Making All Things New, Henri Nouwen

September 16th, 2009

One of my favorite spiritual writers is Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who taught at Yale, Harvard, and spent the remainder of his life as a pastor ministering to the severely handicapped at the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. 1981 Harper San Francisco, 95 pgs. I read this small book while on my flight home the other day, and even though it is a quick read, the principles Nouwen touches upon are very weighty. What does it mean to be spiritual, and really how does one come to a place in their life in which to listen to the words of God? This book offers practical insights towards spirituality, with some help and guidance for our varying emotions. The work is broken up into three parts: All these other things, His kingdom first, and Set your hearts. What happens when we attempt to embrace silence and solitude? Usually the internal noises are louder than that which is without. Nouwen invites the reader to establish habits of silence which over time will counter the roar of the world and its distractions. In some ways I found that the only missing element was in connecting the dots for the average parishoner who may not be familiar with some religious phrasing. Interestingly enough though, I do love how Nouwen wishes to write in a way that is inclusive for those who are not even Christian, recognizing that all people have a longing for spiritual things. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The Matarese Countdown, by Robert Ludlum

January 29th, 2009

1997 Bantam Books. 566 pgs.
I like spy novels. The funny thing about these type of books is that they are often predictable. I thought The Matarese Countdown was good, but certainly not great. Ludlum is a classic writer in his field and it is likely that many attempt to emulate his brilliant style. This story is about CIA case officer Cameron Pryce enlisting the aid of an old “retired” agent, in order to destroy the Matarese and its attempts at world domination. The global community is unaware of the underhanded schemes the wealthy Matarese is about to bring about, yet if all goes according to plan, the few can make a lasting difference for the whole. Basically, the good guys win and the bad guys loose. The characters are enjoyable, but not overly memorable. The antagonists are filled with pride and seemingly unstoppable, which of course plays a part in their fall. If you like Ludlum, you’ll enjoy this book.

Child of god by Cormac McCarthy

December 31st, 2008

Cormac McCarthy’s Child of god, is probably the most disturbing book I have ever read. Having read three of McCarthy’s books, I am certainly aware of some of his thematic developments, but thus far, this is his darkest. We see a man who has as long as can be remembered, been a person clearly not right. Ballard is so depraved and given over to dark behavior, with such indifference, the reader wants to ask the question: could he truly be a son of god? Which god? It seems all light and hope has gone from this ‘child’, but you wonder if it was ever there. These are McCarthy’s themes, and it can in no way settle theological debates, but for Cormac, the ability for some to ever be remedied from their maladies is questionable at best. The reader is introduced to the main character, who is certainly not a protagonist, nor heroic in the least, in fact he is quite the opposite of anything hinting at goodness. The reader is made to feel that Ballards stupidity and utter simplicity, lack of moral grounding, and depravity, have always been there and will continue to be within this man. He is a child, but not in any innocent fashion. I found myself cringing at some of the scenes in this book, amazed at his stupidity, and horrified at some of the feelings I encountered. McCarthy is a serious author, and this book is certainly looking at the human person in a way that leaves little to no comfort. Haunting and at times graphic, I certainly would limit my recommendations for this book. I prefer The Road.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

December 22nd, 2008

287 pgs.
Vintage Books, 2006.
The Road is one of the best books I have read. Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer for this book, and I must say it is well deserved. His story is in no way connected with “end time” cliches, nor is there the proverbial “happy ending” that seems to accompany many thriller or mystery genres. Although the idea of surviving cataclysmic events is not a novel idea, the craftsmanship of McCarthy’s writing, is in stark opposition to anything I’ve noticed thus far. His story is simple: survival in a world that has nothing to offer its inhabitants, and the meaning of life and love within such devastation. Each sentence is rich with meaning, emphasizing primordial questions, examining just how far a person will go in order to survive, as well as the importance and drive of a father’s love for his son. The Road describes the journey of a man and his boy moving from the frozen north towards the warmer south, after surviving apocalyptic happenings. It is the story of every man; it is our story. It would seem that the telling of a father and son’s journey walking a barren road in miserable times could not possibly compare to the fast paced, adventurous novels most publishing houses deliver, but The Road is gripping from start to finish. Simple truths and sobering questions are written in a way that lucidly conveys the heart of a matter. Here is an example: “No sign of life. Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust. Fossil tracks in the dried sludge. A corpse in a doorway dried to leather. Grimacing at the day. He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.”
“You forget some things, don’t you?”
“Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.” Pg. 12.
Wow! In many ways the story is bleak, broken and lifeless, and yet even in moments of possible peace, the reader just has a sense of dread, feeling that trouble and sorrow were waiting to pounce around the next corner. I m looking forward to reading it again!

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

December 19th, 2008

909 Pgs. Little Brown and Company, 2005.
Vampire books are all the rage now, especially after the growing success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight trilogy. Of course, the movie has contributed toward this growin interest in this genre, but the topic is certainly nothing new. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a classic, as are the the numerous books from Anne Rice. Kostova’s latest contribution concerning literature focused on the undead is a decent work, more in line with the traditional perspective of vampires than Meyer’s books. The Historian is a multi generational journey of various families who have attempted to locate whatever information they can concerning the vrykolakas, specifically Dracula. It is a historical work, thus the title, in which character’s, who have received a mysterious tome with a dragon drawn in it, attempt to unlock the mystery that surrounds Dracula’s death, and the location of his tomb. I love the various trips into Communist Europe that our protagonists have to make, the encounters with unique and average characters, and the growing suspense which Kostova implements in The Historian. It is not a quick read, as is the Meyer’s books, but I think it has a lot to offer, especially in the writing itself. Kostova is an excellent wordsmith, and the specific approach of the text (that of a historian) is enjoyable for anyone interested in the various legends and myths surrounding this traditional antagonist. There are elements of love, fear, and familial relationships that seems more authentic than the Meyer’s works, but Kostova’s book seems to drag on at times. This is most noted during the middle, probably because The Historian is almost a thousand pages long. I almost felt that she could have cut a couple hundred pages out and the reader wouldn’t have missed too much. The end is worth the wait, and I think Kostova solidly wrapped up many unanswered questions for the reader. Good stuff overall. For those who prefer to see the vampire story done in a more traditional vein, rather than in the trendy veggie vampire scenario that seems so prevalent, this book is for you.

Atticus, by Ron Hansen

December 19th, 2008

Review (kind of?) by Bob Rice
Harper Perennial, 1997. Pg. 256.
Last night, I decided to read another chapter of Ron Hansen’s Atticus- but the book grabbed me and wouldn’t let go until it was past midnight and I finished the whole thing. I regretted the late hour because of all the grading I’ve been doing at the end of the semester, but I knew if the story was unresolved I would spend just as much time awake in my bed wondering how it would end.

What an incredible book! I highly recommend “Atticus” as well as another Hansen book I’ve read, “Mariette in Ecstasy”. Hansen deftly writes beautiful stories with strong Catholic themes in a way that doesn’t make it feel like it’s a “religious novel”- it’s just a good novel that deals with religion.

There’s a significant difference between the two. St. Thomas Aquinas once said that “grace builds on nature”, and though he wasn’t talking about art I think it is fair to apply the statement. The more beautiful the natural, the more effective the supernatural. That’s why it’s hard to experience the sacred in blank beige churches. Yes, Christ is as present in the Eucharist as at St. Peter’s in Rome, but the natural surroundings takes away from the glorious reality.

It’s hard to do, but when it works it is worth noting. I had the blessed experience when I was in Orlando to work at an improvisational comedy club that was packed every evening. It was so funny, your sides hurt every night. There was no swearing, no drinking, and no sexual references allowed by the actors. But nobody seemed to miss them- I’ve rarely seen people laugh so hard.

I had attended the club numerous times before working for them. It was only as I took the job that I discovered the owners were Christian and wanted their club to be radiant with the joy of Christ. It wasn’t a “Christian Comedy Club”. It was a great, professional comedy club that happened to be Christian.

If we’re going to engage the culture (which is what the Church calls us to do), then there is one simple way- we have to be great. Our music has to be excellent. Our books have to be engaging. Our acting needs to be real. We shouldn’t use the word “Christian” or “Catholic” like a golf handicap.

A great example of this is Matt Maher. If you don’t know him, he’s easily the most popular Catholic musician out there right now. His song, “Your Grace Is Enough” was covered by Chris Tomlin and sold umpty million… I don’t know. But he’s the thing right now.

Why is he so popular? Because he is spiritual? Well, I know Matt personally and he really is very prayerful and spiritual. But he’s also an amazing musician. In fact, he’s one of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. He is sensational at piano as well as guitar, notates music, studied theory, etc. This isn’t someone who just picked up a guitar, learned four chords and started praising the Lord. He is devoted, not just to God, but to his craft. We can all learn from his example.

As Catholics, I feel we need to strive more for excellence. We allow poor music at liturgies (isn’t it nice for them to volunteer their time?), lame homilies from priests (but he is really a nice man when you get to know him), poor writing in books (but doesn’t it have a nice theme?), bad acting in movies… the list goes on. As a musician/writer/teacher/author I am making this challenge as much to myself as to anyone. Have I been the jack of all trades and master of none? To some extent, yes. I’ve skimmed the surface of some of my talents and moved on to others instead of digging deeper and doing the work to find the living water underneath.

It’s hard to do, and I’m not rallying against the lack of success (I’ve tried and failed many times) but the seeming lack of effort. Preaching to the choir is easy because the choir has very low standards. Yes, the choir needs attention- but so does the world.

And maybe that’s what gets me. People seem content to stay in the bubble. But the Church has never acquiesced to such laxity. John Paul II wrote, “Involvement in the mass media, however, is not meant merely to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel. There is a deeper reality involved here: since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church’s authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the “new culture” created by modern communications.” (Redemptoris Missio 37)

EWTN does great ministry (will it ever air the “backstage” episode I recorded for them in February of 07?!?), but the Christian message also needs to be in NBC sitcoms, CBS dramas, the major radio stations, and the local cineplex. We don’t always need to tie it up in a Catholic bow, like the Mormon commercials that used to end with, “This message was brought to you by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (Though I wish Catholics had an add campaign of ANY kind. Speaking of that, want to see a killer Catholic commercial? Click here, then give them money so it can be seen on TV.)

What is good? What is evil? How does evil effect us? What is our purpose in life? Is there more than just material things? What is beauty? These are the kind of questions that every human heart asks. God has answers. Catholic artists should use their gifts to express them. I hope I do.

We live in a culture that thinks it can just pick up a microphone and be famous on American Idol. Let’s not fall into that trap, but keep working on our natural talents to build up the supernatural kingdom. As my dad was fond of saying, “The magic is… there is no magic. Just hard work.” Let’s be excellent, yet not rely on our excellence but God’s grace. Jesus can do a lot with a little. A boy gave a few loaves and some fish to Jesus and he fed thousands of men, women, and children.

But the trick is that he gave ALL he had.

Do we?

PS. I hope you noticed not one, but two triple-score vocabulary words in one sentence: acquiesced and laxity. I was going to also use the word ubitquous (one of my favorite new words), but I thought that would be over the top. Besides, I don’t know what “ubitquous” means, nor do I want to. Because the mystery of it makes it sound so… ubitquous. Don’t you think?
reply to the author
ON CATHOLIC EXCELLENCE
DEC 13, 2008

For more of Bob Rice, go to www.bob-rice.com

Theology of the Body, by Pope John Paul II

December 19th, 2008

Review By Jason Theobald:

“Through the mystery of the incarnate person and the biblical analogy of spousal love, John Paul II’s catechesis illumines the entirety of God’s plan for human life from origin to eschaton with a splendid supernatural light.” Between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984, John Paul II gave a series of Wednesday audiences on man, both male and female, and God’s plan for man here on this earth. These audiences were compiled into a book, along with John Paul II’s own footnotes, and some writings which were kept out of his weekly audiences; this book was entitled Man and Woman He Created Them: A theology of the Body. “The theology of the body is not merely a theory, but rather a specific evangelical, Christian pedagogy of the body.” John Paul the Great makes a point of showing that his writings are not his teachings, and are not the entire theology on the human body that is possible; rather, they are simply a biblically founded insight into the way God created man, both male and female, and the reasons for the way men and women are how they are.
The first audience appropriately begins with the idea of “In the Beginning”, which Jesus said when discussing divorce with the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew. John Paul II then begins to analyze this idea of ‘the beginning’ as something that was more than a simple phrase Jesus used in this response, and he takes the reader back to the very beginning. For his first 23 reflections, John Paul II analyzes the in and outs of Genesis, and what exactly the words found there mean to contemporary man and woman. He analyzes both creation accounts (the first one, which is actually newer, is called the Elohist tradition, while the second, older one is the Yahwist) , showing how sin and death came into play, and with those also the idea of redemption. “He is thus not merely shut out from original innocence due to his sinfulness, but also at the same time open to the mystery of the redemption realized in Christ and through Christ.” JPII then spends a great deal of time analyzing the idea of solitude, and the aloneness of Adam before Eve was created for him. He analyzes how God made him alone for a reason, and set him apart to be different from all other animals; “this is to say that through his own humanity, through what he is, he is at the same time set into a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.” Through solitude he analyzes man’s ability to rule the earth, and his ability to be in relationship with God, his Creator. At this same time, he also looks to the way that man does not even know what death means until the fall into sin happens; JPII tells us that this idea of death would have been “a radical antithesis of all that man had been endowed with.” After analyzing Adam by himself, he discusses the creation of Eve, and the original unity of man and woman. One of his main points is the idea of communion personarum , the idea that before sin man and woman were not male and female, but rather they were bodies in perfect communion with each other. To create woman, man falls into a “torpor”, which is defined as a sleep during which “extraordinary events are to take place” , and this happens “in order that the solitary ‘man’ may by God’s creative initiative reemerge from that moment in his double unity as male and female.” After much on this original unity, he begins to look into the concept of the two becoming “one flesh.” JPII explains that because original man sees original woman as “flesh of my flesh and bone from my bones” , that every time a married couple unite in the conjugal act they are returning “To the beginning”, just as Christ called the Pharisees to do with regards to the issue of divorce.
After the idea of unity and solitude, JPII looks into the original nakedness of both Adam and Eve in the garden, and the fact that they were naked, “but they did not feel shame.” He points how this shows that shame is something that comes with sin, and it shows the loss of the innocence originally found in Eden. He quickly points out that the introduction of shame “is linked with the loss of that original fullness”, which could previously have been found in the communion of persons. He continues to point out how this shame led the two to recognize themselves as male and female. In essence it is the “’beginning’ of man’s being and existing as male and female” , which leads to the “meaning of the body that is rightly called spousal.” This idea leads to an analysis of the gift; the gift of one’s body given between male and female which is found in the spousal relationship. JPII shows us that this gift is all about love, and how because of our beginnings “the human will is originally innocent and thus furthers the reciprocity and the exchange of the gift of the body according to its masculinity and femininity as the gift of the person.” He outlines the ideas human innocence from the beginning, the loss of innocence, and the way that sin and death entered the world through this loss of innocence. The ideas of innocence, solitude, the gift, creation, and knowledge are all central to understand his point, and all point back to the question of divorce, where this reflection began, and the fullness of Marriage. As JPII says, the fullness of masculinity and femininity is a dignity that has been lost, and “in the sacrament of Marriage, namely, the way of the ‘redemption of the body’ must consist in retrieving this dignity.” JPII’s first analysis of Genesis gives us a basis as to why things are the way they are, and what must be done to return to a relationship with God.
The second chapter of reflections focus on the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus preaches this message: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you: Whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” His reflections then analyze what Jesus meant by desire, and how this can be applied to daily life. He analyzes this statement as it compares to the writings of the Old Testament, through the idea of Ethos, and its anthropological meaning. All of these analyses lead us to see the ethics of what Jesus is talking about; He is discussing what is adultery versus what is not, but he goes about it in a way to show ethics rather than legalistic ideas. In his ethics, “If the conjugal act, as an exterior act…is legitimate…then also the interior act in the same relationship is analogously in conformity with ethics.” John Paul II discusses how we are each a “man of concupiscence” , meaning that we have a tendency to act on desires, especially sexual desire. From there, he shows how this concupiscence disallows our ability to give our body as a gift in the spousal union; “Concupiscence brings with it the loss of the interior freedom of the gift. The spousal meaning of the human body is linked exactly to this freedom.” He points out to us that God has given us our bodies so that we may give them back as a gift, but if we fall into this trap of concupiscence we lose the ability to follow through and give that gift. His analysis then discusses the way that Israel, in a concept widely seen in the Old Testament, is shown as an adulterous bride to the Father, who is commonly portrayed as the bridegroom. His analysis continues to look at the way that adultery and concupiscence affects each one of us, until he gets to his next idea, the idea of the human heart, and whether it is accused or called.
His analysis of the human heart consists mainly with a contrast of Christian understanding with Manichaeism, an idea that human beings are trapped in matter and freed only by knowledge. The analysis talks about how humans are not accused, as Manichaeism would say, but more so that they are called; “Even if they contain a certain ‘accusation’ of the human heart, all the more do they turn to it with an appeal.” His analysis points to the divergence of the heart (which can be remedied through the redemption given on the cross), and then he focuses on the idea of the erotic, in comparison with the Christian ethos. After looking at the problems with what is seen as erotic, JPII calls us back to the Christian ethos, in which comes the “Redemption of the Body.” In his continued analysis of the human heart, JPII then looks at Purity, as it concerns “Life according to the Spirit”. While it is easy, as he says, to be a man of the flesh, it can be seen that “In this struggle between good and evil, man proves to be stronger thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, who, working within the human spirit, causes its desires to bear fruit in the good.” His analysis of living in purity versus living in the spirit tell of the way that Christ, through his death and Resurrection, has set us free from this concupiscence if we take up our cross to follow him. His analysis points to the fact that “purity in the sense of temperance matures in the heart of the human being who cultivates it and who seeks to discover and affirm the spousal meaning of the body.”
JPII then points to the way that this ethos and this battle between purity and concupiscence are so easily seen in art and the media. His main point in this analysis is how the human body is used; he warns against what is so often seen in media, how the human body is objectified, and made to be viewed in a purely sexual manner. He tells us that this is wrong, and that “because of the great value of the body in this system of interpersonal ‘communion,’ making the body in its nakedness…the object or subject…is a problem that is not only aesthetic, but also ethical.” His main point consists in the fact that human body is so essential, and the way that one gives his or her body to another points to something greater, and that an objectifying of this body is truly a disregard for the sanctity of the body, which was given by God in the beginning. After this, John Paul II looks at the phrase found in the discussion between Jesus and the Sadducees (who did not believe in life after death), when he tells these people that in the afterlife man and woman do not have husband or wife. This is significant, mainly in the idea of the resurrection of the body which is to come. One main idea which comes from this is that marriage, which has always been in this world, belongs strictly “to this world.” JPII points out, in reflecting on Jesus’ discussion of the resurrection, that “In the resurrection, the body will return to perfect unity and harmony with the spirit”. He analyzes this text in the Gospel, along with Paul’s interpretations, and in them he shows that Christ conquered death with His death, and on the last day we will be united with God, and this will be the only unity we need.
After this analysis of the resurrection, the Theology of the Body turns to the idea of continence, or chastity, for the kingdom of heaven. His main point is that continence, or restraining from engaging in the conjugal union, is something that leads one to holiness differently and more aptly than marriage, for it require one to focus completely on union with God. JPII is quick to also point out that the “’superiority’ of continence to marriage never means, in the authentic tradition of the Church, a disparagement of marriage or a belittling of its essential value.” His main point in all of this is that if someone chooses to renounce marriage for God, this helps him or her enter the kingdom of heaven because the renunciation constantly points them towards heaven. All of this analysis of continence comes from Christ, when he discussed the absence of marriage in heaven, and St. Paul, when he wrote “Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” The idea here is that both see continence for God as something to be respected, and something that will lead a person to heaven.
All of the previous analysis was in part I of the Theology of the Body, based off of multiple texts; Part II of TOB simply analyzes Ephesians 5:21-33, and what it means for the sacrament of Marriage. He talks in depth about the reciprocity of the two; how the author of Ephesians says:
“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, he who is the Savior of his body. And as the Church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to subject to their husbands in everything. And you, husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her”.
JPII analyzes this idea and how it shows that men and women each have distinct roles to be played out for the sacrament. He also points out that “The reciprocal relations of husband and wife must spring from their common relation with Christ.” He discusses how they are each subject to one another, and how each must give of themselves for the good of the other. This relationship, he points out, reflects the one of Christ to the church;
“The analogy of marriage, as a human reality in which spousal love is incarnated, helps in some way to understand the mystery of grace as an eternal reality in God and as a ‘historical’ fruit of the redemption of humanity in Christ.”
Marriage, he discusses, was the first sacrament of the church, and in thus it has deep connection with the church. Marriage, as Paul helps us to realize, “is a specific remedium concupiscentiae, remedy of concupiscence.” In this way, John Paul II explains, Marriage becomes a key aspect of the new covenant in Christ, the covenant that provides for redemption.
The next large portion of the analysis are devoted to the idea of Marriage; what the couple says, and how the couple is to profess love through the “language of the body.” His discussion of this language of the body consists in the idea that “man is in some sense unable to express this singular language of his personal existence and vocation [to the communion of persons] without the body.” He explains that this language is meant, through the sacrament, to point to God, and point to the purity found within this sacrament, and what true love is;
“the one who rereads this ‘language’ and then expresses it not according to the needs proper to marriage as a covenant and sacrament, is naturally and morally the man of concupiscence: male and female, both understood as the ‘man of concupiscence.’”
The main idea found in this idea of the language of the body is that man is called, through this sacrament, to echo God’s love in the way he lives his life.
After this, JPII turns his attention to the books of Song of Songs and of Tobit, and the language that each of these uses. Song of Songs is a key text because it is love poetry from God, but the two are mainly used to show one common idea, the idea of a bride also being sister. In Song of Songs, the author writes: “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;” , and in Tobit he also calls his bride sister. John Paul II analyzes in depth Song of Songs, as it expresses love in such a deep way through the body, and the words of both the bride and the bridegroom. One of his key points in this is that the true love in this marital relationship shows “the impossibility, as it were, of one person being appropriated and possessed by the other.” He uses Tobit to show that in the marital act, the union of the bodies becomes a prayer of the persons involved, and an openness to God.
His final analysis in the Theology of the Body is over the document called Humane Vitae, and encyclical about human life written by Pope Paul VI in 1968. One of the main ideas that JPII pulls from this document is how the spousal love must be firmly connected with the idea of procreation, otherwise neither can work. He points out that using the body’s biological calendar is key, and the continence required during the other periods points the couple to the kingdom of heaven together. He talks about responsible parenthood in that “Responsible fatherhood and motherhood understood integrally are nothing other than an important component of conjugal and familial spirituality as a whole.” He then points out the idea of continence being good for a marriage in that the “ascesis of continence, about which the encyclical speaks (see HV 21), does not impoverish ‘affective manifestations’ but, on the contrary, it makes them spiritually more intense and enriches them.” Overall, JPII points out that good parenthood, responsible parenthood, is not responsible if the parents simply rely on artificial birth control to plan the course of their lives.
John Paul II then concludes his Theology of the Body, in which he titles it The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage. He proceeds to summarize each aspect of his writings and teachings by the group they were in, and he finishes out his writing with this statement:
“Still, the most important aspect seems to be the essential aspect that, in the whole of the reflections carried out, one can specify as follows: to face the questions raised by Humane Vitae above all in theology, to formulate these questions, and to look for an answer to them, one must find that biblical, theological sphere to which we allude when we speak about the “redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.”
JPII explains that his writing was simply done to help us have a clue as to what God had planned for our bodies and the redemption given to those bodies through the sacrifice of the cross.
In his reflections on the Theology of the Body, John Paul II provided all people with insights into the way that we were created, and what that means for each and every one of us. He set out to establish a purely scriptural understanding of the human body, how sin affected that body, and what the history of our bodies means today. John Paul II so often spoke about the culture of death found in our world, and with this work he single handedly provided the necessary means to change from a culture of death. This was a phenomenal work which stands up to all great writings in Catholic and Christian theology since the beginnings of the church.
In daily life today, this book is influential in that it is a calling to a higher form of living. JPII calls the “man of concupiscence” , i.e. each and every one of us, to a higher form of living, to living out purity of heart instead of living out the desires of the flesh. He does this by explaining how we got to where we are now, where exactly the hearts of this world are, and most importantly he points out what that means in our world. For each of us, this Theology of the Body is a detailed calling to a simple task, and that is to live a pure and chase life, a life of continence for the kingdom of heaven, in each and every aspect of our lives.
This series of reflections given by John Paul II, originally written before he became Pope, have become a cornerstone in Catholic theology today, and for great reasons. With this theology given to us, our world can and will go through a radical change; people can now understand their bodies, and understand how and why God made us the way that we are. In this, our world can be free from concupiscence and enter into a deeper and new relationship with God.

The Trinity, by Karl Rahner

November 10th, 2008

Review by Peter Johnston

The Trinity is Karl Rahner’s response to what he perceives to be a lack of a Trinitarian outlook by neo-scholastic theologians and the Catholic Church in the 1960s.[1] The book is a call to bring the reality of the Trinity to the forefront of theology and allow it to permeate all Catholic thinking in light of Rahner’s new and exciting axiom: That the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity.[2] Rahner defines the immanent Trinity as “the divine persons in relationship to one another “within” God”[3] and the economic Trinity as “the perpetual self-communication of God under the conditions of time and history.”[4] God, then, does not, so to speak, leave any of Himself behind when He reveals Himself through Tradition and the Sacred Scriptures.
Rahner’s axiom has important theological ramifications. The axiom does away with the notion that any person of the Trinity could become man and God arbitrarily (from our perspective) chose the Second Person of the Trinity to do the job.[5] This is a theologically corrosive idea because it implies that the Incarnation is not proper to the Second Person of the Trinity, and therefore reveals nothing of His immanent self as the Son. Rahner argues that Christ “is precisely that which comes into being when God’s Logos “utters” himself outwards.”[6] Christ, therefore, must be seen as the full reality and truth of the Second Person of the Trinity, not merely a person who happens to be hypostatically united to God.
Catherine Mowry LaCugna, who writes the introduction to The Trinity, argues that Rahner’s axiom cannot be taken as an ontological argument, because it does away with God’s freedom “not to create.”[7] LaCugna does not properly address what Rahner seems to argue about this point (though his argument is very brief and not entirely clear): That saying God has freedom because he could not create does not treat the nature of God’s freedom properly.[8] I think that God’s freedom should not be construed as the ability not to create, but rather as the ability to create man and the universe, and the capability to follow through without fail on that ability. Freedom is not about being able to choose to not do something that is good. Freedom in its truest sense is to see the good and to act on it. To say that God is “free” because he could have chosen not to act on his ability to create man is actually to say that God might not be as free as he could be, which is nonsense because God is perfect in every sense. Creation is good. If God did not create the universe but had the potency to create, then God would not have actualized a potential good. This seems impossible because with God, who is pure act, all potency for good is actualized.
The reason why I am dialoging with LaCugna’s introduction to Rahner’s book as well as the book itself is because I find Rahner’s style difficult to handle. As I read the book I felt as though I was eavesdropping on a conversation between Rahner and himself about a topic that he already knew a lot about, so why should he be careful to make his points clear and define his terms? He does not come to the reader, but expects the reader to come to him. I am new to theology. Perhaps many of the words and terms that Rahner uses are commonly understood by the theological community. Much of the book was over my head, which made the read frustrating. I did catch a few deep and wonderful insights, however, which made the book worth reading.
The insight that struck me the most is Rahner’s axiom that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity.[9] I think this point is wonderful because it brings man fully into the inner life of God. The Trinitarian God is who man experiences Him to be: Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Spirit of Pentecost and the Father of the Baptism at the Jordan and the Transfiguration; so man participates in the mystery of the Triune God (though he can choose not to be by sinning). Man is in the Triune God, and his existence and actions are actually involved in the mystery of who God is (though not by necessity). God became Incarnate and Rahner takes this fact to its logical conclusion. I must be careful, however, when I use Rahner’s axiom to describe God ontologically. LaCugna warns against this (in the second of two arguments she gives against applying Rahner’s axiom ontologically): “If Rahner’s axiom is construed ontologically, then it clearly requires qualification…it fails…to maintain both the ontological difference between God and creation, and the ontological relatedness of God to creation.”[10] But as far as I can tell my insight is not heterodox.
I think that Rahner’s axiom is true to the way the Church came to understand the Trinity. God did not tell us that he is Triune; he showed us that He is a Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all reveal themselves as distinct Persons in the gospels. The Church discerned that God is a Trinity by meditating over the witness of the Apostles in the gospels, not by being told by the immanent God: “I am a Trinity”. So the knowledge that the immanent God is a Trinity (which we know is true) comes from the Apostles’ experience of the economic Trinity. The economic Trinity, then, has revealed the inner most mystery of the immanent Trinity to man simply by interacting with man. This leads me to believe that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity.
I would recommend The Trinity to anyone who has a firm grasp on theology, and an extensive theological vocabulary to go with it. The book requires patience and meditation: patience because many of Rahner’s sentences are not reader-friendly and require multiple readings; meditation because Rahner’s insights are deep and are not immediately accessible (to me, at least).

[1] Introduction to The Trinity, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, page x.
[2] The Trinity, Karl Rahner, page 22
[3] Introduction to The Trinity, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, page xiii
[4] Introduction to The Trinity, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, page xiv
[5] The Trinity, Karl Rahner, page 29
[6] The Trinity, Karl Rahner, page 89
[7] Introduction to The Trinity, Catherine Mowry LaCugna,page xv
[8] The Trinity, Karl Rahner, page 87
[9] The Trinity, Karl Rahner, page 22
[10] Introduction to The Trinity, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, page xv

The Privilege of Being a Woman, by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

November 9th, 2008

Review by Jennifer Shanahan

In her book, The Privilege of Being a Woman, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand presents a clear and equitable argument against the modern misconceptions concerning the Church’s view on holy womanhood. While history has been dominated by the achievements of men, von Hildebrand insightfully proves that women’s role to humanity has been no less important, albeit different than her male counterpart. Applying Biblical, Historical and Ecclesial knowledge, she argues that the feminist approach to gaining equality with men by way of rejecting her most womanly qualities is unnatural, self depreciating and psychologically destructive. Through imitating the characteristics of the opposite sex, von Hildebrand reasons, a woman gains nothing, but rather forfeits those very attributes for which she was created.
In her first argument, von Hildebrand addresses the misinterpretation of the Holy Bible, particularly by modern feminists, whom the author G. K. Chesterton once remarked are those who ‘dislike the chief feminine characteristics# (Chesterton, 1910, p. 124).’ Nevertheless, many women and some men have fallen away from the Church under the assumption that the Bible infers the inferiority of woman. Leading feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir found the idea of Genesis particularly deplorable under the misinterpretation that it represents woman as a servant to man. De Beauvoir found it disgusting that the end result of Eve’s sin was the anguish of child labor, and was further appalled by the New Testament, in which Mary accepts the role of mother to a male savoir, declaring herself ’the handmaid of the Lord,’ and adoring the infant Christ at the nativity.
These, and other misrepresentations of the Holy Bible are thoroughly refuted by von Hildebrand, who contests that the old testament references to the pangs of child birth can be allegorically connected to the suffering and redemption of Christ on the cross. When the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to bear in her very body the savior of the world, He calls her blessed and full of grace, thereby offering her a “unique role in the economy of salvation# (von Hildebrand, 2002, p. 17)” The church shows the esteem with which it regards woman in the New Testament further still through the Stations of the Cross. Here we find women taking active part in the love and sorrow of the most important event in human history. On his journey to Calvary we find Christ first meeting his blessed mother, then allowing Veronica to wipe His bloody, defiled face, and finally, comforting the women of Jerusalem who would be witnesses to His crucifixion. Von Hildebrand advocates the New Testament’s worthy representation of women further still in the character of Mary Magdalene, a woman and yet the first person whom Christ chooses to reveal Himself to after the resurrection.
Von Hildebrand continues to unfold the Church’s understanding of true femininity by exploring the aspects of woman’s nature that make her different from her male counterpart. First, as Edith Stein once wrote, “Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal and whole# (Stein, 1987, p. 43).” In this way, she is able to humanize man who is so prone to abstraction. Moreover, woman’s beauty and gift of persuasion gives her the ability to awaken the hearts of men. A gift that if misused can result in his destruction rather than his refinement; as the author warns, “The power that women can wield over men is great indeed. If they pursue their own selfish aims, women are Satan’s slaves. If they put their charm at God service, they are God’s great allies# (von Hildebrand, 2002, p. 51). How often have I heard men say, “It is my wife who brought me back to God.” Heroines such as Esther and St. Scholastica are referred to by the author as women whose supplication was pleasing before both God and earthly kings.
Upon concluding her evaluation of the nature of woman, von Hildebrand proceeds to discuss the purpose, the supernatural mission, for which she was created. It is here that we find the most logical arguments against the modern feminist theory. First, von Hildebrand elaborates on the metaphysical relationship between womanhood and life. While some feminist ideology has perverted the concept of maternity into a repressive role from which to recoil in disgust, von Hildebrand reveals the hidden beauty behind this sacred mission through which God offers woman “the extraordinary privilege of carrying two souls in her body. (ibid, p. 63)” That is why woman so deeply offends her own nature by having an abortion; through this act she has forsaken her mission of bringing an immortal soul, created in God’s image, into the world. Likewise, a woman’s body, the way she dresses and carries herself, should reflect the beauty and mystery of her sacred mission. Through von Hildebrand’s plausible insights, one can perceive the ludicrousness of the Sexual Revolution which lacks positive correspondence to either the body or the soul.
Finally, von Hildebrand concludes her text by offering Mary as the prime example of femininity. Through Mary we learn of the magnificence of humility; that divine paradox through which God allows us to realize our nothingness in light of Himself. Furthermore, through Mary we can wholly appreciate the wonder of the female body, especially the womb through which the savior of the world was brought into being. Von Hildebrand also notes, “[Mary] alone combines two unique privileges given to women: virginity and maternity. Both callings are magnificent but they are not compatible. [God] makes one unique exception: for the sweet flower of Nazareth that He has chosen to be the mother of his son.” What blessings have been given to us by Christ’s worthy mother, who intercedes for us, her beloved children, and who offers us the protection of her mantle from the evil one, who “suffers infinitely from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God (ibid, p. 105).”
In conclusion, I found Dr. von Hildebrand’s insights remarkable, leaving me with a new found sense of understanding and awe of my feminine nature and calling. Moreover, I believe my appreciation to the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ and my devotion to the Blessed Mother have been strengthened due to the reinforcement that I am loved and known by both. In the words of Dr. von Hildebrand, “Indeed, it is a privilege to be a woman (ibid, p. 108).”

The Courage to be Chaste, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.

November 2nd, 2008

Book review by Bill Jones
Chastity as a Virtue for the Single and Religious Lives
In his book, The Courage to be Chaste, Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. discusses the importance of chastity as a virtue in the religious and single lives. Chastity is perhaps the most difficult virtue to practice as a celibate individual. Anyone who decides to take a vow of celibacy will feel a need for companionship at some point in his or her life. As human beings, it is natural to desire to love and be loved in a special and exclusive way, and those who are called by God to live chaste celibate lives need to accept the fact that they will not experience that kind of love. Though a chaste person called to the single life will not experience matrimonial love with another individual, it does not mean that he or she cannot display or receive certain acts of love. Chastity is a way of life that God calls all people to live, and though it is a difficult challenge for celibate individuals to accept this calling, it can lead them to live good lives because it enables them to seek God and pray to Him for courage and guidance.
All people who are called to a celibate life must seek the courage to be chaste. Since sex is a desirable and exclusive act of love between a man and a woman, many single people struggle with sexual thoughts and actions. “Chastity for all Christians means avoiding sexual satisfaction from auto-eroticism or from deviant behavior. It does not mean isolation, rejection of human love and friendship, or refraining from certain non-genital behavior related to the expression of one’s sexuality. Chastity implies an heroic effort at times to confront the dark and self-centered aspects of one’s inner being.” When God calls certain people to live chaste celibate lives, it is a call to discipleship. The call to this life is also a test of faith because those whom God calls to live a chaste celibate lifestyle must seek His help through prayer. Anyone who decides to lead a chaste celibate lifestyle will feel lonely at some point. “The single person has to value aloneness, the state of being on one’s own. He or she must also have learned to overcome loneliness, that is, aloneness when it becomes a burden.” Those who feel lonely in their celibate lives should take advantage of the opportunity to come closer to God, for He is always there for anyone who is lonely. Through being alone, single celibate individuals can come closer to God and strengthen relationships with Him because they are able to create more space for Him since they do not have to care for a family. “For all Christians, married, single, or religious, chastity is not simply a struggle with physical urges and drives. It is part of the greater effort to seek God above and through all things. Chastity is an aspect of purity of mind and heart, of thought and desire.” Through learning about the importance and benefits of chastity, people can lead happy and productive lives through being celibate.
In today’s world, people are single for a variety of reasons, either because they are called to the religious life, the single life, or because they have a homosexual tendency. Those called to the religious life have a commitment to serve God through ministry. Since it is a big commitment, priests and lay ministers are called to serve God in their own special way through their service. People who are single are called to a life of discipleship. “The attempt to live a chaste single life is a specific form of discipleship. The awareness of discipleship is a great help to a person because it gives a purpose and goal to the price of singleness.” Through living the single life, people can be Disciples of Christ by taking leadership positions in everyday activities such as benefit organizations and parish events. Individuals with homosexual tendencies are not to be excluded from the ability to live meaningful lives. “I am convinced that the person with a strong homosexual attraction is called to a single life.” Even though a homosexual lifestyle is not intended by God, He allows people to have homosexual tendencies because through them, they come to learn about living productive chaste and celibate single lives.
Single people who do not belong to a religious order and do not intend to raise a family can serve God in their own special ways. Since single people do not have to make the same time commitments as those belonging to religious organizations or families, they have more time to serve God through serving others. Through working at various events such as parish functions, neighborhood gatherings, and at work, single people can get connected with many other people, and establish strong friendships. “Single people should cultivate a wide variety of friends. For them friends are more necessary than for those who are married.” Establishing friendships is an important aspect in the single life because it enables single people to share a form of love. Since love is a necessary virtue for everyone, all people should establish strong friendships in their lives to share it with.
Even in a life of chastity and celibacy, a certain kind of powerful love can be present if the celibate individual seeks to find it. Through prayer and service, chaste celibate people can find love and become engulfed in it. Through prayer, they can experience the love of God—the most powerful love of all. Through service, they can share their love with those whom they work with and enhance the experience, whatever it may be. Love is important for every human being, and though not all people are called to the exclusive love through the sacrament of marriage, every person can experience love in great measures in return for the love they show others.