Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

Book Review: Googling God by Mike Hayes

I’m a fan of Mike Hayes from the BustedHaloCast so I read his book Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in their 20s and 30s (2007). This thin volume is basically a guide for ministers to young adults in the Catholic Church, although I read it more as a young adult looking for ministry. Like libraries, the Church is good at ministering to children, teens, parents, and the elderly, but skip right over the (unmarried and childless) people in their 20’s and 30’s.

Hayes’ first lesson is the difference between people in their 20’s (the Millenials) and their 30’s (Generation X). Generation X tend to more progressive in their worship and seek community at their churches. The Millenials look more for contemplative worship and are more orthodox in their beliefs (or at least seek hard and fast answers to faith questions). Hayes conducts interviews with 6 people of each generation to learn about the typical faith stories of young adults today. I appreciate Hayes honesty when he disagrees with the opinions of the young adults he interviews, but finds value and importance in their beliefs all the same.

In the later chapters Hayes offers useful resources for ministering to Young Adults. This includes a critique of World Youth Day (the Pope’s biennial celebration with Catholic teens and young adults), a checklist for starting a young adult ministry at one’s church, and helpful tips for using technology and new media to attract and retain young adults. This is a very useful resources for those who want to learn about this important ministry written in a warm, readable style. Who knows? Maybe as I grow too old to be a young adult, I may be called to mentor the next generation.

Book Review: Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan, O.P.

Jesus Before Christianity (1976, 2001) by Albert Nolan, O.P. is a book which removes the lens of Christianity from looking at the historical Jesus, and provides the context for the times in which Jesus lived, walked the Earth, and taught His people. Interestingly, Nolan minimizes Jesus’ supernatural acts and even his divinity, but in a way that more greatly emphasizes the radicalness of the Way He taught. Thus our faith in Jesus as son of God is increased by knowing Him as Jesus the human being. Nolan points how that Jesus never proclaimed his authority nor stated that he was divine and did not even defend himself in his trial, all of which teach us something important about the nature of Jesus.

Nolan pictures Jesus as a prophet for a coming of calamity (conquest by the Romans that would come around 70 AD), who wanted not to lead a military revolt but to protect Israel by having the people change themselves. He showed care for the poor and oppressed at a time when they were though to be beyond saving, and taught healing and forgiveness. The “Kingdom” (a word that in the original Greek refers to both a domain and to the quality of royal power and is not gender specific) of God is discussed thoroughly over several chapters, outlining a very real vision Jesus had for His people on this Earth. Nolan also dissects the confrontation that Christ had with the Jewish and Roman leaders that lead to His execution.

I found this a very interesting and enlightening study of the life of the historical Jesus. It’s a short but dense book, which probably is worth reading again.  Hopefully the passages below will illustrate the quality of this book better than my summary above:

Miracles are often thought of, both by those who believe in them and by those who do not, as events, or purported events, that contradict the laws of nature and that therefore cannot be explained by science or reason. But this is not at all what the Bible means by a miracle, as any biblical scholar will tell you. “The laws of nature” is a modern scientific concept. The Bible knows nothing of about nature, let alone the laws of nature. The world is God’s creation and whatever happens in the world ordinary or extraordinary, is part of God’s providence. The Bible does not divide events into natural or supernatural. God is on one way or another behind all events.

A miracle in the Bible is an unusual event which has been understood as an unusual act of God, a mighty work. Certain acts of God are called miracles or wonders because of their ability to astonish and surprise us. Thus creation is a miracle, grace is a miracle, the growth of an enormous mustard tree from a tiny seed is a miracle, the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, the kingdom of God will be a miracle. The world is full of miracles for those who have eyes to see them. If we are no longer able to wonder and marvel except when the so-called laws of nature are broken, then we must be in a sorry state. — p. 41

Jesus’ love for the poor and the oppressed was not an exclusive love; it was an indication of the fact that what he valued was humanity not status and prestige. The poor and oppressed had nothing to reccomend them except their humanity and sufferings. Jesus was also concerned about the middle and upper classes — not because they were especially important but because they too were people. He wanted them to strip themselves of their false values, of their wealth and prestige, in order to become real people. Jesus wished to replace the “worldly” value of prestige by the “godly” value of people as people. — p. 70

The leaders and scholars of Jesus’ time had first enslaved themselves to the law. This not only enhanced their prestige in society, it also gave them a sense of security. We fear the responsibility of being free. It is often easier to let others make the decisions or to rely upon the letter of the law. Some people want to be slaves.

After enslaving themselves tot the letter of the law, such people always go on to deny freedom to others. They will not rest until they have imposed the same oppressive burdens upon everyone (Mt 23:4, 15). It is always the poor and the oppressed who suffer most when the law is used in this manner.

Jesus wanted to liberate everyone from the law — from all laws. But this could not be achieved by abolishing or changing the law. He had to dethrone the law. He had to ensure that the law would be our servant and not our master (Mk 2:27-28). We must therefore take responsibility for our servant, the law, and use it to serve the needs of humankind. This is quite different from licentiousness or lawlessness or irresponsible permissiveness. Jesus relativized the law so that its true purpose might be achieved. — p. 87-88

To believe in God is to believe that goodness is more powerful than evil and truth is stronger than falsehood. To believe in God is to believe than in the end goodness and truth will triumph over evil and falsehood and that God will conquer Satan. Anyone who thinks that evil will have the last word or that good and evil have a fifty-fifty chance is an atheist. There is a power for good in the world, a power that manifests itself in the deepest drives and forces in people and in nature, a power that in the last analysis is irresistible. If Jesus had not believed that, he would have nothing at all to say. – p. 102-103

To save one’s life means to hold onto it, to love it and be attached to it and therefore to fear death. To lose one’s life is to let go of it, to be detached from it and therefore to be willing to die. The paradox is that the person who fears death is already dead, whereas the person who has ceased to fear death has at that moment begun to live. A life that is genuine and worthwhile is only possible once one is willing to die. — p. 139

Book Review: Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints by Thomas J. Craughwell

Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints (2006) by Thomas J. Craughwell is a collection of short essays of Saints who lived rather unsaintly lives. Usually this was before their conversion, of course, but sometimes even after turning their lives to God we see that even the saints are all too human. In fact, Craughwell believes that St. Olaf (patron of one of a parish I worshiped at in Virginia) would not be canonized under today’s rules of sainthood.

This is illustrative to the rest of us ordinary folk in that 1) it’s never too late to turn to God, and 2) while we strive for perfection we’re still human and won’t achieve it. So buck up and do your best like the good people in this book.

The book includes some of my favorite saints, with their sin listed after their name in the chapter heading such as:

I also learned about some interesting saints I was not aware of in the stories of St. Mary of Egypt who after living a life of sexual adventure moved to the desert where she was a hermit for decades and Venerable Matt Talbot, the patron of recovering alcoholics.

Book Review: How Big Is Your God? by Paul Coutinho, SJ

How Big Is Your God? The Freedom to Experience the Divine (2007) by Paul Coutinho, SJ is a book about relationships, specifically the relationship each one of us has with God. Coutinho is an Indian-born priest, his worldview greatly influenced by Eastern religions and mysticism. Yet, if that’s not your thing, don’t let it keep you away. Coutinho’s message is purely Christian, that a God who loves us and wants a personal relationship with each one of us.

In a series of very short chapters/meditations, well-illustrated with stories and metaphors, Coutinho guides us toward that relationship. He also describes some of the roadblocks to experiencing divinity. Coutinho’s writing is full of questions and challenges and I think it would be worth rereading as each read would lead to different conclusions. In fact, I think everyone will come away with something different from this book just as each person experiences God in a different way.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

How often in my life do I compromise the values that are most precious to me in my relationship with God because I want to keep my boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. How often do I keep my mouth shut in church so I can protect the good opinion that people in my parish have of me, when I think and feel differently because of my relationship with God? How often do I remain silent in the face of injustice, when my relationship with God demands otherwise? — p. 70

The Good News that Jesus came to give us is freedom — not freedom from suffering, sickness and death, but freedom that we experience in suffering, in sickness, and in the face of death. — p. 78

If you want a relationship with God, you must make space in your life for the spiritual. In a church where I once served, we would call the last Sunday of the month “BAD Sunday.” What was BAD Sunday? It was Basement Attic Disposal Sunday — and it was wonderful. Everyone was invited to go into their basement and attic and bring something they found there to church. — p. 88

We are enslaved by people, places, and things that we do not fully enjoy. How do we free ourselves? By enjoying them. If you haven’t enjoyed something and you are attached to it, do not give it away yet. If you do, it will haunt you forever. You will think of it often, fret over it, crave it. The thought of it won’t leave you. The way to get rid of material things is by enjoying them, being grateful for them, and then giving them away: good-bye, gone. — p. 91

Change is not a miracle. Change doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. We have to work at it — but it is not always difficult. In fact, sometimes it is so easy that we don’t believe that it’s possible, we don’t believe that we can change. The Buddha is supposed to have said that change is as easy as flipping a coin to the other side. What I believe is that if you want change, you will change. — p. 145

Jesus said that if we believe, we can do the same things he did. In fact, Jesus assured us that if we believe, we do even greater things than he. — p. 158

Puzzling Through Lent

It’s hard to believe that we’re already three weeks into Lent.  Of course, Lent snuck up on me this year and I have confirmation (Father Lasch, for one) that it is unusually early.  That is because Easter is a movable feast that occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first full day of Spring.  While I’ve long known this formula and that it ties into the Hebrew calendar for determining Passover (The Last Supper was a Passover seder), I still don’t understand why Easter and Passover rarely coincide.  Even if we use different calendars, the first day of Spring and the first full moon should be the same, no?  I also don’t know what happens if the first day of Spring is Sunday and there’s a full moon.

Anyhow, Easter falls on March 23rd this year.  According to Snopes.com, the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22nd which last happened in 1818 and will occur next in 2285.  In other words, this is the earliest Easter any of us will see in our lifetimes.  Spiff, huh?

Another interesting aspect of this unusually early Easter is the affect that Holy Week is having on other aspects of the liturgical calendar.  From Whispers in the Loggia I learned that Annunciation day, usually March 25th, has been pushed forward to March 31st and St. Joseph’s Day is moved up from March 19th to March 15th.  The biggest move is of St. Patrick’s Day from March 17th to March 14th.  Rocco Palmo notes that several cities/dioceses are moving their St. Patrick’s Day celebration appropriately, although I expect if will have little effect on the secular celebration of the day.

I did wonder what would happen in New York where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized by a Catholic fraternal organization who always march on March 17th except when that date falls on a Sunday.   Apparently they’re going forward with the parade on the usual date even though it’s Holy Week.  In Boston, where the parade is always on a Sunday, tradition will also be adhered to even though the means marching on Palm Sunday.

Well, this is all very fasting, but does nothing for my observance of Lent.  Another day is coming up during Holy Week that no one can move.  March 19th is the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq.  Jim Wallis sets out a Lenten call to repentance in observance of that anniversary.   That’s the type of thing that will give me the proper perspective on the season.

Book Review: God’s Library by Joe Parocki

The thin volume of God’s Library: A Catholic Introduction to the World’s Greatest Book by Joe Parocki is a very basic overview to starting one’s own study of the Bible.  If you have any experience at all with the Bible you can probably skip the first 2-3 chapters although these would be great to reccomend to absolute beginners.  I found the latter chapters more interesting as Parocki writes on distinguishing between truth and fact (the Catholic response to Fundamentalist literalism)and provides tips for interpreting the Bible and applying it to one’s life.  The useful appendices provide a good bibliography of resources and an instruction guide for starting a parish Bible study.

Like I said, it’s best for beginners, but it’s a short book so I found worth reviewing for a good framework for studying scripture.  It’s also good to know about it to recommend to others. Parocki gets bonus points for his great use of the library as analogy (including a floor plan of what the Bible as library would like).

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.

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