Late Fall Reading for November 2014

Three Moments of the Day: Praying with the Heart of Jesus. Fr. Christopher S. Collins, SJ (Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014) 160 pages. (Reviewed by Fr. Vincent L. Strand, SJ)

Reading the New Testament: An Introduction, Third Edition. Pheme Perkins (Paulist Press: New York, 2012) 328 pages; $18.95. (Reviewed by Dr. C. Michael Stinson, PhD)

The First Spiritual Exercises: A Manual for Those Who Give the Exercises. Fr. Michael Hansen (Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 2013) 171 pages; $19.95. (Reviewed by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby)


Three Moments of the Day: Praying with the Heart of Jesus

Fr. Christopher S. Collins, SJ (Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014), 160 pages.

Since the Second Vatican Council, liturgical and spiritual theology has looked upon popular devotions with a Janus-faced gaze. On the one hand, devotions have been praised, especially insofar as they are inculturated expressions of the piety of particular Catholic peoples. On the other hand, pastors and theologians have been concerned that popular devotions remain rooted in the liturgical life of the Church and do not spin off into aberrant and exaggerated forms, particularly of types that would give them an importance above the Church’s liturgy itself. Sacrosanctum concilium puts it well: popular devotions “are to be highly commended” but are to be drawn up so that they “accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them” (§13).

So it is for the Catholic devotion par excellence, that to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A perusal of the controversial history of the devotion to the Sacred Heart shows that its critics have long been troubled by what they see as its fissiparous nature. Eighteenth-century opponents of the devotion argued that the separation of Jesus’s heart from his body, as depicted in St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s revelations, contained a latent Nestorianism which threatened to sunder the very unity of flesh and Word effected in the Incarnation. According to the art historian Jon Seydl, the most famous and lasting image of the Sacred Heart, Pompeo Batoni’s 1767 painting which now hangs in the Church of the Gesù in Rome, responds to these concerns by preserving the fleshy nature of the devotion in the portrayal of Jesus’ heart, while simultaneously integrating it with the rest of his person. This is accomplished through Jesus’ intimate gaze at the viewer, which is an invitation to an encounter with the very person of Christ.

In the decades after Vatican II, popular commentators as well as theologians, ranging from Joseph Ratzinger to Karl Rahner, remarked that devotion to the Sacred Heart was in a state of crisis. A call for a renewal of the devotion was issued by popes, theologians, and superiors general of the Society of Jesus, the religious order entrusted with its propagation. Such a renewal seeks a certain “updating” of the devotion so that it may speak in language and images more suited to the men and women of our times, as well as the for the type of integration of the devotion into the Church’s larger spiritual and liturgical life called for by Sacrosanctum concilium. More fundamentally, any such renewal will have at its center the same aim of Batoni’s 18th-century oil: to lead the believer into an intimate encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Christopher Collins’s new book, Three Moments of the Day: Praying with the Heart of Jesus, marvelously achieves this goal. Collins proposes a path for daily living of the Christian life which revolves around the three “moments” of the Morning Offering prayer at the beginning of the day, an Ignatian Examen at its close, and the celebration of the Eucharist as the third moment, one which, in Collins’s words, “covers the spiritual reality of the whole day.” Collins places a personal encounter with the Heart of Jesus at the center of all three of these moments. In so doing, he not only succeeds in the aforementioned “updating” of the language of the devotion and in integrating it into the liturgical life of the Church, but also provides the Sacred Heart devotion with a robust spiritual infrastructure, by integrating it into the matrix of Ignatian spirituality.

Three Moments of the Day has a stylistic feel akin to that of retreat conferences. Collins, a theologian at St. Louis University, draws widely from his experience as a spiritual director, retreat master, pastor, and scholar to illustrate his points. He weaves together material as various as imaginative Ignatian contemplations of Scripture passages, stories from his Aunt Biddy’s dinner table, lessons gleaned from fourth-century Christological controversies, pop culture references to U2 songs and Lord of the Rings films, experiences from his ministry among the Lakota people in South Dakota, and bits of wisdom from the saints—all of it relayed in a direct and earthy prose so as to produce a work of simultaneous profundity and accessibility. Often the reader is drawn to pause while turning the pages of the book and to spend a moment praying with, and reflecting upon, what he has just read. Collins’s candid sharing of moments of grace and struggle in his own spiritual life gives the book a palpable credibility. The reader feels that he is listening not to a lofty guru, but rather to a fellow Christian on the way.

After an introductory chapter, Three Moments of the Day is divided into three parts corresponding to the three moments of the Morning Offering, the Examen, and the Eucharist. In the first part, Collins reflects upon the Morning Offering prayer proposed by the Apostleship of Prayer. He explains how making an offering to God in the first moments of our day is a small act that sets the tone for the entire day. Collins offers a line-by-line catechesis of the Morning Offering prayer, developing the way in which Christians participate in the redemptive act of Christ through their daily lives, particularly through their suffering. In so doing, we unite with believers throughout the world, and, through the Apostleship of Prayer, we also are united with the Holy Father and his intentions. This transforms us from seeing our lives as a mundane series of events to seeing the true drama of the Christian life lived out each and every day.

The second part turns to an exploration of the prayer of the Examen as it is proposed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. This prayerful looking back upon one’s day—which Collins stresses is not simply an examination of conscience nor a “talking to oneself” about what happened that day—helps us to see where God was present in the day just lived, the day offered to God in the Morning Offering. As he did with the Morning Offering prayer, here Collins guides the reader through a step-by-step presentation of the Examen. Collins then widens the scope of the Examen and encourages the reader to look back not just upon the past day, but upon one’s whole life, moving through a type of First Week experience of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises wherein one engages deeply with one’s own history, particularly, that of sin and the damage and woundedness sin has wrought. Elements from St. Ignatius’s “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” are introduced to help the reader in this process and to see more clearly the reality of the spiritual battle in which the Christian life is lived.

The third part of the book turns to the final moment, that of the Eucharist. Here, Collins solidly anchors the personal and devotional elements of the first two moments in the public and corporate prayer of the Church’s liturgy. His understanding of “living the Eucharist” focuses on the Christian seeing the movement of the Mass as the pattern for one’s daily life. This dynamic is explored through the three liturgical moments of the offertory, consecration, and reception of Communion, and the missioning at the end of Mass. Collins emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Mass as the way in which Jesus draws us and our daily lives into his healing and redemption.

Three Moments of the Day makes three important contributions to the continuing project of renewing the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. First, it takes seriously the conciliar understanding of the liturgy as the source and summit of the Christian life and offers an approach to the Sacred Heart devotion that is lived within this dynamic of the liturgy, rather than alongside of it. Second, Collins supplies the Sacred Heart devotion with invaluable resources from the Ignatian tradition, ranging from the Examen to the discernment of spirits. Karl Rahner once remarked that devotion to the Sacred Heart belongs to the essence of the Society of Jesus; Collins’s work sheds light on why this may be so. Third, whereas some 18th- to early 20th-century forms of the devotion—particularly in images—suffered from a cloying sentimentality, Collins’s approach breaks through any residual saccharinity with a gritty and refreshing realism. He guides the reader into an examination of one’s vulnerability, wounds, and sinfulness, in order to find healing in the Heart of Jesus.

One may ask, however, if, here, Collins’s approach and his emphasis on “woundedness” at times becomes too psychological. He laudably encourages the reader not just to identify one’s sins, but to go a step further and examine the very root of these sins so as to break patterns of sin and to experience true liberation in Christ. Collins asks the reader to find in himself his place of “original death” and to identify his “core wound” by reflecting upon one’s own personal history. This focus on a “core wound” from one’s past simultaneously may go too far and not far enough. It may go too far, in that, many people do not possess a single “core wound” that is as determinative of their spiritual life as Collins implies. At the same time, this approach does not go far enough in recognizing the ontological effects of original sin and that one’s human nature is already wounded by sin—that of Adam’s—before any personal sin that we can name an “original death” or “core wound.” Through telling a story of his visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Collins rightly and explicitly takes the reader to Adam’s tomb, the place of “original death,” but he then moves too quickly to having the reader locate his place of “original death” and “core wound” in his own personal history, rather than dwelling for a moment on the fact that “by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners” (Rom 5:19). In other words, at its deepest, one’s “core wound” is not something that one has experienced in one’s personal past which has lasting psychological effects; rather, one is “brought forth in iniquity” (Ps 51:5), born with a “core wound.” Whereas devotion to the Sacred Heart in the 17th century had to combat a Jansenism that overemphasized humanity’s depravity, today it faces the opposite challenge: confronting secular humanism and Christian spiritualities influenced by this humanism that de facto deny the doctrine of original sin and that hold that humanity’s ills can be eliminated through technological, political, or psychological progress, independent of the grace of Christ.

This, however, is a minor critique of one part of an excellent book, which deserves a wide readership. Beyond Collins’s own spiritual insight, which is copious, each chapter of Three Moments of the Day is chock-full of quotations from saints and prayers from the Catholic tradition. As a gifted Ignatian retreat master, Collins wants his reader not just to read what he says and to accumulate information, but to reflect upon what he has read and how this has moved his heart. Thus, every chapter concludes with questions for reflection. These help the individual reader draw greater profit from the book, as well as facilitate the book’s use among small groups, as they offer focused points for discussion. Three Moments of the Day would serve well in adult formation programs in parishes as well as, in a particular way, any groups or institutions affiliated with, or interested in, Ignatian spirituality. More to the point, it would serve wonderfully for anyone seeking a deeper and more intimate encounter with the love of the Heart of Christ.

That love, and its expression in the devotion to the Sacred Heart, is perennial, for, as Joseph Ratzinger has put it, “In the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us.” So, while devotion to the Sacred Heart may take on different forms in different periods in history, it will never vanish from the life of the Church. Periods of decline will be followed by periods of rebirth and renewed energy. If the devotion suffered a decline in the decades after Vatican II, Fr. Collins’s Three Moments of the Day: Praying with the Heart of Jesus shows that a current moment of renewal is already well underway.

-Fr. Vincent L. Strand, SJ
Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome


Reading the New Testament: An Introduction, Third Edition

Pheme Perkins (Paulist Press: New York, 2012) 328 pages; $18.95. 

For more than three decades, Reading the New Testament: An Introduction, by Pheme Perkins has provided students a clearly written introduction to the New Testament texts and the cultures in which they emerged. Its previous edition was published in 1988, so a revision was certainly due. For those, like me, who have found this volume useful in the classroom, it might be something of a relief that the third edition is not a radical departure from the second. The overall format is little changed, and the same 21 chapters, with the same titles and appearing in the same order, are found in the new edition. But for those wishing for major renovations, this could be disappointing.

Some entirely new material does appear in the third edition. A section, titled “The Qur’an,” in the first chapter is an obvious addition, as is a section in the closing chapter, titled “Worship with Angels—Revelation as Liturgy.” Each of these adds only one new page of text, but both enrich the book. A less dramatic change is the new edition’s use of the full names of the books of the Bible (e.g., Matthew, Revelation), rather than abbreviations (e.g., Mt, Rev) as previously. But the third edition is actually slimmer than the second, and has fewer pages (328 vs. 350). Though this probably results from several factors, one appears to be a careful and thorough revision of the text. A comparison of the two editions makes evident numerous small amendments that don’t change the book’s overall message, but do tighten its prose throughout. Adverbs have been pared; phrases and sentences have been shortened or deleted.

A reasonable price is one of this book’s strong points, and having a minimal number of black-and-white images, rather than many in color, probably helps keep its cost down. With the widespread availability of online resources, the paucity of illustrations (I counted 17, not including charts or maps) is not a great problem, and it should be noted that some introductory New Testament textbooks contain none at all. Several of the illustrations in this volume are new, but all remain relatively simple. Eight maps appear, double the number in the previous edition, though these, too, are fairly plain. Some are revisions or replacements of those in the second edition (e.g., “The Roman Provinces,” page 111), while others are entirely new (e.g., “The seven churches of Asia mentioned in Revelation 2-3,” page 291). The bibliography has been updated, with a majority of the titles listed, having appeared since 1988. An index to the new edition’s maps, charts, and illustrations is a helpful addition, and a subject index is also included, along with one to citations of Scripture and other ancient texts.

Since the previous edition of this book was published, the internet has changed education dramatically, so the lack of any reference to online resources in the new edition is a surprise. Students who come to this book with a lifetime of experience online, and having used other textbooks that are carefully integrated with online resources, might appreciate at least some guidance concerning the wealth of online materials relevant to New Testament studies.

The third edition of Reading the New Testament: An Introduction shares the strengths of the second edition it replaces. It is readable and logically organized. It treats every book in the New Testament without submerging a reader in excessive detail. It presents differing scholarly opinions without dwelling too long on any particular one. Its affordability is refreshing in the current world of textbook publishing. Each chapter is concluded by a “Study Questions” section that adds flexibility for classroom use. For all these reasons, those who have found the second edition useful will likely find the third equally so, and its revisions welcome. Though the third edition offers mostly subtle changes from the second, this could be the wisest approach for a proven tool.

-Dr. C. Michael Stinson, PhD
Southside Virginia Community College


The First Spiritual Exercises: A Manual for Those Who Give the Exercises

Fr. Michael Hansen, SJ (Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 2013) 171 pages; $19.95.

In this book, the Jesuit author Michael Hansen shares his extensive experience in leading retreats and provides a tremendous resource for those who are seeking to direct the First Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The Spiritual Exercises were written by St. Ignatius in the 16th century as a means of Church reform and a way for people to encounter God. As Fr. Hansen explains, the First Spiritual Exercises are one of the different forms in which the Spiritual Exercises can be given. The “full” Spiritual Exercises involve either 30 days of prayer, enclosed from normal life, or 30 weeks in daily life. The “first” Spiritual Exercises consist of 30 days of prayer in daily life, and this book is written for the giver of these First Spiritual Exercises.

Fr. Hansen states, in his preamble, that no one should use this book without having previously received the First Spiritual Exercises themselves. In fact, the book relies on the reader to have personal experience and preexisting knowledge of the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian spirituality. The book is not for the neophyte to the Exercises, or for the person who is still in the mode of just receiving the Exercises. The book depends on the reader’s foundation and desire, or history of giving the First Spiritual Exercises.

Fr. Hansen’s love for the Spiritual Exercises, and for those who will give the Exercises, is tangible in the book, and he goes to great lengths to simplify many of the counsels surrounding the Exercises.

The 171-page book is divided into three major parts. The third part includes four versions of the First Spiritual Exercises. Fr. Hansen highlights three essential roles that the giver of the retreat must exemplify: Friend of God, Spiritual Conversation Guide, and Giver of the First Spiritual Exercises. These three roles are the basis of the three major parts of the book.

In Part One, Fr. Hansen gives a brief history of the Spiritual Exercises. He also reviews the five-part structured prayer of the Exercises “with the particular aim to bring one into relationship with God” (12). He stresses that the First Spiritual Exercises are first in many ways: in the spiritual journey of the person, in the content of our discipleship, in the dynamic of the Exercises, and first in the use of the Exercises in spiritual growth. Fr. Hansen emphasizes that the First Spiritual Exercises “can be given immediately to everyone … it is the best place to begin” (13). In Part One, Fr. Hansen also introduces his four retreats (which are outlined later in the book). Part One is also filled with easy to follow lists and outlines on the networking and preparation that are necessary before beginning to give the First Spiritual Exercises.

In Part Two, the author points out that “spiritual conversation is less about the content of a conversation, than it is about relationship between the two people speaking and listening” (35). This portion of the book details practical helps to the giver of the retreat, including how to use a Listening Book in the Exercises, how to facilitate the five-part structure to a spiritual conversation, and a review of some Advanced Guidelines for the Practice of Discernment of Spirits.

In Part Three, Fr. Hansen reviews the basic elements of the First Spiritual Exercises accentuating the dynamic nature of the different exercises within the whole retreat. He summarizes: “The Ignatian spiritual exercise is a structured, guided, and shaped prayer” (72). This review is then followed by an outline, prayer method summaries, and explanations for four possible First Spiritual Exercises under the titles: “Giving Inner Peace in Divine Love”; “Giving Inner Peace in Darkness and Light”; “Giving Inner Peace in Friendship with Jesus”; and, “Giving Inner Peace in Service of God.”

The book concludes with a Guide to Enhance Exercises. It lists ways to broaden and deepen the Exercises as well as assist the receiver in integrating and praying the Exercises well.

In his book, Fr. Hansen gives a wonderful collection of Ignatian wisdom and guidance. The book is an invaluable resource for practical counsel and ways to give the Exercises and guide a receiver in them.

While high praise must be given to the book, there are some considerations that the reader should note. The author’s presentation of the Exercises strongly emphasizes the emotive element of Ignatian spirituality, sometimes eclipsing the full intellectual understanding of memory and imagination within that spiritual tradition. Fr. Hansen’s use of the feminine in speaking of the Holy Spirit can be a distraction to the reader and raises some theological questions. At times within the book, Fr. Hansen may assume too much knowledge of the reader, and his review can cause confusion. Perhaps a little more coaching of the reader would be beneficial.

With those considerations, the book stands as a guide to givers of the First Spiritual Exercises. It is a rare resource, and one that would be of great assistance to anyone preparing to give the Exercises.

-Fr. Jeffrey Kirby
Vicar of Vocations
Diocese of Charleston

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