The Latest Book Reviews

Late Summer Reading for August 2014

Masters of Preaching: The Most Poignant and Powerful Homilists in Church History.  Fr. Ray A. Atwood (New York: Hamilton Books, 2012) xviii + 304 pages; $34.99. (Reviewed by Fr. David Maconi, S.J.)


Clare’s Costly Cookie: A Young Heart Discovers the Way of Love. By Julie Kelly (Arkansas: Nativity Press, 2014) pp. 114; $9.95. (Book description by the author, Julie Kelly.)


Lights from the East: Pray for Us. By J. Michael Thompson, (Missouri: Ligouri Press, 2013) pp. 144; $14.99. (Reviewed by Brian Herman, MALS)


The Love that Made Mother Teresa. ByDavid Scott. (New Hamphsire: Sophia Institute Press, 2014) pp. 144; $14.95; ISBN 978-1-622822-00-3. (Reviewed by Fr. Juan Velez, Prelature of Opus Dei.)


Masters of Preaching: The Most Poignant and Powerful Homilists in Church History.  Fr. Ray A. Atwood (New York: Hamilton Books, 2012) xviii + 304 pages; $34.99.

Rev. Ray Atwood is an eminent preacher because he is first an eager student of preaching (e.g., see Fr. Atwood’s Homilies for December, 2013 here in HPR).  Fr. Atwood has come to learn from the Church’s masters, and this book is his invitation for all in the pulpit to emulate the best preachers in opening the word of God for others. Divided into eight chapters, this study treats the art of Christian homiletics throughout the ages.  These pages contain not only analysis of fine Catholic preaching, but also significant selections from the Church’s greatest preachers. In between, one finds the required context for each historical epoch, as well as important biographical and theological information by which each preacher is best understood.

Chapter 1 accordingly begins with “The Essence of Fine Preaching,” wherein Atwood brings  to the fore all the salient points concerning preaching as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Lectionary, Canon Law,  Vatican II, other magisterial teachings, as well as the various sacramental celebrations.  Included here are also possible topics to preach on, according to various Sundays, and at various celebrations (e.g., anointing of the sick  and funerals).  The most valuable section of these opening pages is in Atwood’s delineation of the major themes that popes, from Paul VI to Blessed John Paul, to Emeritus Benedict, offered to their brother priests in the many addresses and conferences each gave, touching upon the role of homiletics in the life of the Christian people.

Chapters 2 and 3 take up preaching as found throughout the Old and the New Testaments respectively.  Israel came to know the one true God through divinely instituted ritual and worship.  What Atwood calls “covenant preaching” thus became the leading way in which Israel extended God’s dabar (spoken utterance) to the chosen people. Here, Atwood stresses how the patriarchs and prophets, who spoke for the Lord, used the very concrete historical events of Jewish life and lore to stress God’s activity in daily life. The New Testament instances of preaching are clearer and more explicit, as the Word has now become sensible, audible.  This chapter’s contribution is in its showing how the apostles were confronted with pagan philosophy, in the milieu of a Graeco-Roman worldview, and how they thus incorporated the truths they found there into their presentation of Christ and the new life in him.

Chapter 4 examines preaching in the “Post-Apostolic” Church, concentrating mainly on Origen (and providing lengthy selections), while the Church Fathers come next.  Here, Ephrem the Syrian is Atwood’s main focus, providing helpful analyses of preaching in Ephrem’s unique Syriac context.  Treated here is also Basil the Great, with attendant references to the other Cappadocians.  Basil, argues Atwood, always paid attention to Hellenic turns of phrases, and rhetorical flourish and, thereby, aimed to feed God’s people not only with solid doctrine, but with sweet oratory as well.  For the Western Fathers, we meet Ambrose, Augustine and Leo—each representative of a solid Christological focus.  Atwood could have drawn more contrast between East and West by focusing on the various political and ecclesial situations each “lung” found itself in during the patristic era, but these pages are illuminating and helpful.

Chapter 6 addresses how medieval preachers were able to present their thoughts, no longer in a hostile world, but rather in the world of Christendom, where laws and architecture, the arts and wider culture, all reflected the Incarnation. The usual dramatis personae are cast: Bernard of Clairvaux, Dominic, and St. Thomas Aquinas.  Missing, however, are Anselm, and the unique contributions of the Friars Minor (evidenced best by the Regula Non Bullata of 1221).  Lengthy selections are provided, especially from Aquinas, but through this chapter, we come to learn how medieval preachers “tried to see the world and religion as a unified whole. In this process, new heights of intellectual development were reached as a result of the emergence of monastic and university study” (201).

Next, Chapter 7 addresses preaching during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation through the early modern period.  Chapter 8 concludes our study by examining the modern and contemporary era.  These two shorter chapters show how ecclesial division and cultural secularization affected preachers’ approaches to scriptural exegesis and explication.  The deleterious divisions of the 16th century required that the Church meet her new Protestant children on their own terms and desires for more scripture, better homilies, and allowing the Word to become more alive in the hearts of the faithful.  Preachers like Charles Borromeo, Alphonsus Ligouri, and Jacques Bossuet did just that. By implementing the Council of Trent’s new focus on study and pastoral care, Catholic preachers began to emphasize themes that related to the life of working men and women, and that united contemporary events with the movements of the Gospels.  Modernity brought about the ability for a preachers’ words to reach a global audience. Atwood does a masterful job explicating how today’s technical advances can aid good preaching in the 21st century.  Perhaps more exploration into social media could have been offered at the end of this “updating” on the history of homiletics, but that was never Atwood’s intent. However, Catholic clergy will do well to examine the almost countless ways other voices shape the opinions and perspectives of our people.

Fr. Ray Atwood is a priest in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. He studied theology at the Josephinum in Columbus, and now serves as the pastor of the Holy Rosary Cluster, a group of five parishes in the Dubuque rural area.  If this work is any indication, his parishioners are blessed to have him.  For Masters of Preaching is an erudite, yet accessible, study of the trajectory of Christ’s mandate to make his name known to the ends of the earth.  The Church has been a faithful spouse in this task, evidenced by Atwood’s words, many examples, and enlivened by his fidelity to that very same call.

-Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.
St. Louis University


Clare’s Costly Cookie: A Young Heart Discovers the Way of Love. By Julie Kelly (Arkansas: Nativity Press, 2014) pp. 114; $9.95.

A new children’s book is helping young hearts discover the mystery of finding our life in Christ through the arduous way of self-surrender and sacrifice. Clare’s Costly Cookie: A Young Heart Discovers the Way of Love, is the first book written and self-published by Julie Kelly, a home schooling mother of six in Arkansas. The foreword is by Fr. Antoine Thomas, C.S.J.

Begun as a handful of entertaining stories, several years ago, which were created to help Kelly’s young, strong-willed daughter to better understand the heart of love and sacrifice, the author used a young girl, similar in age to her daughter, as the main character.  The stories spoke to her children’s hearts with amazing depth, inspiring them to ask for more “Clare” stories. Kelly relates, “I wanted my daughter to effortlessly, and with a large dose of joy, experience this little girl’s transformation—from a self-absorbed child, to a faithful follower of Jesus. This little girl needed to be REAL, with faults and failings. And with a strong will that proved difficult to subdue. I wanted her to meet Jesus, to get to know him personally, and to offer him her heart, at any cost.” So she wrote, and she prayed, finding inspiration in the experiences and challenges that her children—now ages 2-17—faced in everyday life.

This is how the plucky, nine-year-old Clarea thunderbolt in pigtails and the title charactersprang to life in the pages of Clare’s Costly Cookie: A Young Heart Discovers the Way of Love. For the past year, Kelly has been inviting children, in the 5-10 year old age range, to follow Jesus with courage, offering to him the most meaningful gift they possibly can: their self-will.

Throughout the 20 chapters of the book, Clare makes a surprising discovery. Up to this point her relationship with God had been on her terms, and limited by her selfish way of relating to everything and everyone. She begins to see things clearly for the first time in her young life, and she is humbled by God’s love for her. Things that used to be boring for her take on new meaning and depth: the holy Mass, Eucharistic adoration, praying the family rosary, and confession. They now give her the much-needed strength she needs to deny herself, take up her cross daily, and follow Jesus faithfully.

Page by page, Clare ascends the mountain of self-surrenderone costly step at a timewith humor, pluck, and child-like simplicity. To Jesus, she shares: “I’ve been trying to do better at Mass, and not look around, or poke my fingers through my sweater, or tap the pew in front of me, or ruffle the pages of the songbook, or make airplanes with my hands, but it’s REALLY HARD!”  In each chapter, she talks with Jesus wherever the moment finds her. After every conversation with him, she sits quietly … and listens. In that silence, she hears him gently speaking to herin the recollection of a homily, Scripture passage, life of a saint, or her own reflections.

Father Antoine Thomas, C.S.J., founder of Children of Hope, and author of the foreword to the book, wrote: “What Julie is contributing with her book is the fostering of a personal and prayerful relationship between the child and God, with the character of simplicity and spontaneity … This little book … will help the children of our time to take the habit to pray throughout the day, and to talk with our invisible God like to a friend, as Moses did. It is my hope that many parents will read this little book, and grasp the intention of its author, who so well understood the psychology of children, so as to place herself at their level.”

From one family’s simple teaching tool—to being offered throughout the United States and branching into other countries—what is it about the book that is speaking to young hearts? Kelly believes that it is something uniquely real and engaging in the title character. “She is not a saint yet—far from it—and children see themselves in Clare.” When speaking to Jesus about Saint Therese, Clare relates, “… When she was a little girl, she ripped the wallpaper while playing a game. She immediately went to her mom and confessed what she did, not wanting to hide it.  I see why she was a saint; I would’ve pushed a chair in front of it.” Kelly explains that Clare struggles, she perseveres, she forges ahead amidst the muck and mire of her weakness—with hope: “So I will continue to pray every day, Jesus, for the strength and grace to do your will, but it will not be easy. I guess I’ll try it one day at a time … no, maybe half a day … well, maybe one hour at a time … it will be a lot easier when I’m sleeping.”

Susan Peek, mother of 11, and author of Crusader King and A Soldier Surrenders, writes: “Clare’s Costly Cookie is pure delight. Written in the form of a nine-year-old’s reflections, and resulting interior conversations with Our Lord, it is, in essence, a little manual of meditation for the very young, gently awakening in them the idea of a life of prayer, amidst their daily problems, chores, and (sometimes) family chaos … although written for young children, parents and older kids will also laugh, smile, andmost importantlyexamine their own spiritual life, as they read of Clare’s struggles, and growing cooperation with grace, which by the end of the book, will have led her to do everything to please Jesus, even when it costs.”

Kelly has been pleased that parents and grandparents who curl up with their young listeners have found the book speaking to their hearts as well. Ann Applegarth, poet, writer and former book reviewer for the National Catholic Register, and Catholic Parent magazine, wrote: “I just finished Clare’s Costly Cookie: A Young Heart Discovers the Way of Love.  I bought it to send to my granddaughters, so I wanted to read it before sending it.  To my astonishment, it also works as a book for every Catholic! I found myself identifying with the selfish, childish girl in the book, and praying some of the prayers that changed her, in the hope of changing my heart, too … Julie Kelly has written, I think, what is one of the best books I have ever read for Catholic parentsand their children.”

Kelly hopes to follow up with a second book in the future, with Clare continuing her prayerful journeyone costly step at a timetoward her goal of being a saint that every child can relate to.

Julie Kelly, author 


Lights from the East: Pray for Us. By J. Michael Thompson, (Missouri: Ligouri Press, 2013) pp. 144; $14.99

There are many in Christian circles who have never heard of Eastern Orthodox Churches; probably even more have never heard of Eastern Catholic Churches. This recent offering from the Catholic publisher, Ligouri Press, explores a world of saints, many living in the centuries before the Great Schism, and recognized by both Orthodox and Catholic churches.

This small volume contains the stories of 15 saints, 12 of whom are recognized by both Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches; the remaining three are Eastern Catholic saints who died at the hands of Soviet communists in the 20th century.

Seasoned choir master, J. Michael Thompson, employs his extensive knowledge of the hymnography, and hagiography, of both churches in bringing attention to the saints in the pages of this book. The short, but engaging narratives inspire in the reader devotion for these saints.  The author’s thought-provoking insight, woven throughout the book, is especially apparent in the reflections and the prayers supplied for each saint’s entry, making this volume very useful as a devotional aide.

Each saint is a given a short chapter of 5 to 7 pages, where the reader will find: a nicely stylized black and white icon of the saint, the saint’s biographical narrative, a scripture text relating to a salient and honorable features of each saint’s life, a quotation from the Eastern Catholic Menaion—a book that supplies moveable texts relative to a feast day—a spiritual reflection, a prayer, and a hymn.  The hymns are displayed in both text-only stanzas, and also set with musical notation. In most cases, they were either composed or arranged by the author, based on tunes of Rusyn or Galician origin.

Concerning the layout, the book’s author says: “This format will help readers become familiar with the featured saints, and enable them to allow the saints to enter their own prayer life. “ (p.13)

Reading through the entry for my own patron saint, Maximus the Confessor, I find several things to like about the author’s treatment of him.  Maximus was one of the intellectual greats of the Orthodox Church, so it seems fitting that the icon in his entry— occupying an entire page—has a text box at the bottom of the page briefly explaining both “monothelitism” and “monophysitism”—the two heresies that he fought against during his lifetime.

The beginning paragraph directly addresses this ancient saint’s modern day relevance:

What is one to do when the prevailing spirit of the era seems to be contrary to the spirit of the Gospel? Is the better idea to “flee the world” and keep one’s soul safe? Or should one stay and fight for the truth? The life of Maximus the Confessor illumines for us the pros and cons of both responses. (p.89)

Both the reflection and the prayer on Maximus incorporate the example of his life in a “call to action” for the reader.

This book is ideal as a devotional aide, a homiletical tool, or a companion for Christian educators concerning saints of the East.

Brian Herman, MALS


The Love that Made Mother Teresa. ByDavid Scott. (New Hamphsire: Sophia Institute Press, 2014) pp. 144; $14.95; ISBN 978-1-622822-00-3.

In this re-issue of A Revolution of Love, first published in 2005, journalist and writer, David Scott, captures the revolutionary life of love of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He offers the readers salient biographical details, explaining their significance in Mother Teresa’s life.

One of the her early experiences was the poisoning of her father when she was a young girl. She came across a priest at the train station who gave her father the anointing of the sick, and who then mysteriously disappeared. This is typical of the “school of suffering” where Teresa began to learn about forgiveness and mercy. Another influence in her life was her mother, to whom she was very close, and who introduced her to welcoming the poor into their home.

The author recounts visions that Mother Teresa had in 1946 in which Jesus asked her to care for him in the poor. He describes the insightful connection Mother Teresa made between love for the poor, and love for the Holy Eucharist. She would say: “In Holy Communion, we have Christ under the appearance of bread; in our work, we find him under the appearance of flesh and blood. It is the same Christ. ‘I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.'”

Teresa sought to love Jesus in his “distressing disguise,” especially in the abandoned, dying persons she came across, and unwanted children. In caring for them, she, and the women who joined her in the Missionaries of Charity, showed to each person God’s love for them. Scott narrates an encounter of Mother Teresa with a man who was dying on the street. Teresa told him that God loved him, and the suffering man, who had never heard this before, was deeply moved, and asked her to repeat this. We cannot fail to be reminded of what Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, about the spiritual poverty that the poor suffer.

One of the merits of Scott’s book is the analysis he makes of the largely pagan and materialistic culture in which we live, which helped place many things in Mother Teresa’s life in the proper context. It is striking to read how she began her first house in Calcutta very near a shrine of the goddess, Kali, who is bloodthirsty for the sacrifice of human beings. Mother Teresa was the complete opposite: the compassionate Mother who showed great respect for the dignity of each human being. The contrast resembled that of Our Lady of Guadalupe with an Aztec goddess worshiped on the Tepeyac Hill where Mary appeared to Juan Diego. Mother Teresa who dearly loved the Virgin Mary showed the world how, for a mother, each child is God’s precious gift.

Scott draws a close parallel between Mother Teresa and her namesake, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and her “Little Way.” Throughout this very well-written narrative, he quotes Mother Teresa who, in a simple manner, conveys the Gospel invitation to seek holiness in the small events of each day, a teaching advanced by St. Thérèse, and later St. Josemaría Escrivá. He includes Mother Teresa’s response to her critics about her belief in the sanctity of human life, and opposition to abortion, and to the work of the Missionaries of Charity, which was not directed to social reforms. “Jesus,” she explained, “was only one, and I take Jesus at his word. He has said, ‘You did it to me.’….You can only save one at a time. We can only love one at a time.”

The book closes with a chapter on Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul, describing how she united herself to Jesus’ suffering for the salvation of the world. Teresa experienced, like St. Thérèse, a dark night of the soul; but, unlike St. Thérèse, Mother Teresa went through this experience of the “dark night” for most of her adult life.

Although the genre of the book is not per se “biographical,” the reader might have liked to hear more about Mother Teresa’s relationship with her spiritual daughters, and more on the spiritual friendship she had with St. John Paul II, and other individuals. Another drawback—yet, one that any author who has written about saints understands, and is ready to forgive—is the need for some more distance from her saintliness. In this book, we do not see any weaknesses or failings of Mother Teresa which, rather than scandalizing us, might, instead, edify readers, by demonstrating the victory of grace and virtue over her own human weakness.

Overlooking these limitations, David Scott provides us with a very good sketch of the life and work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and challenges us, in a supernatural way, to learn from her how to act like true Christians in a world that fosters selfish and superficial ways of living.
–  Julie Kelly

David Vincent Meconi, SJ About David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ 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.