Book Reviews – August 2021

In Christ Alive in Me: Living as a Member of the Mystical Body. By Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J. Reviewed by Joe Serwach. (skip to review)

Mystical Prayer: The Poetic Example of Emily Dickinson. By Charles M. Murphy. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Overcoming Sinful Thoughts: How to Realign Your Thinking and Defeat Harmful Ideas. By Fr. Thomas G. Morrow. Reviewed by Oswaldo Castro. (skip to review)

John Fisher and Thomas More: Keeping Their Souls While Losing Their Heads. By Robert J. Conrad. Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ. (skip to review)

The Revelation of Your Words: The New Evangelization and the Role of the Seminary Professor of Sacred Scripture. Edited by Kevin and Scott Carl Zilverberg. Reviewed by Fr. Joseph Briody. (skip to review)

Word Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings, Cycles B and C. By Christopher West. Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle. (skip to review)

In Christ Alive in Me – David Vincent Meconi, S.J.

Meconi, David Vincent, S.J. In Christ Alive in Me: Living as a Member of the Mystical Body. Steubenville: Emmaus Publishing 2021. 208 pages.

Reviewed by Joe Serwach.

Romantics believe in “the one,” the mate who completes them. Christians believe in the One, the source of love and truth itself. Father David Meconi admits to “having a personal relationship with Jesus,” but he wants even more. Christians seek “a personal relationship,” but the Catholic Church calls for “giving God permission to dwell within us, thereby transforming us into another incarnate son or daughter,” a goal “at the heart of the Christian Gospel for millennia.”

The one big thing he stresses: “The only goal in God’s becoming human is to continue his life in ours.” After he spoke at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, his new book quickly sold out at the campus bookstore. The new book starts with Father Meconi encountering a street preacher, asking him if he had a personal relationship with Jesus. He surprised himself with his answer: “I do, but I do not want one.”

“With you and with my friends, with the saints, and with Mother Mary, I would like to enjoy a relationship,” he continued. “But with Jesus Christ, I want something else. I do not want a relationship; I want something more. I want union.”

True union with Jesus is deeper than “a personal relationship”?

The word “relationship,” he notes, comes from the Latin word “latus,” meaning “side” or “edge,” so a re-lation-ship is a side-to-side connection, like the old Christian bumper sticker about having Jesus as your co-pilot. While we seek relationships with people, angels, and saints, Jesus offers and seeks something even more intimate and life-giving to transform you into “another self,” someone super-human, holy, and joyful, perfecting us in complete and total communion.

“Jesus Christ reveals not only the Father to us but also ‘reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear,’” we learn in Gaudium et Spes §22, one of the key 1964 constitutions from the Second Vatican Council.

“The entire point of Christianity, then, is to have our souls melt before the fire of God’s love,” Meconi writes. “This call to divine intimacy means that we must surrender ourselves and all the broken fissures in our souls to Jesus.”

Through this “great exchange,” the Lord offers humanity His own divinity, Meconi writes. Imagine iron. He explains: “Alone, a piece of iron is hard and resonant. But if that piece of iron is put into a fire, it takes on a new nature. It does not cease being iron, but now it shares in the luminosity and the heart of the flame. In that fire, the iron now takes on dimensions: it becomes aglow, it becomes malleable and able to be worked into whatever the craftsperson needs.”

Fire melting iron represents “our soul in Christ,” Father Meconi writes. “God became human, so we humans could become god-ly.” But, he adds, “Because I am made in God’s own image and likeness, the more I become like God, the more I become my truest self.”

When Father Meconi was five, his dad became very sick, dying two years later. His mother told him, “We can either be selfish and try to hold on to Dad, or we can give him over to God the Father, and then we shall get them both back.”

Father Meconi found his vocation to be a priest in those days of extreme loss, realizing no human marriage completely makes us who we are meant to be. What about the marriage between Christ the groom and the Church?

“God is not a force or a singular being, but a Trinity of Lover, Beloved, and the Love who eternally unites them,” with love demanding the presence of Father (the Lover), the Son (the Beloved), and the Holy Spirit (Love itself).

“Unfortunately, many of us spend way too much of our lives trying to figure out what exactly the point of human existence is — in other words, in whose image and likeness we are made,” he writes. “When we get the answer to this question wrong, our psyches split, and we spend our lives trying to figure out what brings us ultimate meaning and thus worth.”

Everything in life is a gift (even the messes we struggle to overcome). All of these gifts, he adds, including our very nature and identity, have been given to us “by One who desires we fulfill that nature properly.” Still, we also receive the gift of freedom to choose. “But the ancient stories of human civilization have offered another account of how things should be.”

C.S. Lewis likens our lives to an automobile that can only run on the correct fuel: we are the boxes, and God is our power source. He recalls Lewis citing Charles Williams’ description of love at its ultimate stage: “Love you? I am you.” So it is with our deepest loves.

Love identifies itself with its beloved. As St. Augustine taught, “Let us rejoice that we have become not only Christians but Christ himself,” adding, “Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the full man.”

Father Meconi explains, “In Baptism, we are adopted into a new relationship, calling God ‘Father,’ and by extension Mary our ‘Mother’ and all the saints our eternal siblings. Would not the lives of Christians change if each actually believed this? As in any loving adoptive family, the adopted and the naturally-born children are not discriminated against.”

“When the Divine Life is reproduced in us, our lives change,” he writes. “It is a dogma of Christ’s own Church that at Baptism, we have received a share in God’s own life, and here we learn how much the Persons of the Trinity love us, are obsessed with us, are thrilled to have us as his own: ‘For the Lord takes delight in his people’ (Ps 149:4). The prophet even described this delight in terms of a spousal union, God’s love lifting us out of our sins and doubt and making each of us his own.”

Joe Serwach, M.A. is an author and former journalist covering the intersection of faith, family and culture at Catholic Way Home:

The Poetic Example of Emily Dickinson – Charles M. Murphy

Murphy, Charles M. Mystical Prayer: The Poetic Example of Emily Dickinson. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2019. 124 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

What does a recluse who rejected conventional religious mores in nineteenth-century Puritan New England have to do with a saintly nun in sixteenth-century Catholic Spain? Emily Dickinson and Teresa of Avila shared the solitude, asceticism, and connection to place, along with the desire for love and mindfulness of mortality, that are the perfect ingredients for mystical prayer. Both of these gifted women, the author argues, were graced with a rich inner life and extraordinary depth of perception. This concise work approaches Emily Dickinson’s poetry through a theological lens and unlocks fresh insights by situating her poetry in the context of the Christian mystical tradition. The author sees Emily Dickinson’s poems “as examples of mystical prayer,” not merely independent lyric poems (17).

The book-length essay begins by “reintroducing Emily Dickinson” with a short biographical sketch, which includes her obituary, the history of her poems’ posthumous publication, and an indication of her poems’ continuous popularity. As the author explains, “The ever-elusive Emily Dickinson, it seems, always needs to be reintroduced” (13). The reintroduction is a convenient way for those unfamiliar with Dickinson to learn more about her and her poems and for those already familiar to refresh their memory.

The book then launches into six succinct chapters that interweave excerpts from Emily Dickinson’s poetry with resonant passages from spiritual writers and sacred scripture. Dickinson’s revelatory writings give readers a glimpse into her inner wrestling with God and self. They simultaneously tell the story of her development as a Christian and her growing spiritual awareness over time, especially beginning in the mid-1860s and early 1870s (69). The author compelling argues that Dickinson increasingly adopted an incarnational spirituality: “Awe for God’s beautiful and powerful work of creation rather than anger and isolation; hope in eternal life instead of despair over human extinction; and an awareness of divine closeness that is so intimate that it gives a whole new meaning to being human” (70–71).

Rather than interpreting Dickinson’s poetry as flirting with disbelief or borderline blasphemous, the author sees it as “in part a corrective to the coercive religious revivalism of her time” (108). This accessible work offers a thought-provoking religious reading of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The selected poems, coupled with Murphy’s insightful gloss and numerous comparisons to religious texts, make this book highly recommended for American literature classes in Catholic high schools, literary students and scholars, admirers of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and anyone interested in the nexus between prayer and poetry. The book, moreover, doubles as an invitation to and guide for personal prayer and contemplation.

It turns out that Amherst and Avila are not all that different when it comes to accessing the transcendent.

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

Overcoming Sinful Thoughts – Fr. Thomas G. Morrow

Morrow, Fr. Thomas G. Overcoming Sinful Thoughts: How to Realign Your Thinking and Defeat Harmful Ideas. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021. 240 pages.

Reviewed by Oswaldo Castro.

Father Morrow’s latest book, Overcoming Sinful Thoughts, is a concise, thought-provoking, and easily readable aid for leading a more authentic moral and Christian life. Each of the book’s 30 short chapters (a) examines a commonly held but mistaken notion or idea, (b) shows how it is sinful or how it leads to sin, and (c) presents practical ways to correct our thinking about it. Examples of these sinful thoughts are readily identified by simply looking at chapter titles such as: “I can’t help acting on my temptations so I’m not to blame,” “Go ahead, it’s only a venial sin,” and “I don’t think there is a hell.” Most of us will find that we have or have entertained one or more dangerous opinions similar to these, and will undoubtedly profit by reading and following the book’s suggestions.

My own copy of the book has many dog-eared pages just to remind me of the wisdom and practicality of the measures it proposes for correcting sinful thoughts. So, for instance, to overcome ungratefulness and depression: start a gratitude notebook and write on it each morning (page 30). To resist the trivialization of sin: consider it resulted in the suffering and death of our Lord, and that ultimately it is also responsible for our own suffering even if we did not ourselves personally sin (page 112). To counter the notion that all you need is to be a “good person,” pray daily a little, and to go to Mass on Sundays: consider that God in the Old Testament also commands us to be holy, and in the New Testament to be perfect (page 194). To avoid inordinate attachment to even the good things of this life: remember that their enjoyment always will be tinged with regret that they will end (page 219).

Recommendations such as these suggest the book is likely to be profitable to Christians at all stages of their spiritual life. Well, perhaps not to those who are already living saints. In my opinion, the book’s many and diverse topics are also great themes for very salutary homilies, which are especially needed in these times. I have always appreciated learning from Fr. Morrow’s books, and “Overcoming Sinful Thoughts” is a perfect addition to his excellent and practical “Be Holy” published years ago. His writings are consistently based on Scripture, on Church teaching, and on the wisdom of the saints. His style is clear, practical, and to the point. I consider it a privilege to comment on Fr. Morrow’s new book and to recommend it without reservation to all readers, but most especially to Catholics and other Christians.

Dr. Oswaldo Castro, M.D., is a retired physician, Catholic writer, and a parishioner at St. Raphael’s parish in Rockville, MD, where Fr. Morrow resides.

John Fisher and Thomas More – Robert J. Conrad

Conrad, Robert J. John Fisher and Thomas More: Keeping Their Souls While Losing Their Heads. Charlotte: TAN Books, 2021. 180 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ.

Do not let the cheeky subtitle fool you. This is a serious piece of historical theology, a comprehensive overview of these two great saints born from King Henry VIII’s apostasy. Conrad is a trial judge, a former federal prosecutor, and a true Anglophile. After a brilliant foreword by Hadley Arkes, we encounter 12 relatively brief chapters proceeding not always chronologically but thematically — e.g., Conscience, Truth, Oath, Friendship, Family, Malice, Condemned, and so on. Thereafter, this monograph ends with various novenas and prayers invoking the intercession of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More. As such, this is not your normal biography, but a theological examen into what prepared and eventually moved Fisher and More to go against a crown they cherished, a land they loved, and the only way of life they ever knew. But things were about to change and change quickly.

In 1525, King Henry VIII had grown outraged with his and Catherine of Aragon’s inability to bear a son and this frustration only fueled his fallen libido. Anne Boleyn had earlier caught his eye, as her sister Mary did before her, and Henry went to work to rid himself of Catherine and seduce Anne. This occurred — this, King Henry’s “great matter” — in 1533 when Henry married Anne (already pregnant) and a year later denounced any and all papal authority. He de facto proclaimed himself the Head of the Church in England, thus establishing Anglicanism (or Episcopalianism in the United States). This is the historical background upon which Conrad paints his portraits of More and of Fisher.

Throughout these pages, then, the reader is introduced to these two faithful Churchmen who refused to acquiesce to Henry’s apostasy and demands that his new form of Christianity be legitimately recognized. When Thomas More (1478–June 6, 1535) refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as queen of England, his loyalty was for the first time looked upon as suspicious, but when he refused to sign the 1534 Oath of Succession acknowledging Anne as queen, his execution was solidified. While Conrad draws often from Robert Bolt’s 1960 play Man for All Seasons, the acta from More’s trial are historically confirming as well. Here, we learn how Richard Rich lied about More’s telling him that Henry was not the legitimate king of England, occasioning one of the most famous martyrial lines in the history of the Church: “And if this oath of yours, Master Rich, be true, then I pray that I never see God in the face . . . In good faith, Master Rich, I am sorrier for your perjury than my own peril.”

Thomas More is presented here as a man of England’s “new learning,” a sort of English Renaissance, including Erasmus and John Colet among the brighter lights. More’s life was rooted in the traditions and the life of Christ’s Church — a statesman, a husband, a father, a widower, and a man intent on being “the King’s good servant but God’s first.” As such, Conrad is to be commended for including More’s “Prayer on Detachment” and other pious devotions found in the book’s conclusion.

Similarly, the Bishop John Fisher (1469–June 22, 1535), named after the eighth-century bishop of York, St. John Beverly (d. 721), is presented as one of the three bishops (along with the bishops of Ely and Bath) in sixteenth-century England unwilling to cede to Henry’s bullying. Fisher’s life comes off as a sort of spy thriller — one who narrowly escapes poisoned porridge, works underground with spies to overthrow Henry, and is led to his beheading while invoking in the crowds the ancient figure of John the Baptist, another “John” decapitated for his defense of marriage as God intended.

As a young man, Fisher fell in greater love with the Catholic Faith as he attended Cambridge University, receiving canonical dispensation to be ordained a priest there while under the required age of 25 (in 1491). He eventually became chancellor of Cambridge and then went on to be made a member of the Upper House of Parliament. When in 1532 Thomas More resigned as chancellor, Fisher preached a burning sermon against Henry’s marriage to Anne, thus sealing his fate, and when he refused to sign on to the Succession Act acknowledging the legitimacy of Henry and Anne’s marriage, he was thrown into the Tower of London on April 26, 1534. Yet again, Richard Rich was the only “witness” to speak at Fisher’s trial, resulting in Henry’s proclamation of death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. This savagery led to the English faithful’s outcry, forcing Henry to change the means of execution to a “cleaner” beheading (only furthering Bishop John’s life as a continuation of John the Baptist’s).

Conrad’s main contribution is to contextualize the lives of More and Fisher within the larger themes of virtue and fidelity. It is the Catholic soul which alone can live this life with a purpose which subordinates all earthly activities to a heavenly end. In uniting heaven and earth in his own divine humanity, the incarnate Son of God has thus consecrated all aspects of humanity and the political and cultural circles, not to mention the ecclesial and theological, in which More and Fisher lived and died are precisely the public places where the courageous Christian is called today. As Fisher’s crowd knew and chanted, John the Baptist died for the sake of holy marriage, and John Fisher and Thomas More did the same. How many faithful Christians today are persecuted for the dignity of marriage and the beauty of the family as God intends? As such, this short book, full of not only biography but prayers and novenas, proves to be a most timely and needed piece of historical spirituality.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ, professor of Theology and Catholic Studies at Saint Louis University, is also the editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

The Revelation of Your Words – Kevin and Scott Carl Zilverberg, eds.

Zilverberg, Kevin and Scott Carl, eds. The Revelation of Your Words: The New Evangelization and the Role of the Seminary Professor of Sacred Scripture. Saint Paul, MN: Saint Paul Seminary Press, 2021. 205 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. Joseph Briody.

Recently, when I admitted to a friend that I had studied Scripture, he remarked: “Oh, so you didn’t do theology then?!” Somewhat surprised, I responded, “Okay . . . well . . . not theology then, but certainly the ‘soul of theology!’” There is a perception that Scripture has little to do with theology — that they are two entirely separate camps. This perception may result from a creeping separation of critical biblical study from theology in recent centuries.

My friend went on to remark how much he appreciated the “humility before the text” shown by some of his Scripture professors. Such “humility before the text” tends to temper any tendency to set method above the inspired word. Renewed appreciation for that inspired word spurs reflection on how best to prepare future priests who, in a sense, will be the primary proclaimers of that word. How the seminary professor of Sacred Scripture may direct the experience of Scripture to evangelization is the overarching concern of this fine work.

The book is divided into two main sections, presenting papers from the Monsignor Quinn Biblical Conferences of 2013 and 2015 (Saint Paul Seminary, University of Saint Thomas, MN). The articles are varied and interesting. Peter S. Williamson sets the tone with “Implications of the New Evangelization for Priestly Ministry.” Williamson identifies key challenges such as helping people see the trustworthiness of the sacred text, understanding difficult passages, and the need for priests to be able to articulate clearly the kerygma.

Steven C. Smith’s “Scripture and the Role of the Seminary Professor . . .” asks how the New Evangelization might be promoted in the scripture class. Smith describes the role of the scripture teacher as one of modeling Christ, assisting a deeper encounter with Christ in his word, and developing skills leading to “excellent preaching for the sake of the people of God.” He refers to the ever-relevant Verbum Domini § 59 on homilies: “Generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s word should be avoided, as well as useless digressions which risk drawing greater attention to the preacher than to the heart of the Gospel message.” Rather, “preachers need to be in close and constant contact with the sacred text; they should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer, so as to preach with conviction and passion.” Future priests must be able to articulate the faith with courtesy and respect (1 Pet 3:15–16), clearly, but in a manner that is compelling and attractive. If seminary formation is to be “any real use in the real world,” future priests must be able to “Stand and Deliver!” (38–39).

Stephen Ryan’s “Old Testament Wisdom Literature for a New Evangelization” proposes creative ways of applying the Wisdom Books to dimensions of priestly life, including preaching, catechesis, the Sacrament of Penance, and faith, hope and charity. Friendship can also be viewed as a key aspect of the New Evangelization (see the Wisdom Books and Gospels), with fraternity/community as a vital context in the transmission and support of faith.

Juana L. Manzo’s “Free Will and the Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart. . .” demonstrates the importance of treating difficult biblical passages, as recommended by Verbum Domini § 42. Manzo provides a good example of studying the text using different authors, from different eras, with different approaches (e.g., Brevard Childs, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine).

Kelly Anderson writes on “The Father of Proverbs 1–9” as model of spiritual fatherhood for seminary professors. She writes of how the father of Proverbs 1–9 appropriates the tradition and transmits it creatively for the good of his son. This father is, in a sense, the medium and the message. He appeals to his son’s deepest desires, directing these in the way of life not death.

Scott Carl investigates the connection between the literal and spiritual senses, between the critical and theological. As well as magisterial texts, he refers to lesser known but important resources (Bea and Barbiero), giving a concrete example (Psalm 87) of extracting quality theological-spiritual honey from the honeycomb of sound critical exegesis.

Michael Magee writes of the recognition of Jesus as Messiah in “The Joy of Discovery in the Fourth Gospel.” Referring to Pope Francis’s Evangelii gaudim (2013), Magee outlines the role of joy in discipleship and evangelization. Disciples take initiatives that are met and surpassed by Christ’s gifts: human searching meets divine revelation and grace. Magee reflects on the deepening relationship of the disciples with Jesus from their first question (“Rabbi, where do you live?”) to the dwelling Jesus prepares for them in the heart of the Holy Trinity. Magee offers a second article on “The Relevance of Johannine Irony to the New Evangelization,” while André Villeneuve’s Appendix, “On the Importance of Biblical Hebrew,” convincingly makes the case for Biblical Hebrew in the Catholic seminary.

The scientific-historical-critical approach to the Bible will always be important. Rather than alienating faith, however, it works best at the service of theology and faith. Only in recent centuries did exegesis become estranged from its natural application in preaching, catechesis, theology, and prayer. James Keating (“The Exegete as Seminary Formator”) observes that in Scripture one is “engaged at the level of the person, by a Person” (150). The believing exegete is not limited to what may sometimes be presented as “the puny space of science, method, or interpretation.” The believing exegete remains open “to receive a message from beyond” while also remaining clear about “intellectual distinctions, sound logic, and deliberate and critical thought” (150). Such scholars “desire Divine Love to imbue their reasoning” (151).

Beyond textual analysis, important as that is, the pages of Scripture offer the encounter with Life. Offering a blunt assessment of some contemporary Scripture study (151), his bottom line is that the exegete should be reasonable enough to be open to the supernatural (159), and that we should read Scripture fully (see Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini § 82). There is reciprocity between critical study and prayer, greater knowledge and greater love, truth and conversion. Keating also poses the incisive question: is the seminary horarium so overwhelmed that it is difficult for the seminarian to be immersed in the word of God (157)? The seminary, like the parish, can sometimes tend to activism — filling every moment with good things, but carrying the priest or future priest along on a wave of “busy-ness.”

The question of poor preaching also surfaces: are seminarians “swimming in a shallow pool as the depths of the Word await?” (157). Not just horarium questions but also curriculum questions need to be faced, returning to the question of how Scripture may truly become the soul of theology. The seminary should be created around the Word of God (157). This is neither new nor fanciful: it happened at Douai post-Reformation — with great fruit, expertise-wise and spiritually. Exegetical competency and the thirst for the salvation of souls can be mutually enriching. Scripture was in fact the soul of theology, carrying with it the knowledge and power to draw souls. This may be the abiding and exciting realization from a careful reading of The Revelation of Your Word. The priest cannot neglect the word of God (Acts 6:2). With the bishop and assisted by the deacon, the priest is a man of the word and its primary preacher. He is this most powerfully when immersed in that word and drawing life from it. Not only the homily but “[a]ll evangelization is based on that word” (Evangelii gaudium § 174). The editors and contributors are to be commended for placing this consideration convincingly before us anew.

Fr. Joseph Briody is a professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John’s Seminary in Boston, MA. He holds licentiate in scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and his doctorate from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Word Made Flesh – Christopher West

West, Christopher. Word Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings, Cycles B and C. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2018, 2020. 112 pages.

Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle.

The Word Made Flesh books are a series of brief meditations on the Sunday Mass readings throughout the liturgical year. The meditations are mainly based on Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. The main theme throughout the books is as the author puts it, “God wants to marry us.” (Cycle B, 5) The author says that God is calling each and everyone one of us to “. . . an unimagined intimacy with him, akin to the intimacy of the spouses in one flesh.” (Cycle B, 5) John Paul II says that this analogy, that of the spousal union, is not a complete understanding of this mystery to which God calls us, but it allows us to have a certain entrance into it.

West points out that we often refer to God’s love as agape, a Greek word meaning self-sacrificial love. He quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in saying that we can also refer to God’s love as eros. “In Christ, eros is ‘supremely ennobled . . . so purified as to become one with agape.’” (Cycle B, 6) When referring to God’s love as either eros or agape, it is meant as a culmination and perfection of the two.

A major theme of the Word Made Flesh reflections is desire. The author points out that desires can be both good and bad. “Sin always involves the human attempt to satisfy our desire for God without God, apart from God.” (Cycle C, 95) In our search for joy, we can be misled by the pleasures of the world. The pleaures and joys of this world are meant to lead us to the eternal joy of heaven. We should, however, “. . . direct our deep desire for love and happiness toward the one who alone can fulfill it. . .” (Cycle B, 18) Thus, it is only in God that we have our true joy and fulfillment; He is our ultimate desire.

The topic of celibacy is also discussed. “This is the power of the celibate witness when it is lived as Christ intended: it doesn’t devalue marriage; celibacy shows us that the ultimate fulfillment of marriage is what the saints call nuptial union with the Lord.” (Cycle B, 36) The author states that marriage and celibacy both act as witnesses to our ultimate union with God.

West also puts an emphasis on the fact that Sacred Scripture begins with a marriage in Genesis between Adam and Eve, in the middle, has the love language between spouses in the Song of Songs and ends with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the book of Revelation, “From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of marriage.” (Cycle C, 89) The Wedding Feast of the Lamb refers to the spousal love of Christ and the Church. West says that since Christ ascended into heaven, the Church as His Bride eagerly awaits His return. Thus, it is to this Wedding Feast of the Lamb to which we are all called. How can God call us to this Feast when we are sinful creatures? The answer is through His Incarnation and Death and Resurrection. West explains: “God’s eternal plan is the marriage of God and man, heaven and earth. But this marriage . . . could not happen until Christ descended into the darkest depths of our humanity (sin and death) and the darkest depths of the earth . . . The divine and human marriage has been consummated.” (Cycle C, 51-52)

Another important aspect of the Theology of the Body that West stresses is understanding that human persons are a body-soul composite. This is one of the reasons that the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate. West says that God became man not only to save our souls but also our bodies. At the Second Coming and resurrection of the dead, the righteous will be reunited with their bodies, that is, their glorified bodies.

Throughout the reflections, West helps to answer some commonly asked questions regarding marriage. One, in particular, stands out: what happens to the union of the spouses in heaven? West says that “. . . marriage is not deleted in the Resurrection. It’s taken up, fully redeemed, and completed in the nuptials of eternity.” (Cycle C, 106–107)

The meditations in Word Made Flesh are extremely useful and timely for our current society, which is obsessed with sex while not understanding its true meaning. The brief reflections are ideal for meditation before Sunday Mass. They can also be a valuable resource for preaching on Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Joseph Tuttle is a freelance writer and author, who has work forthcoming and previously published with Clarifying CatholicismVoyage Comics and Publishing, and OnePeterFive.He is the author of the booklet An Hour With Fulton Sheen to be published later this year with Liguori Publications.
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