Book Reviews – May 2023

Joseph Ratzinger and the Healing of the Reformation-Era Divisions. Ed. by Emery De Gaál and Matthew Levering. Reviewed by M. Ciftci. (skip to review)

Benedict XVI: Servant of Love. By Bénedicte Delelis. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Deep Peace: Finding Calm in a World of Conflict and Anxiety. By Todd Hunter. Reviewed by Juliana Weber. (skip to review)

How I Became a Man: A Life with Communists, Atheists, and Other Nice People. By Fr. Alexander Krylov. Reviewed by Ted Hirt. (skip to review)

The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. By Steven D. Mathewson. Reviewed by D. Malachi Walker. (skip to review)

Because of Our Fathers: Twenty-Three Catholics Tell How Their Fathers Led Them to Christ. By Tyler Rowley. Reviewed by Aaron Martin. (skip to review)

Joseph Ratzinger and the Healing of the Reformation-Era Divisions – Emery De Gaál and Matthew Levering, ed.

De Gaál, Emery and Levering, Matthew, ed. Joseph Ratzinger and the Healing of the Reformation-Era Divisions. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Academic Press, 2019. 371 pp.

Reviewed by M. Ciftci.

The essays collected in this volume, the fruit of an ecumenical conference organized in 2017 at Mundelein Seminary, present a more convincing idea of what ecumenism is about than we might find elsewhere during our so-called ecumenical winter. In the introduction, Levering describes the approach to ecumenism developed by Karl Rahner and Heinrich Fries in the 1970s and ’80s, and the alternative approach developed by Ratzinger and followed by the contributors to the volume. Rahner and Fries proposed that since almost all Christian beliefs are historically conditioned and currently in a state of flux, we should unite institutionally now, and let the doctrinal disagreements resolve themselves later. Ratzinger, however, argues in essays from the same period that their plan “will simply be a human compromise between the ecclesiastical leaders . . . a marvel of pragmatic skill, but it would completely lack the ability to account for its structures in terms of God’s instituting Word.” Instead, while “continuing to seek models for unity and continuing to probe the main obstacles to unity” through the prayerful study of scripture and tradition, Ratzinger argues we should also see the potential to grow in unity by “coming to know the gifts that the other tradition offers. Central among these gifts is the existence of a large amount of unity already.” Persisting doctrinal differences must not be ignored, nor treated as unimportant, as though doctrine has nothing to do with truth. Doctrinal differences must be patiently and sympathetically understood while trusting that “even the areas of disagreement bear fruit in the divine plan . . . by enabling the originally sinful factionalism (sinful on both sides) to help each side strengthen the other over time.”

The Protestant and Catholic contributors to this volume demonstrate their commitment to Ratzinger’s approach and in various ways use his work to express gratitude for what they have learned from him, for his promotion of Christian unity, and the remaining questions and disagreements to consider as the conversation moves forward. Brief synopses of the seventeen essays can give an idea of the contributors’ wide range of interests and approaches.

The bishop of Regensburg and Director of the Pope Benedict Institute, Rudolf Voderholzer, offers a fascinating essay to begin the book. Voderholzer discusses the role of personal testimony and martyrdom in Cardinal Pole’s understanding of papal primacy, which profoundly influenced how Ratzinger thought about the papal office before becoming pope, and how he exercised that office afterwards. Pole’s influence meant that “Ratzinger’s own exercise of the papal office emphasized the preaching of the Word, in accord with Protestant emphasis upon sharing in Christ through proclaiming the Word.”

Ratzinger’s diagnosis of the causes behind the post-Vatican II liturgical crisis are the subject of Mariusz Biliniewicz’s chapter. Ratzinger argued that faulty biblical exegesis, stemming from Luther’s rejection of the fourfold senses of scripture, his law-gospel dialectic, and promise-fulfilment hermeneutic, caused the cultic, sacrificial nature of the Christian liturgy to be undervalued. However, Biliniewicz draws attention to Ratzinger’s praise of Protestant liturgical traditions, especially in the Anglican communion, for having much that Catholics should admire. Biliniewicz sees this as one of the reasons behind Ratzinger’s support for the creation of the Ordinariate. The lack of any mention of the Ordinariate seems like a missed opportunity by the sole Anglican contributor, Matthew Olver, whose chapter discusses (at excessive length) the shifting theologies of the Eucharist in the Anglican tradition, with only a perfunctory effort to relate his chapter to Ratzinger. Thomas Baima writes a similarly diffuse discussion of the principles of ecumenism that can be drawn out of Ratzinger’s work. Timothy Larsen’s forgettable chapter about Christmas is perhaps the weakest in the volume.

Stephen Bullivant, Peter Leithart, and Jacob Phillips concentrate on Ratzinger’s engagement with political issues. Bullivant focusses on Ratzinger’s speech at Westminster Hall in 2010. Phillips compares how Ratzinger and Bonhoeffer understood conscience when confronted with totalitarian regimes. Leithart discusses Ratzinger’s work on the relationship of faith and reason, the place of religion in Europe, and the role of charity in the economy and society.

David Luy writes an appreciation of Ratzinger’s Christology from an Evangelical background, praising him for avoiding the problems found in many forms of Christocentric Protestant theology. Emery de Gaál uses a newly discovered manuscript to write about the only occasion Ratzinger taught a class on Mariology; unfortunately, it does not tell us anything that we could not have learned from reading Ratzinger’s Daughter Zion. Insightful, tightly focused chapters are provided by Aaron Pidel on salvation outside of the church, Kenneth Oakes on divine love, Willemien Otten on the doctrine of creation in medieval theology, and Michael Root on Ratzinger’s involvement in the joint declaration on justification with the Lutheran World Federation. Mickey Mattox writes about the new scholarship that unearths Luther’s continuity with the medieval theological tradition, which is a helpful corrective against Catholic and Protestant tendencies to exaggerate Luther’s innovations.

Tracey Rowland recaptures the excitement that accompanied the early days of Radical Orthodoxy as she describes the similarities between Ratzinger’s theology and the ideas of that loose cluster of thinkers, a few of whom received notes of appreciation from Ratzinger for their scholarship. Douglas Sweeney brings the book to a close with a critical survey of Ratzinger’s work about the interrelation of Scripture, Tradition, and the Church from his days as a peritus at the Council to his writings as Pope. Sweeney’s appreciation of Ratzinger’s efforts to concede as much as possible to the Protestant insistence on Scripture’s centrality is balanced by Sweeney’s concern about how much Scripture can be the Church’s foundation when Tradition and the Magisterium always seem to have the last word.

It is clear from these essays that Ratzinger’s focus on the Word has provided us with the best way to heal Reformation-era divisions and given us much to be grateful for as we consider his life as scholar and pontiff.

Ciftci has a PhD in political theology from the University of Oxford and currently lives in South Bend, Indiana.

Benedict XVI: Servant of Love – Bénedicte Delelis

Delelis, Bénedicte. Benedict XVI: Servant of Love. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press and Magnificat, 2023. 128 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Pairing a rich array of poignant photographs with edifying reflections, this posthumously published softcover commemoration offers a fitting tribute to the life and legacy of Benedict XVI. The book is comprised of three main parts: “Benedict XVI, the Man,” “Benedict XVI’s Thought,” and “Praying with Benedict XVI.”

The first of these three parts offers a humanizing glimpse into Joseph Ratzinger’s boyhood in a quaint Bavarian village, the seeds of his profound love for the Church, his passion for learning, his response to the priestly vocation, his scholarly service as an esteemed professor and dean, his ministry as Archbishop of Munich and later Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his election as a successor of Saint Peter, a taste of his apostolic travels, and his resignation as Supreme Pontiff out of love for the Church. The second part distills his theological vision and teaching around the themes of “Divine Revelation,” “Christ, the Fulness of Revelation,” “The Church,” “Mary,” “Eucharist and Charity,” “Faith and Reason,” “Europe,” and “Eschatology.” The third and final part offers a sampling of prayers and meditations on selected Psalms penned by Benedict XVI.

One deficiency of this work is the short section on Benedict XVI’s history-making resignation from the papacy. Several moving images could have been included in this section but were, unfortunately, not incorporated. For instance: Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage on April 29, 2009 to Aquila, where he placed his pallium atop the tomb of Pope Celestine V (who relinquished the Petrine Office in the year 1294); Pope Benedict’s announcement during a consistory on February 11, 2013 of his intention to step down from the papacy; Pope Benedict’s last general audience with throngs of well-wishers assembled in Saint Peter’s Square on February 27, 2013; or Pope Benedict’s famous helicopter ride to Castel Gandolfo on the last day of his papacy. Such photos would have enhanced this particular section considerably.

The fact that Pope Benedict expressed his intention on the World Day of the Sick was no mere coincidence. It has become increasingly apparent with the passage of time that health concerns were weighing heavily on his mind. Some commentators in the mediascape framed his resignation as an inability to fulfill his mission due to reasons of poor health. Others, somewhat more cynically, pointed to internal political machinations as the primary driver behind his resignation. Arguably, his resignation deserves to be framed as fitting congruently with his mission. His resignation served as a punctuation mark to his mission. The mission at the forefront of his mind was unity and ecumenism. In his first message as Supreme Pontiff in the Sistine Chapel on April 20, 2005, the newly elected Benedict XVI eloquently stated what he saw as his mission:

Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master’s supreme aspiration. [ . . . ] With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter’s current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty. He is aware that good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress. [ . . . ] The current Successor of Peter is allowing himself to be called in the first person by this requirement and is prepared to do everything in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism.

Benedict XVI’s resignation could be seen as a concrete gesture for the promotion of ecumenism. By invoking canon 332 §2, he demonstrated that power does not necessarily corrupt or intoxicate the conscience. The resignation showed that the papacy — arguably the most powerful position in the world — is not tied to a lust for dominance, but genuinely flows from a love for Christ and his mystical body — the Church. To skeptical Protestants and Orthodox believers, he showed that the papacy is a platform of service, not a grand prize for ecclesiastical politicians. His resignation helped to reignite meaningful interconfessional conversations about the role of the pontiff. In a sense, his final act of resignation was not a stepping away from his original mission of ecumenism.

In sum, this insightful and inspirational book, which can even be likened to a family photo album or a pictorial history, traces how Divine Providence guided Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI along the pilgrimage of life. It assists in correcting the caricatures that sometimes circulated in public portrayals of this public figure. Above all, this accessible book reveals how Benedict XVI used his talents for the service of others as a servant of the servants of God.

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

Deep Peace – Todd Hunter

Hunter, Todd. Deep Peace: Finding Calm in a World of Conflict and Anxiety. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021. 261 pages.

Reviewed by Juliana Weber.

What does the dismissal, “Go in peace [ . . . ],” require of us? Hunter explains that peace is the culmination of all our efforts to conform our hearts to God’s own heart, and it is key to our mission of spreading the Kingdom of God in the world. As Hunter puts it, “Peace will come and will be spread to those you love as you seek purity of heart and a good conscience, as you moderate your longings, reorder your desires, and pursue patience with yourself — all while seeking submission to the will of God” (243). This spreading of peace is precisely the same as propagating “the Kingdom of God,” the place of God’s influence (56).

This book is a journey of self-reflection and prayer to prune away the things that stall the growth of peace. Each chapter begins with vivid examples and sound theology from our non-Catholic brother. His language and examples are accessible and modern. Then, chapters end with challenging reflective questions for an examination of conscience. For example, we easily recall times when others have held “the need to win at all costs,” but Hunter challenges us to search our own hearts for the same attitude: Do we recognize that this attitude is still problematic when the argument is about something weighty such as religious belief or practice (7)?

Hunter grounds his teaching in the peace of the Trinity and in the reassurance that peace does win in the end. He challenges, “If God is already in your world, you don’t have to make things happen. Consider times when your inner being has shouted, That is not true!” (65). In another place, he asks, “Sometimes, peace with God escapes us because we are fighting against a cross-shaped [sacrificial] life. Are you fighting with God along these lines?” (99). These questions for self-reflection and prayer will lead every reader to fruitful conversion of heart.

The practical guidance contained here will also help readers to identify and to prayerfully address their unique problem areas: Fear, anger, aggression, unwieldy attachments, self-centeredness, pain, the mystery of unanswered prayers, fear of missing out, fear of failure, and the particular challenges of life online (11–40). For example, he counsels that “the truly fundamental aspect of my life [as an apprentice to Jesus] could have been lived out in any role” or occupation, and, therefore, praying for peace along these lines will put to rest some fear of missing out (86). Alternatively, these questions may supply insight and good ideas to share with penitents, when the confessor would be stumped otherwise.

Bravely, Hunter confesses that his own preaching previously overemphasized interior peace to the neglect of peace with one’s neighbor, particularly as regards the social justice issue of race relations (101). He teaches that we must confront injustices by naming and opposing evils (102-103) with the same fervor that we pray and study, because “some elements of spiritual formation can only be learned in the pursuit of justice” (105, emphasis original). Whole, integrated, full peace requires inner and outer work, he argues. Therefore, the reflection questions at every chapter ending are organized into sections for equal emphasis on peace within oneself, peace with God, and peace with one’s neighbor.

These separate sections do not, however, lead the reader to believe that peace in one domain is separable from the other domains. For example, Hunter counsels that an inner disposition of “wonder” helps us to cultivate humility rather than judgment of a fellow creature of God (171). At the end of a chapter about rejecting fear-based hostility, Hunter instructs the reader to write “a list of your least favorite people. Then work with God [ . . . ] seeking their good” (175). And he challenges us to consider the possibility that our hearts want other things more than we want peace or the Kingdom, which is why peace seems “so elusive” in our relations with God and others (191). True peace, Hunter argues, will result only from aligning our hearts with God’s will, “throwing off the yoke of other’s expectations” (195) and yet prioritizing the needs of others out of love (194).

Of particular interest might be Hunter’s original treatment of how to observe the sabbath in pursuit of peace. He refers to the sabbath as one of the “rests” that makes “music” from what would otherwise be the noise of our frenetic lives (210). He has taken sabbaths from the activity of controlling outcomes and sabbaths from his agenda in order to grow in obedience and humility and to be freed from compulsion (215). The author has also taken sabbaths from being noticed for his position of authority in his congregation (212). Hunter challenges readers to identify ways to relinquish attachments and come under God’s rhythm and yoke (217).

Deep Peace is relatable and potentially transformative for readers who wonder why they feel so much anxiety, fear, conflict, and so on. It will empower readers to better fulfill the Great Commission to spread the Gospel. Full of practical examples, simple advice, prayer starters, Scripture, humility, and personal experience, this is a book to be savored and then read again.

Juliana Weber has earned an M.A. in Theology from Ave Maria University and has worked in parish and campus ministries across several dioceses. She also writes Catholic fiction, including a detective priest novel entitled Collared.

How I Became a Man – Fr. Alexander Krylov

Krylov, Fr. Alexander. How I Became a Man: A Life with Communists, Atheists, and Other Nice People (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022). 162 pages.

Reviewed by Ted Hirt.

For many Americans, the repressive Soviet regime, which began in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution masterminded by Lenin, and was sustained by Stalin’s brutal, totalitarian reign of terror over several decades, is now a dim memory. The collapse of that regime during Ronald Reagan’s presidency is also now a generation distant — although Vladimir Putin reminds us even now of the persistence of the evil inherent in an atheistic Marxist ideology, which is both opportunist and expansionist. For Russian citizens who grew up during the 1970s and 1980s, however, that era was marked by an odd mix of oppression and ennui, marked by a sclerotic bureaucratic system that lacked an ultimate purpose beyond maintaining compliance with a hollow ideology. Communism is The God That Failed, but its extant regimes continue its cause without regard to its vacuity.

In How I Became a Man, Father Alexander Krylov recounts his life as a child and teenager growing up in that system. Born in 1969, Krylov provides us a poignant (and sometimes humorous) depiction of how ordinary citizens endured the decaying Soviet Union. This short book, about 150 pages, is composed of over 50 essays, typically two to three pages in length. Krylov’s family lived outside of Moscow, in a small working-class city (40,000 people) in the southern Ural region.

From a very young age, Krylov had an independent streak. As a student he, like his classmates, had to absorb without question the Marxist ideology inculcated at school and in community settings. But he questioned Communism, seeing a dichotomy between its idealistic slogans and real life, in which families struggled for any tangible material well-being, and even suffered some food shortages. In My First Sermon, he recounts how he took his fellow kindergarten students aside on the playground to tell them about God, who “lives in heaven and all the things that He does for us.” The teacher reproved him — she told him that the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, had been in space and had seen no God there. People who spoke of religion “were wasting their time and even hampered our progress.”

The Soviet system tried to displace religion. His class was instructed to celebrate a Russian folk festival called Pasha, a substitute for Easter. His teacher asserted that only “stupid uneducated people” would speak about Easter. Soviet-era students did not believe in God, but in the power of the human intellect and scientific progress. The regime indoctrinated that the meaning of life was in the communist system. As Krylov wryly remarks, “[a]nyone who could not discover the meaning of life in Communist writings had to find it in alcohol or somewhere else.” Sadly, it took years for a “gullible society to recognize that its attempts to interpret the meaning and goal of life by pre-fabricated world views and Party darkness were only ideological magic tricks.” The regime immersed everyone into a State that “provides for the citizens, keeps them busy, and educates them.” The regime imposed “Lifelong Kindergarten.”

Krylov’s family was able, unobtrusively, to maintain their Christian faith, listening to German or Vatican radio stations playing Silent Night on Christmas Eve. That was a reminder that “we were not alone in our faith, but were united with an invisible worldwide Church.” Krylov thanks his grandmother for instilling religious faith in him. “The one thing that no Communists and no repressions could take from her was her faith.” That Christian faith, “which overcomes all the defeats of life, was the real treasure that I, too, received as an inheritance.”

In school, Krylov was devoted to books and he became a volunteer at the local library. There, he gained access to an encyclopedia. He learned that the Vatican was a real entity and that Catholics practice their Faith around the world. That was a truth that the Soviet regime had done its best to hide.

Krylov has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. His book is enlivened by his recall of small, daily incidents in which he could see Communism’s many failures. For example, in parades, Krylov carried a banner with the portrait of then-Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. His friends joked that Krylov had a “heavy burden” of metal to hold up — Brezhnev had so many medals and decorations on his jacket.

This book is a reminder that we Americans take our religious liberty for granted. Krylov emphasizes that he and his fellow believers had to live out their faith without the possibility of attending Mass or speaking with a priest. Once, one of his uncles heard about a German Catholic priest secretly traveling through the area. His uncle was able to meet that priest and have a private fifteen-minute session with him, an incident that had to be kept secret.

A postscript informs us that Krylov became a business and management professor in Moscow. On Easter Monday 2011, he confirmed his vocation to become a Roman Catholic priest. He was formally ordained in June 2016 by the cardinal of Cologne, France. I think we all would like to learn more about Krylov’s life as a priest. Meanwhile, this account is a wonderful reflection on how our Faith can persist despite persecution or hostility.

Ted Hirt is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Law School, an assistant editor for the James Wilson Institute’s Anchoring Truths, a former career attorney at the U.S. Justice Department, and a Gettysburg, PA Licensed Town Guide. The views he expresses are his own.

The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative – Steven D. Mathewson

Mathewson, Steven D. The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021. 258 pages.

Reviewed by D. Malachi Walker.

This work written by Steven D. Mathewson (Ph.D., University of Stellenbosch; D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a guide to preaching narrative texts in the Bible, from how to choose and read a biblical text with an eye toward developing a sermon, to how to create an outline, to whether to use props (the fewer the better). His goal is to help evangelical pastors move from merely summarizing the text to what he calls “expository preaching” which he defines as “preaching that exposes the meaning of a text of Scripture and applies that meaning to the lives of the hearers” (21).

Mathewson’s book is divided into three parts. Part 1 (“from the text to concept”) deals with hermeneutics when reading Old Testament Narrative texts. One of his most important ideas is that “the goal of studying the text is to determine the author’s intent!” (36). Mathewson is not unique in this claim: The Catholic Church’s document, Dei Verbum also recognized the importance of the author’s intent (DV, 12 “attention should be given to ‘literary forms’ to search out the intention of the sacred authors”), a central hermeneutical factor in exegesis, long-heralded in the history of the church (e.g. Thomas Aquinas, “the literal sense is what the author intends” ST IQ1A10res). He addresses literary analysis, including character analysis (section 1.4); “environmental issues” (e.g. setting and timeline – section 1.5); and narration techniques (section 1.6). The first step in preaching, of course, involves understanding the texts, and Mathewson is very helpful in covering various way to broach the meaning of the text.

In part 2, “from concept to sermon,” Mathewson explains how to incorporate the analysis of the text into a sermon. This involves three things: explanation (what does it mean?); validation (is it true?); and application (how then should I live?). While part one deals with understanding the narrative and deriving the meaning of the text, part two involves “translating” the meaning of the text into a modern context. He divides this into an exegetical idea (e.g. seeing Abraham’s faithfulness in the text) and abstracts the theological idea (the necessity of our own faithfulness). This is then turned into a preaching idea (we must live our lives faithfully). Mathewson gives both theoretical and practical advice on how to do this. This extends to the very format and outline of a sermon. For example, he discusses what a deductive versus inductive sermon looks like and offers the possibility of the media via. He covers how to flesh out the skeleton of a sermon as well as how to begin and end it.

Part three (“Sermon Manuscripts”) contains five example sermons that incorporate what Mathewson proposed. This includes a sermon from Mathewson himself (on Gen 22), Donald Sunukjian (on 2 Sam 9), Paul Borden (on 2 Sam 11–12), Haddon Robinson (on 2 Sam 13–18), and Alice Mathews (on Is 7). All of them are worth reading and fine examples of Mathewson’s strategy on how to write a sermon. The book ends with two appendices: “advanced plot analysis” which deals with analyzing the narrative text specifically as a Hebrew text; and commentaries on Old Testament narrative books.

The strongest aspect of Mathewson’s book is the sheer number of examples his gives to help the reader understand the art of writing sermons. The book is conceived as a practical guide, and indeed it is.

Before diving into Mathewson’s book, it is important to keep his purpose in mind. He is communicating as an evangelical to evangelicals. Therefore, some things will be irrelevant for pastors or preachers of other denominations. While some of his principles are in accord with Catholic exegesis, some of his practical suggestions are less applicable to a Catholic setting. For instance, in Catholicism no one chooses the readings for Mass because of the liturgical cycle. Additionally, he does not offer guides for preaching on non-narrative texts (e.g. the responsorial psalm, exhortatory passages in Paul, saints’ lives, feast days etc.). While of course principles can be carried over into other types of homilies or sermons, the book has a specific focus and stays with that focus. For Catholic priests, other useful resources are necessary to ameliorate one’s preaching (for instance, the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Clergy). Likewise, if one struggles to connect an Old Testament reading to the gospel of the day (or feast day), this book will not be as helpful. One should not approach this book expecting to find a guide for different preaching per se or different styles. However, if one struggles to preach on Old Testament Narrative texts, then this book will be helpful.

Malachi Walker was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the Pontifical College Josephinum and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in the Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Because of Our Fathers – Tyler Rowley

Rowley, Tyler. Because of Our Fathers: Twenty-Three Catholics Tell How Their Fathers Led Them to Christ. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2020. 206 pages.

Reviewed by Aaron Martin.

I spent a number of years in seminary and religious life and my first rector in seminary was Bishop Thomas Olmsted, the retired bishop of Phoenix. I lived in Phoenix for a few years before law school and later returned there after law school. When I returned, I asked Bishop Olmsted how I could best serve the Diocese of Phoenix. I was sure that, since I had known him for a decade and was a newly minted attorney, he would have some special role for me on a board or committee or something.

Bishop’s response was simple: “Be a good husband and father. That is the best thing you can do for the Diocese of Phoenix.” Those words have stuck with me ever since. And when I share Bishop’s advice with other men, they are visibly moved because it captures what is essential to their vocations to marriage and family.

The power of a good father is tremendous. How a father acts toward his family can have truly eternal consequences. Tyler Rowley’s book includes stories from 23 different Catholics about how their fathers led them to Christ or showed them what it meant to be like Christ. The stories are as diverse as those telling them, but each story tells how the example of a father has a profound impact on a child. Each story also seems to have a moment (or several moments) where the authors realize that their dad was someone special — or that Christ was special because of their dad’s actions. These moments were life-changing, and the authors understood their father and the faith differently afterward:

  • Jesse Romero: “My dad beat up a rapist after Mass.”
  • Paul Scalia: “Dad had put me on his shoulders and let me, a clumsy eight-year-old boy, use his fancy [opera] glasses” to see Pope John Paul II. “My father gave me a sense of transcendence.”
  • Mary Rice Hasson and Jeanne White: “‘Trust God’ was always Dad’s most important message to us.”
  • Gerald Murry: “I remember the day I learned that my father attended daily Mass. I was in first or second grade, and I was stunned.”
  • Bishop Strickland: “I can say with confidence that I am a bishop of the Catholic Church now due in no small part to my father’s determination to make good on his promise that there would be a Catholic church in Atlanta, Texas.”
  • The Vander Woudes: “Then he immediately jumped into the septic tank.”

In today’s culture, men are often relegated to the sidelines. Largely, it’s our own fault. Men have failed to take up the charge they have been given as men — to protect, provide, to give of themselves selflessly in service to others. The men in this book are different.

The men profiled here were simple men and Supreme Court justices, they were quiet and they were gregarious, they died peacefully at home and performing acts of heroic sacrifice. But despite their many differences, these men had many things in common — they prayed, they sacrificed, they were faithful, they trusted in the Lord and His promises. These traits led them all to live out their vocations fully as men, in addition to being husbands and fathers. And their example gave their children an image of God the Father that led them to a deeper faith.

As Rowley explains in his introduction, statistics bear out the value of a good fatherly example in the faith. Children who do not see their father practice his faith are set up to lose it, with only two or three percent of them remaining within the Church in the future. To the contrary, children who see their fathers being faithful and living the Catholic faith deeply have a far greater chance of living the faith long term. As Rowley states, “Evangelize fathers, evangelize the world.” (26)

Years after I returned to Phoenix, Bishop Olmsted published an Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men entitled Into the Breach. The men in this book exemplify the traits that Bishop Olmsted exhorts men to have, and these men truly stepped into the breach for their families. They are lasting models for all men who want to understand how to be a Catholic man today.

Aaron Martin, JD, PhL, and his wife, Jenny, live in Phoenix, AZ with their four children. Aaron owns his own law practice and teaches in both the Kino Catechetical Institute and the Diaconate formation program for the Diocese of Phoenix.

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