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Review: BOOKS READ IN 2016

I love to read. 

You know how people ask you about your hobbies?  Mine is reading (and writing, like for this blog!).  Pretty much always has been. 

In 2015, I tried to read as many books as I could during the year (including books read with my wife Sarah, of course).  I kept track of the books, which had to be books which I had never read before. 

I read thirty-eight, almost thirty-nine (so close).

This year, I tried again to read as many books as I could.  I also kept track of each book’s length, so I could see how many pages I read by the end of the year.  The list of books is below, with a little review for each.   

This past year was an adventurous one, what with my wife and I both delivering talks in Leeds, England about J. R. R. Tolkien in July, and with me delivering a talk about Pope Francis at Franciscan University of Steubenville in November.  My Tolkien talk was entitled “Tolkien and the Battle of the Somme” and the Pope Francis talk was called “Memory and the Family: Pope Francis’ View of History.”  I’ve indicated which books were read in the process of researching for these talks, in case people would like to read more about the topics. 

  1. Biblical Reflections on Crises Facing the Church by Raymond E. Brown – 121 p – Fr. Brown’s take on several of the big “issues” in the Church today. Made me frustrated a few times. 
  1. Unless Some Man Show Me by Alexander Jones – 155 p – Collections of columns written about Scripture interpretation for a Catholic newspaper in England. Very useful. 
  1. The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson – 408 p – Read for a review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A story from American Catholic history and culture for every day of the year.  I learned a lot!  I only wish there was a Bibliography so I could dig deeper. 
  1. Christ in His Fullness by Bruce Sullivan – 222 p – Conversion story and refutation of the major arguments that had held this former Church of Christ minister from entering the Church.  A very quick read. 
  1. Why Johnny Doesn’t Behave: Twenty Tips and Measurable BIPs by Annemieke Golly and Barbara D. Bateman– 122 p – A book on teaching for a change. It focused on how to deal with misbehaving children and implementing Behavioral Implementation Plans (BIPs)   . 
  1. The Ten Commandments by Charles Pope – 80 p – Short but sweet overview of the Decalogue and the Church’s teaching on the commandments.
  1. The Crown of Sorrow by Alban Goodier – 156 p – My Lenten spiritual reading this year. Slowly moves you through the passion account, beginning and ending with the Scriptures, to draw you into Christ’s Passion.  It worked well as a daily Lenten meditation. 
  1. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling – 870 p – Read this with my wife. Harry is a whiny teenager, people start gathering to fight the evil guy and someone dies (da da DA!)
  1. J. R.R. Tolkien: His Life, Work, and Faith by Raymond Edwards – 88 p – Little Bio about Tolkien. Read to help prepare for the Tolkien talk in England. 
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 374 p – Part dystopian novel, part love letter to the 1980s. Had a predictable ending and parts that I really didn’t like (the full page apologia for touching yourself was not appreciated). 
  1. The Broker by John Grisham – 422 p – The only John Grisham novel I’ve read. Guy from Washington DC gets a pardon set up by the CIA and lives on the run in Italy. 
  1. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling – 652 p – Read this with my wife. Harry’s less whiny.  Good mystery in this one. 
  1. Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth – 313 p – Read to help prepare for the Tolkien talk in England. About Tolkien’s early life and his time in World War I.  Very interesting. 
  1. Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury – 364 p – Collection of stories by the master of science fiction short stories. Included the story that inspired the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
  1. Prove It: You by Amy Welborn – 125 p – Book on morality written for teens.
  1. Why Be Catholic by Patrick Madrid – 230 p – Read for a review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Good reflection on why it’s great to be Catholic.  The book weaves in personal stories about each topic. 
  1. Francis: Pope of the New World by Andrea Torinelli – 180 p – Short biography about Pope Francis written soon after his election. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling – 759 p – The last Harry Potter book. It is the climax.  Anyone else feel like Rowling was inspired by C. S. Lewis while writing this one, especially by The Great Divorce?
  1. 2201 Fascinating Facts by David Louis – 376 p – Fun trivia facts on basically everything. A little dated (it was published in the late ‘80s).
  1. The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui by Affleck Gray – 178 p – The only book on Scotland’s hairy biped (like Bigfoot). Purchased in Scotland.
  1. Black Priest/White Church by Lawrence E. Lucas – 270 p – About overcoming racism in the Catholic Church during the 1960s and 1970 (when the book was written). I didn’t agree with all of the priest’s points, but it did make me think about what I can do to help race relations in my own experiences.  
  1. Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer – 227 p – Historical fiction for middle schoolers. Actually a pretty fun read. 
  1. On the Family by Pope Francis – 120 p – Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audience reflections on the family from 2015. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. A Song for Mary by Dennis Smith – 374 p – Memoir of growing up as a Catholic poor kid in New York.
  1. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie – 247 p – My first Agatha Christie novel. I won’t tell you how it ends.
  1. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide by the Writers of the Series – 207 p – The title pretty much says it all. The only problem is that it was over too soon!
  1. Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell – 238 p – An adventure based on the TV show characters. Lots of fun when you hear the actors’ voices in your head while reading the story. 
  1. Pope Francis Speaks to the US and Cuba by Pope Francis – 175 p – All of the homilies, talks, and interviews Pope Francis gave during his visit to America in 2015. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis – 225 p – The controversial Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the Family. Lots of good stuff, but the confusing parts are legitimately confusing.  Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism by Thomas L. McFadden Sr. – 138 p – Independently published. Argued that you cannot be a Catholic and hold that evolution, even theistic evolution, is true.  Lots of insults against Jesuits in this one.  Not too fun of a read. 
  1. Liturgical Question Box by Peter J. Elliott – 189 p – Adapted from the author’s column in an Australian Catholic newspaper
  1. Poor Richard’s Almanac, etc by Benjamin Franklin – 130 p – Little book of “advice” from Poor Richard. . . I mean Benjamin Franklin
  1. The Enchanted World: Dragons by the editors at Time-Life – 130 p – Part of a series of books published by Time-Life. Lots of fun stories and pretty pictures. 
  1. Irish Saints Robert T. Reilly – 169 p – Lots of short lives of great Irish saints (and some saints to be?).
  1. A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn – 293 p – Dr. Hahn presents the story of Salvation in an interesting, entertaining, and spiritually enlightening way. I’ve already begun incorporating material from this book into my lesson plans. 
  1. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter – 277 p – The official biography of the great author. Very interesting read.  I read parts of this for the Tolkien talk, and I read the rest of it later in the year. 
  1. Catholics in America by Russell Shaw – 149 p – Short bios of key figures in American Catholicism. Really made me want to read more about these people. 
  1. Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating – 340 p – This work of apologetics helped launch a revival of Catholic apologetics (which this blog is hopefully a small part). Very informative, looking at Fundamentalist arguments and answering them with the Church’s teaching. 
  1. Narrative Poems by C.S. Lewis – 186 p – Of the four poems in this book, only the first one, Dymer, was published in Lewis’ life. Good, quick read. 

And for those that weren’t keeping track, that’s 10,279 pages read in 2016. 

For 2017, I’m doing something different (again).  First, again I’m trying to read as many books as I can (my goal is forty).  Secondly, and different for this year, I have picked ten books that I have been meaning to read for a while (in some cases, over a decade).  The goal is to read all ten of them before the end of the year.  I own them all, so getting my hands on the book is the easy part.  The order of me reading them doesn’t matter, which hopefully will make things easier. 

Anyway, here’s that list (in no particular order):

  • Witness to Hope by George Weigel
  • The End and the Beginning by George Weigel
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  • The Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology by Michael Newton
  • Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
  • The History of the Catholic Church by James Hitchcock
  • The Life You Save May be Your Own by Paul Elie
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • The Poem of the Cid by Anonymous
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

In other words, it’s looking like 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for reading!  Expect a short review of each of the ten, and every other new book I read this year, in January 2018.

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God (Part II)

See Part I of this series

Ahhhh!  Running out of time to write reflections on the Creed before the end of the Year of Faith!  I guess I’ll have to continue the reflections AFTER the year ends.   That’s not so bad, though.  One should grow in Faith no matter what year it is.   I’m sure it wasn’t Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s intention to have the faithful look into the Faith for one year and then abandon such pursuits.  No, deepening your Faith involves a lifetime of devotions.

So let us continue where we left off. . .

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty”

Explain the Trinity.  Go ahead, explain it.  Having trouble?  Unsure of exactly how to describe the 3-in-1 thing perfectly?  The language of “three Persons, one God” is helpful, but do you ever still feel confused at the end of your reflections on the Trinity?

As Fr. Robert Barron says at the end of his discussion of the Trinity in his Catholicism TV series, “Good.”

There is a difference, a huge difference, between a discussion of God’s existence and a discussion of his oneness, and a discussion of the Trinity.  The existence of God can be known through human reason, without the aid of Divine Revelation (St. Thomas, that great thinker of all things theological and philosophical, called natural beliefs like God’s existence “preambles to the Faith”).  The resulting knowledge of God without Revelation isn’t perfect, for we need Revelation from God to better understand Him, but it is possible.  We can see “proofs” that show that God’s existence is reasonable.  This is not the case with the Trinity.  Try all he wants, a pagan Greek philosopher could not come to the philosophical conclusion that God is three Persons yet one God (as a side note in speculation, perhaps the ideas of polytheism did somehow hint at this reality, and man formed multiple gods out of the truth of one God in three Persons).

The doctrine of the Trinity, though not apparent through philosophic thought, does make sense on a rational level.  If God is perfect, as He would have to be, being God, then He would have to have pure Love as one of His attributes.  St. John is right in noting that “God is Love” (1 John 8: 8, 16).  Love is a good thing, but it cannot exist if there is not some person to receive the love, someone to receive the affection (and no, you can’t really love chocolate).  You cannot love something that is not a person; love can only be shared between persons.

This is a powerful truth when applied to God.  God is perfect Love, which means that He loves eternally, without beginning or end.  Being eternal, He must likewise love perfectly someone eternal, another eternal person.  This eternal person would have to exist from all eternity, also without beginning or end.  This second person is thus also God, for God alone is eternal.  This is the Second Person in God, the Son.  Thus we can see it follows that God is two divine, eternal Persons.

So the Father (the First Person) loves the Son (the Second Person) from all eternity, and the Son loves the Father likewise.  Their Love, then, is a third eternal existence, without beginning or end, and is therefore a Third Person, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, in case you couldn’t see where this is going, is also God.

Now, of course, this model of the Trinity is not perfect.  It is not without reason that the Church refers to the Mystery of the Trinity.  This is not a Mystery in the sense that you hunt it down and try to find the answer.  No, it is a mystery because it transcends our limited, human understanding.  We cannot fully grasp the inner life of the Trinity, the ad intra workings of God.  What we can grasp, partially, of course, are the ad extra acts of the Trinity, that is, when He works outside of Himself through creation.  God has revealed Himself throughout history and in various steps.  He first revealed Himself through creation, which is why we can use reason to know He exists.  We can look at the created world to know that there is a God and that He loves us (we will look at God’s act of creation in the second half of this post).  God further revealed Himself through His interaction with the Hebrew people.  They were blessed to know God as Father.  God would more fully reveal Himself through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth, who likewise revealed the Third Person of God the Holy Spirit.  We do not have time now to discuss these later revelations of God, but will examine them when we look at the Son and Holy Spirit in later posts of these reflections.

“I believe in One God. . . Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

All of Creation depends on God, from whom all good comes.  God, being perfect, did not need to create.  He did so out of love.  He, being infinite Being itself, is the source of existence for all of creation.  God is the creator.  Nothing exists that He did not create, at least indirectly (so for example, the plastic stuff all around you wasn’t DIRECTLY created by God, but He did make the materials that would eventually become the plastic).

[And no, that does not mean God creates evil.  Evil is a privation, a lack of a good.  God allows evil to come into the world for our benefit.  We can’t know exactly how it works in this life.  Evil is another one of those mysteries of Faith mentioned above.  But evil isn’t God’s fault, as if He were trying to hurt us.  We should stop blaming God for bad things and instead work towards correcting the bad.  We should turn to Him as our model for goodness, rather than rejecting the one perfect thing in existence.]

This line from the Creed, about God creating “all things visible and invisible” went through a slight translation change in the newest translation of the Roman Missal (from 2010).  The prior English translation of the Latin phrase “visibilium omnium et invisibilium” made God the creator “of all things seen and unseen.”  The translation now states that God is the creator “of all things visible and invisible.”  This is not some obsessive translation on the part of churchmen who have nothing better to do than think of new translations of creedal statements.  It reflects a more sound concentration of the importance of God’s revelation.  “Seen and unseen” implies that one could somehow physically see everything in creation (“unseen” seems to imply that the focus of our attention could be seen somehow, but just hasn’t been seen yet); “visible and invisible” puts every thing into a category of things we can sense and things we can’t.

The new translation points towards not only invisible natural forces in creation, such as gravity or even something like the wind, but also includes the spiritual world, namely angels (and demons, or angels that rejected God).  Pure spirits without material bodies, angels are invisible.  They appear to humans, some theologians say, by manipulating light into a form that can be visible to those to whom they are sent.  Angel means “messenger,” and the angels who do interact with people do so because they have special missions from God.  The three archangels, Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are known by name because they appear in Scripture, helping God at important points of Salvation History.  All people have their own guardian angel, as does every church and every country.  Angels were created all at once, the Church teaches, and are not the same as souls who have died and gone to Heaven (contrary to pop cultural references).  And speaking of erroneous ideas of angels, get out of your head the idea of angels as cute and fluffy babies.  There is a reason that the first words angels normally say when greeting humans are “Do not be afraid.”  Visitors from other planes of existence can be quite terrifying.

The Creed affirms not only the existence of angels, but of Heaven and Hell as well.  The existence of both Heaven and Hell are denied rather frequently today, sometimes more frequently than God and angels.  We need to remember that such eternal places exist.  Heaven is a place of bliss, where the souls of the just exist in happiness with God forever.  Dante’s Paradiso captures this reality beautifully.  The souls in Heaven, represented by human-sized lights, swirl around God.  When Dante asks one of the souls who is further away from God if that soul is jealous of those closer to God, the soul says no, because God has placed her where she belongs, and she is still in the presence of God.

Hell, also real, is eternal separation from God.  The most terrifying aspect of Hell is that the people there WANT to be there.  They have chosen to separate themselves from God, and God gives them what they want.  Hell, as strange as it sounds, is a place of justice and love, justice because it gives the souls what they are due (separation from God because of unrepented sins), love because it gives the souls what they want.  Nobody is surprised to end up in Hell.  Again, Dante portrays this marvelously in his Inferno.  At the center of Hell is Satan, frozen in thick sheets of ice.  He remains frozen because, in his pride, the Father of Lies beats his wings, creating a freezing wind that further freezes the ice around him.

Two parables emphasize this point by two very different men.  One is told by Jesus, the other by Oscar Wilde.  The parable of Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man, who would not help Lazarus, even though he saw him daily outside his house, ends up in Hell, while Lazarus ends up in Heaven.  When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they might repent, Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).  The rich man rejects Abraham’s offer: “No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).  The brothers, like the rich man, have separated themselves from God, and the rich man fails to see how God might have offered the key to salvation for men like him and his brothers.

The other story is “The House of Judgment” by Oscar Wilde.  In it is a man who has done pretty much everything bad that is humanly possible.  He is told he has to go to Hell, but he replies he can’t because he’s spent his entire life there.  When Heaven is offered to him, he rejects it because, as he says, “Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it.”  One cannot be with God in Heaven if he cannot build his relationship with God on earth.  In what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of sin, Hell is the only place where such a person can feel at home.

A quick word on visible creation.  There is a lot of debate about whether science or religion has the key to understanding the beginning of the universe.  When man pits science against God or when a man rejects reason in the face of faith, only ignorance results.  Both extremes deny the other’s truth.  Faith and science work together and should agree with each other.  If they don’t, someone went wrong.  The fights over creation vs. evolution are frequently neither scientific nor religious.  Bad science ignores evidence, as many believing evolutionists do; bad religion ignores reason and Tradition, as too many creationists do.

I wrote a paper once trying to reconcile theories of human evolution with the Church’s teaching on Adam and Eve.  Maybe someday I’ll publish it in some scholarly journal.  One thing I found was that there was not a lot of work by Catholics in the field of evolutionary biology, particularly in reconciling the findings of the scientific community with the Church’s teaching on creation, original sin, and the origins of man.  There are some notable contributions by Catholic scientists, but their works are too often ignored by both scientists and Catholics.  Much is said about fitting the scientific theory of the Big Bang into the account of Genesis 1, but there has not been as much work on fitting recent genetic and biological research into the first three chapters of Genesis.  My paper sought to do that, but I am not a scientist, nor am I a genius theologian.  The work still needs to be done.

We Catholics must remember above all that, no matter the details of how the universe came to be as it is today, God must have started it.  If the evolutionary theorists are correct, that the earth and life came to be through gradual changes, then God directed those changes, with our salvation as its goal.  We must also keep in mind that often forgotten point in the debates over man’s origins: man’s ultimate goal, which is salvation in Heaven with God.

It was to regain our salvation for us after we lost it after the Fall that God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, mother of Jesus.  We will reflect on what we believe about this pivotal event in human history, upon which even our dating of history hinges (even if you don’t believe in God): the Incarnation.  And in looking at that crucial historical event, we will delve deep, deep into the mystery of God.

For Further Reading (or Listening)

Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two, Chapter One (198–421)

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Trinity

________.  On “Not Three Gods

Gregory Thaumaturgus, Fragment from “On the Trinity”

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity

Institute of Catholic Culture Lectures

David Brown, Science & Religion: Compatible or Combative? (especially the first talk)

Dcn. Sabatino Carnazzo, Catechism 102: The Creed

Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell, Suffering with God: Job & the Attacks of the Evil One

Fr. Andrew Hofer, Original Sin

Fr. Paul Scalia, Credo: I Believe in God the Father

Fr. William Saunders, Alpha and Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World

_________.  Creation or Evolution: What Does the Church Really Teach?

Pinto, Matthew J.  Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?  And 199 Other Questions from Catholic Teenagers.  West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 1998, Chapters 1 & 2.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part I (deals with God and creation, including parts discussed in the previous post.

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