Book Reviews – February 2020

Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples
By Richard P. Fitzgibbons. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination
By John Corvino, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Meditations of the Passion and Death of Christ
By Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Christ. Reviewed by Deacon Thomas Skaja. (skip to review)

Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-first Century
By Obianuju Ekeocha. Reviewed by Jeffrey Kirby. (skip to review)

Habits for a Healthy Marriage
– Richard P. Fitzgibbons

Fitzgibbons, Richard P. Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2019. 280 pages.
Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Drawing upon the temple portal at Delphi, the ancient Greek philosophers conveyed the invaluable aphorism of “know thyself.” The Romans, influenced by Stoicism, developed a maxim counseling “master thyself.” The Christian tradition contributed to civilization the notion of “give thyself,” wonderfully recapitulated at the Second Vatican Council as making “a sincere gift of oneself” (Gaudium et spes, no. 24). Self-knowledge, self-mastery, and self-sacrifice are the pillars for a healthy and fulfilling marriage. Through a series of accessible vignettes and explanations, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons conveys forty years of experience as a psychiatrist helping couples flourish in their marital relationship by detecting and displacing potentially corrosive behaviors or patterns with virtuous habits.

The first chapter discusses forgiveness as a remedy for anger. In many cases, angry outbursts reflect unresolved and misdirected anger from one’s past. Not only can anger wound the delicate dynamic of a relationship, it can also be detrimental to physical health by significantly increasing the risk of heart attack. The author offers some strategies or techniques for forgiveness. “Forgiving those who inflicted hurts decreases anxiety, sadness, and anger and increases self-esteem” (136). Among the Scriptural passages cited, it would have been helpful to include that God is “slow to anger” (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18). Likewise, Pope Francis’s reflection on patience as a dimension of love (cf. 1 Cor 13:4) found in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia seems germane but did not make it into the book.

The second chapter explores how generosity conquers selfishness. “Self-giving is essential to human fulfillment and happiness,” writes Dr. Fitzgibbons (60). “Generosity,” the author explains, “helps spouses to expand their thoughts and actions beyond their narrow desires, to encompass the greater ‘we’ of marriage and family life” (70). Chapter three discusses respect and the role it plays in overcoming the urge to control. The author notes: “Respect in marriage flows when the spouses deeply admire each other’s goodness, abilities, qualities, and achievements. This respect contributed in no small measure to their being attracted to each other and to their decision to marry” (87). The author offers some advice on how to gently correct controlling spouses or parents. The fourth chapter treats responsibility as a means of closing emotional distance. The virtue of responsibility “prevents spouses from turning inward, expands and purifies their hearts, and helps them focus on ‘we’ and not on ‘me’. It protects spouses from becoming prisoners of themselves” (109). Spouses need to see each other as the greatest gift given by God, not as yet another person making demands. By taking responsibility for the marital friendship, goals, and confiding in each other, spouses can turn into “each other’s champions” (113).

The fifth chapter explores trust as the antidote to anxiety. “When offering one’s spouse a needed correction or a recommendation for growth in addressing a weakness,” Dr. Fitzgibbons suggests, “one should begin and end by affirming his goodness. This approach is called the sandwich technique of correction” (133). The sixth chapter discusses how hope reduces sadness and loneliness. The author points out that “the pursuit of holiness (rather than wealth) and the goal of attaining eternal life together” provides couples with a sense of common mission and can act as a buffer against discouragement, sadness, and depression. Chapter seven describes the harm that insecurity and ingratitude can inflict on a marriage. “Confidence in our God-given gifts and fundamental goodness makes us comfortable and fulfilled in giving love to our spouse and children and in receiving love from them,” the author explains (163). “In married life, it is important for spouses to express their gratitude for each other every day” in order to counteract the pernicious tendency of taking the other for granted (172). He cautions about the “thinking error or cognitive distortion” of perfectionism (172). An attitude of gratitude is highly beneficial.

Chapter eight discusses prudence in relation to healthy communication. Fitzgibbons reflects: “The proverb ‘problems shared are halved’ is true in a marriage in which husband and wife share their burdens with each other and solve difficulties together. It is doubly true when spouses also share their concerns with the Lord” (181). The author advocates for emphatic listening, explaining that “problems need to be discussed in order for solutions to be found” (190). Moreover, “When spouses are sincerely trying to become other Christs to each other, they want to help each other carry their crosses by listening and offering supportive feedback” (190). He warns that “silence can be perceived as indifference or a lack of respect, which can lead to sadness, anger, a loss of trust, and a decreased motivation to communicate” (192). The ninth chapter addresses temperance, which includes the aspects of self-control and self-denial, as a restraint on compulsions and infidelity. Chapter ten shows that justice demands that couples who experience turbulence in their marital relationship should not “give up” too quickly. The author provides examples of some collateral damage and unintended consequences of divorce.

The eleventh chapter, entitled “Loyalty Lessens the Retreat from Marriage,” discusses the causes and consequences of the so-called cohabitation revolution. The author also expounds on the benefits of marriage. The author points out that “chastity is not prudishness” (128). The twelfth chapter reflects on humility as a catalyst of self-knowledge. “Research has shown,” the author reports, “that approximately 70 percent of adult psychological conflicts originate in childhood and adolescence” (263). By reviewing and reflecting on the models of marital life to which one was exposed and one’s formative experiences, one can identify anomalies or limitations that need healing and growth.

The chapters are interrelated and reinforcing but can also stand alone. The intended audience includes both recently-married and long-married Catholic spouses, engaged couples, singles, parents, clergy, and mental health professionals. First and foremost, the book aims to assist Catholic spouses in maintaining or repairing the health of their marital relationship. Engaged couples, especially those who have been impacted by their parents’ divorce, can learn how to uncover and resolve vulnerabilities. “This book can help Catholic singles be more hopeful about becoming successful Catholic spouses” (24). Parents, “who have the primary responsibility for the long-term preparation of their children for marriage,” will be assisted in “modeling a loving, sacrificially giving, cheerful Catholic marriage” and “communicating the Church’s truth about marriage” (25–26). Clergy will be assisted in preaching and teaching about marriage and in providing pastoral counseling. Vocations directors can be assisted in their evaluation of candidates for the priesthood and religious life by learning more about parental legacies” (27). Lastly, marital counselors will emerge better equipped to counsel couples with a Catholic spirituality. Given that many couples in distress are reluctant to approach a therapist because it appears costly or uninviting, Dr. Fitzgibbons’s self-help resource fulfills a need by starting a serious conversation about identifying weak points in a relationship and encouraging individuals to undertake the demanding task of fostering virtuous habits in place of maladaptive ones.

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

Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination
– Corvino, Anderson, and Girgis

Corvino, John, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 343 pages.
Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

In the set of dueling essays and rebuttals that comprise this work, the authors debate and help define the essence and scope of religious liberty within “an increasingly diverse, interconnected, and legally complex society” (3). Without wading into the thicket of historical scholarship regarding the formation and enactment of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the book opens with a succinct history of religious persecution and religious freedom in the United States. The authors center their debate on contemporary questions that have arisen as a result of the recent (2015) Obergefell v. Hodges decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Corvino argues that “religious liberty should not morph into religious privilege, licensing discrimination and inequality” (103–04). He favors replacing the “strict scrutiny” standard of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with an “intermediate scrutiny” test for statutes that incidentally burden religion (51). Corvino advocates for laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in order to prevent material harm and dignitary harm (helpfully defined in pages 72–73). He proposes and assesses three different paths to balance rights. The options range from “constructing antidiscrimination law in such a way that excludes certain types of businesses (e.g., ‘expressive,’ ‘wedding-related,’ ‘small-owner operated’) or certain services” (81–82), to granting religious exemptions while requiring “business owners who take advantage of such exemptions to post their position publicly” (85), to denying religious exemptions but permitting “business owners who object to same-sex marriage to post their position publicly” (87). Corvino is concerned that assertions of religious liberty could risk anarchy by allowing a religious citizen to become “a law unto oneself.”

Anderson and Girgis argue that “a law merits extra scrutiny when it penalizes you for the chance to pursue basic goods adequately” (241) because “the state’s basic duty is to empower and not encumber people’s pursuit of the basic goods” (133). Religion and integrity are among the irreducible goods required for human flourishing, according to Anderson and Girgis. They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be promulgated to remedy social or material harm only “when media, market forces, and social pressure of other kinds aren’t treating the harm themselves (182). Anderson and Girgis argue that “a given antidiscrimination bill should be passed only when: (1) private treatment of a particular group imposes (a) material and/or (b) social harms (c) which the law can best cure; and (2) the particular proposed antidiscrimination provision is drawn narrowly enough to (a) suppress interactions that inflict those material and social harms, (b) avoid banning too many legitimate or harmless interactions, and (c) avoid treading too far onto other interests like conscience, religion, and speech” (179). Anderson and Girgis are concerned that SOGI laws could be used in culture clashes as a metaphorical battering ram to suppress individuals and groups with views different from the prevailing orthodoxy.

This work is well-suited for a wide range of readers. The authors “attempted to frame things in a manner that is accessible enough for wide audiences — voters, politicians, students, and ordinary citizens of various stripes — but also detailed enough to be of interest to opinion leaders and academic specialists” (5). Anderson and Girgis’s articulation and application of natural law reasoning (basic goods theory) to these questions of discrimination, toleration, and balancing of liberties is a noteworthy contribution to the field. Undergraduate students in political science, students of law and canon law, and all individuals interested in the intersection of religion and the law of the land will emerge better equipped to engage in public conversations on these neuralgic and high-stakes issues by pondering the points and counterpoints presented in this thought-provoking book.

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

Meditations of the Passion and Death of Christ
– Ignatius of the Side of Christ

Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Christ. Meditations of the Passion and Death of Christ. Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2018. 194 pages.
Reviewed by Deacon Thomas Skaja.

Meditations of the Passion and Death of Christ, written by Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Christ, a Passionist priest, is a compilation of The School of Jesus Christ Crucified, originally published in 1895, almost forty years after his death. Although his meditations are over a hundred years old, they are beautifully relevant today. In this book, Fr. Ignatius offers powerful reflections to the reader who journeys with Christ from his betrayal to his crucifixion and death.

From the moment Christ took leave of his mother prior to the Last Supper to the moment his side was pierced with the lance on the Cross, Meditations of the Passion and Death of Christ serves as a strong spiritual aid to assist the reader in going deeper into the Paschal Mystery. Fr. Ignatius takes the reader through thirty-one meditations on the Passion and Death of Christ, enabling a person to meditate on a different aspect and event of the Passion every day for a month. He begins each meditation with a brief description of an aspect of Christ’s passion, which is followed by several different considerations. These reflections are followed by what he calls a “fruit,” or some practical way of living out the particular meditation. The lesson is then concluded by an example of a saint who exemplified the mystery by the way he lived his life.

Fr. Ignatius roots these meditations in Sacred Scripture, and then expounds upon them in an elegant manner. The reader will be sure to appreciate the depth in which he speaks about these events in the Passion of Christ. For example, when he examines the denial of St. Peter, he does not merely gloss over the event, but rather takes the reader through the causes of what led him to deny the Lord. Fr. Ignatius then relates the causes of Peter’s denial to what causes a person to fall into sin. Time and time again, he gracefully and succinctly delves deep into these meditations, plunging the imagination and the soul of the reader into the last moments of Christ’s life. In a real way, Fr. Ignatius guides the reader and takes him back to that Good Friday so long ago, in order to help him to experience the Passion and Death of Christ in a new way. Undoubtedly, this text will serve as a classic Lenten reflection for all who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, as well as his immense love for us.

Overall, the efforts of Fr. Ignatius are praiseworthy in leading the reader through the mysteries of Christ’s Passion and Death. Written in the nineteenth century, the language is accessible, though advanced. By “advanced,” I do not mean to say that a theological degree is required before reading this book, but to acknowledge that this is a text full of theological depth and insight. Because it is theologically rich with meaning, the meditations allow for deep prayer and contemplation, which will make for a beautiful monthly retreat, especially in the season of Lent. With that said, it seems to me that this compilation is not merely the fruit of intellectual research, but is all the more the fruit of his prayer and love for Christ as a Passionist Father.

Meditations on the Passion and Death of Christ is a book that has already proven itself to stand the test of time. Having read and prayed through these wonderful meditations, I am grateful that this work of Fr. Ignatius has been re-published and made available for the modern-day Christian. I would recommend this book to anyone who seeks to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ, the Blessed Mother, and the saints, particularly to those who seek to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Passion and Death of Christ. As I have mentioned, this classic text would make for a beautiful Lenten retreat, as the reader slowly walks with the Lord through his last hours on earth.

Deacon Thomas Skaja is a transitional deacon of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Target Africa – Obianuju Ekeocha

Ekeocha, Obianuju. Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-First Century. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018. 203 pages.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kirby.

Books are usually helpful narratives, or collections of instructions, or reflections on various topics. It’s rare that a book stands out as a moral compass to the human family.

In her book, Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-First Century, the human rights activist Obianuju “Uju” Ekeocha has provided a clearly argued and provocative exhortation on moral truth, human dignity, cultural identity, national autonomy, and the self-determination of peoples. In doing so, she has given the human family, especially the West, a popular re-read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ekeocha affirms and appeals to these fundamental rights of nations while unmasking the perpetuation of colonialization on the African continent. She begins her 203-page work with a summary of the end of historical, temporally governed colonization of the various countries of Africa. After reminding readers of this dark past, Ekeocha describes the continued presence of Western countries in Africa and the manipulation that is often employed in the giving of foreign aid. Such manipulation, no longer born from historical direct governance, is much more disguised and deceptive.

Western countries and their various corporations feign a love and concern for the African peoples and offer vast sums of assistance. African countries, many of whom are in dire need of such support, accept the aid that’s offered. After the assistance is given, however, new expectations and demands are imposed. Such demands often betray the spirit and way of life of the recipients. If any objection is raised, the benefactor nation or corporation threatens to suspend or withhold the promised aid.

The real arrangement, falsely represented, is quickly made clear as the donor reveals its true motive. The foreign aid is not to help with industry or agriculture, vaccinations or education, infrastructure or technological development, but rather to use the vulnerability and lack of options of African nations to impose a foreign, non-African ideology onto the peoples and cultures of Africa.

Such an ideology, completely removed from African values and sensitivities, oftentimes involves definitions of marriage, family planning, parenthood, abortion, and radical feminization. As an outside worldview, which is forced upon ancient cultures, it becomes an ideology is tantamount to a new colonization.

This new, ideological colonization is dismissive of local values. It’s condescending to native peoples, belligerent of revered customs and traditions, and is aggressive in its stance against fatherhood and parenthood.

Ekeocha explains: “Africans by and large believe that sex is sacred, that human life is precious from womb to tomb, that children are blessings, that motherhood is desirable, and that marriage between man and woman is life-generating” (29). She continues: “To take them away from us amounts to invasion, occupation, annexation, and colonization of our people” (29).

After giving a summary of various fundamental rights, Ekeocha explores the various aspects of the new ideological colonization. Throughout the book’s eight chapters, she dives into questions on population control, the hypersexualization of youth, the seeds of radical feminization, the push for abortion rights, and the normalization of homosexuality.

Ekeocha is bold in unmasking the “modern-day colonial masters” who intimidate African nations, threaten their well-being, and ride roughshod over African values and the African family. Rather than invest in African agriculture and resources, education, and technological advancements, the new masters show their true colors. Africa and its inhabitants are seen as an occupied and controlled territory that can be used for ideological experimentation and social engineering.

In her book, Obianuju Ekeocha has given a well-formulated exposé of Western ideological neocolonialism and a well-argued summary of the fundamental rights of peoples and nations. This is one of those rare books that should be read and studied by all people of goodwill.

Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-first Century shows us a glimpse of what Western culture once was, what has been lost in the West, what is under attack in family-oriented African cultures, and why it’s worth fighting for and preventing as we move forward.

Father Jeffrey Kirby is an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Belmont Abbey College.

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  1. Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

    Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples
    By Richard P. Fitzgibbons. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak

    Although it is probably unfair to judge a book by its review, there seems to be an omission in what is covered: there are many spiritualities which support and encourage the fullness of Christian Marriage; and, therefore, whether it is Marriage Encounter, the Neocatechumenal Way or whatever it is, marriage benefits from the presence of others in the Christian life. Furthermore, and generally as a part of that spirituality, there is a tremendous help in a prayerful reception of the teachings of Christ’s Church, the enlightenment and help of the word of God and time together “in retreat”, with or without the children. For a reflection on over twenty years of marriage and how it has been punctuated by pilgrimages, with and without the children, see: The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends, published by En Route Books and Media: You might even go on and review it on Amazon!

  2. Francis,
    Thank you for your comments.

    I recommend that you review my book again. You seemed to have overlooked the citations of the benefits of the luminous writing of St. John Paul II on marriage in each chapter for struggling couples. I also suggest you read again the stories in each chapter on the benefits of faith, in addition to virtues, in addressing the powerful and harmful emotional and personality conflicts in each, often arising, in part from unconscious childhood wounds or negative modeling. Finally, I suggest you review the role of faith as it is discussed in attempting to resolve the excessive anger that is present in every major marital conflict and that blocks their resolution.

    The book offers a unique approach to marital healing based no over 40 years of clinical work that incorporates the writings of the Saint of the Family, St. John Paul II, Catholic meditation and prayer with positive psychology, particularly Forgiveness Therapy, with its focus on growing in virtues to resolve conflicts in self-giving in order to maintain a. healthy personality. Healthy marriages are dependent upon each spouse honestly facing and addressing his/her own weaknesses so that they can become in the process another Christ to their spouse.

    This is demanding work. However, as St. John Paul II wrote, “But this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others.” p. 19