Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

Book Review: Ten Prayers God Alway Says Yes To by Anthony DeStefano

I open up my Lenten reading for 2008 with a book about prayer. Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To (2007) by Anthony DeStefano, despite it’s 10-step-program title, is really about simplifying one’s approach to prayer and understanding it as conversation with God.

Below are the ten prayers and some of my favorite passages from each chapter:

  1. God, Show Me That You Exist
  2. When we take the initiative by asking him a question, instead of treating him as a question, we have actually entered into a dialogue already — whether we know it or not. And dialogue — back-and-forth conversation — is the heart and foundation of any relationship (p. 13-14).

  3. God, Make Me an Instrument
  4. Christ was making a specific theological point. He was teaching us the true meaning of love. When “two or three” people are present in a particular place and a particular time, it is possible for one of those people to give himself away in love. In other words, it is possible for that person to “love his neighbor”. And it is when you love your neighbor that God is most truly and fully present (p. 29).

  5. God, Outdo Me in Generosity
  6. You can always afford to give something away — and that something should always be more than you can afford. It’s just that you shouldn’t be so extreme in your giving that it’s impossible to fulfill your other legitimate responsibilities. You should never be reckless (p. 54).

  7. God, Get Me Through This Suffering
  8. God says yes to all who come to him for help and comfort when they are in the midst of such trials. Notice I did not say that he promises to stop the suffering, or prevent it from happening in the first place, or alleviate it in any way. This may be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to faith, but we have to face it, head-on: God allows terrible things to happen (p. 61).

  9. God, Forgive Me
  10. Forgiveness has one meaning: wishing a person the greatest possible good — which basically means wishing them salvation and heaven (p. 85).

  11. God, Give Me Peace
  12. Suffering, turmoil, conflict, and indecision are all realities, and we have to deal with them. You can’t just pray to God and expect him to make all your problems magically disappear. That’s not the way to true peace. That’s only a way of avoiding responsibility. When bad things happen to us and other people, we have a moral obligation to get involved. We have a duty to fight evil and alleviate suffering. We have a responsibility to look adversity squarely in the face and struggle against it with every fiber of our being. It’s just that in our effort to deal with these external challenges, we can’t ever allow ourselves to focus on them to exclusion of what’s most important in life — our relationship with God (p. 107).

  13. God, Give Me Courage
  14. The reason is that when we are weak, we’re in the perfect position to receive abundant graces from God. It’s when when we are filled up — with pride in our skills and natural abilities — that we have no room for God’s gifts. But when we are “empty,” there is plenty of space for God to work in. He can come in and literally pour his spirit and his power into us (p. 128).

  15. God, Give Me Wisdom
  16. When you ask God for wisdom, you are essentially asking him for the gift of himself. And as we’ve seen elsewhere in this book, that’s something he’s always eager to do. Remember, the goal of authentic spirituality is to be in union with God. That’s what the whole spiritual life comes down to. When you’re in union with God, you have direct and immediate access to all of the things that God is, and that includes peace, courage, love, wisdom, and truth. God wants you to have these things; he wants to shine his light on humanity, to speak his word unceasingly. Therefore he wants to pour out wisdom on all of us. This is not profound theological thinking, it’s simple common sense (p. 134).

  17. God, Bring Good Out of This Bad Situation
  18. Every one of your tears, every one of your weaknesses, every one of your humiliations, every one of your failures — every single bad thing that ever happens to you in life — can be transformed. Out of every advertisity, God can produce some higher good. Out of every loss, God can find some marvelous gift to give you. Out of every death, God can bring forth new life — if only you ask him.
    If you come away from this book with only one thing, let it be this: “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (p. 163).

  19. God, Lead Me to My Destiny
  20. There’s a reason that God doesn’t always tell us our destiny right away but prefers instead to reveal it to us little by little. It’s because he’s interested in not only what we’re going to accomplish but also what kind of person we’re going to be at the time we accomplish it. And sometimes the “journey” is what helps mold us into better human beings. Indeed, the journey is often what makes life enjoyable. All of the things we experience in life … can help prepare us for the greatness God has in store for us. Even the bad things … can help lead us to our destiny. God wastes nothing (p. 179).

This book is a good introduction to prayer for the newbie as well as good reminder of prayer as finding the way to the will of God.

Lenten links of the day for 6 February 2008

It’s Ash Wednesday again, and time to begin Lent.  Like last year I plan to read a number of books on religious themes throughout Lent.  Unlike last year, I will post the book reviews as I go along instead of just one big post at the end of Lent.

I have some other plans of fasting, prayer and charity for Lent I’m keeping between me and God for now, but here are some interesting links for Lent:

Here’s hoping and praying that Lent is good for all!

Isaac Hecker

This Sunday in New York at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, the cause for the canonization of Father Hecker was opened at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan. Hecker is the founder of the Paulists Fathers, an order dedicated to missionary work, reconciliation and ecumenicism in North America. The Paulist Fathers originated in Hecker’s belief that Catholicism and the American democratic ideals were in fact compatible. Like many great American Catholics Hecker converted to the faith. Prior to his conversion he was involved in the great philosophical movements of the day such as Transcendentalism and was friends with people like Henry David Thoreau. All these experiences helped inform a uniquely American approach to Catholicism and a lifelong effort as a spiritual seeker.

I’m very excited and inspired that Hecker’s cause for canonization is begun. I am aquainted with Hecker and the Paulist Fathers through my involvement with the Paulist Center community here in Boston. It also starts off the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Paulist Fathers. I was fortunate to hear Jon Fuller, S.J., M.D. speak on Saturday night as he received the Isaac Hecker Award “for his lifelong devotion and dedication to the service of a marginalized population through his work with HIV/AIDS treatment and research.”

To learn more about Fr. Isaac Hecker and his cause for canonization, visit the official Paulist Fathers website.

For more coverage on Sunday’s event, visit the following links:

Which Church Father Are You?

An odd quiz/meme via Baptized Pagan.

I’m not quite sure what my results mean as I’m rusty on this period in Church history/theology.

You’re Origen!

You do nothing by half-measures. If you’re going to read the Bible, you want to read it in the original languages. If you’re going to teach, you’re going to reach as many souls as possible, through a proliferation of lectures and books. If you’re a guy and you’re going to fight for purity … well, you’d better hide the kitchen shears.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Movie Review: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story

Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996) is a movie about one of my all-time favorite people. It tells the story of Dorothy Day starting as a young radical, journalist, and bohemian around 1917, through her conversion experience, to the founding of the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930′s. Moira Kelly performs well as an idealistic woman hoping to change the world and aid the poor discovering that she can only do it when she surrenders her will to God. Like many biopics, Entertaining Angels compresses history and features a number of composite characters, but gets the basic gist of Day’s story up to the late 1930′s. Unfortunately, the film leaves out much of Day’s later life, her opposition to war and nuclear armaments only hinted at in bookending scenes set in 1963. On the other hand, the makeup department made Kelly look really ridiculous as a 65-year old woman, so maybe its for the better that this film doesn’t go into Day’s later years.

As much as I want to like this movie for telling an important story and visually capturing the look and feel of Depression-era New York, I have to admit that it gets cheesy at times resembling a Hallmark TV movie. Some of the dialog is straight out of Day’s writings, which adds authenticity, but out of context they sound like “big important speeches”. Martin Sheen plays Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin with an outrageous French accent that makes him unintentionally comical. Sheen’s performance is otherwise good, but the script doesn’t allow much for Maurin other than being mysterious and eccentric. While these traits are true to Maurin’s character, I think Maurin still deserved better.

So my final analysis is that this is a good but not great movie. I’ve volunteered with the Catholic Worker and the film is true to my experience. On the other hand we don’t really get a sense of what makes Dorothy Day tick. People of faith and anyone interested in an introduction to Dorothy Day will probably like this film. Anyone looking to see a great movie will probably be disappointed.

Links of the Day (week, actually) for 30 December 2007

Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children of God (1999) by Mary Doria Russell is the sequel to The Sparrow, but unfortunately in its great ambition fails to live up to its predecessor. Russell introduces a flurry of new characters and overlapping plotlines that make the novel more confusing than complex, and then tries to resolve them all in a way that feels contrived. The strength of The Sparrow is its characters but I don’t feel that the new characters are developed as well. Particularly three Jesuit priests who are Lakota Sioux, Afrikaner, and from Belfast just seem to conveniently tied in with the issues of genocide, partition, and apartheid that occur on the planet of Rakhat. That there is not one, but two idiot savants who mystically show the way to God just seems too much for me.

On the plus side, is still a fine yarn and a good read. There’s a lot of reflection on civilization, spiritual matters, and humor as well.  I particularly like the part where Emilio Sandoz mistakes the Pope for a research assistant.

Children of God picks up where The Sparrow left off. Emilo Sandoz having confronted his past and begun healing leaves the priesthood but agrees to work as a linguist/translator for the Jesuits. He meets and falls in love with Gina, a cousin-in-law of the Father-General, but before they can marry he’s shanghaied into going on a return mission by Gina’s gangster ex-husband Carlo. I found Carlo another poorly developed character and an unbelievable deus ex machina means of getting Emilio back to Rakhat.

Meanwhile on Rakhat, a revolution is taking place spearheaded by the stranded Earth woman Sofia Mendes and outlaw Jana’ata Supaari VaGayjur (we do get a good explanation of what Supaari’s motivations were for basically selling Sandoz in to sexual slavery in the first book). With their greater numbers the Runa are able to overthrow the Jana’ata and create an uncomfortable new society.

Alternating across the time divide with flashbacks and flash forwards it all comes to gather rather to neatly in the end.  Still worth reading if you liked the first book.

Francis of Assisi

francis.jpg

The more I learn about Francis of Assisi the more fascinating he is to me. Francis is a popular saint — as exemplified by the many garden statues of Francis with the birds — and one who can be taken for granted. As a child I knew him as gentle man who was kind to animals, something of a medieval environmentalist. In high school we had a blessing of the animals on St. Francis Day on which my fellow students brought their dogs, cats, ferrets, and even a rooster to school for the day and these animals were the centerpiece of a special (outdoor) Mass. My felines were fraidy cats so I did not torment them by bringing them to school which also saved me from having to explain why I was asking for a blessing for my cat Beelzebub.

The Spirit moves in odd ways, so it was seeing the Roberto Rosselini film Flowers of St. Francis at Brattle Theatre a couple of years ago that really made me see Francis in a new light. The film which casts amateurs and real monks as Francis and his followers demonstrates in a series of short stories the piety, the conviction, the dedication of the life of poverty, and the love of God and the outcasts of St. Francis and just how radical he was and continues to be among Christian people.  I read the book The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi during Lent this year.

Reading today’s Gospel, I was struck how Francis, Clare, and the other early Franciscans took to heart Christ’s words. This is almost a blue print for the early Franciscans:

Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
Luke 10:3-9

Learn more about St. Francis of Assisi at:

Note: The image of Francis is from Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert which I admired on my trip to the Frick museum.

Wenceslaus

wenceslas.jpg

Like a lot of saints, I know Wenceslaus from just scraps of information in popular culture. In this case, a Christmas carol that was one of my favorites growing up. It tells a good story of a man of wealth and privilege providing a feast for a poor peasant. It’s a good story and a lesson worth sharing the complete lyrics:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight gath’ring winter fuel.

 

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

 

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

 

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page. Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

 

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

I also know that Wenceslaus is the patron saint of Prague, a place I’d much like to visit. But who was the real Wenceslaus? Apparently, the carol is not factually accurate and the song writer Neale used the name as much for meter as for tribue the real man. But Wenceslaus was good, a Prince of Bohemia who ruled with principles at the time of political unrest. For his troubles he was murdered on the way to church by a rival younger brother.

More information:

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Jesuits … In … Spaaaaaaaaaaace!!! That’s the basic plot of the science fiction novel The Sparrow (1996) by Mary Doria Russell.

The novel proposes a future in which the exploration of new worlds, much like the age of discovery in the 1500′s & 1600′s, is led by a vanguard of missionaries. While this is a work of science fiction set in the future, it reads like a historical novel, perhaps because its story reads of historical experience such as that portrayed in The Mission.

The prologue of the novel sets the tone perfectly:

The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God

They meant no harm. – p. 3

The chapters alternate between those set after the mission and those during the preparation for and the time spent on Rakhat. In one set of chapters the experience of the only survivor of the mission, Father Emilio Sandoz, his hands maimed, his psyche destroyed, and his faith lost must face intense scrutiny from the media and his fellow Jesuits. These alternate with Sandoz and his friends and colleagues discovering signals from a distant planet of singers, and his efforts to form a team to travel to Rakhat to meet and live among these people. The joy of collegiality of the earlier chapters contrasts starkly with the hollow shell of a man that Sandoz is presented as upon his return to Earth. Yet as the book proceeds, the stories come together. As things go to hell in a handbasket on Rakhat, Sandoz is able to come to terms with the horrors he faced.

This novel works well due to its competently executed and complex characters. There’s Sandoz, from a background of poverty in Puerto Rico who grows up to become a priest and a talented linguist. Sofia, a determined, reserved woman of Sephardic heritage who serves as computer specialist and general contractor. Jimmy Quinn, the large, affable but shy astronomer who discovered the singers. Finally, Anne and George Edwards, a doctor and an engineer who though atheists are devoted friends of Emilio’s and share with him sardonic wit. Even the beings of Rakhat are given unique perspective and backgrounds, and presented realistically as sentient beings who happen to be predators and prey.

Favorite Passages

 

“The poor you will always have wit you,” Jesus said. A warning, Emilio wondered, or an indictment. – p. 53

Once, long ago, she’d allowed herself to think seriously about what human beings would do, confronted directly with a sign of God’s presence in their lives. The Bible, that repository of Western wisdom, was instructive either as myth or as history, she decided. God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf. God walked in Jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work. Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before… – p. 100

“Sailing is the perfect antidote for age, Reyes. Everything you do on a sailboat is done slowly and thoughtfully. Most of the time, an old body is entirely capable of doing whatever needs to be done while you’re cruising. And if the sea is determined to teach you a lesson, well, a young back is no more capable than an old one of resisting an ocean, so experience counts more than ever.” – p. 203

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