Early Spring Reading

 

Jennifer Roback Morse & Betsy Kerekes, 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Notre Dame, IN.: Ave Maria Press 2016), 127 pp. $13.95. Paperback. ISBN-13: 978-1-59471-671-3. Reviewed by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

Raïssa Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace: Memoirs (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2016). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

Finding True Happiness—Satisfying our Restless Hearts (Book 1 of the Series: Happiness, Suffering and Transcendence) by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2015.) ISBN: 978-1-58617-956-4. 320pp. (paper) $12.78. Reviewed by Clara Sorrocco.

What We Have Done. What We Have Failed to Do: Assessing the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II. By Kevin W. Irwin, M.Div. S.T.D. (New Jersey: Paulist Press), 264pp. $24.95 (Print Edition). Reviewed by Charles Johnson.

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Jennifer Roback Morse & Betsy Kerekes, 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Notre Dame, IN.: Ave Maria Press 2016), 127 pp. $13.95. Paperback. ISBN-13: 978-1-59471-671-3. 

Since we are both Roman Catholics and Ave Maria Press is a Catholic publisher, you won’t be surprised to learn that we agree with this assessment. We want to share with you the findings that modern studies on the negative effects of cohabitation are consistent with the Church’s ancient teaching, We hope that you can use this information to your benefit, no matter what your history may be. The good news is that finding and being a worthy person to marry is indeed possible.
—Morse & Kerekes, Introduction, 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person, 2016, p. xv.

The Ruth Institute, that Jennifer Morse founded, is a primary and most valuable source for both practical and theoretical discussions of all issues related to marriage, children, and the threats to these basic realities in our culture. (See its website at www.ruthinstitute.org.) Jennifer Morse is a trained economist. Her book, Love and Economics, is well worth reading. Both Morse and her colleague, Betsy Kerekes, are married with children. Morse is a remarkably able speaker and effective debater.

The present book is a sequel to 101 Tips for a Happy Marriage. Newman Clubs, campus ministries, parish bookstores, young adult clubs, and high school and college marriage classes would be well advised to have copies of these most useful books available. The books are remarkably practical and down-to-earth in their approach, yet aware of both scientific and Church findings and teachings. They are easy to read. No “tip “is more than a page and a quarter; most are less than a page. The book is designed for both private reading and mutual reflection. It contains warnings and encouragement. Though mainly addressed to young adults, Tip # 62 reads: “Is either of you over the age of forty? Keep in mind that older seekers are sometimes set in their lifestyle. They may be less able comfortably and readily to let someone else in, disrupting their routine. Maturity comes with age but so can rigidity. Be honest with yourself about yourself and your intended.” Pretty good advice for any age.

These sundry “tips” are devoted to the simple proposition that when thinking of marriage, you really ought to know what you are about. The fact is that many people do not take a hard look at what they are doing in the cold light of reality. We should not think that some impossible conflict exists between romance and reality. The real conflict arises when we do not know what marriage is, or what happens when we go about it in the wrong way, or with the wrong suppositions. Marriage does not just “happen.” It needs and wants guidance. The experience of parents, and others long married, always helps, as do parish, and other pre-marriage organizations.

The book has a brief but very useful bibliography that refers to studies about cohabitation, divorce, canon law requirements, and the effects of pornography on marriage. The book is conveniently divided into ten sub-sections that take the reader through the basic issues: 1) looking for a spouses; 2) what to do about one’s-self in looking for marriage; 3) things not to do; 4) things to ask yourself before you become too serious; 5) warning signs; 6) what to expect and what to discuss ahead of actually marrying; 7) on why cohabiting is a terrible idea; 8) on what to do if you do cohabit; 9) the time of and readiness for marrying; and 10) marriage planning, for the marriage, not just for the wedding.

What is especially helpful about this little book is that the authors know what they are talking about. They both have speculative knowledge, but this is always put in the context of what actually goes on. They are not afraid to go against popular ideas that try to justify notions of marriage, family, and sex that simply do not work. They have done their homework, and it shows. Another good thing about this small book—as was true of the one that went before it, 101 Tips for a Happy Marriage—is the insistence that there are things we have to learn, both about our potential spouse, and about ourselves, about marriage, and about what is not true.

Much is at stake in getting things right. Getting things wrong from the beginning is almost always a cause of suffering for oneself, for others, for parents, for society itself. Marriage is a relation that works best when it is done right. A good part of our modern existence is what happens when we get things wrong, when we cannot tell the difference between men and women, when we kill babies in our wombs, when we abandon out spouses, when we think that we can live only by ourselves. In a concise, succinct way, Morse and Kerekes have given their readers a chance to do things right, or if they do them wrong, a way to recover. It would be difficult to find a more practical little book for anyone contemplating marriage at whatever age.

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is professor emeritus of political science at Georgetown University, now retired and in residence at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, California. He is the author of many monographs, and, perhaps, the leading essayist writing in English today. He has been one of HPR’s most prolific authors.

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Raïssa Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace: Memoirs (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2016). 

During the mid-twentieth century, the names of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain were rather commonplace in the Catholic consciousness. With some of the vagaries of recent years, their fame has perhaps waned, though never to absolute oblivion. As important participants in the renewal of Thomism in the early twentieth century, this couple deserves attention by every Catholic seeking to articulate a measured and profound intellectual appropriation of the faith in the modern world. We can thank St. Augustine’s Press for republishing a handsome edition of Raïssa’s memoirs for our edification.

Written from the perspective of the wife of the famous philosopher, these reminiscences are imbued with her melancholic and mystical spirit. (In fairness, she was a philosopher in her own right, and also played an integral part in Jacques’s life and work!) Raïssa wrote these memoirs during World War II, never bringing to completion the full narrative she had hoped to recount. Roughly speaking, the volume spans the time from her birth in Russia in 1883, to the time of the death of Léon Bloy in 1917. She had intended to write more but never provided this material in full for our delight. What we have received, however, provides much that is edifying for our reflection.

The first of the two texts in this volume, We Have Been Friends Together, details not only her relationship with her “greatest of friends,” i.e., Jacques, but also many figures who would play important roles in the lives of the young Maritains—Ernest Psichari, Charles Péguy, Léon Bloy, Georges Roualt, her sister Vera (who would live with the Maritains throughout their various peregrinations) and others. The second volume, Adventures in Grace, adds a number of other friends to the narrative. While the autobiography is rich with the tones of memoir and reminiscence, it accomplishes more than merely providing a pastiche of personal recollections regarding times with friends in France in the early 20th century. Instead, the two texts elaborate the conversion experience of a young, intellectually-gifted woman in a Parisian culture whose intellectual life had suffered the desiccating effects of positivism, scientism, sociologism, and skepticism. The memoir, with all of its varied recollections concerning her friendships (and their difficulties), provides a timely reflection on themes that still remain with us in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The conceits of our day have much in common with those of yore, and we have much to gain by hearing of the various struggles and triumphs recounted in Maritain’s memoirs.

Many know the famed story of the young Jacques Maritain and Raïssa Oumansov, sitting in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, promising to commit suicide if indeed the world was as empty of truth as the skepticism and positivism of their day proclaimed. In the stirring words of her recollection: “We wanted to die by a free act if it were impossible to live according to the truth.” Though this passage comes some fifty-some pages into the narrative, it is like a flash of lightning that illuminates the depths of Jacques and Raïssa’s desire for the truth, against all the negative suggestions of their contemporary society.

Indeed, the whole of the two volumes could be read as an account of Raïssa’s travels as a “pilgrim of the truth.” From the warm memories of her youth as a Jew in Russia, through the years when she was bereft of meaning at the Sorbonne, to the joys and trials of their early years as Christians, the autobiography is a story of grace—not only in the lives of Jacques, Raïssa, and Vera, but also in the many whom they knew during these years. The reader is confronted with the tempestuous Bloy, the sad ambiguities of Péguy, the story of Psichari’s conversion, the conversions of Raïssa’s parents, and other adventures in their life of grace.

In particular, in the two texts gathered in this volume, the reader is confronted with the importance of the Maritain’s Godfather, Léon Bloy. Recall that Jacques himself devoted a chapter of his late-life volume, Untrammeled Approaches, to a remembrance of Bloy. To understand the Maritains, one must understand the immense influence of Bloy on their earliest years. Before Aquinas, there thunders the prophetic voice of “the ungrateful beggar,” as well as the Maritains’s devotion as Benedictine oblates. We should be thankful that St. Augustine’s Press has recently brought us The Woman Who Was Poor—and we should hope for a greater number of Bloy’s books to come into print from their presses. Much is contained in these early years of our protaganists—in their escape from the positivism that dessicated their souls, in their conversion to Catholicism, in the silence of their time in Heidelberg, in returning to France, and shocking their families and friends as it becomes known that they have, indeed, been baptized.

It is only in the beginning of Adventures in Grace that we encounter the increasing role of the Angelic Doctor in the lives of the Maritains. We can never underestimate the great influence of Aquinas and the Dominican tradition of interpretation on both Raïssa and Jacques. However, in these early days, we only begin to sense all of this. We are only early into the days of the Thomist Circles, and really, many details of these matters must be taken from Jacques’s own Notebooks, not Raïssa’s memoirs.

However, the interested reader can gain much by reading the sections of Adventures in Grace that do tell the tale of Jacques’s earliest days as a Thomist. These are important recollections that help to humanize his work, which is sometimes unjustly seen as being too strident, or apologetic in tone (or, strangely, too hidebound and attached to the Dominican commentators). As Raïssa recalls:

He sometimes regrets not having been able to proceed to a more systematic exposition of his thought, in securing for himself a tranquil life which in order better to philosophize . . . and he himself makes fun of this regret. Jacques has always been in the fight—and, with this, time for meditation has been granted him(340).

Likewise:

Jacques’ vocation shall have been to bring to light the vital forces of Thomism, to carry the light of this great doctrine to all the problems of our times, to widen its frontiers while holding in the strictest fashion to its principles, to reinsert it into the existential reality of the movement of culture and philosophy” (341).

This same spirit is needed today, perhaps even more than it was needed in the Maritain’s own time.

In a review such as this, details are unbecoming. The two texts gathered in this volume do not tell an abstract narrative of Providence. No, they tell the stories of grace carrying along the young lives of these famed Catholics, and the lives of various others who had an influence on them, and were influenced by them. The work radiates with the inward lives of those whom Raïssa recalls, and the events early in the lives of the Maritain household. The reader will find ample edification in these memoirs. Above all else, the text is a story of grace, and not a mere factual recollection of the events of a lifetime. I highly recommend the work as an articulation of deep spiritual conversion, now republished in an age of astonishing human and spiritual shallowness.

Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L., is a Ph.D. Candidate, the Catholic University of America and an Adjunct instructor of philosophy, Mount St. Mary’s University.

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Finding True Happiness—
Satisfying our Restless Hearts (Book 1 of the Series: Happiness, Suffering and Transcendence) by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2015.) ISBN: 978-1-58617-956-4. 320pp. (paper) $12.78. 

Finding True Happiness is Father Robert Spitzer’s first volume in his quartet of Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence. He assures us that this volume can be read by itself, but the later three volumes will more fully enhance the understanding of the first volume. His stated purpose is for all readers, not only for those struggling with skepticism and malaise, but also for those who want to deepen their faith experience, and be of assistance to others who might seek their help and advice.

Father Spitzer’s approach is one of philosophical psychology. He references both contemporary and past theologians, philosophers, and psychologists, such as: Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Teresa of Avila; Catholic existential philosophers, such as Max Scheler and Gabriel Marcel; Protestant philosophers, such as Søren Kierkegaard, Rudolf Otto and Karl Jaspers; Jewish philosophers, such as Martin Buber and Abraham Herchel; contemporary neo-Thomist philosophers, such as Jacques Maritain, Josef Pieper and Bernard Lonergan; phenomenologists, such as Edith Stein and Simone Weil; modern psychologists, such as Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Abraham Maslow, Martin Seligman, Erik Erikson, and James Fowler. With this array of notables, Father Spitzer begins his dissection and introspection of the meaning of happiness, and why man always seems to be longing for that almost indefinable something.

After defining the three levels of desire—from the superficial materialistic to the altruistic or empathetic—Father concludes that we really can recognize truth, love, goodness, beauty, and being. In the following chapters, he takes on the evidence that man is truly transcendent, even though some are very willing to deny this part of his psyche. He goes on to define the four levels of happiness, and how each affects man’s self image, and ultimately how he sees others. The wrong or superficial choice leads to creating one’s own personal hell. Only through the call to the transcendent is an escape route provided.

The response to the call of the transcendent leads to a “dynamic encounter with God.” The outcome of such an encounter leaves man with the desire to contemplate the image of God, in prayer and silence, and to be always searching for inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit. He notes that there are three major ways to achieve personal prayer which can help us to know God, follow His guidance, imitate Him, and deepen our relationship with Him. In separate chapters, he explains the nuances of 1) contemplation, 2) divine inspiration and guidance and 3) interior transformation through the Examen prayer. Each of these paths is explored in a way that shows the he understands the difficulties faced by ordinary people, leading ordinary lives but still want a transformative relationship with God through prayer. One must be grateful for the clarity of his writing, and lucid explanatory examples. Father Spitzer concludes that a sincere practice of contemplation will lead to an interior transformation, and ultimately to transcendent happiness. Thus, the unfilled desire for that certain something has come full circle to find it’s fulfillment in the assurance of eternal life with God.

The journey that Finding True Happiness takes us on is not a simple one. Father Spitzer uses all the knowledge he as accrued over his years of study, and combined with his great intelligence, uses it to define, synthesize, analyze, and explain the path that the human psyche seeks but does not necessarily comprehend. He wisely gives examples taken from life which help us to follow his in-depth scrutiny of that certain something that we all desire, but do not always know, how to express it, or even where to find it. His personal story provides for the reader a glimpse into his humanity, and touches on the heart of the matter.

Father Spitzer takes special note that man is not just an intellectual, thinking being, but also a being that listens most assuredly through the messages of the heart. He wisely goes to great literature to freely quote from Shakespeare, Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, and C.S. Lewis, among others. In his book, The Abolition of Man, Lewis wrote that we have created “Men Without Chests.” Referring to Plato’s Republic, Lewis suggested that:

…the well-nurtured youth is one who would see most clearly whatever was amiss … and hate the ugly even from his earliest years, and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it…

In conclusion, I will always remember that there are three more volumes to be read. Father Spitzer reminds us that:

We will always be able to talk ourselves out of any evidence—proofs of God from logic and philosophy, the evidence of God from physics, the evidence of a soul from near-death experiences, and the evidence of transcendence from the five transcendental desires, the numinous experience, and our sense of the sacred. Why? Because God will not allow us to be enslaved by a miracle; He will not make a relationship with Him dependent on the mind alone, because He wants us to come to Him through our hearts as He has come to us.

Clara Sarrocco has been a longtime member and secretary of the New York C. S. Lewis Society. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Lewis, and has taught courses on his writings. She is also the executive director of both the Council on National Literatures, and Griffon House Publications.

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What We Have Done, What We Have Failed to Do: Assessing the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II. By Kevin W. Irwin, M.Div. S.T.D. 
(New Jersey: Paulist Press), 264 pp. $24.95 (Print Edition). 

As it pertains to liturgy, how have we done since Vatican II? What have we done well? What still needs work? These are the overarching questions covered in this aptly titled book. One might ask: Why should another book about liturgy reform be written, or read, for that matter. Two reasons emerge: First, consider the author. Msgr. Irwin, along with his professorship at Catholic University of America, has been writing about the liturgy and sacraments for a long while now. In fact, he has published eighteen books on liturgy and sacraments. And, after all, who better to write about liturgy than one who is a also a practitioner of liturgy (at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C.), and one who has been through the period of changes during the post-Vatican II era, having been ordained in 1971.

For those involved in Church liturgy, this book is worthy of reading for many reasons. The first reason relates to the writing of the book, written to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on December 4, 1963. This serves as a reminder that in fifty years, much has happened. The liturgical changes have been implemented, of course, but we also have new written contributions from popes, bishops, liturgical scholars, and many others on current liturgical praxis, and related issues. The book brings much of that information together through twenty, thought-provoking, thematic questions contained within ten, well-written chapters. A second reason for putting forth the time and effort of reading this work is that renewal of the Church is the renewal of the liturgy. One needs to take the time to look once again at liturgy through the lens of what is changing in parishes and the wider community. Finally, bringing people into a better understanding, and a closer relationship, with the Paschal Mystery is our mission; liturgy is the method.

The ten chapters cover:

“Church Renewal,” “Active Participation,” “Making Memory Together,” “The Sacramental Principle,” “Liturgical Translation,” “The Proclamation of the Word and the Liturgical Homily,” “Liturgical Roles and Presiding at Liturgy,” “The Arts, Liturgical Education and Mystagogy,” “Devotions and Spirituality.”

This is followed by a concluding chapter, and “Notes.” It’s important to realize that this book is not to be seen as an exhaustive, or all-inclusive reference of each and every issue impacting church liturgy. It is, however, geared to inviting a dialogue both within a parish community, and in the wider Church.

This reviewer’s favorite section of this work is Chapter 6: “The Proclamation of the Word and the Liturgical Homily.” One might expect yet another lecture on bad preaching. Imagine my surprise in discovering the new ideas brought forth in adding a liturgical hermeneutical approach of interpretation to homily preparation, which comfortably coexists with an historical-critical method of exegesis alone. In approaching a homily in this way, we bridge a well-proclaimed set of readings to the “other side” of liturgy, the Eucharist. Those involved in liturgy need to stay current. This book does just that.

Charles Johnson is a seminarian at Christ the King Seminary.

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