The Latest Book Reviews

Spring Reading for May 2014

 

Spring Reading for May 2014

Living Well: Homilies/Meditations on the Virtues. By James F. Quigley, OP (Rome: Gregorian and Biblical Press, 2012), 102 pp., €13, 00. (Reviewed by Tracy Wietecha.)

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God’s Bucket List: Heaven’s Surefire Way to Happiness in This Life and Beyond. By Teresa Tomeo (Image Books: 2013) 176 pages; $17.99; ISBN: 978-0-385-34690-0. (Reviewed by Stephanie A. Mann.)

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Aquinas and Maritain on Evil: Mystery and Metaphysics, (American Maritain Association Series) Edited by James. G. Hanink, (The Catholic University of America Press, 2013). (Reviewed by David C. Paternostro, S.J.)

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The Urging of Christ’s Love: The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. By Omar F.A. Gutierrez (Omaha, Nebraska: Discerning Hearts, 2013), 192 pp. paperback, $11.66. (Reviewed by Carson Holloway.)

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Discovering the Camino de Santiago: A Priest’s Journey to the Tomb of St. James. By Fr. Greg J. Markey. (Fort Collins, CO.: Roman Catholic Books, 2011) 74 pages, paperback, $9.95. (Reviewed by Roseanne T. Sullivan.)

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Living Well: Homilies/Meditations on the Virtues. By James F. Quigley, OP (Rome: Gregorian and Biblical Press, 2012), 102 pp., €13,00.

How can I live a better and more fully human life?  The answer to this question is the focus of Living Well: Homilies/Meditations on the Virtues.  As the introduction of the book points out, the virtues “are ways of living well, living a better life.”  Fr. James Quigley, O.P., who holds the Fr. Carl J. Peter Chair of Homiletics at the Pontifical North American College, presents a combination of theology and experience in order to instruct, inspire, and advise on living the virtues in one’s everyday life.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that one cannot teach virtue in a classroom setting; virtue is learned through practice.  Living Well offers examples on how to live out the virtues in one’s everyday life.  In 23 short chapters, Fr. Quigley provides concise and, yet, thoughtful meditations on an assortment of virtues, such as gratitude, courtesy, listening, courage, hospitality, and fairness.  Each chapter focuses upon one particular virtue, and the stories woven throughout offer concrete and real examples of each particular virtue.  For instance, Fr. Quigley shares about his student, Marty, who throughout his sufferings of cancer, displayed an invaluable example of patience.  The chapters are not arranged by an alphabetical listing of the virtues, which keeps each subsequent chapter fresh and new.

Fr. Quigley’s experience as a chaplain, theology professor, and preacher on the virtues comes to life in each meditation.  Drawing upon insights from personal experiences, history, art, literature, philosophy, psychology, and Scripture, Fr. Quigley’s meditative account of the virtues is concrete and engaging.  His stories are memorable and also humorous at times.  Scripture passages grant an opportunity for deeper reflection on each virtue, and the examples drawn from history and literature afford invaluable insight into the impact of virtue within society.  Each meditation in this book thus serves as a source of reflection for personal transformation.

Behind the practical application of each presentation on a particular virtue lies the Thomistic tradition as a theological foundation.  As Fr. Quigley writes in the forward, “His (Thomas Aquinas’) moral vision is based on character development and a theology of grace.”  For Aquinas, the virtues are good habits which perfect certain powers a thing has.  Many of the virtues are necessary to obtain perfect happiness with God.  The virtues are obtained through habitual acts but they can also be given to a person through the grace of God.

This book is accessible to a wide range of readers, from students to preachers.  It may have particular value for preachers who desire to enrich their own homilies with stories which convey virtuous human acts.  In a society which is often lacking in the practice of human virtue, this book shows the important role of virtue, not only in Christian discipleship and moral character, but more fundamentally, the role of virtue in leading a good human life.  Father Quigley’s style is optimistic and refreshing and is sure to inspire the reader to lead a more fully human life.
-Tracy Wietecha, Ph.D. Student,
Marquette University
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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God’s Bucket List: Heaven’s Surefire Way to Happiness in This Life and Beyond. By Teresa Tomeo (Image Books: 2013) 176 pages; $17.99; ISBN: 978-0-385-34690-0.

 A “bucket list” is a set of goals to accomplish before a person dies—before she “kicks the bucket”. God certainly does not have a bucket list for himself because God is not only immortal, but already perfect—but he does have a bucket list for us. He has plans for us, “plans for {our} welfare and not for evil”; plans to give {us} a future and a hope” (cf. Jeremiah 29:11 RSV). In God’s Bucket List: Heaven’s Surefire Way to Happiness in This Life and Beyond, Teresa Tomeo gives us eight goals that are on God’s bucket list for us to be happy in this life and in the next.

She begins with “Living with Stillness” and ends with “Living Like You’re Loved,” exhorting her readers, along the way, to take time for quiet reflection, find their vocation, accept suffering and challenges, learn their Catholic faith, know what the Church teaches and why, read the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, receive the sacraments (especially confession and Holy Communion), and fulfill the talents each has received. Finally, she lists the most important goal on the bucket list: “falling in love with God and putting him first.” (p. 170) There are certainly no surprises on this bucket list—and it may be a surefire way, but Tomeo warns it’s not an easy way. That’s why suffering and confession are on the list.

As she describes each goal on the bucket list, Tomeo cites Bible verses, passages from the Catechism; offers statistics and studies; she quotes popes and saints, bishops and pastors; and provides examples from her life, especially from her secular media and Catholic media careers. Tomeo gives practical advice, and offers resources and guidance. God’s Bucket List is a good introduction to a holier way of living according to God’s plan for us, written in an accessible and colloquial manner.
-Stephanie A. Mann
Wichita, Kansas

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Aquinas and Maritain on Evil: Mystery and Metaphysics, (American Maritain Association Series) Edited by James. G. Hanink, (The Catholic University of America Press, 2013).

Writing in his Summa about whether or not God exists, St. Thomas Aquinas identified the existence of evil as the first of only two objections to God’s existence. Certainly, people who argue against the existence of God have presented the problem of evil as a major piece of evidence in their favor, and have been doing so for some time. Many individuals naturally wonder about this. The experience of evil is a far more visceral challenge to one’s faith than thinking about the adequacy of science, or other intellectual challenges. Helping people understand the place of evil in a world created by God is a major issue for those in ministry, and when a such a book as Aquinas and Maritain on Evil comes along, which helps ministers in understanding the subject, it should be welcomed eagerly.

Edited by James G. Hanink, the book is a collection of 20 essays. Hanink recognizes the importance of exploring the topic of evil, saying that it “comes near the heart of the Christian philosophers’ vocation to seek a fuller understanding of the faith” (ix). The fuller understanding is sought first of all by encouraging us to re-frame how we think of evil, and reminding us thatas C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity“badness is only spoiled goodness.” The essays are divided into five major sections, which I will summarize here and mention a few highlights.

Part I, “Setting an Expansive Stage,” does a fine job in preparing us for how we ought to think about the topic of evil in general. Of particular note for preachers is Fr. John Conley’s essay “Job, Our Contemporary.” In the essay, Fr. Conley draws powerful connections between Job’s experience of evil, and that of the modern man. Conley shows well how “Job offers such a penetrating mirror to the figure evil has taken in our own culture” (19). Siobhan Nash-Marshall, in her perceptive essay, gets to the heart of what contemporary thinkers call “evil” and why, borrowing an observation of Sr. Mary Clark that certain things are thought of as self-evidently evil “because it makes them feel bad” (67, emphasis in the original). In general, her essay provides wonderful insights into how people experience and perceive evil, how we can respond to these experiences and perceptions, and what the implications are if we do not.

Part II, “Jacques Maritain on Moral Evil: Some Disputed Questions” features three essays that look at ways in which Maritain draws upon, and disagrees with, both Aquinas, and his later commentators, in looking at evil, with each essay finding both praise and criticism in Maritain’s approach. In “Maritain and the Cry of Rachel,” John F.X. Knassas examines the way in which Maritain wrestles with how a person can suffer evil for the sake of the universe’s perfection without being treated as little more than a means to an end. Laura L. Garcia examines the way in which Maritain addresses the problem of evil, looking at how Maritain both expanded on, and corrected, elements of Aquinas’ approach. Stephen A. Long presents, in detail, Aquinas’ thinking of how human agency does not mean that evil may be attributed to God, first and foremost, because of what “Divine Simplicity” means.

Part III, “On Jacques Maritain’s Enduring Contribution,” presents three essays which show the moral insights of Maritain’s metaphysically rich ethics, and how his ethics were both insightful and rich precisely because they had solid metaphysics as their backdrop. In these essays, one gets a look into the psyche of a man faced with a moral choice. The instigator of sin, lack or inattention to a rule, that O’Connor observes in her essay, is given haunting ramifications in Nikolaj Zunic’s essay “The Measure of Morality.” Zunic shows both the modern world’s inability to devise a secular account of ethics, and how low humanity can sink in the absence of any compelling ethical system.

Part IV, “Evidence, Probability, and Prudence,” looks at evil in relation to how the world was created. Was it necessary for sin to exist in the world? Why does the goodness of the world require that various evils are present in it? In this section, Bryan R. Cross’ essay “Aquinas on the Original Harmonies and the Probability of Evil” does an excellent job of re-framing how we look at the problem of evil. Arguing that “for Aquinas, goodness has both metaphysical and epistemic primacy” (238, emphasis in the original), Cross encourages the same attitude in us. Remembering that evil is a derivative of good, it is the existence of goodness for which we must fundamentally account. Rather than looking at evil, and asking how its presence could possibly be compatible with the existence of a good God, we are obliged to first look at goodness and ask how its presence could possibly be compatible with the non-existence of a good God. This is not to say that a person’s questions about God and evil should be dismissed out of hand. What this means is that such questions should always be kept in a larger metaphysical context. Cross does precisely this as he develops the essay, helping to illuminate what evil’s place is within the larger order of the cosmos.

Part V, “Truth, Falsehood, and the Future of Man,” features two provocative essays which explore what happens when we try and make ourselves into gods who rule over both the physical and spiritual realms. Fr. Jasper’s essay, “The Evil of Lying,” shows that when we lie, we attempt to make ourselves the gods of reality through what we try to communicate to others. Vigliotti’s essay on trans-humanism examines attempts “to make the self eternal,” even though we “can only do so on the physical plane” (310) through techniques such as genetic modifications. The ethical considerations of these procedures, and what they do to us, are well worth considering. Vigliotti does solid work in laying out the issues latent in the topic.

Overall, this is a work which I recommend. The subtitle of the work, “Mystery and Metaphysics,” is an important reminder of what is at play when we consider the problem of evil. In the absence of goodness and being, evil is fundamentally unintelligible. Because of this, the approach of the book in having multiple contributors, with distinct perspectives and approaches, is a very helpful feature. Overall, this book provides excellent food for thought for anyone considering the problem of evil. The essays give one in-depth descriptions on what people think and experience as they undergo evil, providing ways to shepherd them through moments of darkness.
-David C. Paternostro, S.J.
Jesuit High School
Tampa, Florida

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The Urging of Christ’s Love: The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. By Omar F.A. Gutierrez (Omaha, Nebraska: Discerning Hearts, 2013), 192 pp. paperback, $11.66.

The Catholic Church’s social doctrine occupies an unenviably paradoxical situation.  On the one hand, it is essential to a truly Catholic conception of the just and good society.  On the other hand, it is little understood and little appreciated even by serious Catholics.

This problem is probably rooted in human nature.  To live up to their capacity as rational animals, human beings need a body of principles by which to guide their actions.  A scholarly treatise or textbook offers the method by which such principles can be given their clearest and most complete exposition.  Most of us, however, are very disinclined to spend the time needed to master the presentation of principles in such a format.  We prefer a good story to a philosophic or theological tome.

Omar Gutierrez—author of The Urging of Christ’s Love: The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church—has understood this problem and found an ingenious way around it.  His method is to introduce lay Catholic readers to the social doctrine by using sketches of the lives of saints to illustrate key principles.  The result is a delightful book that shows the relevance of the social teaching, and of the struggles of the saints, to the daily life of ordinary Catholics living today.

Gutierrez executes this surprising and engaging concept by means of a surprising and engaging structure.  The book does not begin from principles and then turn to the lives of the saints for illustration.  Rather, each chapter begins with a biography of a saint, drawing from his or her life important principles of the Church’s social doctrine, and then concludes with a prayer to the saint in question, and some relevant excerpts from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  Besides bringing key principles to life by showing them in the actions of flesh and blood human beings, this approach has the additional advantage of keeping the reader’s eye on what Gutierrez properly emphasizes as the foundation of fidelity to the social doctrine: namely, the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, which is the animating principle of each of the saintly lives examined in the book.

Finally, the book offers some pleasant surprises in its choice of saints for examination.  We encounter some expected biblical and historical figures, linked to some expected themes: St. Joseph and the importance of work, for example, and Thomas More and the duty to disobey unjust laws.  We also meet some other figures who deserve to be more widely known, such as the patiently suffering peasant girl St. Germaine Cousin, and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, a young German man who was executed for refusing to serve in Germany’s army during the Second World War.

The Urging of Christ’s Love is not—does not try to be and does not claim to be—a comprehensive explanation of the Church’s social doctrine.  It is something just as valuable in its own way: an introduction to the social doctrine that is likely to get Catholic readers interested in understanding it, and living according to it.

-Carson Holloway
Associate Professor of Political Science
University of Nebraska at Omaha

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Discovering the Camino de Santiago: A Priest’s Journey to the Tomb of St. James. By Fr. Greg J. Markey. (Fort Collins, CO.: Roman Catholic Books, 2011) 74 pages, paperback, $9.95. (Reviewed by Roseanne T. Sullivan.)

Fr. Greg Markey’s brief (75 page) book, Discovering the Camino de Santiago: A Priest’s Journey to the Tomb of St. James (available at Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/DiscoveringCaminoDeSantiago) is possibly unique among the hundreds of books currently in print about the famous pilgrimage road–because it is written from the point of view of a devout Catholic pilgrim. It meets a real need: I met a young Catholic married couple one Sunday at an after-Mass social at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland who were planning to walk the Camino this Spring, and it came up that they couldn’t find any books about the Camino as a Catholic pilgrimage. They were greatly relieved when I told them about Fr. Markey’s book, which is decidedly not a guide for people who are looking only to check “Walk the Camino” off a bucket list.

Santiago [Sant Iago] means St. James. Santiago de Compostela is the short way to refer to the Cathedral Shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain where the Apostle St. James the Greater is traditionally believed to be buried. The Camino de Santiago (often abbreviated as just “the Camino”) is the even-shorter way to refer to the network of roads across Europe that uncountable thousands have taken to the famous shrine of St. James for about a thousand years.

Fr. Markey started researching and writing his book as he prepared to travel prayerfully and contemplatively on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela during a sabbatical, from late June to late July in 2009.

Motives for Making a Pilgrimage

The oldest surviving record of a Catholic pilgrimage was created by a nun named Egeria  who took a three year trip to the Holy Land from Spain in 381–384 and who wrote in Latin to her religious sisters about what she saw and did. She was obviously devout.  The most famous pilgrimage story of all is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  From the characteristics of the characters portrayed by Chaucer in Canterbury Tales, and by the stories they told, it’s obvious that by the 14th century people made pilgrimages more because their sap was stirring in the Springtime than for penance. Making a pilgrimage to a pious destination back then as now often seems to be a pretext for a lark.

Long before cruise ships, travel agents, and package tours, people traveled for many of the same reasons people travel these days, to see new places, to escape their ordinary lives, to get out in the open air, to meet new people, to flirt, and to have adventures to boast about when they returned home. You didn’t have many choices back in the old days if you wanted to see the world, you either went to war (if you were a man), or you went on a pilgrimage.

Aside from the knight in Chaucer’s story, who was travelling to give thanks for his survival during the Crusades, and who was a “a verray, parfit gentil knight,” and aside from the second nun, the only other truly inspiring member of the company was the parson, a poor priest who Chaucer described as rich “of hooly thoght and werk.”

The Wife of Bath’s Link to the Camino

Chaucer wrote that the five times married Wife of Bath who joined the pilgrimage to Canterbury knew much about wandering by the way and had “passed many a strange strem.” Chaucer was making digs about the much-mated woman’s string of marriages, but this bawdy 14th century character had wandered much and had passed many strange streams also because she had made an astounding number of pilgrimages: three times to Jerusalem, another time to Rome, and other times to other major pilgrimage sites, Boulogne in France, Cologne in Germany, and most apropos to this review, she had also gone to Santiago, in Spain.

More About Fr. Markey

Since Discovering the Camino de Santiago is written in our era, which is for the most part no longer even nominally Catholic and which knows next to nothing about pilgrimages, the book is a bit of anomaly. When asked why he wrote yet another book about the Camino, Fr. Markey replied that very few Americans know about its significance and that misinformation abounds.

Fr. Markey is the pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Norwalk, Connecticut, who celebrates Traditional Latin Masses in the Extraordinary Form along with reverent Masses in the Ordinary Form. He is an active member of the Church Music Association of America who participates in the yearly Sacred Music Colloquia with his music director and choir members and supports a high-quality sacred music program at his parish. For more about his work as a pastor, take a look at the http://reginamag.com/prayer-prudence-and-courage article about Fr. Markey in the Regina Magazine’s Fall 2013 edition.

The Catholic Way to St. James’ Shrine at Compostela

Fr. Markey’s account of his pilgrimage is a perfect book for a Catholic to read, whether or not you are a priest or are planning to walk the Camino yourself. He provides background information about the history of the Apostle St. James the Greater that explains why pilgrims have been trekking to the northwest corner of Spain to honor the saint for so many centuries. Fr. Markey’s book presents the evidence for the traditional beliefs that St. James evangelized Spain, that he returned to Jerusalem, that he later died as the first martyr among the Apostles, and that his body was brought back to Spain for burial.

He quotes from significant Church documents about the shrine and provides some of the rich history of the Camino, including the homily of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which the pope gave at the Compostela Cathedral during a visit in the Jubilee year of 2010.

Fr. Markey’s own journey to the shrine is humbly told, reverent, and inspiring. He describes how he walked along the road with both a Vatican flag and an American flag hanging on his backpack and a rosary in his hand, handing out blessed Miraculous Medals as the opportunity presented itself, among a shifting stream of people who came from all around the world for many and varied reasons.

No bawdy tales are recorded in this good priest’s book and nobody’s foibles are parodied. Fr. Markey wrote in his introduction that he wanted to write about the Camino “from the perspective of a believer” both because the Camino is rich in Catholic history and because the great contribution of the Apostle St. James to the evangelization of Hispanic peoples deserves to be better known.

Devotion to St. James was the original motive for the pilgrimages to Compostela, and a record of widespread devotion to the great Apostle remains in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Central and South America in the scores of cities and towns and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches, that bear Saint James’ name.

The distance from where Canterbury Tales began in Southwark in London to where it ended in Canterbury is about fifty-eight miles, and the journey took four days for most pilgrims, who were mounted on either a horse or mule. In contrast, Fr. Markey walked four hundred and ninety-six often-pain-filled miles of a popular portion of the Camino that is called the Camino Frances, which extends from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near France’s border to Compostela, and his pilgrimage took him a month. He walked the Camino to offer thanks to God for his ten years as a priest, with the resolution to offer up any sufferings he might experience along the way. He reminds me quite a bit of the Chaucer’s parson, the priest whom Chaucer described as rich “of hooly thoght and werk.”

Fellow Travelers 

Hundreds of thousands travel on the Camino and converge on Compostela every year. As was true in Chaucer’s tale, only a scant few of Fr. Markey’s fellow travelers could be said to be on the Camino for pure motives of performing penance and showing sorrow for sins.

Fr. Markey greatest camaraderie occurred during the times when he fell in with a pious and joyful group of Catholic young people who are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and who seemed to be on the Camino for all the right reasons. After they kept running into each other, they decided to join forces, and from that point on they read the Liturgy of the Hours, said the Rosary, and participated at Mass with Fr. Markey daily, until the end of the pilgrimage.

Fr. Markey’s goal was to arrive at the shrine by the Feast of St. James on July 25, and in spite of setbacks from “Brother Ass” that put his plan at risk, he made it--the day before the feast. He concelebrated with the archbishop and many other priests on the feast day, and a day later he was able to say a private Mass with the FOCUS group at the tomb of St. James.

Grace and Purification at the Journey’s End

Fr. Markey sums up the effects of his  journey this way at the end of the book: “The experience of the Camino has been exhausting—perhaps the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life—yet filled with many graces. The Camino beats you down, wears you out and purifies you.”

-Roseanne T. Sullivan
Freelance writer and photographer in San Jose,
California. 

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avatar About Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, S.J. is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.

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