Six books to tell you what you need to know
The sad truth is that I do not have time to keep up with all the sound Catholic books being published today. How different this is from the 1970’s when I got my start, a time in which nearly every Catholic publisher deliberately undermined the teachings of the Church! Moreover, the books I most need to read to fill gaps in my own knowledge and spirituality are seldom those that would be most useful to a broad audience.
Yet the books keep piling up. Therefore, to clear my desk this time, I have decided to select a half-dozen offerings from reliable Catholic publishers which are each clearly focused on a single significant topic. Moreover, with one highly relevant exception, these are not “personal odyssey” books—though conversion-and-growth stories can certainly be very interesting. Instead, they are books you should consider not for entertainment or general enrichment, but only if you need to understand a particular topic better.
If you’ve ever wondered why so many Catholics still go wrong, even in an age when the word “renewal” is on every tongue, I would tend to emphasize two reasons among a great many possibilities: First, for young people, the failure of both parents and Catholic youth programs to form teenagers intensively; second, for the majority who are not well-educated in their faith, the failure to arm Catholics intellectually against the ignorant attacks on Catholicism thrown at them from both Protestantism and the larger secular culture. The following books address these issues:
- Everett Fritz, The Art of Forming Young Disciples (Sophia Institute Press, 2018, 115pp): Everett Fritz is a long-time youth minister who realized that large-group recreational activities (read fun) may get teenagers to show up but do not create the proper environment for discipleship. Actually, the best dioceses and parishes are now figuring this out. After all, just hearing the title of Sherry Weddell’s famous book, Forming Intentional Disciples, makes you stop and think. But Fritz takes you through the things he has done as a youth minister that did not work, and then tell you what he discovered about serious discipleship mentoring in small groups. The difference for high school students, in an increasingly large number of cases, is between abandoning their faith in the first year of college and keeping it for a lifetime.
- Gerard Verschuuren, Forty Anti-Catholic Lies (Sophia Institute Press, 2018, 341pp): I accidentally did two mini-reviews of Gerard Verschuuren’s brilliant Aquinas and Modern Science: A New Synthesis of Faith & Reason without realizing I had done so. The book made a deep impression; my reviews, apparently, did not (see Four ways to grasp natural meaning from the God Who Is (2/6/2018) and A thumbnail guide to new Catholic books: Choose what appeals! (8/23/2017)). But the surprising thing about Verschuuren in this instance is that he can move so effortlessly into doing good, old-fashioned, incontrovertible apologetics. In this book he touches on the most common misunderstandings of Catholicism that are constantly used to attack the Church by both old-school Protestants and today’s culture-bound victims of superioritis.
The Spiritual Life
Turning now to two important topics that ought to affect all of us more personally, I wonder how many Catholics are completely oblivious to the potential for angelic influences in their lives, including human friendship with angels. I also wonder how many married Catholic men and women do not realize their attitudes toward marriage are not Catholic attitudes, which is mostly why—with the best will in the world and however hard they try—their love diminishes, instead of growing stronger day by day. To the rescue:
- Fr. John Horgan, His Angels at Our Side (EWTN Publishing, 2018, 286pp): Fr. John Horgan, who has hosted two television series on EWTN, has been deeply interested in angels for a long time. In this book, he teaches you what angels are and explains their creation, how some of them fell, and how they interact with us. He documents their presence in Sacred Scripture in connection with the most important salvific events. He demonstrates their role in the history of the Church and in her liturgy. And he explains how important angels can be to our daily life and spiritual formation. This is not a fluffy or flighty treatment; Fr. Horgan offers many examples of the relationships of saints with angels, and of deep angelic friendships. All of us should, of course, be praying to and with our guardian angels every day, as well as saying the great St. Michael prayer regularly. But if you are angelically backward at all, this is the place to start.
- Dr. David Anders, The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage (EWTN Publishing, 2018, 221pp): There is experiential testimony in Everett Fritz’s book on forming youth, but with Dr. Anders we encounter a highly personal testimony on a subject that affects a great many of us. Anders is the host of EWTN’s program Called to Communion. He has been married twenty-five years, but his now very strong marriage was once so close to death’s door that he and his wife very nearly fell through it. The Introduction begins with this sentence: “The Catholic Church saved my marriage and, quite possibly, my life.” If you and your spouse are having a hard time, you can learn a great deal from this book which begins with a chapter entitled “I Hate You” and ends with one called “The Treasure Buried in a Field”. This is a conversion story but it is really about the Catholic rebooting of Anders’ marriage, which also saved his family.
Then there are the more controversial topics that nobody can escape in an age in which everything is instantly political. Catholics who accept the Church’s moral teaching naturally tend to be politically conservative. But that can sometimes raise tough questions, among which two are relevant here: First, what to do about Catholic witness on behalf of the poor; and, second, how to understand and respond to Islam. As with immigration (for which I do not have a good new book to offer), these topics cannot be properly understood unless we divest ourselves of merely political categories and attempt to form a proper spiritual assessment.
- Terrence C. Wright, Dorothy Day: An Introduction to Her Life and Thought (Ignatius Press, 2018, 162pp): I cannot think of an American Catholic who more easily upsets her conservative coreligionists than Dorothy Day, along with the Catholic Worker movement she founded. Here we have a courageous and holy woman who quite frankly challenges conservatism’s tendency to equate Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” with the hand of God. Moreover, her cause for canonization is well on its way. The thing about Dorothy is that she did not just talk the talk while creating dependent classes using other people’s money in order to maintain power (in other words, she was not a “liberal”). Rather, she walked the walk, eschewing wealth and committing herself to poverty while affirming the dignity of human work—and human workers. Terrence Wright acquaints us with Day’s early life and conversion, the intellectual foundations of the Catholic Worker movement, her spirituality (rooted in Scripture, the Saints and the Church), her works of mercy, and her prospects for being recognized as a saint.
- James V. Schall, S.J., On Islam (Ignatius Press, 2018, 263pp): Fr. James Schall was a long-time professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University, noted for his grasp of Catholic doctrine, his understanding of political theories and structures, and his clarity of thought. Born in 1928, he is now 90 years old, and yet he is still shedding light on the most confusing problems of our era. This book on Islam is a collection of his best essays on the subject from 2002 to the present. He covers such fascinating topics as the viewpoint of Hilaire Belloc, the relationship between martyrdom and suicide bombers, the 9/11 attack, science in Islam, ambiguity in Islam, the fragility of Islam, Pope Benedict’s challenge in his Regensburg Address, the potential for dialogue, the brutal persecution of Christians, the “causes of terrorism”, ongoing terrorist attacks, and even the philosophy of two conflicting truths in Islamic thought. If you have been frustrated by the problem of Islam, so has Fr. Schall, and he will help you to understand why. On the other hand, if you haven’t been frustrated, you should be.
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