Early Summer Book Reviews

Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?: Questions and Answers about the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By Carl E. Olson. (Ignatius Press, 2016), 199 pages. Reviewed by Matthew B. Rose

The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories. By Abby Johnson and Kristin Detrow. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016) pp. 157; $17.95 Reviewed by Matthew Matuszak.

Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854. By C. Michael Shea. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017. 256 pages; $80 hc. Reviewed by Ryan Marr.

A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail. By Charles A. Coulombe. Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2017. Pp. xix + 240. Pb. 24.20. ISBN 978-1505109689. Reviewed by Marie Nuar, S.Th.D.

From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God. By Derya Little. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. Pp. 204. Pb. $13.86. ISBN 978-1621641124. Reviewed by Marie Nuar, S.Th.D.

Seven Secrets of Divine Mercy. By Vinny Flynn. San Francisco, CA, 2015. Ignatius Press. Reviewed by Colleen Rooney, M.A. Reviewed by Colleen Rooney.

Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization. By William J. Slattery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) (ISBN 978-1-62164-014-1) (272 pages, hardbound). Reviewed by Fr. John Cush.

Greek For Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek. By Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer, foreword by William D. Mounce, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017 (ISBN 9780801093203). Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD.


Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?: Questions and Answers about the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By Carl E. Olson. (Ignatius Press, 2016), 199 pages. Reviewed by Matthew B. Rose.

If Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:14-17).

The Resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. If we, as a Church, are wrong about the Resurrection, then we are wrong about more than just the historical fact of Christ’s rising from the dead. If we are wrong about the Resurrection, then we are wrong about the promise of eternal life in Heaven. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we are wrong to worship Him, for then He would not be God, just another martyred prophet (and an insane one, at that).

It is with good reason that Christian apologists from every age return to this central truth of Christianity, studying and using the Scriptures to present the truth of Christ’s Resurrection. In an age of rampant secularism and materialism, critics of the Church propose strange theories seeking to solve the problem, as they see it, of the Resurrection. Rather than accepting the Gospel account as historically accurate, these critics propose theories, all of which claim either that Christ did not really die on the cross, or that He did not really rise from the dead.

As these theories appear in media reports and documentary specials, especially around Easter time, the Christian must be well-prepared to discuss Christ’s Resurrection confidently; and since confidence in apologetics tends to increase with a better understanding of the subject, Carl Olson, noted apologist and author, has compiled responses to common questions about the Resurrection. The result is his latest book: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?: Questions and Answers about the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In his book, Olson investigates the Resurrection as a historical fact. This is essential for any apologetic for the Resurrection. Many people would be more comfortable with a spiritual or symbolic resurrection than what the Church proclaims every Easter: Jesus rose from the dead in His real body. As such, those who are uncomfortable with Christ’s bodily Resurrection explain the stories of the Gospels using several unsatisfying theories. These theories range from the relatively reasonable (such as the Myth Theory, which posits that later Christians twisted the reality of Christ’s death into the Resurrection story) to the logically untenable (namely, the Swoon Theory, which holds that Jesus did not die during the crucifixion).

Olson’s response to these theories comprises the bulk of the book. As an examination of the Resurrection requires one to dive deep into the specifics of the Gospel narrative, Olson begins his work with a defense of the Gospels themselves. Chapter Two, for example, responds to objections concerning the historicity of the Gospels. Here, he presents evidence that the Gospels provide an accurate account of what transpired in Jesus’ life. This examination is a crucial foundation for the rest of Olson’s book.

Olson then begins examining objections to the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection by emphasizing that Christians mean a true bodily Resurrection when speaking of Christ’s Resurrection, not a symbolic or spiritual revival. He moves from there to examine the major theories that seek to supplant the Christian account of Christ’s death and Resurrection:

• The Swoon Theory (defined above);
• The Hallucination Theory (that the apostles merely imagined that Jesus had risen) and the related Wrong Tomb Theory (the apostles went to the wrong tomb and thus imagined Jesus was risen);
• The Conspiracy Theory (the apostles made up the whole story to boost their reputation);
• The Myth Theory (also defined above);
• The Spiritual Resurrection Theory (Christ “rose” in spirit, but not in body).

In addressing each of these theories, Olson quotes both skeptics (such as John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan) and Christian writers and apologists (such as N. T. Wright and Stephen T. Davis). The majority of his sources are non-Catholic, demonstrating the fact that, even after Pope Pius XII, and Vatican II’s request for Catholic scholars to more effectively study the Bible, Catholics are still behind in many areas of biblical study. This does not mean, of course, that there are no Catholic scholars involved in Biblical Christology. Olson quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Dr. Brant Pitre, and Fr. Raymond E. Brown, among others, in this study.

This volume could act, therefore, as a springboard for Catholic scholars to delve deeper into the Gospels and the account of Christ’s Resurrection. For laymen, the book provides an accessible survey of Christianity’s position on Christ’s Resurrection, as well as responses to those who reject Christ’s rising from the dead. For the clergy, the book provides a source for homilies and parish Bible studies, especially during the Easter season. The book also works as a tool for apologetics; its readability allows even a non-believer to understand the Church’s teaching. In an age of secularism, we need more books like this one to “give a reason for the hope” (1 Peter 3:15) that resides in each of us, the hope in our own resurrection with Christ.

Matthew Rose is a Roman Catholic theology and history teacher at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA. He holds a BA in History and English Language & Literature from Christendom College and a MA in Systematic Theology from the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. His website is quidquidestest.wordpress.com.


The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories. By Abby Johnson and Kristin Detrow. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016) pp. 157; $17.95  Reviewed by Matthew Matuszak.

It’s probably no surprise that people who work at abortion clinics eventually get numb to what they do, as one former worker says “until the evil all around you is just all in a day’s work.” But former clinic director Abby Johnson makes it clear that, nevertheless, even clinic workers can repent. She has formed And Then There Were None, a ministry to encourage and help people leave this work. And now she and Kristin Detrow have assembled more than a dozen such accounts in their book: The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories.

This is very grim material. We meet an abortionist who’s a rabid environmentalist who considers mankind a “malignant eco-tumor” and so is glad to reduce the number of people in the world, one at a time. Another talks to the fetal parts that he is counting after an abortion. The terrible conditions in the clinic of the infamous Kermit Gosnell are mentioned, as well.

The deceit endemic to the industry is another “recurring theme.” A patient returns home after an abortion but then needs to go to the emergency room, because it turns out the abortionist left fetal parts inside her; they eventually “pay her off” for her trouble and make her sign a statement promising not to tell anyone else about it, “awarding” her $347. A young girl who comes to the clinic with her very reluctant father almost loses her life because of unusual, profuse bleeding during her abortion. The clinic won’t call an ambulance, because “[n]othing looks worse for an abortion clinic than an ambulance pulling up outside.” The worker lies to the father, who has waited five hours, and is starting to worry, though the staff finally gets the girl’s medical condition under control. Mention is made of a pimp who comes in with his prostitute, and receives hints on how to “stay in business” while taking advantage of the clinic’s services.

Johnson’s decision not to mention any of the former clinic workers by name, and to tell each account in the first person, sometimes makes it a little difficult to remember that each chapter tells the story of someone else. But her decision for confidentiality is certainly understandable.

And, eventually, personal details do come out. For example, a Texan refers to the characteristics of those in her home state. Another narrator tells of the awkward situation of being pregnant while working in an abortion clinic.

In the first half of the book, it seems like every abortion clinic worker is post-abortive. And a later chapter states that some 70 percent of Planned Parenthood workers are, in fact, post-abortive.

But in the second half of the book, we start meeting some who are not, including the aforementioned nurse practitioner from Texas. She, in fact, does not quite understand the principles governing the facility for which she has accepted a job. Before she starts work, she’s told that this clinic does not perform abortions, and that she’ll be in charge of family planning, STD screenings, pregnancy testing, and counseling for pregnant girls. Among other things, she hands out adoption brochures from her church to women with positive tests. She eventually gets reprimanded for activities like this and, under increased pressure at work, walks to the pregnancy resource center across the street. They greet her with smiles, pray with her, and help her leave the abortion industry.

Johnson also tells of an abortionist who, to the surprise of the story’s narrator, tells the father of a pregnant sixteen-year-old girl who is developmentally disabled, and who comes in holding her teddy bear, and who has been sexually abused numerous times by her stepbrother: “I truly believe an abortion is not the right answer.” The narrator then needs to do a quick Internet search to find helpful information, as “[w]e didn’t really have any resources in our facility on adoption or parenting.”

After making it very clear that the abortion business is very, very evil, Johnson can afford to present more nuanced cases like this one. One of her narrators also cautions about some extremist tactics used by pro-lifers, reminding that “we all want to save the baby, but… the hearts, minds, and souls of many others are at stake as well.”

Still, the advice to pro-lifers is to show up, “[w]hen it is hot and humid… [w]hen it is freezing… [W]hen people show up outside the clinic, the no-show rate goes up to almost 75 percent. Three-quarters of abortion-minded women will simply not show up if there is a presence on the sidewalk.”

Matthew Matuszak has a B.A. in English from the University of Chicago, a M.A. in Theology from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently a grant writer for the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation.


Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854. By C. Michael Shea. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017. 256 pages; $80 hc. Reviewed by Ryan Marr.

C. Michael Shea’s Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854, represents a landmark historical study in the field of Newman scholarship. While numerous studies of John Henry Newman’s life and writings continue to be churned out each year, few monographs within the field exhibit the depth of archival research and originality of argumentation that Shea’s book does. With this relatively brief study (the argument proper runs right around 200 pages), Shea offers a convincing revision of an assumption that has long held sway in Newman studies—namely, that Newman’s theory of doctrinal development was held in suspicion by Roman theologians during the years immediately following the publication of his Essay on Development (1845), and only fully emerged from this cloud of suspicion in the mid-twentieth century when it was officially vindicated at the Second Vatican Council.

As Shea demonstrates, this narrative gained traction through Owen Chadwick’s influential book, From Bossuet to Newman, which portrayed the influence of Newman’s Essay on Development as “almost wholly negative” (19). According to Chadwick’s reading of events, continental theologians, in particular, were unreceptive of Newman’s theory of development, and in Rome, even among those who were generally sympathetic to Newman, the idea landed with a thud. A key cog in Chadwick’s argument was his view of Newman’s famous exchange with the renowned Roman theologian, Giovanni Perrone, which Chadwick interpreted as a wholesale rejection of the concept of development. In Chadwick’s judgment, “Perrone laconically, but flatly, denied Newman’s thesis” (From Bossuet to Newman, 182).

In his introduction, Shea shows how Newman scholars have, for the most part, taken Chadwick’s rendering of events as definitive, and then constructed their histories of the reception of Newman’s theory around this basic narrative framework. As a prominent example, Shea points to Aidan Nichols’ From Newman to Congar, which “built upon Chadwick’s foundation” and, in so doing, “perpetuated and deepened the impression of the Essay on Development’s being neither accepted, nor influential, after it first appeared” (19). Since the publication of Nichols’ study in 1990, Newman scholars have continued to research and publish on the theory of doctrinal development, operating under the assumption that Newman’s idea followed a trajectory of early rejection and later acceptance in Roman Catholic circles.

Through a careful engagement with previously neglected sources, Shea demonstrates that the reception of Newman’s theory was exceedingly more complex than this narrative lets on. For starters, it’s inaccurate to characterize Perrone’s response to Newman’s argument as an outright rejection of the idea. When read against the backdrop of Newman’s private correspondence, the “Newman-Perrone Paper on Development” emerges not as an intractable disagreement between opposing parties, but as a lively dialogue between two heavyweight theologians testing the merits of an idea that both view as possessing significant explanatory possibilities. After Perrone submitted his contribution to the exchange, Newman moved from feeling anxious about how his notion of development might be received in Rome to exhibiting a clear sense of ease, fully assured that he could continue his work apace without having to be concerned that his theory contravened the standards of orthodoxy.

As additional evidence in support of his thesis, Shea traces out how Perrone drew directly upon Newman’s work to argue on behalf of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Other prominent theologians of the Roman School, such as the Jesuit Giacomo Mazio, were also advocates of Newman’s work, and, as the archival record indicates, Newman’s theory of doctrinal development played a key role in the theological discernment leading up to Pope Pius IX’s promulgation of Ineffabilis Deus (1854), which officially defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. All of this is not to say that Newman’s notion of development attained universal acceptance in Roman Catholic theological circles, but merely that the early reception of the idea was broader and more hospitable than has generally been portrayed in the scholarship.

For the sake of full disclosure, Shea was a colleague of mine at Saint Louis University, and we have remained supportive of each other’s scholarship since our time together at that institution. I can say with total sincerity, though, that my recommendation of this work goes far beyond any inclinations of admiration that might be motivated by personal friendship. Even a cursory reading of this monograph will be enough to convince the informed scholar that Shea possesses an impressive command of the relevant historical data—both the secondary literature and also off-the-beaten-path archival materials. Historical theologians seeking a deeper understanding of this pivotal period in the Church’s life will remain in debt to Shea, not only for bringing to light sources that had fallen into obscurity, but also for inducing a permanent shift in our outlook on the early Roman Catholic reception of Newman’s monumental theory.

Dr. Ryan Marr is a member of The National Institute for Newman Studies, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (rmarr@ninsdu.org).


A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail. By Charles A. Coulombe. Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2017. Pp. xix + 240. Pb. 24.20. ISBN 978-1505109689. Reviewed by Marie Nuar, S.Th.D.

The Holy Grail is the stuff of legends, literally. One first reads of the Holy Grail in an Old French verse romance, Conte del Graal (Story of the Grail) by Chrétien de Troyes around the year 1180. There were various versions over the next few centuries, some deal with King Arthur, or one of his knights in their quest for the grail, while others deal with the story of how Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail Cup to England. The Legend’s popularity declined as the Middle Ages waned, but it rose again with the renewed interest in medieval history and legend in writers of the 19th century.

All of the legends agree that the Holy Grail is the cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper. There is rough agreement that Joseph of Arimathea brought it with him to England and hid it in Glastonbury Abbey. So, why the need for a Catholic quest for the grail? It seems as if the grail, and the legend itself, are imbued with Catholicism. Coulombe tells us why. “Once the object of chivalric quests and holy pilgrimages, it has become, in recent years, the sacred totem of several esoteric and New Age movements. But what was it really? Does it have any significance for twenty-first-century Catholics?” (ix) One need only reflect on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code to realize the truth of Coulombe’s statement. Coulombe seeks to reclaim the legend for Catholicism and show his readers what the Grail has to teach us. His familiarity with both the literary myths and literature, as well as the Catholic theology, including devotions, miracles, relics, mystics, saints, and heroes, that surround the Grail, enable Coulombe to produce a well-written, easy-to- read book, accessible to novices, but still interesting to those already steeped in the lore.

The prelude serves as a means to whet the appetite, providing an amalgam of the various versions of the legend. There is no commentary or interpretation, just the legend. Coulombe then proceeds to offer a sweeping survey of the various versions, including variations and motifs surrounding the legend. The Grail story becomes integrally connected with King Arthur, becoming the fourth “matter” of medieval romance, the others referring to the classical heroes of ancient Rome, Charlemagne, and his noble peers from France, and Godefroi de Bouillon liberating the Holy Lands from the Saracens. According to Coulombe, the Arthurian legend and grail story were distinguished from the rest because it united chivalry with an intense lay, rather than clerical, Eucharistic piety.

In summary form, Coulombe traces the various versions of the story, linking them with the prevailing thought of the period. He cites, Richard Barber from the book The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief: “I believed that I would be engaged with pagan myth and marvelous Celtic stories…Instead, I found myself offering a very different picture, deeply indebted to medieval theology and mysticism.” (14). Coulombe proceeds in the rest of the book to show just what medieval theology and mysticism Barber was speaking about so that modern day Catholics can benefit from following the same trail as did the knights of old.

He begins by going back to the beginning. Since all versions agree that the grail is something that Christ used or at least was touched by him, whether chalice, plate, or stone, and “tied to the events at the very origins of his religion” (14), the logical place to being is with Christ himself. Coulombe relates the various stories and tales surrounding the life of Christ, as well as the relics being collected by St. Helena. For Coulombe, Constantine’s establishing himself as the civil guardian of orthodoxy gave rise to the idea of the Christian monarchy, central to all grail legends.

Having established the factual basis for the various legends, Coulombe then offers a context with which to understand them. He proceeds to explain the mentality and landscape in which these legends took shape, pointing out that since these stories were “meant primarily to entertain knights and their ladies, and secondarily to reinforce their religious and chivalric knowledge” (56) one should probably understand what such knowledge was. Contributing to the prevailing mentality was the notion of knighthood, the transformation of the warlike mentality by the recognition by converts of “the triune God as the lord of battles” (29) and the influx of relics into Europe as a result of the Crusades. The Crusades helped to form the idea of chivalry being both a religious, as well as a military, calling. Another aspect of the medieval mentality was the growing Eucharistic focus in reaction to the sacramental heresies, especially that of Berengar of Tours, who denied the Real Presence, as well as the deep Marian piety, evidenced by the custom of “giving a favored image of Our Lady a military rank with the corresponding insignia.” (42)

The landscape was rural. Cities were few and far between. Monasteries, manors, farms, fields, forests, and mountains lay outside the city walls linked by a system of roads, some no more than footpaths. The countryside was dotted with “holy wells, abbeys, hermitages, and shrines.” (50) One would brave the dangers of the road and wood for pilgrimage or official business. For those in this period “Shrines and relics were sacred and mysterious things that needed to be defended at all costs, and yet which might turn around and protect their defenders.” (42)

The next few chapters are spent describing and analyzing candidates for the grail. First up, relics of the passion itself. Could any of these either be, or point to, the Holy Grail? The next chapter discusses various cups that have been put forth with a claim to being the Holy Grail. Coulombe then moves on to discussing the contents of the Holy Grail, along with various Eucharistic miracles. Coulombe is convinced that the Grail stories are not necessarily about a physical object, and even if they are, they are more about what that object symbolizes than the object itself. For the medieval knight, the grail symbolized Eucharistic grace and communion with God. “The lesson that the knight drew from the Holy Grail stories, therefore, was that his profession—like those of clergy and monarchs—was a very particular one in the very heart of the Church, and as essential to her mission.” (99) This is the understanding that Coulombe wants his readers to understand, as these devotions to the Precious Blood and Sacred Heart continue in the present day.

Coulombe proceeds to describe how devotion to the Sacred Heart is a prolongation of the Grail ethic. He presents the history of the devotion and important aspects of it, seeking to explain why the image of the Sacred Heart found its way to the banners of various modern, Catholic, militant groups, including those of Vendee, Tyrol, Spain, and Mexico. Tied to the Sacred Heart devotion is devotion to the Precious Blood, which flowed from his pierced heart. Since Mary is so intimately connected with her Son, Coulombe uses the next chapter to explore the medieval mentality of giving Our Lady military rank, and her role in the grail stories.

Having related the background necessary to understand the story, Coulombe circles back, offering his readers the same story he did in the prelude. The rest of the chapter is then spent unpacking its meaning, using all the points explored in earlier chapters, exhorting his readers to heed the example of medieval Christians in allowing our faith and liturgy permeate our daily lives. The book ends with fifty-three pages listing an extensive list of shrines connected with the Holy Grail and Eucharistic miracles. All in all, the book provides the reader with the necessary background to properly appreciate and learn from the legends surrounding the Holy Grail.

Marie Nuar, S.Th.D. holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. She currently serves as an adjunct professor at Catholic Distance University and guides tours to the bones of St. Peter’s in Rome.


From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God. By Derya Little. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. Pp. 204. Pb. $13.86. ISBN 978-1621641124. Reviewed by Marie Nuar, S.Th.D.

Derya Little’s book, From Islam to Christ, is the latest in a growing list of Islam to Christianity conversion stories. A confessional memoir a lá Augustine’s Confessions, she engagingly and openly relates her struggles, foibles, and rationale related to her experiences and intellectual discoveries that led to her conversion. One could say that the book is written in three movements: the prelude or background information, the first movement from Islam to atheism, the second movement from atheism to Christianity, the third movement from Protestant Christianity to Catholic Christianity, and the finale, how she has found peace in living and sharing her Catholic Christian identity. This book presents the story of an intelligent, passionate woman who analyzes the world around her in a search for the truth. The analysis of her reasons, and the comparisons she makes between options when she transitions from one movement to another, provide a depth of insight that anyone travelling a similar path, or accompanying someone on it, could really benefit from her insights.

Little launches into her story explaining how far her 34-year-old self-travelled, both physically and spiritually, from her 20-year-old self. Thankfully, she provides a short background of Turkey’s political, cultural, and religious history, enabling the reader to better understand the assumptions and mentality with which she began her journey. She distinguishes between Islam as lived in Turkey, and Islam lived elsewhere.

From the very beginning, her story is peppered with comparisons, while she considers the distance she has travelled. When presenting her family’s social and cultural Islamic background, she talks about the summer religious education camps that she and her brother attended at the local mosque. (I think of this a bit like Vacation Bible School for Muslims.) In the midst of explaining what they did, and why she finds “The afterlife in Islam is rather different from its Christian equivalent.” (20) The next two paragraphs explain what the Islamic understanding of heaven is. According to her, the problem with such early Islamic indoctrination was that it closed “the mind to any and all questioning” (23), providing a worldview based in fear and submission.

She relates her own family’s dysfunctional experiences to that of the larger society. When speaking of her parents marriage, the division of labor, and her mother’s burnout, and her father’s desire for a younger woman, she relates alongside them, the trends of the larger society. “Other than fairly rare exceptions, Turkish men are overlords of their families,” with just a single phrase to focus on the comparison—“rather than husbands and fathers.” She compares a woman’s position to that of slavery, and claims that a man holds a “privileged” place, pointing to Islam’s role in this mentality, both from Muhammad’s example and Qur’anic verses. The collapse of her parent’s marriage, due to her father’s infidelity, was the catalyst for her journey. Struggling with her parent’s divorce, while going through the usual teenage difficulties, she relates the first cracks in her belief system. Ms. Little states: “I felt as though I was talking to a person who was not there… slowly the unthinkable seeds of doubt were sown.” Her Islamic faith, while not lost, had become nominal.
Neglected by her parents, and patronized by her friends, Little turned to books, the perennial comfort for any intellectually inclined person in her situation. A fellow bibliophile, raised atheist, introduced her to Turan Dursun, a murdered Turkish apostate. What followed was a period spent reading his books, and more critically, studying Islamic history. In the end, “disgusted with bloodshed in the name of Islam during Muhammad’s lifetime,” Little declares, “I realized that the exalted founder of Islam was only a sinful man who used his influence to further himself. I could not even respect him for his accomplishments. Thus, I completely turned my back on Islam.” (48) Her turning toward Christianity was not yet on the horizon.

With little parental involvement and the loss of the moral compass of Islam, Little crossed forbidden boundaries, one by one. The ensuing years included things like lying, rule breaking, drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, and two abortions. There is no question that Little is a smart woman. Merely as a passing explanation of why she went to the university in Istanbul, one learns that of all the high school seniors in Turkey, she was in the top one percent. And this was while she took up smoking, drinking, and seeing how many school rules she could break without getting caught.

Her university years moved her gradually towards Christianity. Having lived briefly with her father while at university in Istanbul only to be evicted within the year, the last shred of faith in the concept of family was shattered. Rather than remain in Istanbul, Little started university over again in Ankara. While there, she began tutoring a Christian missionary, Therese, in Turkish. During her tutoring sessions, Little would bring up religion, hoping to convert her to atheism. Looking back, Little considers their friendship “a match made in heaven”. Therese, able to deflect Little’s attacks with accurate information, lead her to question her own thinking. Little gradually began to see weaknesses in her atheistic worldview, both through their conversations, as well as through Therese and her family’s witness to what a functioning family was like, giving off a “glimmer of light”. While her “faith in atheism was crumbling,” the problem of pain remained a stumbling block to her acceptance of Christianity. Little held God accountable for the suffering in the world. It was a Buddhist American professor’s reading assignment of a section of The Brothers Karamazov, which led Little to understand that that “all that is wrong with the world is what is wrong with us.” (102) Here was the beginning of her acceptance of Christianity, even though it took her a number of months before she could externally acknowledge this mental conversion.

She finally took the step praying “the prayer” of conversion, with Martha and Jerome, another American couple whose children she was tutoring. Then began her journey into Christianity, helped along by other Turkish Christians with whom she was put in contact. The more time she spent with her Christian friends, the less time she spent with her atheistic ones, leading to strife with her fiancé, and their eventual break-up.

Her friend, Anthony, one of her fellow Camp Counselors from the Christian summer camp Little worked at, converted to Catholicism, sparking her study of Catholicism, seeking to prove him wrong. While reading books written by the likes of Ratzinger and Shea, Little narrowed her problems with Protestantism down to four: “sola scriptura, sola fide, the lack of a Magisterium, and creationism.” (144) Again, once the prior convictions were cracked, there were still intellectual hurdles to jump over before getting all the way into the next step. Thankfully for Little, there was French Jesuit, Fr. Patrice, who served the church on the grounds of the French Embassy, who helped her through her difficulties in understanding such Catholic beliefs as the Real Presence. It was in Durham, where she had been accepted into Durham University’s doctoral program in politics, that she was finally received into the Catholic Church in 2007.

She relates her struggle with her vocation, as well as her online dating experience with CatholicMatch, where she met her American husband. What followed were struggles with receiving her green card and a driver’s license. She points to the difficulty that she, as a foreigner, had in making friends, due to America’s exaltation of individualism, which can result in loneliness. “The American way of life would have alienated me, too, if it weren’t for my Catholic faith, my marriage, and my previously untethered background.” (192) She concludes by explaining that the purpose of sharing her story is to share her treasure of knowledge. And what a treasure! Her insights and story-telling ability make this an engaging read that highlights the treasures that Little discovered in Catholicism.

Reviewed by Marie Nuar, S.Th.D. holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. She currently serves as an adjunct professor at Catholic Distance University and guides tours to the bones of St. Peter’s in Rome.


Seven Secrets of Divine Mercy. By Vinny Flynn. San Francisco, CA, 2015. Ignatius Press. Reviewed by Colleen Rooney, M.A. Reviewed by Colleen Rooney.

Two years into his pontificate, Pope Francis announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Jubilee Years are not celebrated often in the life of the Church, generally only every 25 years. The most recent jubilee had been in 2000 during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II: The Great Jubilee. Occasionally extraordinary jubilee years are announced. There had been one in 1983 for the 1,950th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Our Lord. 2015 was to see another extraordinary jubilee year: The Year of Mercy.

The message of Divine Mercy was not unfamiliar to the third millennium. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II had instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy in the Universal Church Calendar on the Sunday following Easter, fulfilling a request made by Our Lord to Sister Faustina Kowalska. The Pope also canonized Sister Faustina, the first person to be declared a saint in the third millennium.
St. Faustina, 1905-1938, was a simple Polish girl to whom our Lord appeared over the span of many years with the message of his great merciful love for sinners. He requested that she propagate his merciful message through five elements: a Divine Mercy Image of Jesus, Divine Mercy Sunday, a Divine Mercy Chaplet, a Divine Mercy Novena, and the Divine Mercy Hour.

It was during the Year of Mercy 2015 that the 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy by Vinny Flynn was published. Flynn had written other books with similar titles, one of which sold over 60,000 copies called the 7 Secrets of the Eucharist. Flynn is perhaps best known, however, for his active involvement in spreading the Divine Mercy message through writings, conferences, and teaching.

7 Secrets of Divine Mercy is not primarily a detailed explanation of the Divine Mercy message, although it does set forth all the elements of Our Lord’s message to St. Faustina. Rather, it consists of the rich insights of one who has steeped himself in the Divine Mercy message over the years and who is sharing the depths of these assimilated truths and practices through seven developed reflections drawn from Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Diary of Saint Faustina. The book’s purpose? To draw you and me into the message so that our lives may be shaped more fully by mercy.

Flynn makes certain points (often humorously) at the beginning which direct the reader away from pitfalls which entrap some followers of devotions, while he opens the way for authentic growth in Divine Mercy. For instance, the difference between viewing the Image of Divine Mercy as an idol versus an icon (understood broadly). An idol attracts us to itself for its almost magical powers, while the icon points us to the underlying spiritual reality, the merciful love of the Son of God for us. And again, he distinguishes between devotions and devotion—absentmindedly rattling off a list of devotional prayers versus responding to the invitation to develop and deepen our relationship with Christ and his message of mercy. “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matt. 15:8)

In the last secret, the story is recounted of a young man who had heard the message of Divine Mercy, and was letting the message shape his life by working with the homeless. He still, however, desired to know what was at the very core of the message. He had heard of Fr. George Kosicki, C.S.B., and knew him to be a foremost authority on the Divine Mercy message. It was arranged for him to meet this holy priest who was dying. When they met, he posed this question, “What’s Divine Mercy all about?” Fr. Kosicki replied in one word, “Transfiguration.”

At the heart of the Divine Mercy message is the merciful love of God which transforms the person from sinner to saint. The acceptance of merciful love begins in this world, but the full personal transfiguration is realized in eternal life.

The reflections in this book on Divine Mercy make it a valuable resource for retreats. Along with material drawn from Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Diary of Saint Faustina, it includes many quotes from Popes Francis, Benedict XVI, and John Paul II. Flynn’s daughter, Mary Flynn, has written a study guide which can be purchased separately, and used individually, or in a group setting, making it ideal for parish-based study groups.

Colleen Rooney (M.A. in Theology from St. John’s University) is active as a board member of the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women in promoting the family, Catholic culture and food traditions in the diocese of Arlington, VA. She is the author of Celebrating Advent and Christmas with Children: Food Celebrations with the Saints for Home and School.


Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization. By William J. Slattery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) (ISBN 978-1-62164-014-1) (272 pages, hardbound). Reviewed by Fr. John Cush.

Father William Slattery’s text, Heroism and Genius, offers the reader a much-needed insight in a world which sees the Catholic Church, in her traditions, and customs, and especially in her priests, as a limitation to human freedom and development throughout Western civilization. Early in his book, Slattery quotes Pope Pius XI who states: “All the good that Christian civilization has brought into the world is due, at least in its roots, to the word and works of the Catholic priesthood,” (6). Far from an overly pious and saccharine ode to the priesthood, Slattery, himself a Roman Catholic priest, offers a well-written, and thoroughly researched work, that can stand as a testimony to the key role that priests have in preserving not only faith, but also learning, law, government, and liberty.

Slattery divides his text into three parts: the first, entitled “The Catholic Matrix of Western Civilization” which clearly lays out the map of this historical journey on which he will take his readers, as well as demonstrating, in a very clear and helpful chart, the milestones of the Catholic Church, led by her bishops and priests, over and against the political achievements of the secular realm from 200 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

The second section, “Laying the Foundations of a New Civilization, circa A.D. 300- 1000” takes the reader through the so-called “Dark Ages,” which were, in fact, illuminated by such great lights as the Fathers of the Church, like Ambrose and Augustine. Slattery presents the complex and incredible contribution of the Benedictines in the preservation of learning, and gives a truly fascinating study of St. Columbanus (St. Columban), and his Irish Monks. The reader will find very helpful the many fascinating maps in this section of the book which demonstrate the missionary zeal of the monks after the commissioning by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

This section, in particular, has several fascinating sections that many will find helpful in application to pastoral ministry. Slattery’s section in Chapter Two, “Birth of a Remarkable Institution: The Parish,” (23-31) is among the finest sections of his text. He is able to offer the reader a well-researched, thematic history of the parish, while at the same time inspiring the reader with the heroic lives of the parish’s pastors, particularly in his mentioning of the priestly ministry of the Irish priests at the time of the Famine.

Another truly well-written, historically-based section that Slattery presents is on Alcuin (Chapter 5. “Alcuin and the Idealists behind the First Empire.”) Describing Alcuin as the “Educator of an Empire’s Educators,” (114), the author is able to clearly articulate how Catholic priests were able to preserve and restore the West’s intellectual tradition.

The text’s third section, entitled: “Distinctive Features of Western Civilization That Budded in the Dark Ages,” (139-245), offers a study, both chronologically and thematically, of the ways Catholic priests have contributed to our civilization. Slattery presents to his readers—in an age when the nobility of the Catholic priest has been so called into question due to the sins of a few—exactly how it was that the priest became the true father of chivalry, treating women well, and inspiring men to be truly human. The author writes: “The struggle to channel the passions of masculinity in a flawed human nature where dwell the breeding grounds of brute ferocity, must ever be present in any civilization worthy of man. Whenever masculinity is identified with the will to power, wherever warfare is exalted as an ideal and allowed to dominate society, swiftly flow the rivers of blood and savagery, racism, class conflict, and even genocide.” (153). Would that men today see that “strength of body and goodness of soul” (155) are essential for the survival of authentic Christian manhood today! Slattery’s analysis of a true Christian masculinity, which asks “a man to measure his manhood by his ability to stand his ground when pride or pleasure tempts him to dishonor his commitments. The chivalrous knight knew that there were pledges he had to keep in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer-unto death” (179) is essential and necessary for all Christian men today, including priests. In an age in which “toxic masculinity” is a buzz-word (and sadly, for some, a reality), Fr. Slattery’s excellent analysis may offer a solution.

The author presents a well-developed tenth chapter, “Founders of Free-Market Economics,” in which he traces, in a remarkably interdisciplinary fashion, exactly how it was that the Catholic Church and her priests, in her natural law theory and mentality (215), were able to foster a culture of free enterprise and economic freedom, from monasticism to the present day.

Fr. Slattery’s work gives his reader an insight, through history, but also through a true spirituality and understanding of the Catholic priesthood, into the vocation which has preached the Gospel, celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, absolved sins in Confession, offered Extreme Unction, but also fostered the true humanistic education of millions, fostered an economic system based on free enterprise, and fostered art, literature, and culture for generation. Heroism and Genius is a monumental achievement and should be on the reading list for every priest, religious, and seminarian.

Rev. John P. Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and serves as Academic Dean and formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Fr. Cush holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and US Catholic Church History. Father Cush is a theological consultant for the NET TV and a contributing writer at National Catholic Register, as well as the Brooklyn Tablet and the Albany Evangelist.


Greek For Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek.  By Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer, foreword by William D. Mounce, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017 (ISBN 9780801093203). Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD.

As the academic dean of a seminary, I know well what the requirements are for entrance into the seminary in the United States: a candidate should have, prior to entrance into major seminary (the time where he will study theology in proximate preparation for ordination to the priesthood) two full semesters of Latin. During the course of his four years of theology (or its academic equivalent) for his STB (Bachelors in Sacred Theology) or M.Div. (Masters in Divinity) academic degree, he needs to have at least a semester of New Testament Greek. This biblical language, essential for truly understanding the New Testament, is even recommended in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fifth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation (PPF) for high school seminarians stating: “The study of Latin and Greek represents a valuable component in a serious high school education, and is strongly advised” (#172). It is mentioned again for College seminarians in the PPF # 182, and for pre-theologians (seminarians entering without having attended a college-level seminary) in the PPF #189. In fact, the PPF, in its section of intellectual norms for priestly formation on the theology level, doesn’t even mention the study of the biblical languages and Latin again, as it assumes that it was already done! All this should indicate to the reader that, for any Catholic priest, a basic understanding of New Testament Greek is essential. It is also extremely helpful for all the faithful who wish to be able to understand the subtle meanings found in Sacred Scripture, without the coloring offered by English translations.

Greek For Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek by Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer (both professors of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky) offers for its reader a concrete plan for beginning the study of New Testament Greek if he or she has not done that before, or, if it has been several years since the last time one had formally studied Greek (for me, it was when I was in my first year of seminary theology studies!), getting back what you had learned. The authors, in a practical and humorous way, give their readers “pro-tips” on studying New Testament Greek, as well as some helpful, joyful motivation (and even a little bit of shaming for not studying enough!). Its first chapter, “Keep the End in Sight” is designed to explicate why a preacher needs a solid, working knowledge of New Testament Greek. Merkle offers a charming story, told by analogy, of why those who want to know more about the Lord should want to study Greek. He writes: “My brother-in-law’s wife is from Honduras. They met through a mutual friend who set them up. At that time, my brother-in-law didn’t know any Spanish. But after he decided that he wanted to pursue a relationship with her, he did the only reasonable thing an eligible bachelor would do: he learned Spanish! Why? Because he wanted to communicate with her in her heart language. He didn’t want to rely on a translator to communicate his thoughts and feelings. He wanted to be able to read the letters she wrote to him without relying on a translation. If my brother-in-law was willing to go through all the work of learning a language to read her letters, shouldn’t we be willing to read God’s love letter to us in the original language?” (11)

As noted above, the text is written by two Protestant ministers and it shows. There are several references in the text to famous Protestant theologians and preachers, including Martin Luther. This should not turn the Catholic reader off the book for it offers practical pedagogy. In fact, the authors even explicitly mention one of the reasons to know Biblical languages is for its explicitly apologetical use. They write, quoting Protestant minister John Piper: “Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.” (14) As to what “liberal theology” would consist for them, the authors do not go into the details.

The authors several times throughout the text encourage the study of Sacred Tradition through the Greek Apostolic Fathers, as well as the Septuagint. There is nothing theologically for Catholics reading this book to be upset (with the exception of the sentence: “The New Testament only gives us two sacred rituals or ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” {131}) in this text and it is to be commended for its mostly wide accessibility to Christians across denominational lines. What is telling is that in chapter five, “Use Greek Daily,” when comparing English translations of a particular verse, Ephesians 1:5, the authors reference so many contemporary translations in English, and do not even mention the most used biblical translations by Catholics in the English-speaking world (at least in the United States): The New American Bible (79).

The text offers some practical examples of why knowing New Testament Greek is essential for a pastoral life by established Protestant pastors, as well as a rather thorough review of tools like lexicons, dictionaries, and language textbooks. Its aim is geared to those who not only want to know Greek for academics, but primarily for the pastoral ministry of preaching. Greek for Life’s practical, “nagging” in good humor style is engaging and encouraging. For those who want to begin or renew their New Testament Greek studies, Merkle and Plummer’s book, with all its excellent pedagogy, is highly recommended.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He serves as Academic Dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History.

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  1. Avatar Magdalena Hudson says:

    Please review The Catechism of Seven Sacraments for children by Building Blocks of Faith in your late summer book reviews so we can know if it is a good homeschooling tool.