Book Reviews – April 2019

Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy, Vol. I: Lent & Holy Week
By Fr. Thomas Hoisington. Reviewed by Stephanie A. Mann. (skip to review)

Off the Hook: God, Love, Dating, and Marriage in a Hookup World
By Timothy P. O’Malley. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

A Catechism for Family Life: Insights from Catholic Teaching on Love, Marriage, Sex, and Parenting
Edited by Sarah Bartel and John S. Grabowski. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent: On the Situation of the Church in China
By Joseph Cardinal Zen. Reviewed by Clara Sarrocco. (skip to review)

The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch: A Christian’s Companion for the Study of Islam
By David Pinault. Reviewed by Marie C. Nuar, SThD. (skip to review)

Doors in the Walls of the World: Signs of Transcendence in the Human Story
By Peter Kreeft. Reviewed by Timothy Lusch. (skip to review)

The Blessed Virgin Mary in England: A Mary-Catechism With Pilgrimage to Her Holy Shrines
By Br. Anthony Josemaria, FTI. Reviewed by Jonathan A. Fleischmann. (skip to review)

Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy
– Fr. Thomas Hoisington

Hoisington, Fr. Thomas. Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy, Volume I: Lent & Holy Week. Wichita: In Hoc Est Caritas Press, 2018. 128 pages. Available in paperback and for Kindle.
Reviewed by Stephanie A. Mann.

Among my annual preparations for Lent, amidst planning menus for Fridays, searching out schedules for Stations of the Cross (preferably with Exposition, Adoration, and Benediction) and other devotional opportunities, and deciding what charitable causes to support, selecting spiritual reading for the season is essential. Catholic publishers provide a wide array of choices from classic to contemporary, for different age groups or other demographics, with reflections, prayers, activities, and suggested penances, etc.

Father Thomas Hoisington’s new Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy from In Hoc Est Caritas Press offers readers an excellent alternative not just because of its focus on the lectionary readings for every day of Lent, but also because he includes all three Sunday reading cycles (A, B, and C). This one book will be beneficial for reflection and meditation from 2019 through 2032: I should live so long! It’s also a useful volume for priests preparing Sunday homilies or daily feverinos and for RCIA catechists in preparing catechumens and candidates for the Scrutinies and Holy Week.

With passing references to outside authorities (St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Bl. John Henry Newman, the Catechism of the Catholic Church) Father Hoisington heeds his own counsel that “we should never underestimate the depth of Sacred Scripture” (45) when seeing how the readings at Mass connect with each other and with our lives as Catholic Christians. Each reflection makes connections within the lectionary readings for the day, or between those readings and common Lenten devotions like the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, or between the readings and the Sacraments, especially of Baptism, Confession, and Holy Communion. The entire book is suffused with Catholic doctrine, devotion, and morality. For example, when describing how God can bring great good out of evil, he tells us, “If you find it hard to acknowledge this, pray an entire rosary without taking your eyes of the crucifix” (39), thus reminding us that God responded to the “happy fault of Adam” with the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery.

Within the reflections, Father Hoisington also offers excellent spiritual advice: admonitions to deeper conversion, awareness of our sinfulness, need of forgiveness and God’s bountiful mercy and love, learning how to pray, eradicating selfishness in our lives, etc. He stresses, in the reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent (Year C), that “the relationship between our moral life and our spiritual life is complex. Each builds upon the other, and the sins in the one area make it easier to commit sins in the other” (27). On the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B), Hoisington offers another way to explore this relationship in how we examine our consciences, whether at the end of the day or when preparing to confess our sins:

. . . you need a measuring stick. . . . You can purchase different pamphlets or booklets to help you make an examination of conscience. Each may employ a measuring stick different from the rest: one the Ten Commandments, another the Beatitudes, another the cardinal and theological virtues. Each of these can be effective.

But in the end, God uses only two measuring sticks. The first is the vertical beam of the Cross, that stretches from earth to Heaven: that is the command to love one’s God. The second is the horizontal beam of the Cross, against which the hands of Jesus were nailed: that is the command to love one’s neighbor. (49)

Each call to apply the liturgical readings to our spiritual and moral lives reminds the reader of what Father Hoisington describes as another measurement of our growth as Christians: “a journey into the relationship of God the Father and God the Son” (54).

The reflections for Holy Week certainly intensify that journey. For Palm Sunday Year A, which we’ll celebrate in 2020, for example, Hoisington focuses on “the two-edged sword” of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday: shouting for Jesus (“Hosanna to the Son of David!”) or against Jesus (“Crucify him!”). In contrast, Jesus is silent and does not react to either shout (“he does not refute, he does not debate, he does not defend Himself”), but continues “his journey to the Cross”. Father Hoisington advises us to be silent, too, to prepare for the rest of Holy Week and thus join Jesus on His journey, putting the two-edged sword back in the scabbard. (73–75)

That journey culminates on Good Friday, as Hoisington describes the moral and spiritual and even emotional aspects of Jesus’s last hours from Gethsemane to Calvary. In the midst of describing that journey, Father Hoisington inserts a lesson in how hard a short journey can be: walking ten steps from one room to another to tell someone we love that we are sorry we hurt her or him (“how difficult it is . . . It can take some people decades to make that journey.”). He then reminds us that Jesus made His journey, endured all the humiliation, torture, and ultimately death on a cross for “every human being: past, present, and future”; for those on Calvary’s hill when He died, for those in Hades when He descended to rescue the Old Testament “saints,” and for us when we “accept Jesus with faith” in our hearts (89–92).

Father Hoisington includes reflections for “solemnities that may occur during the Season of Lent” (St. Joseph and the Annunciation), a homily in honor of Humanae Vitae’s fiftieth anniversary, and a Litany to martyred bishops to pray for the “virtue of fortitude” in the pope and bishops around the world (for private devotion only).

The book’s covers boasts recommendations by three bishops: a former priest of the diocese of Wichita, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska; a former bishop of Wichita, Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa; and the late Bishop Emeritus of Wichita, Eugene Gerber. The book has also received the imprimatur of the current ordinary of Wichita, Bishop Carl A. Kemme (and the nihil obstat of the diocese’s censor librorum). This reviewer lives in the diocese, attending the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Wichita. Notwithstanding all this local praise, Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy, Volume I: Lent and Holy Week should have an impact far beyond Kansas as it calls readers to love Jesus more and more by reflecting on the readings at Mass each day during Lent and applying them to their lives.

Stephanie A. Mann is a Wichita, Kansas, author and presenter who has carved out a niche as a specialist on the English Reformation and historical apologetics for national Catholic media like EWTN TV and Radio, the National Catholic Register, OSV’s The Catholic Answer Magazine, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Crisis Magazine, Catholic World Report, the Saint Austin Review, and Gilbert for the American Chesterton Society. She also writes often for Tudor Life, the publication of the Tudor Society. Her book, Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, is available from Scepter Publishers. She blogs at


Off the Hook – Timothy P. O’Malley

O’Malley, Timothy P. Off the Hook: God, Love, Dating, and Marriage in a Hookup World. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2018. 131 pages.
Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Popular culture promotes “hookups” as a form of recreation or release in which there are “no strings attached.” Casual sexual encounters, however, do leave lasting strings by cheapening sex and creating a craving for carnal pleasure robbed of loving communion. O’Malley offers an invigorating exposition of the nuptial liturgy as a means of counteracting and correcting wayward cultural scripts or “cultural liturgies.” He affirms that the Church’s sacred liturgy teaches a form of life “that has the potential to renew the world” (xx). With a down-to-earth style, O’Malley shows how the horizon of God’s redeeming love imbues human love with great depth and meaning.

The first chapter realistically portrays the hookup culture — from “pre-gaming” to the “walk of shame” — and sketches why a culture of consumption and disposability has seemingly displaced an ethic of communication and commitment. Chapter two explains “love as a gift of self that is not reducible to feelings or desires” (xxii). O’Malley debunks the fatalistic and sentimentalist “soul mate” theory. He asks rhetorically: “Isn’t the drama of love that I give my will to one other person, knowing full well that other people exist whom I could love? Marriage is not the discovery of some preexisting soul mate. It is a commitment to love this one person whom we recognize as gift beyond gift” (41). O’Malley successfully conveys that progressive self-revelation and deepening commitment is freeing and ennobling.

Chapter three explores the love of man and woman in relation to salvation history. The biblical themes covered are: the re-creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, the revelation of Jesus Christ as Bridegroom of the Church, the participation of husband and wife in the nuptial love of Christ, and the eschatological wedding feast of the Lamb. Chapter four examines how “in the Catholic Rite of Marriage, consent is a new consecration to Christ” (79). Chapter five reflects on the Eucharist as a renewal of vows and the family as a Eucharistic icon. Chapter six, written in the form of a stand-alone letter to young adults, discusses the possibilities and promise of the Sacrament of Marriage. There is also an appendix offering tips on how to provide remote and proximate formation for marriage.

The work could have benefitted from more reflection on the paschal character of Christian marriage. A chapter or subsection on “Marriage and the Paschal Mystery” that touches more explicitly and in more detail upon self-emptying (kenosis), dying to selfish wants, asceticism (askesis), and the discipline of renunciation could be beneficial. There are, however, advantages to keeping an introductory text such as this upbeat and focused principally on interpersonal communion.

This book is well-suited for “young adults interested in examining an alternative culture to hooking up,” “young couples either preparing for marriage or recently married” (xxiv), “couples in more mature marriages who have their own children to worry about,” and “those responsible for marriage formation at the parish and diocesan level” (xxv).

Timothy P. O’Malley, of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, has given readers a front-row seat in his popular undergraduate course entitled “Nuptial Mystery: Divine Love and Human Salvation” by distilling the central insights of that course into this readable book. The narrative prose is simultaneously engaging and educational. The authenticity of the author shines through the text as he seamlessly weaves together insights from divine revelation and his personal lived experience. O’Malley compellingly challenges readers to contemplate Christ’s love and to use it as a measure of their own love.

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


A Catechism for Family Life – Sarah Bartel and
John S. Grabowski

Bartel, Sarah, and John S. Grabowski, eds. A Catechism for Family Life: Insights from Catholic Teaching on Love, Marriage, Sex, and Parenting. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2018. 265 pages.
Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Having mined the magisterium for profound and relevant insights on marriage and family life, moral theologians Sarah Bartel and John Grabowski have compiled this helpful catalogue of quotations. The excerpts, ranging from singular sentences to several paragraphs in length, draw upon sources such as biblical passages, conciliar constitutions, apostolic exhortations, papal homilies and allocutions, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Code of Canon Law. The excerpts are arranged topically as answers to questions. The quotations under each heading are organized in reverse chronological order, that is, the most recent pronouncement is listed first (with the exception of scriptural citations always enjoying primacy of place). Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio of 1981 and Pope Francis’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia of 2016 figure into this work prominently. The editors also extract valuable insights from lesser-known sources, such as the Pontifical Council for the Family’s Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life of 1997 and its document of 2000 entitled Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions.

Chapter one revolves around a critique of certain deleterious trends confronting the grace-filled institution of marriage. It asks and answers, for example, “Even if the church views marriage as an unchanging sacrament, why does it care what the government says about marriage?” Chapter two covers the discernment of marriage as a vocation and the choice of this particular man or woman as a potential spouse. It touches upon such issues as having a healthy marriage despite deficiencies in one’s parental model and enduring emotional wounds. Chapter three discusses preparations for a lifetime together and for the wedding day. The quotations respond to questions such as, “What is the problem of living together without being married?” Chapter four covers issues related to planning for a family and child rearing. Chapter five covers balancing family, work, and lifestyle. It asks and answers, for example, “How much effort should we put into staying connected with our relatives, in-laws, grandparents, and our own parents when we’re so busy with work and our own kids?” Chapter six covers difficulties such as violence, abuse, annulments, and grown children in heart-wrenching situations. It asks, for example, “Should I go to my child’s wedding if both parties are Catholic but they are not marrying in the church?” Chapter seven and eight attempt to showcase the mission of the domestic church to contribute to the common good of society through prayer, service, and evangelization.

This invaluable resource marshals selections from primary sources into a single, user-friendly volume. Homilists will find this carefully curated catalog of quotes to be an invaluable resource. This work enables clergy to provide much “food for thought” about marriage and family life throughout the liturgical year, not only in nuptial homilies and wedding preparation. This work is also well-suited for college students or seminarians studying the theology of marriage. Anyone who assists in catechesis, marriage preparation, or couples counseling would benefit from this reference book. Each section can stand independently, or the book can be read cover-to-cover. Last but certainly not least, married couples and persons interested in marriage can enhance their appreciation for marriage and its implications by reading this text. This book can assist with human formation at all levels. The editors helpfully offer brief explanatory remarks at certain points, affix a citation to each passage, and close with a list of further reading in order to prevent proof-texting and promote deeper understanding. In sum, this diligently compiled resource presents the rich tradition of Catholic teaching on marriage and family life in “bite-sized pieces.”

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


For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent
– Joseph Cardinal Zen

Zen, Joseph Cardinal. For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent: On the Situation of the Church in China. Translated by Pierre G. Rossi. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019. 153 pages.
Reviewed by Clara Sarrocco.

In For Love of My People, Cardinal Zen reproduces the eight lecture he presented in Hong Kong on the tenth anniversary of the 2007 letter of Pope [Emeritus] Benedict XVI to Catholics in the People’s Republic of China. The cardinal’s aim is to clarify and correct any misunderstanding that may have accrued to the letter. The lectures were originally given in Chinese, translated into Italian, and the re-translated into English. Cardinal Zen has many questions as to the accuracy of the letter’s translations (either by error or design). The lectures began on June 19, and ended on June 28, 2017. On reading the lectures, one has to take into consideration not only the translations, but diplomatic language, which often obfuscates, and the nuances of Chinese culture, which at times is perplexing to those in the West.

The adage traduttori traditori — that is “translator, traitor” or, perhaps more clearly, “translation is distortion” — has to be kept in mind when Cardinal Zen points out the numerous errors in reproducing Pope Benedict’s words to Chinese, then to Italian (which he did himself), and then finally into English. Zen is careful to point out that the mistranslations could have been caused by error but he does not rule out misleading design. He wrote:

Pope Benedict XVI . . . is certainly qualified to write such a letter due to his experience of totalitarian regimes, first Nazism and then Communism. . . . Our high-ranking Vatican officials . . . have not lived under such a totalitarian regime. . . . and so their concept is somewhat naive and optimistic. (12)

The Catholic Church in China is divided into two communities: the “underground,” or unofficial, Church and the official, government-controlled Patriotic Church. Cardinal Zen’s lectures were given before Pope Francis’s 2018 agreement with the Chinese government. In the “concordat,” Pope Francis accepted the legitimacy of seven bishops which were appointed by the Chinese government — illegitimate bishops of the Patriotic Church. In return, it was hoped that Beijing would recognize the Pope’s authority as head of the Catholic Church. The future bishops were to be chosen by the government with the approval of the papacy. This greatly troubled Cardinal Zen, who knows both sides of the problem. It was what inspired him to write this book, with the hope of correcting some serious misconceptions which were created by the translations of Pope Benedict’s letter, and that he (Cardinal Zen) pointed out in his memorial lectures of 2017. He knows that totalitarian governments feel no compunction to keep their word or to actually speak the truth. “But can there be anything really ‘mutual’ with a totalitarian regime? Either you surrender or you accept persecution,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

Each chapter is devoted to an analysis of what Pope Benedict wrote and a careful delineation of how it was misused and/or misunderstood. Cardinal Zen blames in part the theory of Ostpolitik held by some Vatican officials for the betrayal of his people. Some of the topics that he examined are: corrections of the Chinese translation (accidental or deliberate errors?), Catholic ecclesiology, the situation of the Church in China, and the relationship between the Church and state. He was very careful in placing blame, recognizing that in many cases it was just naiveté, but he definitely does not rule out more sinister motives, if not by the Pope, at least by his closest advisers.

In the eighth and final lecture, Cardinal Zen recapitulates the entire troubling matter. He speaks for the faithful Catholics, both laity and priests, who belong to the underground Church and have remained faithful to the Church despite many horrible repercussions. His message to his faithful flock is:

For you, a new age of the catacombs will begin. It will be winter. It will be hard on you. The government will seize your churches. The priests will no longer be able to administer the sacraments. All that will be left for you is to go home to farm the land. But you will always be priests. Reassure the faithful that God’s grace is not tied to the sacraments. God has a thousand ways of filling your heart with his grace. (141)

One cannot read Cardinal Zen’s book without sensing his deep sadness, and the cleft in his heart for the faithful underground Church and how difficult this time is for them. He has taken it upon himself to be skeptical of the motives of his brother churchmen. He fears their betrayal more than their errors. He has written such a painful book for his Church for the truth, and for the love of his people. He has now promised to be silent, to enter a monastery and to pray for China, and for the Church.

Some time ago a missionary priest who was expelled from China under the Mao purges told me that, before they left, the priests buried the sacred vessels to prevent them from being desecrated. Somewhere in the soil of China there rest symbols of the Faith buried just as the underground Church is buried. Their suffering and the prayers of Cardinal Zen will not go unanswered.

I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak. . . . I will feed them in justice. (Ex 34:11–16)


The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch – David Pinault

Pinault, David. The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch: A Christian’s Companion for the Study of Islam. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018. 439 pages.
Reviewed by Maria Nuar.

Pinault’s new book, The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch: A Christian’s Companion for the Study of Islam, consciously takes a different tack to the study of Islam than many other introductions. Many introductions present Muhammad and his life, the revelation of the Quran, etc., in themselves, without placing them in comparison with another religion. He presents Islam in comparison with Christianity, not, like many others, by focusing on similarities. Rather, the focus is on the distinctions. This is not a polemical book, taking pot-shots at the ‘other’. Rather, it is a reasoned, composed exposition of where the two faiths differ.

In his own words, Pinault

wrote this book because I believe studying Islam can help us develop a fresh appreciation of our own Christian faith. Too often over the years I’ve witnessed Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue gatherings in which, out of an understandable desire to lessen bigotry and foster good will, both sides minimize the radical differences between Islam and Christianity. This does a disservice to both religions. In fact Islam completely rejects the core beliefs of Christianity that distinguish it from all other religions. Studying a religion like Islam that rejects Christian doctrines so utterly can help us understand what is distinctive and uniquely precious about our Christian faith. (“How studying Islam can deepen and strengthen your faith,” Catholic World Report, Nov. 19, 2018).

Pinault is neither Muslim nor someone who grew up in a Muslim culture. He studied Islam and is a professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. He knows Arabic, Urdu, Persian, and Latin, offering his own translations of sections of relevant texts, some of which have not previously been translated. He has also traveled to, and interviewed various people in, counties such as Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Yemen.

Pinault acknowledges that he is a confessional Catholic. His goal, in both his classes and his book, is “to ensure that even as students become acquainted with Islamic doctrines, they also learn what is distinctive and uniquely precious about the Christian tradition” (11). So, while he covers the basics that pretty much every introduction to Islam covers, he focuses on what he thinks “will interest a Christian reader” (11). One of his main arguments in the book is that “attempts at Christological rapprochement do a disservice to both religions” (11).

Like any introductory text, one must be selective about what one discusses. Pinault, while offering a solid introduction to Islam for the uninitiated, does it with a Christian lens, focusing on the areas which would have more meaning for Christians. There are three areas that he focuses on. First, God’s kenotic self-emptying. Second, that divine redemptive suffering is a reality and shows God’s solidarity with created beings. And, thirdly, that Christ truly became man, died on the Cross, and rose again. In each of these areas, Christians and Muslims strongly disagree. The book does not only discuss these areas of disagreement.

Pinault first sets the stage by offering chapters explaining the culture into which Islam was born, who Muhammad was, along with his life experiences, the revelation of the Quran, and the role and meaning of jihad, and offers descriptions of how Jews and Christians were portrayed in the Quran. As a non-Muslim, Pinault does not believe the Quran was directly revealed to Muhammad, as Muslims believe. Rather, for him, Muhammad is the author. This means that the Quran reveals something of Muhammad’s mentality. In addition, Pinault discusses Mohammad’s life and actions, pointing out that since both Sunni and Shia Muslims believe Muhammad to be sinless and perfect, someone who should be imitated, it is important to know something about whom they are seeking to imitate.

He then moves into examining specifically how Jesus is portrayed in the Quran and how this differs from the Christian understanding of who Jesus is. He points out that, “although Islamic scripture refers to Jesus almost a hundred times, it is usually to condemn Christians for what they believe about him. Thus the Koran insists that he is not divine, not the Son of God, not a member of the Trinity or someone who died on the Cross” (283). These differences form fundamental differences between the Christian and Islamic beliefs about Jesus. The next few chapters focus on the distinct understandings of Jesus’s nature and mission.

The last few chapters present the results of his work and interviews in Muslim countries, with one entire chapter focusing on Islam in Indonesia, which helps to highlight the varieties and changes taking place in Islam. He focuses on the status and persecution that Christians experience in places like Egypt and Yemen, touches on what happens when Muslims want to convert, and examines how Christians maintain and live their faith in such places.

Pinault rather hastily treats some subjects, such as the Shia–Sunni divide, who decides what the ‘doctrines’ of Islam are, and much of the thought of medieval Islam. He cursorily mentions the variety of interpretations within Islam without ever really talking about their validity or how much they vary or how many varieties there are. He completely ignores much of Islamic history, including debates over the validity of the hadiths, as well as any effect colonization may have had on Islam. While he critiques the current method of dialogue, which focuses on similarities, he offers no real proposal for what a dialogue that engages the difficult questions might look like. No introduction can cover everything.

His purpose appears to be not so much to prep the reader for engaging in any official dialogue or contributing to an academic discussion. Rather, he appears to be offering a basic understanding to help one in casual conversation with neighbors and a frame of reference with which to approach a more in-depth study, glossing over areas that he believes are less pertinent to grasping an overall sketch of what Islam is and in what essentials it differs from Christianity. This is a good introduction for a Christian who wants to move beyond the talking points of “Islam believes in Jesus, too,” and understand what Islam believes about Jesus (not just that they do) and how that differs from what Christians believe about him. One can easily find other books that will deepen one’s understanding of the history and nuances found within Islam, including in the bibliography he offers at the end. This book stands out as a work which promotes productive interfaith understanding by looking carefully and honestly at the fundamental differences that separate Christian and Muslim believers.

Marie C. Nuar, SThD, is an adjunct professor for Catholic Distance University living in Rome, Italy.


Doors in the Walls of the World – Peter Kreeft

Kreeft, Peter. Doors in the Walls of the World: Signs of Transcendence in the Human Story. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2018. 127 pages.
Reviewed by Timothy Lusch.

“Knock and it shall be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). If Peter Kreeft is right, we needn’t even knock. We have only to seek, find, and enter. The doors in the walls of the world surround us, opening to the transcendent. Those steeped in Plato, medieval metaphysics, great art, music, literature, or liturgy will not be surprised that this is so. But it is always surprising, even for the devoted Kreeftian, to find all of those things between the covers of a slim, concise, and ultimately joyful book.

“This book,” he says, “calls for a remythologization.” Our culture, he believes, is “demythologized” because given over to the pernicious philosophies of reductionism (materialism, cynicism, nihilism, et al) and rationalism. So we must return to the mystical view, the good news of the More beyond the walls of the world. We must embrace the myths that are real, that point to The Real, regardless of factual fictions. He cites Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as an example of true myth.

Kreeft explores the gift of awe and the experience of transcendence through the elements of story. He understands that, as humans created by God, we are living not merely the greatest story ever told, but the only story ever told. All others are variations or distortions. So it is fitting and fun. Who doesn’t love a good story? Especially if it is true. After a brilliant introduction on the three philosophies of life, he structures the rest of the book in chapters focusing on plot, setting, characters, theme, and style.

He rather sneakily explains the plot of Our Story by telling ten other stories. They range from Dostoevsky to Henry James, and from Thornton Wilder to Mark Helprin. He writes of bouncing acorns, grains of sand, and the Egyptian tailor that played a key role in the biblical story of Joseph. All of which point to the fingerprints of an Author. An Author that is more akin to Gandalf than Milton’s God.

The setting of the Story is time. For time, Kreeft says, “is the setting . . . of all stories.” Time, of course, from God’s point of view, isn’t real. But time is real enough to us and as such constitutes a door in the walls of the world. Precisely because our time on earth is finite, we are able to transcend it by embracing the timelessness of God. This chapter, interestingly enough, is the shortest in the book. One can almost hear Kreeft chuckling.

The characters, as we might expect, are God, angels and demons, saints and sinners, and . . . wait for it . . . aliens. Really? Yes. And not aliens merely cruising around scaring people or beaming innocents up to oblivion. Aliens on pilgrimage. In a book filled with thought-provoking stuff, this provokes a lifetime of thought. And tying the celestial strangers into the parable of the lost sheep, he makes one a little less certain that what one sees in the night sky is just a meteor.

Joy is the theme of the Story and it is also a door. Joy, while greater than pleasure and happiness, is more fleeting. But it “never gets boring because it transcends our desires and surprises them with gifts.” C.S. Lewis famously described them as “stabs.” It is the Sehnsucht, the mysterious desire, the fullness of the unfulfilled. Kreeft’s discussion of the mystical unity of joy and suffering is simply terrific (especially since Einstein comes in for an assist).

Lastly, art is the style of the Story. The purpose of art is to cultivate Beauty. But what it should really do, Kreeft says, is “break our hearts.” Only by having our human hearts broken can we experience the stabby joy of transcendence. Music, poetry, literature, painting, architecture, and nature convey something of the Beautiful and, in so doing, break our hearts. Dr. Peter Kreeft has written yet another extraordinary book. And though he makes no such claim, it constitutes a marvelous door to transcendence.

Timothy D. Lusch is an attorney and writer. He has appeared in numerous publications online and in print.


The Blessed Virgin Mary in England – Br. Anthony Josemaria, FTI

Josemaria, FTI, Br. Anthony. The Blessed Virgin Mary in England: A Mary-Catechism With Pilgrimage to Her Holy Shrines, vols. 1 (2008) and 2 (2009). iUniverse, Inc.
Reviewed by Jonathan A. Fleischmann.

First of all, please note that this is a two-volume work, and I am writing this review for both volumes at the same time. I think that it is important that the work be read in its entirety (both volumes), for reasons that I will elaborate on below.

This two-volume magnum opus is a Marian gem that deserves to be far better known! The work is as unique as it is beautiful — a genuine reflection of its subject matter: the Uniquely Beautiful Theotokos. It may be, however, that this very uniqueness has made the book difficult to place for some readers, and this may account for the book having not received more attention than it has before now, since it is much, much, more than simply a description of Marian shrines in England (though it is certainly that, too!). In fact, the book is really four things at the same time: (1) a Marian catechism, (2) a Marian reference, (3) a Marian spiritual retreat, and (4) a Marian pilgrimage guide, all of which share in common the author’s love for, and his often jaw-dropping spiritual insights regarding, the most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and our spiritual Mother.

Indeed, if the book has any fault at all, it would be in its name. The Blessed Virgin Mary In England is really too modest, and it might give the impression that the book consists entirely of the fourth topic listed above, while in fact the topic of Marian pilgrimage in England doesn’t actually begin until chapter forty-something, which is in volume two! Not to worry, though, since there are over sixty chapters altogether, so the part of the book that deals specifically with pilgrimage to Our Lady’s shrines in England is still a very significant part of the work! Nevertheless, this may lead some readers who are expecting to find pilgrimage information in volume one, or even in the first half of volume two, to wonder what’s going on.

If this is a fault, then it is only a fault with the title, and not with the conception of the work, since there is a definite purpose with the combination and order of topics in these two volumes, even if the work is viewed primarily as an aid to pilgrimage. The author is clearly preparing the reader for a meaningful pilgrimage to Marian shrines (anywhere in the world, though this book only provides information about shrines in England). Anyone who has been on a pilgrimage knows the importance of being adequately prepared. If not, then the spiritual benefits that could have been gained during the pilgrimage can easily be lost, and the pilgrimage can become just a kind of glorified tourism. This is why it would be a great mistake for anyone to buy only the second volume of this work, and only read the last twenty chapters or so, just to get the pilgrimage information!

I have gained a great deal from reading this book, both volumes. Indeed, I can honestly say that to me, personally, this is the most inspiring single work on the Blessed Virgin Mary that I have ever read (and I have read quite a few).

To name just one example, Brother Anthony’s chapter entitled “Why Are So Many Christians Embarrassed by Mary?” (ch. 23, vol. 1), and his comparison of the “Deluded Male Soul” and the “Blessed Male Soul” contained therein, is a gem!

Naturally, if you already love the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will probably appreciate this book very much. However, one of the most striking characteristics of Brother Anthony’s writing in general, and in this book in particular, is the universal appeal of what he presents about Mary. Indeed, as he asks the reader in his preface to “read not from the left or from the right,” Brother Anthony writes about Mary in such a charming and non-polemic way that I believe anyone reading this work could not help but be inspired to love her! Unlike what has been said by many ill-informed Catholics and Protestants, from both the Left and the Right, Mary is truly the Mater Unitatis. She is the Mother Who Unifies, with no similarity whatsoever to the serpent who divides! Brother Anthony makes this fact abundantly clear, often times with humor, as he does when he asks (rhetorically), “Where do all these Catholic doctrines come from?” (He provides the answer: “There are never new doctrines in the Church.”)

As a catechism, Brother Anthony’s work has the benefit of setting major points off from the main text and putting them in boxes, which makes it possible to read the work either in detail (which I highly recommend) or quickly (which may sometimes be the best one can do). Even skimming the book quickly and reading only what is in the boxes will give the reader wonderful spiritual insights, and it will whet the reader’s appetite to read the paragraphs in between! In these paragraphs, the reader will discover many Marian gems, expressed succinctly (notwithstanding the fact that each volume weighs in at close to 500 pages) and in a style that is on the one hand conversational and easy to read, but is on the other hand also very deep, as, for example, when Brother Anthony explains how idolatry stems from a failure to reconcile paradox and mystery, and how a correct understanding of Mary as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit protects the Marian devotee against this error.

As a reference work, it is noteworthy that together the two volumes include around 100 pages of endnotes and references — over 1000 endnotes altogether — to say nothing of the information already contained in the main text. Indeed, as one who has written about Marian doctrine and spirituality myself from time to time, I think that there are more useful references in this two-volume set than can be found in many works devoted entirely to theological and doctrinal reference regarding Mary.

While the catechetical and reference aspects of this work are the primary focus of volume one, the spiritual aspect of this work really begins to shine as you progress to volume two, which begins with a more in-depth look at the doctrinal foundations of Marian devotion, and then moves on to a moving account of Mary’s life, before turning attention explicitly to England (including both Marian miracles and Marian shrines). Here is where Brother Anthony leads us in our study of Mary from the realm of the intellect into the realm of the heart. Indeed, as Brother Anthony points out (in a box): “Nonbelievers invariably find a biography of Our Lady offensive!” If this is true, then it must be equally true that nothing gives a believer more joy than a biography of Our Lady, and Brother Anthony’s is probably one of the most beautiful that I have ever read! It is definitely the stuff of meditation.

Here is where it becomes apparent why Brother Anthony has ordered the topics of this two-volume magnum opus in precisely the way that he has. In volume one, Brother Anthony turns our intellect toward Our Lady, and our understanding of her begins to grow. As our understanding of her grows, our love for her grows as well, until, at just the right moment, Brother Anthony allows our heart to “take over,” so to speak, by turning our heart toward a simple and profound meditation on Mary’s life in volume two. It is only after this meditation, when our hearts and our intellects are both ready, that Brother Anthony guides us on to our pilgrimage to the Marian shrines of England. If I ever have a chance to go to England (which I hope to do some day), and to see the shrines that Brother Anthony has described, I would not want to do so until I had read through these two volumes again, in the proper order, to properly dispose myself to make the most of that pilgrimage . . . and it would be the greatest pilgrimage of my life!

The book also comes with excellent endorsements. The foreword was written by Father Peter Damian Fehlner, late of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, who was a Marian theologian of great renown, and several “guest chapters” were contributed by Father Stefano Maria Manelli, who was the co-founder of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, which is the religious order of Brother Anthony Josemaria, FTI. Indeed, this work represents, in my opinion, the very best of the spirituality of that order, which has, sadly, suffered greatly in recent years due to internal division. I sincerely hope that many readers discover this Marian gem, for their own sakes and for the sake of the whole world, which now more than ever needs the loving guidance of a merciful Mother.

Jonathan Fleischmann is the father of seven beautiful children, all of whom are being home-schooled by his intrepid wife Clara on their 15-acre hobby farm in Wisconsin. Jonathan is currently employed as a structural engineer in the post-frame building industry, and he has also been employed as an assistant professor of general engineering and engineering mechanics at various universities, as well as a middle-school math teacher.

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.