Book Reviews – March 2019

Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus
By Craig C. Hill. Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, PhD. (skip to review)

The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift
By Stephen J. Rossetti. Reviewed by Fr. John Cush. (skip to review)

Further Up & Further In: Understanding Narnia
By Joseph Pearce. Reviewed by Clara Sarrocco. (skip to review)

Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad
By Saad Sirop Hanna. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux
By Susan Motu. Reviewed by Alan L. Anderson. (skip to review)

Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms
By Adam C. Blai. Reviewed by Timothy D. Lusch. (skip to review)


Servant of All – Craig C. Hill

Hill, Craig C. Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2016. ISBN: 978-0802873620. 217 pages.
Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, PhD.

In his Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus, Dr. Craig C. Hill provides an honest and faith-filled reflection on scriptural themes concerning the problem of status and ambition in the life of Christians and the Church. Alas, writing from a very Protestant theological hermeneutic, Dr. Hill’s text suffers from theological myopias that do call for expansion and remedy. However, within the bounds of his primarily scriptural and reflective project, the text provides the reader with an honest scriptural reflection on true Christian humility in the midst of a world obsessed with status and self-promotion. Indeed, as Hill surveys in the first chapter of the text, there is much in our “wiring” that makes us susceptible to the need for communal status. Our survival often depends upon our successful keeping of status in the midst of the world’s difficulties. And yet, the disciple of Christ is called to something quite different — even if it did indeed take the disciples some time to realize this themselves!

In this vein, Hill takes the reader through a semi-personal reflection on what one may glean from the Gospels concerning the nature of Christ’s own mission in the Incarnation as well as the demands that He makes of those who would follow after Him. The Incarnation points us to the immense kenosis of Christ — something reflected in the humility of His birth, in the company He kept in His public ministry, in His contentious relations with the powerful leaders of the Jewish community of His day, and ultimately upon the Cross. Likewise, Christ proclaims eschatological reversals in which the lowly will be exalted, the sorrowing filled with joy, the exalted humbled, and the sinners and tax collectors placed above those who were “holy” in the world’s eyes.

As Hill notes in his reflection on the disciples, it is quite easy to make Christian discipleship into a kind of tit-for-tat, a divine recompense that would give some benefits to the faithful disciple. Yet, the only thing that matters is Christ, and Him crucified. Alas, Hill could have broadened out these sorts of reflections by drawing on the rich history of traditional theological reflections on divinization and theosis, topics which would offer the key to articulating the kind of Cross-centered theology that he tries to sketch out in the sixth chapter of the text.

His reflections on St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are quite appropriate, and taking some time to reflect with Hill can be of use to Catholics. Like the Corinthians, we can have our particular devotions and our “apostles” in our own lives. (This includes the current reviewer, who is well aware of his own overly strong opinions.) One is a Thomist of the Strict Observance, another a Balthasarian, another a follower of Ratzinger, another a Personalist — Absit! Thus, there is much to be gained by recalling Paul’s exasperation at the “Apostle grabbing” of the Corinthian community. One only wishes that Hill would have made the great Apostle’s focus on the Cross of Christ even more central, as this would have provided important connections with his reflections on the Gospels. However, at times, he seems a little bit timid to provide a robustly ascetical outlook (although this is, in fact, what is required in light of the texts themselves and, above all, in light of the Christian tradition of both East and West). Instead, in the midst of a critique of prosperity preaching, he somewhat dampens the radical nature of Pauline spirituality, saying: “The ideal, of course, is balance. Too much cross can lead to pessimism or despair, and too much resurrection can lead to otherworldliness or hyper spirituality. Overall, Paul offered his readers an even-handed theology that avoided the extremes on either side” (87–88). He then goes on to note the centrality of the Cross in the present life, but this theme remains ever dampened by the aforementioned kind of middle-road hermeneutic. The same tone reoccurs on various occasions throughout the text. This undermines the strong voice of Pauline and Gospel abnegation, which alone can really provide the proper hermeneutic for a Christian approach to status, ambition, and discipleship.

He briskly, though thoughtfully, reflects on other well known social themes in the Corinthian epistles. He does likewise for several other epistles. Much of what is said in this context is edifying, but rather brief. However, this review should turn instead to the final chapter on hierarchy, which comes up singularly short for a Catholic.

Certainly, throughout Hill’s reflections on the dispositions of those in Church power provide good general guidelines for how to scripturally understand the humility of Christian leadership, as well the utterly new character of common life in the ecclesial body of Christ. However, a Catholic reader will realize quickly that discussions of these matters must take up weightier theological topics that have been “hammered out” by the Magisterium through the centuries, developing the doctrine present in Scripture by harmoniously expanding it within the bosom of tradition. Thus, any full discussion of the hierarchy must include at least sketches of the sacramentality of the Church as such, the nature of the baptismal character as well as the sacramental character of ordination, above all in the episcopacy by means of which the authority of the Church is assured through the generations. Much greater nuance is then needed in parsing the universal call to divinization in Christ alongside the legitimate authority vested in those who are sacramentally ordained in the Church. All of these points provide the only possible context for fully addressing these matters. Without it, we have at best very surface-level reflections on matters which are, in reality, based upon profound ecclesiological foundations.

However, I am loath to close with a negative affect for a book that is obviously written in a spirit of true self-reflection by a faithful follower of Christ. Moreover, this reviewer is someone with a preference for speculative theology, which no doubt figures into my concerns. In any case, the reader can benefit from Hills’s reflections, which are an honest appraisal of the humility that is needed on the part of all believers. While his own Methodist theological hermeneutics cannot be taken up as definitive for a Catholic trying to appraise the state of the Christian layman, religious, and cleric in the Church (and in the world), one can always benefit from faith-informed reflections — so long as the reader is aware of the shortcomings of a theological methodology that, in the end, is insufficient for a full, Catholic understanding of these matters.

Dr. Matthew Minerd is Professor of Philosophy and Moral Theology, Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA.

 

The Priestly Blessing – Stephen J. Rossetti

Rossetti, Stephen J. The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1594718472. 192 pages.
Reviewed by Fr. John Cush.

Monsignor Stephen J. Rossetti’s latest text, The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, is a fine work and will no doubt prove to be helpful to the priests, deacons, and laity who will read this book. Rossetti offers the rationale as to why he wrote the book in his preface:

The subject of priestly blessings, and also those of deacons and the laity, seems to be garnering more interest in recent years. There are a number of blogs and podcasts by priests now published on blessings, and some priests have written STL theses on this subject. It is a topic that is starting to be discussed, especially in clerical circles. Priests spend quite a bit of time giving blessings of every sort, and yet it is a subject infrequently discussed in their intellectual and pastoral formation. And many of us have come to realize that there is a great lack of resources available to teach or learn about the history, theology, and ecclesial importance of blessing for the life of the Church. (xi)

The author sets out in a clear, logical tone to remedy this situation through the method of positive theology, namely exploring an understanding of blessings (both priestly and non-priestly) through an examination of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, official ecclesial texts, pastoral experience, and, finally, through disputed questions.

One of the more interesting reasons why Rossetti mentions that he wrote The Priestly Blessing is that “as secularism increasingly seeps into many parts of the world, God’s blessings can help turn back the tide” (xi). This is a point well-made and we priests cannot be timid about offering the sacramental and sanctifying grace that can pour forth from a priestly blessing. The author acknowledges what some may perceive as an innate clericalism when a priest offers a blessing. He states what might be a common experience for many of us priests: “I do not recall it ever being mentioned. In fact, during my priestly formation more than thirty-five years ago, instructors seemed concerned with not promoting clericalism and downplayed any special grace attached to the priesthood” (3). Although I personally did not encounter this in my own seminary formation, I can attest to experiencing this “anti-priestly blessings” attitude from both clergy and laity from time to time in the course of my own priestly ministry.

In the second chapter, “Blessings in the Old Testament,” Rossetti addresses the necessity and rationale of a parent offering a blessing to his or her child (see 13–15). He wisely and sensitively explains the difference between the blessing offered to a child by a priest and that of a parent, namely: “When a priest blesses, in a unique way, he stands in the person of Christ, the head of the Church: in persona Christi capitis (CCC 1548)” (14). In no way does the author dismiss or denigrate the blessing offered by a layperson. For Rossetti (and indeed in the mind of the Church), the priest is “swimming in a sea of grace” (20). A particularly beautiful section is offered by Rossetti, emphasizing the very configuration of Christ to the priest: “the daily dispensation of the sacraments and a regular blessing of the world around him, God’s joy slowly fills his heart and gratitude should naturally escape from his lips. As God has richly blessed him, he should increasingly bless God’s creation in return” (20). This is one of the finest parts of Rossetti’s book — there is no doubt in the mind of the reader that the author believes in the ontology of the ordained priesthood, which expresses itself with, through, and in the sacramental life. Sadly, perhaps in a misguided effect to encourage the apostolates of others, the priest’s ontological change and sacral character has been forgotten.

Rossetti’s third chapter, “Blessings in the New Testament,” offers the priest some fine spiritual advice about daily recharging in prayer with the Lord. He explores the change in the ritual of blessing of food before meals between De Benedictionibus, the ritual book used prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and the revised Book of Blessings, the ritual book used after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, demonstrating the continuity between the two (41–42).

The fourth chapter, “A History of Blessings in the Church,” takes us through initially a rather straightforward discursus on the tradition of blessings, but then gives us some excellent food for thought concerning the blessing of weapons (54–56) and rogation days (65–68), and offers us an excellent theology of grace. Rossetti’s fifth chapter, “The Book of Blessings,” demonstrates the care and research and consultation with other theologians that he has put into this book. His sixth chapter, “Holy Water,” does the same and offers an excellent understanding of the blessing of expectant mothers at its conclusion (96–98).

No doubt, The Priestly Blessing’s seventh chapter, “Who Can Bless?,” will prove to be the most interesting to many of Rossetti’s readers. He explains clearly and respectfully the distinction between invoking and imparting a blessing in these pages (102–07). Interestingly, the author then wisely addresses the issue of diaconal blessings (a question that I have received so many times from both transitional and permanent deacons), and states, citing Benedict XVI’s 2009 addition to the Code of Canon Law (c. 1009), “that deacons invoke rather than impart blessings, unlike priests” (108).

The eighth chapter, “The Nature of Blessings: Disputed Questions,” gives the reader the opportunity to ponder some interesting queries, especially the issue of exorcisms (121–30). There is no doubt in the reader’s mind that the author is aware of the very real and very malignant presence of the Evil One in the world. Rossetti’s final section, “Summary,” wraps his present up in a pastoral and rather attractive manner.

Rossetti’s The Priestly Blessing is an accessible book for busy priests, deacons, and laypersons who wish to understand what it means to invoke and to impart blessings. The only suggestion that I could have made for this fine book is to include a section of the USA’s growing population of Latino, Caribbean, and Asian peoples whom I have discovered are often the first to approach the priest for blessings. Rosetti writes: “We ought never be afraid to ask, ‘Would you like to receive a blessing?’ In several decades of priesthood, I recall few moments when someone has said no. In reality, I think I have neglected many opportunities when God wanted me to bless someone and I missed the moment. Brothers, extend your hands over God’s people and bless them” (44–45). I believe that Rossetti’s text will bring attention to a much under-used aspect of priestly ministry today, and hopefully will inspire priests to not be stingy with offering blessings to as many who request them.

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

 

Further Up & Further In – Joseph Pearce

Pearce, Joseph. Further Up & Further In: Understanding Narnia. Charlotte: TAN Books, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-5051-0866-8. 216 pages.
Reviewed by Clara Sarrocco.

Several weeks ago on the quiz program Jeopardy, the question rested on a picture of C.S. Lewis, the book Mere Christianity, and a reference to his children’s stories. None of the youthful contestants knew the answer. We have much work to do and a good place to begin is with Joseph Pearce’s book Further Up & Further In: Understanding Narnia.

Although C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were written for children as fairy tales, the message is a much more complicated one. In his introduction to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis explains to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield: “you are already too old for fairy tales. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Joseph Pearce has written his book for those who are “old enough” now.

In his introduction he explains that the order of the original publication does not coincide with the chronological developments of the stories. When asked, Lewis did not object to having the stories presented in a time order rather than in order of publication. Pearce chooses the former format. While not repeating the sequences of events, each chapter touches upon the narrative but then goes on to explain the hidden or deeper meaning that Lewis intended.

He begins with The Magician’s Nephew and ends with The Last Battle. The underlining theme of this first book is the principle of “scientism” as opposed to real science. The second book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is the most popular. This book represents Christ’s crucifixion as an atonement for the sins of mankind. The Horse and His Boy represents the ancient battle between Christianity and Islam. This book is often misunderstood and is used to accuse Lewis of innate racism — an accusation made by those who do not know of the ancient historical battle between the two religions. Prince Caspian speaks against “modernism” when the modern world succumbs to an evil tyranny aimed at overthrowing the old religion. Ancient legendary figures of the past return to conquer the forces of evil.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader highlights some of the ideas of George Bernard Shaw and progressive education. Perhaps the most memorable part is the scene when Eustace, a boy raised by avant-garde parents, is undragoned. His old selfishness is ripped from him by Aslan and he becomes a normal, faithful boy. The penultimate book is The Silver Chair. Although written in 1953, it touches upon a timely theme — bullying. It is something Lewis had firsthand knowledge of, as he tells in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. The culmination of the series is The Last Battle. It is both the final scene for all the major characters and also the end of the world, when Christ will come again.

Many scholars have seen various themes in the Chronicles, each bringing his own vision to the stories. Joseph Pearce is no different, but his perspective brings many allusions to other writers, such as Tolkien, Chesterton, Aquinas, and Plato. No matter which version is preferred, the truth will always be visible and the Chronicles reach every heart in search of what is true and good. If there is a flaw, it is that Pearce at times becomes too didactic and seems overly anxious to relate the stories to specifically Catholic themes. This having been noted, Further Up & Further In is a good place to start in unraveling the depth of the stories after having read the books themselves.

Clara Sarrocco is Secretary of the New York C.S. Lewis Society (www.nycslsociety.com), as well as President of the University Faculty for Life – Long Island Chapter.

 

Abducted in Iraq – Saad Sirop Hanna

Hanna, Saad Sirop, with Edward S. Aris. Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-0268102937. 184 pages.
Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Once the seat of several great civilizations, from the Sumerians and the Akkadians to the Babylonians and the Assyrians, present-day Iraq and several of its neighboring countries in the Middle East are grappling with spates of barbaric violence perpetrated against religious minorities. According to recent statistics, Iraq’s Christian population has shrunken from roughly 1.5 million before the Iraq War in 2003 to an estimated 150,000 people in 2018. In this compact memoir, now-Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna recounts his kidnapping, his nearly month-long captivity, and how he managed to hold true to his faith in the midst of such crushing circumstances. By relating his nightmarish yet true story in vivid detail, Hanna provides a window into the real dangers and looming fears experienced by religious minorities in parts of the Middle East.

As Father Hanna was returning home from celebrating Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption in his native city of Baghdad, militants abducted him at gunpoint. He was blindfolded for virtually the totality of this harrowing ordeal and endured a roller coaster of emotions, but he managed to hallow the time with introspection and dialogue with God. “Much like my captors,” Hanna chronicles, “in the morning I would pray, spending the remainder of the day in thought and contemplation” (67). Scriptural passages, such as Psalm 23, served as a mantra and gave him inner comfort and hope. Ironically, the Muslim extremists imprisoning him exchanged greetings of peace and blessings with one another. The unstated lesson of this juxtaposition is that religious fervor and outward piety alone should not be mistaken for genuine faith. Humankind’s religious impulse is a gift that can be misdirected and misused if it is not carefully cultivated.

In the midst of threats, insults, beatings, and privations, Hanna maintained a serene disposition and refused to renounce his faith or to hate his captors. The Chaldean Catholic clergyman patterned his own response on that of Christ by enduring iniquities with “the openness of a love unyielding and unconquered” (108). He explains: “I was determined that they would not break me. That I would not give up who I was for the sake of longevity” (108). Despite his faith in humanity wavering (112), Hanna highlights the compassionate acts of one of the young men who was monitoring him and of Muslim villagers who said, “You are people of the book. Why would they take you? This is haram [sinful]” (130). Hanna’s narrative reminds readers that human beings are capable of both depravity and great goodness.

With distractions eliminated and the fleeting nature of transitory pleasures unmasked, Hanna discovered the elements of his life placed into the grand scheme of things. “If there is a gift to be found in the close proximity of death,” he reflects, “then it is surely perspective” (138). “The shadow of death,” he poignantly explains, “blows away the dust of the unimportant” (139). In describing his herculean escape attempt, Hanna teaches that authentic hope, faith, and love is linked with concrete action. He explains: “It is a common mistake to render faith a state of passive hope, rather than a vehicle for action. Many people have assured themselves that they will find justice, that they will find salvation, by virtue of being Christians, by carrying the name of Christ as part of their identity. However, that in itself is not sufficient. . . . Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (120). He continues: “The clearest symptoms of a land where justice and righteousness have lost their way are the screaming words that remain unspoken. . . . Silence is the cruelest sound for those who need it to be broken” (130).

Hanna speaks movingly of traumatic experiences. “It is as though the pen with which you write the story of your life suddenly runs dry, and no word that comes after will ever be of that exact color” (167). Life will never be exactly the same for those who have survived traumatic events, but life must go on. A minor flaw of this work is that the phrase used to describe the storage trunk of an automobile — namely, “the boot of the car” — may be unfamiliar to an American audience, but context clues lead the reader to understand its meaning. The story ends rather abruptly with Hanna’s release. The reader is left wondering why Hanna was targeted for abduction in the first place, why the captivity endured for nearly a full month, and what served as the linchpin for his emancipation. Not all the dots are connected. That was perhaps done intentionally to underscore the point that the sin of violence and subjugation, ultimately, has no rational basis. Life comes with problems that cannot be fully solved with logic; rather, they require movement beyond suspicion and calculation to forgiveness and love.

Although this autobiographical work was published by an academic press, it is meant for a popular audience. It is accessible and engaging. This informative exposition of the plight that Christians and other religious minorities endure amidst hostile forces is a present-day analog to Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek’s With God in Russia (1964). Father Hanna urges his readers not to take for granted normality or freedoms, and to assist those who have yet to secure those freedoms. As he narrates his story about preaching and living the Gospel amid persecution, Hanna passes on golden nuggets of spiritual wisdom. The profound insights with which Hanna approaches the ignoble behaviors he was forced to endure is a sign that the chaos cannot sustain itself for long; mayhem will yield to maturity. The lessons learned from the dark episode Hanna describes are hopefully a prelude to the dawning of a future full of stability, integration, and harmony.

Christopher Siuzdak is a canonist in the Tribunal of the Diocese of Portland.

 

Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart
– Susan Motu

Motu, Susan. Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1594716676. 160 pages.
Reviewed by Alan L. Anderson.

Almost unnoticed during last fall’s Youth Synod in Rome was the assertion of at least one of the working groups of the need to “link the ordinary to the extraordinary.” As Robert Royal noted In Search of the Ordinary Good Life, “The Church used to — and should again — teach the most important school of spirituality of all: how to live a passionate, ordinary, good life.” Regardless of what ails the Church at its upper levels, a re-emphasis on teaching the methods for finding holiness in everyday, ordinary living is much to be desired. And Susan Motu’s Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux provides a readable and functional guide for achieving just that.

Motu’s book has a dual purpose: first, to introduce to and illuminate for the reader the basic elements of the popular Saint Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way” and, second, to encourage the reader to apply those elements as everyday “evangelizers,” as foot soldiers in the New Evangelization called for by Pope St. John Paul II.

Motu identifies twelve facets of Therese’s “Little Way” — facets such as hiddenness, gratitude, living a sacramental life, abandonment, trust in Divine Mercy, etc. — and devotes a chapter to each facet. After drawing on Therese’s own writings to elucidate the facet or quality of the spiritual life to be developed, she then offers a brief description of how that quality might be made manifest in the New Evangelization, moves to two or three questions for reflection for the reader to consider and then concludes with a closing prayer.

While Motu’s presentations and discussions on the facets for the New Evangelization she discerns in the writings of the Little Flower are more than just adequate — indeed they often come close to the poetic — it is in the questions for reflection which appear toward the end of each chapter that Motu’s work shines brightest. Motu brings to her writing on this subject over thirty years of experience in spiritual direction — much of it in cooperation with the inestimable Fr. Adrian van Kaam. This experience becomes evident in the clear and concise questions she asks at the end of each chapter; questions which cut straight to the heart and provide considerable fruit for both meditation and examination of conscience. Having tilled the soil with her thoughts on Therese’s “Little Way,” these questions plant the seeds for spiritual growth.

Indeed, the questions in each chapter often build one upon the other, gently leading the reader to a consideration of concrete areas in life which might benefit from further conversion. For example, at the end of chapter five, a chapter dedicated to the facet of abandonment to Divine Providence, she asks the reader to consider, “In this action-oriented world, how would you identify with the abandoned heart of Jesus whose only food was ‘to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work?’” (Jn 4:34). Having guided the reader to contemplation on the ways in which he or she might relate to Jesus’s abandonment to the will of the Father, she later asks the reader in chapter nine, a chapter devoted to the facet of simplicity, to reflect if “there is something in your life you would like to simplify” — thus directing the reader to consider those “functionalistic pressures” which might be blocking the simplicity necessary for abandonment to Divine Providence.

Yet, these reflection questions also often bring comfort as well as challenge. At the end of the first chapter on hiddenness, for instance, she asks the reader to recall a few “seeds of evangelization” the reader may have planted which went “unnoticed” and instances in which the reader knew “that what was done was not done by you (the reader) but by the grace of God.” The Evil One succeeds not just when he convinces us to act against God’s will, but also when he convinces us to ignore those times that we do.

One minor quibble, though — more of a concern, really. At the beginning of her chapter on gratitude, Motu offers a bon mot which has gained some currency in the areas of evangelization and catechetics in recent years, to wit: “faith is caught before it is taught” (29). On the first page of her preface to the book, Motu tells the reader, “Churches and schools are inundated with more information-based programs that promise to enhance the faith” (xi). Two pages later, in explaining why she wrote the book, she tells us she “felt obliged to distinguish it from more information about the faith.” Motu seems to be touching, here, at least implicitly, on what this reviewer perceives as a growing tendency in the Church to posit some opposition between that which may be called “evangelization” and that which may be called “catechesis” — as if they were two separate processes. Other recent offerings on the New Evangelization, such as Sherry Waddell’s widely-read Forming Intentional Disciples, similarly seem to discount the role simple knowledge, i.e. catechesis, may play in evangelization.

However, both Scripture and Tradition offer counter-examples. From Philip’s conversion of the eunuch following just a brief catechetical lesson on Isaiah, found in Acts, through Blessed Newman’s famous aphorism, “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” to Patrick Madrid’s testimony in his story Surprised by Truth, we have ample evidence of the role simple knowledge — i.e., catechesis, the “echoing” of the truths of the Faith — might play in effective evangelization. While it is true the walk of faith entails relationship, and equally true that many may come to a relationship with Jesus through a relationship with those already on that walk, we should also recognize that there are some — indeed, also perhaps many — who might come to relationship with Christ through a more complete knowledge of Christ. St. Paul, the master missionary, summed this latter approach to evangelization well when he wrote, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). The faith life of the preacher is important, but so, too, are the words preached.

Allow me to suggest this is one of those instances with which most Catholics are familiar where the correct approach is not either-or but both-and. Certainly it is the case that piety, fortitude, and wonder and awe of God are prerequisite gifts of the Holy Spirit for the New Evangelization, gifts most beautifully nurtured in Ms. Motu’s book. Yet, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom regarding things of the Faith must also be present to fully realize the counsel and right judgement which establishes the prerequisite for the fruits of the Holy Spirit made manifest when a full and fruitful relationship with Christ is established. Where Ms. Motu sees parishes ‘inundated with information-based programs,’ others, including this reviewer, see a golden age of catechesis providentially sent as a remedy following the virtual catechetical disaster of the late twentieth century.

Thus, with this caveat in mind, Ms. Motu’s work in Twelve Little Ways provides important insights both for the spiritual development of the believer and on one way in which one may lead others to Christ — but perhaps not the only way and possibly an incomplete way. And, in fairness, as the above quotes from her book suggest, this, after all, was her primary goal for this delightful offering.

Alan L. Anderson worked at the parish and diocesan level in catechetics in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria for over twenty years. He currently teaches theology at the Chesterton Academy of the Sacred Heart in Peoria, IL.

 

Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms
– Adam C. Blai

Blai, Adam C. Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017. ISBN: 978-1945125591. 156 pages.
Reviewed by Timothy D. Lusch.

“Abba Arsenius used to say that one-hour’s sleep is enough for a monk if he is a good fighter.” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
“And he cometh to his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Mt 26:40)

Spiritual warfare is a difficult business. We want to fight like Arsenius but fall short (or asleep) like Peter. And yet it is Peter who warns us, “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). And not the devil only, but his many servants who fell into pride and far from heaven. Knowing our enemy — his tricks, taunts, and temptations — is necessary for an active spiritual defense. And active it must be, as Peter warns, lest we fall into the sleep of sin.

Adam C. Blai, peritus of religious demonology and exorcism for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, has compiled a solid and straightforward introduction to this ministry of the church. There are others: pastoral manuals (Blai has written one also), books for the small community of international exorcists, and a smattering of narrower works for general readers (books on deliverance). And, of course, there is Scripture. It is the ultimate work on exorcism and battling demons, organized for our defense most effectively by Evagrius.

Blai, in the tradition of Fr. Gabriel Amorth, offers both lay and clergy alike a concise foundation and a fund of resources. He describes the ways in which demons seek inroads into our life (unsurprisingly, it is rarely a neon sign warning of their approach) and the ways in which they gain territory (infestation, oppression, possession). Blai is excellent in explaining the legalistic nature of the spiritual world, perhaps a counter-intuitive notion for most until one gives it due attention. And lest we think it cruel or arbitrary that a loving God would allow us to be tempted according to predetermined rules (despite the example of Job), we must remember it was Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons who said, “I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

And we are not defenseless. God is always present in our lives and provides ample resources through the ministry of the Church and the support of the faithful. We are taught how to pray, use sacramentals, and receive the Sacraments. Some may even be given the gift of discernment of spirits. And, of course, the Church’s ministry of exorcism is always available to those in great need.

Blai spends a good deal of time distinguishing between healthy engagement with the spiritual world and the dangers of spiritualism, ghost hunting, and psychic mediums. Even seemingly passive interest or involvement in these activities can open the door to the demonic. Blai offers examples from his years of experience in assisting with exorcisms, in the manner of Fr. Amorth’s An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories. His testimony, like Fr. Amorth’s, is a powerful and poignant reminder that the battle is joined. The human heart is both field and fighter, and we neglect the field and fight at our peril.

The appendices are a useful arsenal of biblical lessons, prayers (including a dusted-off abbreviation of the Office for the Dead), glossary, and suggested reading. It is marvelous to get all of this between two covers, and makes Blai’s book both deeply informative and quite practical. While Fr. Amorth’s An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels is still the best starting point, Blai’s book deserves a place on the shelf next to it.

Timothy D. Lusch has appeared Catholic World Report, New Oxford Review, Chronicles, The University Bookman, Crisis, Catholic Exchange, and other publications online and in print.

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