the encyclical itself, its theological importance, overall significance to history and the sources of PBXVI's insights. Brief but extremely helpful.

2. Love: The Encounter With An Event, Livio Melina: somewhat mystical reflection on love as an event that happens to us, a gift that is given. Our existence and our faith are not acts of our will or thoughts, but come freely from a God Who is Love. Probably the least scholarly work I've encountered thusfar.

3. The Way of Love in the Church's Mission to the World, David L. Schindler: focuses on the second half of the encyclical, the Church's charitable mission to the world as understood in DCE. 'Union with God entails union with all those to whom He gives Himself.' (DCE 14) Basically an elaboration of some aspects of Part II of DCE.

4. "The Love that Moves the Sun and the Other Stars": Light and Love, Stanislaw Grygiel: one of my favorites! Not sure if it was because I got so many good quotes or because of the "Aha!" experience I had while I was reading this one night. Here is just one of my favorite quotes: 'Agápē descends from eternity, and érōs desires to move out of time: eternity is its future. For this reason, only those who with faith, hope and love, in some way already dwell in eternity understand time and know how to carry themselves in it.' Profound and beautiful article.

5. Has Christianity Poisoned Érōs?, Jaroslaw Merecki: philosophical essay discussing various approaches to handling sexual desires from Nietzsche through Freud to the Sexual Revolution. PBXVI says in DCE, '...(the) love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison.' It would seem the answer is a resounding "No!"

6. Love between Man and Woman: The Epitome of Love, William E. May: made me aware of even greater depths in the text by revealing the Latin translations of the word "love". By comparing the English text with the Latin, we see that PBXVI 'argues that amor integrates into one the different kinds of "love" identified by érōs and agápē.

7. Érōs: Ambiguity and the Drama of Love, Giovanni Salmeri: a historic journey through philosophical and theological understandings and wrestling with érōs. An undeniable reality, érōs has been viewed with distrust, as ambiguous folly. Ultimately, we're shown the saints throughout history who have known God as the ultimate Érōs.

8. The Unity of the Human Person under the Light of Love, José Granados: speaks to the positive and integrated aspects of humanity when Love is at the core. 'Give me someone who loves, and he will understand, by the light of his love, that man is one, in body and soul.' An important article in its insistence that science and religion remain married, both disciplines committed to seeing human beings as both body and soul.

9. Agápē, the Revelation of Love and Its Appeal to the Heart: A Comment of Deus Caritas Est in Light of John Paul II's Category of "Elementary Experience", Margaret Harper McCarthy: the event of Jesus crystallizes the the reward in the higher form of love, i.e., the beloved being the reward, 'the joy of being with that person whom the lover takes as goodin se and whose good the lover pursues so that, by it the beloved may be more perfect and flourish.' Love being twofold, involving wanting some good for someone and the elementary experiences from original solitude, through unity to innocence which led Adam to Jesus.
(to be continued . . . )

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My German Shepherd

Prayer is not something accessory,
it is not “optional,”
but rather a question of life or death.

Only one who prays,
that is,
who entrusts himself to God with filial love,
can enter into eternal life,
which is God himself.

Pope Benedict XVI (March 3, 2007)

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

What A Wonderful World

'Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.' (1 Corinthians
Chapter 13)

Friday, February 13, 2009


A family in New York is fighting for the rights of parents to opt their children out of vaccines.

by Pete Chagnon - OneNewsNow - 2/11/2009 6:00:00 AM

'Ron and Rita Palma of Bayport, New York, have been fighting for the right to opt their children out of the vaccines that public schools require children have before attending school. Parents are allowed to opt out of the medical requirement if they cite objections on religious grounds. The Palmas did so, citing their Catholic faith as a reason, but they were met with resistance from the Bayport-Blue Point Union Free School District. Rita Palma explains.

"I handed in my letter, handed in my application, and they called me in and insisted that I come in for a face-to-face interview," she shares. "Now I know other people in the community who have gone through this, so I talked to some lawyers. I knew that they [school officials] were within their legal boundaries, and I really didn't think that it was going to be all that much of a problem. You know, my feelings were true, my beliefs fit squarely with the law -- so I complied."

But Palma says she and her husband were grilled for two hours by the school's attorney, David Cohen. She refers to the session as a "sincerity interview." Following is an excerpt from that meeting:

Cohen: "If you believe God is on your side, does that mean he's not on the side or can he be on the side of somebody who believes in immunization?"

Rita: "Mr. Cohen, I wouldn't know. I know my deepest, most spiritual beliefs. I don't know the belief system of others and..."

Ron: "And nor do we control God."

Rita: "Yeah."

Cohen: "Okay."

Rita: "I wouldn't know."

Rita says the attorney concluded that her beliefs were not "sincere" enough and decided to deny her vaccine waiver. She is now taking her fight to the New York State Capitol.

In an interview with OneNewsNow, Rita Palma claims David Cohen, the school's attorney, tried to intimidate her in the questioning process.

"He has been named in enough publications where I'm sure he has experienced some pressure -- and some not-so-nice pressure -- from other sources criticizing his actions," she says. "My assemblywomen actually wrote a letter to my school district...criticizing their actions."

Rita is currently working with state lawmakers to pass New York Bill A00883, which would amend existing law to ban so-called "religious sincerity tests."

"Rather than appeal this decision, the route that I chose to take is to change the law," says Rita. "[I hope] to really compel school districts to accept the [opt-out] letter at face value, and make it illegal for school districts to close the door and ask you what your belief system is all about."

Rita is also working to help pass New York Bill A00880, a bill that would make medical waivers accepted at face value. According to Rita, she handed the school a medical waiver from her doctor that would exempt her son from vaccines, but the school rejected that as well.

OneNewsNow asked Rita if she had considered private school or home school. She replied that her children really like their current teachers, and apart from the vaccine issue they have no complaints. Rita also explains that private school would put undue financial pressure on the family; but if they do decide to switch schools, she wants the choice to be hers -- and not something the public school forces them to do because of the vaccine issue.

Rita operates the website, which assists parents who also wish to opt out of childhood vaccines.'

Is this the United States of America?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Descent Into Hell

One part horror, one part salvation and the rest the possibility for either, Descent Into Hell isn't all as ominous as the title sounds. Yes, there is at least one character who allows delusion to sweep away reason and reality. The reader watches in fearful fascination as the deadly descent begins and progresses.

This was my first ever book by Charles Williams, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and a member of the famous Inklings, the literary pub group they belonged to. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at those meetings! I can just imagine Williams reading this book to his compatriots. No blood and gore thriller produced today, no matter how fiendish, can surpass the reality of an individual succumbing to evil without a fight; it is chilling.

If the book were only about darkness, however, I don't think I could have finished it. Instead, there is a parallel story about another character who is also haunted, disappointed and apparently even more justified in following a path of descent, who does not. Descent contains many beautiful passages, hidden or double meanings, places where you want to pause and reflect on the author's full intention. It is a book worth reading slowly. Williams believed that everything which happens has an underlying spiritual meaning. It was the spiritual side of things he was interested in--the physical world was -- is -- clothing so-to-speak to dress what is really happening. That belief is not too far from Lewis' own Shadowlands concept. Again, just imagine the great conversations they had!

Read Descent Into Hell but plan to take your time with it. It can be confusing in places. I admit that I did not understand all of it. I'd love to find a William's expert somewhere who could go over the book with me because there are confusing bits here and there. Check out "Lonely...I'm Mr. Lonely" by Roger R. at The Inklings for an excellent review of Descent. I wish I'd had it while I was still trying to read the book the first time, although I definitely plan to read it again and -- God willing -- I want to read the rest of his books too.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Two Babies

A worried woman went to her gynecologist and said: 'Doctor, I have a serious problem and desperately need your help! My baby is not even 1 yr. old and I'm pregnant again. I don't want kids so close together.'

So the doctor said: 'Okay, and what do you want me to do?'

She said: 'I want you to end my pregnancy, and I'm counting on your help with this.'

The doctor thought for a little, and after some silence he said to the lady: 'I think I have a better solution for your problem. It's less dangerous for you too.'

She smiled, thinking that the doctor was going to accept her request.

Then he continued: 'You see, in order for you not to have to take care of two babies at the same time, let's kill the one in your arms. This way, you could rest some before the other one is born. If we're going to kill one of them, it doesn't matter which one it is. There would be no risk for your body if you chose the one in your arms.'

The lady was horrified and said: 'No, doctor! How terrible! It's a crime to kill a child!'

'I agree', the doctor replied. 'But you seemed to be okay with it, so I thought maybe that was the best solution.' The doctor smiled, realizing that he had made his point. He convinced the mom that there is no difference in killing a child that's already been born and one that's still in the womb. The crime is the same!

(Sounds somewhat like the wisdom of Solomon; remember the suggestion of cutting the baby in half? This really makes the point! If more doctors presented this option, there would be less killings of precious little helpless children.)

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Things Fall Apart

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is from Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". Fifty years after Chinua Achebe wrote this deceptively simple Nigerian tragedy, Things Fall Apart has never been out of print. It's hailed as Africa's best known work of literature and I can easily see why.

At the heart of the story is a strong man, Okonkwo, with an overwhelming need to prove himself--to himself and his tribe; he must overcome the bad reputation of his drunkard ne'er-do-well father. Although Okonkwo can easily defeat enemies he can wrestle, chop or kill; his stubborn pride and anger collide with and fail to overcome those aspects of life which he cannot so readily tackle: providence, family and tribal laws.

So much of the appeal of Things -- for me at least -- is watching Okonkwo encounter a traditional village. I was fascinated (and repulsed) by its customs, mores, and overall precarious harmony. The appropriateness of the title is in the extreme delicacy of that tribal balance which is rocked to the core by the arrival of the English missionaries. All that was as Okonkwo understood the world to be, changes with the introduction of Christianity and Western civilization. It is both a clash of one individual against his own society and a foreign power, as well as the collision of two diametrically opposed cultures. You don't often find so much carefully-contained conflict in a book of this size. Truly incredible!

Chinua Achebe wrote this masterpiece before most of the African nations had declared their independence. Since that time, the Dark Continent has been washed in rivers of blood. One wonders when, and prays for an end to, all the suffering. Such a sacred place and beautiful people; in many ways so like the Garden of Eden. Long live Africa!

Thanks to Ginnie from Goodreads for this link from The Economist about A Golden Jubilee of Things Fall Apart.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Pathways of Trust

Pathways of Trust is the name of an incredible book but it's also a metaphor for our spiritual journey.

As I thought about where I am on my figurative journey, I began to wonder if that's at least one reason why we as Catholics participate in Eucharistic Processions. Recently I've been following Pete Caccavari's awesome blog, The Food Which Endures, entirely devoted to the Holy Eucharist, where he's been discussing post-by-post how he's been led along this Pathway of Trust toward Eucharistic Adoration and Procession.

All of this seems to be exactly what the Holy Father was talking about on World Communications Day, when he spoke on how the internet can promote the search for truth.

Pathways of Trust has taught me more about my spiritual blind spot, failure to trust in the Lord, than I ever knew I didn't know. From the opening page, Pathways awakens in the reader the awareness of the primacy and centrality of trust in relationship with God through simple, everyday examples, quotes, and amusing vignettes.

Pathways has a smaller subtitle: 101 Shortcuts to Holiness. Don't let that put you off. If you're like me, you don't believe in gimmicks or "shortcuts" when it comes to matters of spirituality, 'it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.' (Matt 7:14) So please don't think this is one of those books that purports to have all the answers served up on a silver platter. It doesn't. Pathways is simply divided into One Hundred and One chapters with each individual chapter entitled, "SOMETHING and Trust"; they aren't 'shortcuts' so much as convenient topical subdivisions.

I wanted to race through this book at times, but I forced myself to just read one of the chapters each day . . . or sometimes two or three. It begins with, "Holiness and Trust" and then there is a section on, "Belief and Trust" and "Anxiety and Trust", etc. So step-by-step, it teaches you what Trust is and how it pertains to your relationship to yourself, God, and others.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

'Here is something to really worry about: If you are worried for five minutes, then for those five minutes you are not fully in God's Will.' p. 23

'Self is a kind of disease that we must strive to control throughout our lifetime... Self-discipline has three distinct connotations: the first is the notion of self-punishment... The second connotation sees self-discipline as a corrective process to strengthen and mold the individual to fit into some required social or cultural pattern... The third connotation is the only one that makes self-discipline a virtue: it is a quality by which the individual cultivates certain ethical and moral standards of conduct that he or she is prepared to to adhere to unflinchingly, in all circumstances, regardless of any foreseen or unforeseen painful consequences.' p. 31

'One of God's purposes in increasing our trials is to sensitize us to people we never would have been able to relate to otherwise.' p. 42

'...the sublimated form of faith called trust is neither faith in my faith, nor faith in my prayer, but a trustful faith in a trustworthy and faithful God who will never forsake me.' p. 48

'In relying more on the God of consolations than on the consolations of God, trust seeks the Giver more ardently than it seeks his gifts.' p. 61

Countless Scripture passages litter the pages reminding the reader over and over that God is not only the one true Hope, the source of all Life, Peace, Love and Joy, but we can only trust in Him. And paradoxically, it is only in trusting in Him to provide that initial trust, we can even begin the process. God is faithful.

Most highly recommended! Thanks Wanda for leading me to this wonderful book. And I must also mention that Father John H. Hampsch, C.M.F. has written another book, The Healing Power of the Eucharist, which I'm told is every bit as good as Pathways and hope to read and review here very soon.

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