Winter Reading 2017

A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016) 248 pages; $28.00 paperback. Reviewed by Steven J. Meyer, S.T.D.

John Lawrence Hill, After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports our Modern Moral and Political Values (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, PhL., ABD PhD student in philosophy.

Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion, Rodney A. Whitacre (Baker Academic, 2015, 258pp., $24.99). Reviewed by S. P. Rugg

The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States, Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson (Image Books, 2014, 408pp, $24.00). Reviewed by Matthew B. Rose.

Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II. George Weigel (Harper Collins, 1999, 1056 pp, $28.00) Reviewed by Dennis R. Di Mauro.

Patrick Madrid, Why Be Catholic?—Ten Answers to a Very Important Question (Image Books, 2014, 226pp, $22.00). Reviewed by Matthew B. Rose.


A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016) 248 pages; $28.00 paperback. Reviewed by Steven J. Meyer, S.T.D.

Controversies clarify. A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies is Fr. Edward T. Oakes’s posthumously published monograph on grace. He died in 2013. Fr. Oakes was a well-known Jesuit, author, and associate professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, IL. His book on grace, published earlier this year, does us all a service: it makes the theology of grace pastorally relevant through controversies. I would like to briefly do three things: highlight the intention and structure of the text, sketch the essence of the contents, and close with some observations.

With students in mind, and in Oakes’s own words, “Few topics in dogmatic theology can be more Hydra-headed, vexatious, or, indeed, downright wearisome than the issue of grace, which does indeed require patience if one is to see the arguments laid out in their proper sequence.” (xviii) The central unifying theme of the work seeks to answer the question, “what are God’s intentions for the world?” (xviii) The reason for exploring grace through controversy serves a “…central axiom: controversies clarify.” (xx) Oakes’s six controversial areas are presented in the following order: nature and grace (chapter 1), sin and justification (chapter 2), evolution and original sin (chapter 3), free will and predestination (chapter 4), experience and divinization (chapter 5), and Mary, Mediatrix of graces (chapter 6). His style combines erudition with wit. If one is not familiar with the historical and theological controversies on these subjects, then I agree with Oakes that a little patience is required to sift the many voices presented. The thicket of distinctions for each topic lends to further clarity. The text, while being written from a Roman Catholic perspective, has an ecumenical audience in mind, and draws insights from the best in Protestant scholarship.

Chapter 1 is the central controversy: the relationship between nature and grace. This touches on the core of existence itself, and grace considered itself. Oakes draws the reader into a seeming theological impasse. On the one hand, grace is not nature. On the other hand, everything seems to be collapsed into grace, including nature. The position taken by Henri de Lubac in Surnaturel, “spirit just is desire for God” is taken up and critiqued. In a proposed solution to the problem, Fr. Oakes turns to the work of Matthias Joseph Scheeben. For Scheeben, nature and grace are imaged not like two things stacked as one on top of other. They are imaged more like a marriage between two persons who mysteriously become one. They are also imaged like two natures mysteriously co-joined in the person of Christ. To keep nature and grace distinct, for Scheeben, is the key to showing their unity.

Chapter 2 examines the relationship between sin and justification. It is an ecumenically-minded chapter, fleshing out the importance of justification as the issue that divided Western Christendom. It seems to deal much less with sin per se, and more with difficulties in how the Pauline text on justification has been interpreted.

Chapter 3 explores the relationship between evolution and original sin. Here, he examines magisterial teachings on the literal meaning of Scripture, and especially the writings of Popes Pius XII and John Paul II on evolution, human origins, and the transmission of original sin.

Chapter 4 begins with a philosophical treatment on human free will, and then articulates the Pauline notion of predestination as the recognition of God’s will, and gratitude for it. The chapter gives errant notions of predestination, and proposes that we think about what Bishop Robert Barron calls God’s “non-competitive transcendence.” I understand this phrase to mean that God creates, sustains, and enters the world, but allows the world to be itself. To put it in terms of free will: the more we freely cooperate with the will of God, the more we become ourselves.

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the categories of experience, human divinization, and Mary as a Mediatrix of graces. In chapter 6, Oakes takes into account Protestant objections to Mary, such as basing Marian teaching on Papal infallibility claims, her lack of strong Scriptural warrants, non-Christian pagan parallels of Mary, etc. The work concludes with a glossary of terms on grace. There is not an index.

Controversies do clarify. Grace, nature, sin, justification, predestination, experience, etc., all have different meanings and applications for theologians. On a practical and pastoral level, these words, which are really concepts, form part of our everyday vocabulary, and mean different things to non-theologians. A pastor would do well to reflect on the meaning of these ideas in order to be able to make them clear for others. Oakes’s framework of controversies, with its inductive method of presenting a discourse between many voices each represented with fairness, allows for reflection.

The text is well suited for students and teachers. Consistently referenced throughout are authors such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Blessed John Henry Newman, and, of course, Hans Urs von Balthasar, on whom Oakes had an expert’s understanding. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is used as a point of reference in many places. One also learns from the positive presentation of Protestant thought as found, for example, in Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Friedrich Schleiermacher, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich. Oakes combines the best sources in modern and ancient philosophers, and adds to all of these voices little doses of prose and poetry.

Readers may not always be satisfied with proposed solutions given to wrap up the messiness of each theological problem. For example, the reference to Scheeben’s theology, while interesting, may not satisfy everyone as a possible solution to the problem of nature and grace. This being said, I think the merits of the text that I have mentioned make it a worthwhile read for reflection and clarity on some of the key grace-driven theological controversies in Church history. Fr. Edward T. Oakes writing certainly shows his passion for teaching and learning. The book displays what a scholarly, pastoral, kerygmatic, and ecumenical approach to doing theology looks like. Thank you, Fr. Oakes.

Steven J. Meyer, S.T.D. is an Assistant Professor of Theology for the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, TX.


John Lawrence Hill, After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports our Modern Moral and Political Values (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, PhL., ABD PhD student in philosophy.

When looked at in retrospect, our era will likely appear quite puzzling for its forgetfulness of nature—not the platitudinous “nature” of the green movement but, instead, nature as the source of activity of beings that we have not created. The technologically advanced West has arguably forgotten the old and obvious distinction of what is natural and what is of human fabrication and choice. Given this fact, it is unsurprising that theories of social construction abound, indeed to the point that some people seem to speak as though everything is socially constituted. Following a long intellectual history, with foundations deep into early modernity (and even before that), it seems that for contemporary man, “The forgetfulness of nature is the beginning of wisdom.”

Thankfully, as Heinrich Rommen remarked last century, throughout history there is an eternal return of natural law thinkers. As the popular belief in nature has waned, we can benefit from the fortunate waxing of natural law thinkers contesting this lamentable waning. Among such authors, we should gladly include John Lawrence Hill, whose recent text After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports our Modern Moral and Political Values provides a salutary historical primer for those interested in foundational issues involved in the natural law tradition of ethics.

Clearly, Hill has gathered in his book the pedagogic materials he has developed over many years of teaching. The text reads like one continuous narrative. Without devolving into chatty familiarity, After the Natural Law expresses an illuminating narrative of philosophical thought and history. He traces a tale from the Pre-Socratics through contemporary legal theorists in order to show the importance of nature and teleology in moral reasoning. Like any brief survey, such a narrative approach risks simplifying things (and at times does). However, when done well, such a narrative can help to pull together an unwieldy history into an intelligible whole.

On the whole, After the Natural Law provides this sort of narrative and does so well. Written from a perspective favoring Aristotle and Aquinas, the text helps to give the reader a particularly keen sense of the importance of the philosophical notion of nature for giving some grounding to ethical claims. While Hill does not work out a thorough theory of practical reasoning (something very important in giving a full account of natural law), he does do an excellent job drawing out the consequences of the “forgetfulness of nature” that plagues the West.

By drawing out the increasingly radical consequences of increasingly radical forms of nominalism and voluntarism, Hill shows that certain late-medieval philosophical choices have had devastating effects on our moral self-understanding. Given his dual training in philosophy and law, Hill ably discusses the ramifications of nominalism in the juridic sphere. Indeed, his last several chapters are among the best in the text, detailing issues regarding utilitarian moral logic, moral nihilism, legal positivism, and legal realism. Here, Hill brings to bear his particular strengths in an enlightening, unified manner.

As someone who has labored in the thorny fields of natural law ethics, I do feel it incumbent on me to register several cautionary notes regarding the history and the theories exposited in the text. The reader must be careful in giving full credence to the tale that has much natural law thought that comes to a positive climax in Aquinas, only to fall off thereafter. There is much truth in this, of course. Much bickering and contention arose in the scholastic scene from late in the thirteenth century onward. Likewise, the burgeoning Scotist school along with the widely varying forms of “nominalism” that gathered figures like William of Ockham, Durandus of Saint Pourçain, and John Buridan (among others) introduced a number of new problems into the philosophical vocabulary of the age. For instance, the nominalist critiques of Scotus’s notion of common natures sowed the seeds for many of the most pernicious aspects of modernity. Similar observations could be made regarding the voluntarism that increases as it passes from Scotus to Ockham. Hill accounts for this well, though he simplifies the history and theory occasionally. These same critiques (from the Scotists and “nominalists”) helped to push the Thomists into being laser-focused on the central claims of Aquinas’s doctrine.

In particular, a problematic issue in Hill’s text is the implication that most thought, even Catholic, after St. Thomas is inadequate on matters regarding the natural law (and perhaps on other matters). As Hill tells the story, the wake of nominalism seems to have sunken every philosophical ship in the sea. Granted, I agree with much of what Dr. Hill states on this matter. However, by closing off the very Thomistic narrative that he wishes to relate, positing St. Thomas as the final great thinker on the natural law, Hill risks isolating St. Thomas to the thirteenth century. In short, the denial of the importance of later thinkers risks overlooking the fact that often St. Thomas is less clear than we want him to be. The late-medieval, renaissance, and baroque scholastics provide many useful reflections, answering questions that arose in the controversies that appeared during these years. Though limited in their own ways, this broad tradition helps to focus our sight upon the principles guiding the Angelic Doctor’s thought. For all that might be said positively about contemporary writers on Thomism, it is important to remember that intellectual history did not begin with the discussions undertaken in 20th century journal literature.

The baroque complexity of later scholasticism is often little utilized, though in many topics of philosophy and theology, it provides a great number of important clarifications regarding the thought of Aquinas. While not all works are created equal, one ought not neglect the reflections of such great minds who provide an ongoing tradition of philosophy and theology in light of modern controversies. Granted, one must be very careful in reading such later thinkers. Nonetheless, many careful precisions were undertaken by philosophers and theologians after the time of St. Thomas. Failing to acknowledge this, we risk leaving matters of the natural law, and the ius gentium, to much more compromised thinkers of the early modern era, such as Grotius, Pufendorf, and others.

Now, it would be wholly churlish to end my review on this note. I must stress again that Hill’s text is very good on the whole. Above all, he provides the reader with a coherent (and very readable) account of the metaphysical foundations for natural law ethics. We live in an era that is detached from this outlook in astounding ways. Robert Reilly’s recent text, Making Gay Okay (published by Ignatius Press also), details well some of the devastating moral effects of this outlook. Hill helps the reader to understand “how we got here.” This is very important if we are to comprehend thoroughly the era in which we live.

There is a kind of somber tone to these sorts of reflections, of course. The history thus presented is one of a long decline. Some readers may be tempted to dismiss this as pessimism, and even I would like to have a bright spark in my estimation of history. Nonetheless, it is important to notice that our contemporary situation does in fact mark a significant moral and intellectual regression in many ways, no matter what veritable (and undeniable) gains may have been made along the way. To ignore this fact would be blindness, and it is good to have a clear writer like John Hill to make us aware of our situation.

However, this somber tone is not one of pessimism. Indeed, there is something of a great hope hidden in the midst of such a state of utter confusion. As Hill himself notes in the closing remarks to this text, the long history of forgetting nature has brought us back to a familiar situation, one that should remind us of the days of the Pre-Socratic naturalists and the Sophists. Such days gave rise to Socrates. Perhaps we can hope for such a figure again, and certainly we must do all that we can to fight for the truth. I highly recommend Hill’s text for helping the reader see the necessity of working toward such a renewal in moral philosophy.

Matthew K. Minerd, PhL., is an ABD PhD student in philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is also an adjunct instructor of philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University.


Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion, Rodney A. Whitacre (Baker Academic, 2015, 258pp., $24.99). Reviewed by S. P. Rugg.

Learning an ancient language is not a neutral endeavor; students either love the precision of grammatical problem-solving, or suffer through the basics in order to approach the texts they want to read. To treat the former, and speed through on the latter, grammar as problem-solving is the dominant paradigm for language acquisition. Armed with a set of rules and memorized tables, students are taught that data can be abstracted from the words in a foreign text, converted into one’s native tongue, and then read for meaning. Greek grammars are no exception. They often read and feel like technical manuals for translation – a means to initiate a nap rather than a means to initiate communion. This is a serious problem. Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” evocatively identified the Sacred Scriptures as “the words of God, expressed in the words of men, [and] are in every way like human language” (DV, 13); these inspired texts are a type for the Incarnation that they reveal, the Word of God enfleshed in human vesture. It is precisely this understanding of Scripture that animates the Council Fathers’s desire that “prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man” (DV, 25). The gulf between what we want to do with biblical languages, and how we teach them, must be bridged.

Rodney Whitacre’s Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek offers an excellent stepping stone to approach the kind of prayerful dialogue that the Second Vatican Council envisioned. It is a comprehensible and implementable learning plan for reading Koine and Septuagint Greek that aims to ameliorate grammatical comprehension and prayerful reflection. Whitacre’s emphasis on fluency and reading is what distinguishes this text from other guides to ancient Greek. Fluency is driven by a renewed focus on reading Greek rather than translating Greek, enjoying and using the language rather than solving the problem of getting one language to fit into another. This may seem like an overwhelming task, but Whitacre provides a resource that leverages his decades of teaching experience to break this task into a manageable plan. The book’s structure follows the natural pattern of reading proficiency. Beginning with strategies to increase recognition of words (chapters 2 and 3 – vocabulary and parsing), Whitacre advances students through sentences (chapter 4), then passages (chapter 5), culminating with techniques for using the Greek New Testament for prayer and meditation (chapter 6).

Written explicitly to help students “get back into Greek” (vii), Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek is not a stand-alone resource. Whitacre presumes a basic understanding of general grammatical content, and avoids reproducing intricate grammatical discussions, preferring to cut “some corners on details that are not usually necessary for reading” (24). These details are not missed; Whitacre makes frequent reference to other well-known, and probably well-owned grammars, and the omission allows Whitacre to focus on helping learners to directly address texts. Readers with better reading proficiency will find chapter 5, “Gaining Familiarity and Fluency,” a helpful guide to more effective sight-reading, and beginning the process of learning to think in Greek. Mastering these lessons is the heart of the book, enabling the reader to take full advantage of the meditative techniques that remain the goal of any pastoral reading of Scripture.

Whitacre’s focus on reading (as opposed to translating) shares significant ground with contemporary philosophical and hermeneutical discussions. While such discussions are surely beyond the scope of Whitacre’s book, a brief summary (grammar/logic/rhetoric, structuralist/post-structuralist, hermeneutics/deconstruction) in an appendix might have served as helpful context and motivational content for some readers. Whitacre shows a great ability to summarize complex topics and present them clearly, as he does with grammatical arguments over aspect and time in ancient Greek verbs (Appendix 5). Whitacre does reference hermeneutical textbooks when he wants to make an interpretive point, but some readers would be well served by a such a discussion.

Greek readers of all abilities will find something to take from Rodney Whitacre’s Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek. Following Whitacre’s sound program will assist students to gain more understanding and spiritual joy from their language studies. This progressive, pragmatic, and pedagogically sensitive approach is a field guide for gaining (or re-gaining) fluency in Greek within the context of active ministry.

Stephen Rugg is a graduate student at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry.


The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States, Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson (Image Books, 2014, 408pp, $24.00). Reviewed by Matthew B. Rose.

Many American Catholics, even those without degrees in history, know a healthy amount about the history of the Catholic Church. They can name important saints, like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola. They can name other important Catholics, such as Charlemagne and Dante, and some might even discuss comfortably major events in Church History, such as the Crusades or the Great Western Schism. These Catholics know the role the Church played in shaping Western Civilization. Yet, too few American Catholics know the important place Catholics have in the history of the United States.

To help educate the faithful in this regard, Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson have compiled The American Catholic Almanac. The setup of the book is simple. Each day of the calendar year has a short (about a page long) story from American Catholic History. The stories usually center on an American Catholic, though some of the entries discuss momentous events for Catholics in America, for good or for ill. Stories range from the obscure to the famous. Each one is somehow, at least tangentially, connected to the date for which the entry is included. The specific date is included in the story for each day, bolded to stand out from the rest of the text.

For example, if one were to open the book to May 23, one would read an entry entitled “The Belgian Black-Robe.” On May 23, 1873, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet died; hence the connection to that date. However, the entry does not focus merely on the date of Fr. DeSmet’s death. Instead, it provides, in a succinct summary, the labors DeSmet went through to minister to Native Americans in the Rocky Mountains region of the United States. The story is told in dramatic fashion, without sparing factual details.

Not all of the dates used for the Almanac are the birth or death dates of famous Catholics; sometimes it is some other important date in a historical figure’s life. For example, on September 2, the book discusses the life and work of comedian Bob Hope, who converted to Catholicism towards the end of his life. The reason for having the entry on September 2 is because on that date in 1993 the United States Navy named a cargo ship after the entertainer.

The book ends with several appendices, each listing information of interest to American Catholics, including a list of American saints and blesseds, and a list of minor basilicas in America, the latter especially helpful for any Catholic seeking the spiritual benefits of a pilgrimage. An appendix also lists all of the dioceses in the United States, and when they were established. Of course, each of these appendices will become outdated over the years as the Catholic landscape in America changes; however, in this book it provides a snapshot of American Catholic life and devotion at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

For all its strengths as a window into neglected figures, and events in American Catholic Church history, the book suffers from one major fault: a lack of additional resources. There is not an accompanying bibliography, nor are there endnotes with the entries indicating their sources. While the book is clearly not an academic one, it does offer true stories for controversial and misunderstood figures and events. There are a few references to outside works in the body of some entries, such as the entry for May 9 when a section from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is quoted discussing what de Tocqueville noticed about American Catholics in the early 1800s. However, such references are notably small in a work which has a separate entry for every day of the year. Including at least general works on American Catholic Church history might help support the more controversial claims of the text, and also direct readers towards resources they might find useful or educational.

Overall, such a flaw does not diminish the worth of this book. It is intelligent, well-written, informative, and spiritually uplifting. Those who feel that the story of American Catholics has not been properly told will find in this fine volume a remedy to that problem. Laymen can read the work as a daily devotional, or read it straight through as they would any historical book. Teachers of American History can draw from the book examples and topics rarely discussed in other American history texts; priests can likewise draw from the book ideas for homilies, and other public reflections. In short, this is a book for a wide range of people, all of whom can read, enjoy, and spread the story of our Faith and our Nation.

Mr. Matthew B. Rose teaches theology at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA.


Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II. George Weigel (Harper Collins, 1999, 1056 pp, $28.00) Reviewed by Dennis R. Di Mauro.

George Weigel is the most popular conservative Catholic commentator of our time, known for his best-selling biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope (Harper, 1999). In this wide ranging work, Weigel outlines his vision for a reformed Catholicism which will allow the Church to flourish in the twenty-first century, and beyond.

Weigel marks the beginning of the modern papacy with the tenure of Leo XIII, whose pontificate lasted from 1878 to 1903. The author believes that Leo XIII’s papacy signaled the end of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, and the beginning of a new era which was better positioned to tackle the Church’s modern challenges. Weigel cites Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, a ground-breaking work which sought to address the plight of the industrial working class, and opened the door for an acceptance of labor unions. His encyclical, Annum Sacram (1899), with its emphasis on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is also lauded for its encouragement of piety among the Catholic faithful.

George Weigel addresses the positive changes ushered in by Vatican II (1962-1965), including its introduction of the new way of celebrating liturgy, the Novus Ordo, later translated into the world’s vernacular languages. Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) is also praised for its encouragement of biblical research, and personal Bible study for the laity. The author warns against the antiquarianism of the Lefebvrists, their adherence to the Tridentine Mass, and their misguided nostalgia for a time of purer Catholicism which likely never existed in the first place.

Weigel then spells out numerous reforms, which if implemented, would supposedly strengthen the mission of the Catholic Church, and promote evangelism. Many of these suggested reforms are undoubtedly needed. For instance, he urges better preparation of candidates for ordained ministry. This effort includes educating candidates on the traditional understanding of scripture before introducing modern biblical critiques. George Weigel’s suggestion avoids the current seminary procedure of teaching critical hermeneutics when the traditional interpretations of the text have not yet been fully understood. He also proposes a renewed emphasis on the teaching of expository homiletics, assuring competent preaching before a candidate is ordained. He also advocates the disciplining of Catholic theologians, religious orders, and universities which openly flout the Church’s positions on the sanctity of life and traditional marriage. Weigel points to the United States Council of Catholic Bishop’s statement “Living the Gospel of Life” (1998), which chides those politicians who take a “personally opposed, but unwilling to prohibit” position, one that tacitly condones abortion-on-demand.

However, one wonders how some of Weigel’s specific reform suggestions will have any effect on realizing his goal of “Evangelical Catholicism” for the twenty-first century. For instance, he advocates liturgical changes such as adding Gregorian chant, removing contemporary hymns, correcting the lectionary, and having priests turn around during the Eucharist, but fails to explain how any of these reactionary reforms would have a material effect in bringing the Catholic Church successfully into the future.

Weigel uses the term “Evangelical Catholicism” so often that one becomes confused as to what he actually means by the phrase. While explaining that “Evangelical Catholicism” began during Vatican II, and referencing John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio (1990) on the urgency of mission, Weigel often uses the phrase in such a manner that it seems to simply equate with today’s conservative Catholic agenda rather than with any concerted effort to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the unsaved. And when Weigel does mention evangelism, he lays the entire program of outreach in the lap of the laity. But one wonders how a laity, which has grown up in a faith tradition that has been highly averse to discussing the faith with non-Catholics, will be in any way successful without the guidance, encouragement, and leadership of the clergy.

Another evangelical stumbling block is Weigel’s ubiquitous use of the phrase “friendship with Jesus” to describe the kind of relationship that one should attempt to encourage among one’s unsaved friends and acquaintances. But instead of promoting a relationship with Christ, this phrase seems to conjure up remembrances of the “laughing Jesus” pictures found on 1970s church walls, and seems incompatible with the kind of awe and wonder one would expect to experience at the more traditional Masses which Weigel envisions. On another topic, he proposes that couples complete a six-month preparation class before their children can be baptized. This suggestion runs counter to a successful plan for outreach, creating an onerous hurdle for the faithful which might scatter, rather than energize, the lukewarm Catholics it seeks to reach.

Yet, despite these inconsistencies of vision, George Weigel has provided a useful starting point for a dialogue on how the Catholic Church can stay faithful to the gospel, and its traditions, throughout the twenty-first century, and beyond. The key question he poses is how the Catholic Church can educate and reconcile those Catholics who remain within its boundaries, but, nevertheless, maintain a “psychological schism” with its doctrines and morals. This book goes a long way to beginning this discussion. One wonders, however, whether one of those Catholics living in “psychological schism” might include the pope himself.

Dennis R. Di Mauro is Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Warrenton, VA, and he teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary.


Patrick Madrid, Why Be Catholic?—Ten Answers to a Very Important Question (Image Books, 2014, 226pp, $22.00). Reviewed by Matthew B. Rose.

Some time ago, the Catholic blogosphere teemed with posts answering the question: “Why am I Catholic?” The posts, for the most part, were not so much exercises in apologetics, as they were chances to describe the glories of Catholicism with those who might not see the Church in such a favorable light. Patrick Madrid’s recent book, Why Be Catholic?, takes that same question and answers it as only a veteran apologist would. His book serves as a personal and beautiful reflection on what it means to be Catholic and, by extension, why others should be Catholic too.

Each chapter of Madrid’s book presents various reasons why one should be Catholic. Madrid also addresses objections to the Faith, particularly those which attack the very reasons Madrid presents in favor of Catholicism. Such an approach is not surprising, for Madrid has been defending the Faith since his teens, as he mentions throughout his book.

The book discusses a myriad of reasons for embracing Catholicism. They range from the spiritual (there is a chapter on Confession and the Eucharist, as well as one on the sacraments in general) to the practical (found in the chapters on the Church’s charitable works and the very firm foundation of the Papacy) to the controversial (Madrid devotes a chapter to examining scandals in the Church, focusing in particular on the sex abuse scandals).

Such a wide range of topics might tempt an author to give too cursory an overview, abandoning personal detail in favor of grander themes. Madrid does not take such a course. Instead, he devotes the majority of the chapters to the broader contexts, addressing the themes of each chapter, yet also weaving into the broader topic intimate stories from his own life. These autobiographical details provide the most moving, even inspiring, sections in the book. The most powerful stories, in my opinion, are the ones that conclude the chapters on the Eucharist and Confession.

In the chapter on the Eucharist, Madrid recounts the story of a man named Isaiah, a Catholic priest-turned-Mormon. Madrid met Fr. Isaiah through the former’s work at Catholic Answers. Madrid had given some talks about Mormonism at Fr. Isaiah’s parish. Fr. Isaiah was very interested in Mormonism, and spoke to Madrid at length about it. Then Madrid left, and did not keep in contact with Fr. Isaiah. Years later, a Mormon friend informed Madrid that Isaiah, now a Mormon himself, wanted Madrid to call him. Madrid did so, and their conversation ended with Isaiah confirmed in his Mormonism and Madrid feeling that his attempts to bring Isaiah back into the Church had failed. Six months later, Madrid received a call from Isaiah, informing him that the priest had returned to the Church. What had spurred his reversion? A question Madrid had asked in their conversation: “How could you [a priest] turn your back on Christ in the Eucharist?” That question burned within Isaiah, and it led him home to the Church.

In the chapter on Confession, Madrid tells the story of his encounter with Susan, a woman who, like Isaiah, left the Church. She met Madrid at a book-signing table, confronting him about various teachings of the Church which she, as a “Bible-believing Christian,” rejected. Fighting his instinct to counter argue with her, Madrid instead asked Susan why she left the Church. She told him over lunch, an emotional story of a younger Susan, pregnant and scared of telling her parents, who sought help from a local Catholic church. The priest that met Susan was rude, to say the least, and brushed off her problems and demonstrated that her problems were of little importance to him. This drove her away from the Church, eventually to the confrontation she had with Patrick Madrid. His only response to her story, “You need to go to confession,” ended their conversation abruptly, despite Madrid’s attempts to explain how merciful and loving Christ is, and how he wished to heal her. It was to no avail, and she left angry. Six weeks later, Madrid received an email from her. She had gone to confession, the idea of going bothering her for days, and was emailing him to share the relief she found in that sacrament.

These stories are only two of the many that fill this book. Madrid presents them as examples of why being Catholic is so great, as evidence to the grace God works through the Church. These two stories in particular give both the laity and the clergy something to reflect on. All Catholics can be more aware of how our words and actions can change other people’s lives. A seeming failure on our part might be the moment God uses to transform someone’s soul. At the same time, an insensitive, unchristian reaction to a person’s need may drive them away from Christ’s embrace. All of us are called to be disciples and evangelists; Patrick Madrid’s book gives us a glimpse into how we can be just that.

Mr. Matthew B. Rose teaches theology at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA.

Book Reviews About Book Reviews

Expert and interested readers can review our Books Received page to see what is available and for instructions on how to review for HPR.


  1. […] Theology of Grace in Six Controversies was reviewed by the Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Steven J. Meyer writes that the book “makes the theology of grace pastorally relevant. . . […]