Getting all that smoke out of your eyes: Six reviews

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 19, 2019

I freely admit it. While popping a hard-boiled egg into my mouth for lunch about a minute ago (lunch now done, thanks), I told Alexa to play a song. “She who must not be named” complied with Jerome Kern’s hit from the forgotten 1933 musical Roberta. I mean, of course, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. Not by Nat Cole. Not by Barbra Streisand. Good heavens, no. By The Platters, of course.

The song, which is firmly cemented in the “sad but true” category, laments how, when romantic love strikes, smoke gets in our eyes. We are always sure it is the real thing. Until it isn’t.

Fortunately Grandpa Jeff is here to help get that smoke out of your eyes by reading any one of six new books that will help you to rest secure in the Love that never fails, the love of Christ, according to which all of our loves should be both modeled and evaluated.

1. A Layman’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours
How the Prayers of the Church Can Change your Life
Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV
EWTN Publishing, 136pp

Fr. Gallagher does a fine job of explaining the origins of the Liturgy of the Hours and its role not only in the life of priests but of laity and their families. He then surveys the specific manner in which the Hours bathe each portion of the day in prayer, and offers insight into how to pray the hours with and through the Church. The book closes with advice on how to get started, including sources and apps which make the Hours easier to pray as compared with flipping through the older one-volume or four-volume sets of the prayers.

I started using the Ibreviary app on my phone after I surveyed this book. (And, yes, it is perfectly fine to use a smart phone as an aid when praying, even when praying alone in Church, as long as the phone’s other capabilities don’t become a distraction to you or others.) Nothing could be easier than using an app to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. And truly, regular prayer is the first step to investing our human loves with transcendence by rooting them in God.

2. Heaven’s Splendor
And the Riches that Await You There
Sr. Mary Ann Fatula, OP
Sophia Institute Press, 136pp

Sister Mary Ann Fatula, OP mines Scripture and the experience of the saints in an effective presentation of what Heaven is like. This is something we all think about at times. Of course, Sr. Mary Ann knows that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, and she does not try to specify the specific features of the new heaven and the new earth. What she does is stick with what we know. She also offers a bibliography and an index of Scriptural citations.

In five brief chapters, the book covers five enormously important understandings of the joys of heaven: Delighting in the Trinity, Enjoying the Communion of Saints, The joy of our resurrection, Dying into the mercy of the Trinity, and finally, Living in Heaven on earth. This last chapter is important because, after all, we really do get a foretaste of Heaven in the Eucharist, in deep prayer, and in abandoning ourselves to Divine mercy. Since the Kingdom of God is within us and in our midst, we can definitely learn to remain connected with Heaven here below—and nothing strengthens our love more than this.

3. Salvation
What Every Catholic Should Know
Michael Patrick Barber
Augustine Institute | Ignatius Press, 200pp

I very much like the tack Michael Barber has taken in his book on salvation (featuring a foreword by Brant Pitre, whose own books I highly recommend), and this is another book where trouble has been taken to provide a useful Scripture index. What is so striking about Barber’s approach is that it effectively warns us against falling into the most common errors about our salvation, all of which lead to either complacency or despair.

I think it is most helpful simply to list the chapter titles, which should be enough to get anybody going. Here then is what salvation is not:

  • Not self-help
  • Not just fire insurance
  • Not without cost
  • Not just personal
  • Not just a legal transaction
  • Not a spectator sport
  • Not simply a moment
  • Not inevitable
  • Not just for other people
  • Not only about the future

If you’ve ever fallen into any of these attitudes predicated on what salvation is not, here is a simple yet profound book which will get to the essence of the matter. I mean it will get your understanding of God’s love, and so your own ability to love, back on track.

4. Following Jesus
Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Convergent (Penguin Random House) 150pp

Do you remember the sappy and indefinite spirituality of the 1970s and 1980s which was all about recognizing our own woundedness or tapping into the power of the Cosmic Christ? You may associate this with the 76-year-old Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who has often seemed off the rails and who founded the controversial Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque in 1987. Or you may even associate it with the Dutch priest Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932-1996). If you look for pictures of either priest, they will not likely be in clerical garb.

For better or worse, both had a great influence on twentieth-century spirituality within and outside the Church, an influence they would probably have failed to exert if the Church had been as healthy as it should have been. The problem, in a nutshell, is that both capitalize on a few key Christian ideas in ways that nearly anyone can appreciate, but generally fail to offer significant instruction in the Faith. And yet, there was considerable insight in one part of their approach, namely the constant stress on human woundedness and the need to set aside our defensive reflexes and open ourselves to the love of God.

By the way, I mention Rohr only because he wrote the Foreword to this book (which I have seen only in an uncorrected proof). Nouwen, at least, has often had his insights—whatever their limitations—appropriated badly. So I would simply say this: While all of us are fallen, wounded, and deficient in some ways, if you think that anxiety, lack of self-esteem, and/or the fear that you are not loved are hampering your spiritual development, then reading Nouwen may be very important to you, helping you to open yourself in trust to the Love that lasts.

Even died-in-the-wool orthodox Catholics—those of us who tend to think too often that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps—are more aware today of the brokenness in the Church, which is both around and within us, and the explosion of grace we need to heal it. For struggling souls, sometimes Nouwen’s psycho-spiritual touch can help bridge the chasm that seems to separate us from God. Just remember that this should be an introduction to a more fully Catholic reflection about life and love rooted in Christ within the Church—an opening point, not a destination.

5. Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Unlocking the Jewish Roots of Christianity
John Bergsma
Image (Penguin Random House) 270pp

Another uncorrected proof draws us into serious scholarship. Dr. John Bergsma is a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, a former Protestant pastor who converted to Catholicism in 2001, and he has made himself an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls—which you may recall first came to light in the 1940s and 1950s. The Scrolls give remarkable insight into the Jewish community at Qumran, on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, and they have been dated as early as three centuries before Christ.

The importance of the Scrolls is that they provide copies of texts of Jewish scriptures as well as information about the Jewish rites, celebrations and customs characteristic of a Jewish community shortly before the coming of the Messiah, whether that was a community of the Essenes or of Jerusalem itself (a matter for scholarly debate). The value of Bergsma’s study is that he uses the Scrolls to shed a great deal of light on how the Jewish converts to Christianity would have anticipated the coming of the Messiah, been drawn to him, and ultimately accepted his message. The study centers on baptism, the Eucharist, matrimony (and celibacy), Holy Orders, and the Church herself, as our understanding of these Christian realities can be illumined by Jewish practices and expectation which led up to the coming of Christ.

In other words, Bergsma does with the Dead Sea Scrolls what Brant Pitre has done using other late Jewish literature for our understanding of Christ and Mary. The book is fascinating, the scholarship impeccable, and the “takeaways” for Catholics today are clearly highlighted. Beware of odd-sounding claims that may appear in promotional literature from a sometimes confused publisher; Bergsma is rock solid. His study enhances our perception of God’s Providential love, as it unfolds in history.

6. The Indissolubility of Marriage
Amoris Laetitia in Context
Matthew Levering
Ignatius 223pp

If I am honest, only one person in ten thousand who sees this review needs to buy this book. That’s because, while Matthew Levering has given us the definitive study of the state of the questions surrounding the indissolubility of marriage precipitated by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, at the end of the day he has come to the same conclusion as CatholicCulture.org’s writers and most of our readers: Namely, that there is no way to reconcile the changing pastoral practices proposed for dealing with failed marriages with the integrity of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The great value of Levering’s study is that he thoroughly covers every significant effort to reconcile the new practices with the old doctrine, documenting them with impeccable scholarship and a remarkably non-polemical tone. In Chapter 1, Levering covers the Eastern Orthodox, the Protestants, and historical-critical perspectives. In chapter 2, he presents marital indissolubility from Trent through Pope Benedict XVI. In chapter 3, he explores both Amoris Laetitia and all the efforts since its promulgation to reconcile new pastoral practices with the reality of marriage—whether by major churchmen, episcopal conferences, or theologians. He concludes with recommendations for “theological ressourcement” through a study of Thomas Aquinas on this same subject.

The book includes an extensive bibliography, subject index and Scripture index which should be invaluable for further study. For most of us, it is enough to know that such a fair, scholarly and exhaustive study has been done. But for a very few who are afraid they have missed a key piece of the puzzle, or who erroneously believe that this or that bishop or theologian has shown how to solve the problem, or who are in the position of teaching the theology of marriage, or who are still deeply embroiled in a controversy which cannot at this time be resolved—for these, Levering’s study is the one indispensable resource.

And if it does not blow the smoke out of our eyes by teaching something important about the permanence of God’s love, I shall be very much surprised.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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