Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: Don't You Forget About Me

Don't You Forget About Me
Don't You Forget About Me by McCole Cupp, Erin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this Catholic-themed novel.

Ms. McCole Cupp's Don't You Forget About Me is a romantic murder mystery immersed in a Catholic environment and the story touches on all things Catholic. Literally, every issue that concerns modern Catholics is confronted, explored and explained in this fast-paced novel. We have the fallen-away Catholic who is on The Pill, characters reciting Latin prayers, many Catholic rites and sacramentals (such as Gene's' brown scapular), Catholic Liturgy, parts of the beautiful Rosary, nuns, etc.

I found the characters interesting and believable, the Catholic theology sound and I was impressed with the plot which managed to develop this romantic murder mystery while conveying Catholic sentiments without being too preachy. Let me explain: I didn't personally find it preachy, but I could see a non-Catholic reader draw that erroneous conclusion. Having said that, I would recommend Don't You Forget About Me to anyone who enjoys romantic mysteries.

Oh, I forgot about one issue I experienced while reading: the prologue is written in the present tense and I didn't think it needed to be, especially given that it's a flashback. Okay, just one more issue: early on in the story there appears to be some tension in the writing with respect to the use of the past subjunctive mood (for example; I wish he were... vs I wish he was...) This stylistic intrusion is even alluded to at one point, when the fictional author corrects her friend on its proper grammatical usage. But offsetting those issues is clever, witty dialogue and vivid descriptions along with a believable plot based on (what I can only assume) the author's solid research into the fields of pharmacology and chemistry.

(The problem with reviewing a mystery is that I can't say anything about the plot without giving away key elements.)

Suffice to say, in Don't You Forget About Me Ms McCole Cupps hits all the right notes and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.

I also have to mention another favorite part of the book - the title and all the chapter titles have cool 1980s song subtitles: Don't You Forget About Me, indeed!

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Friday, June 20, 2014

My Essential Catholic Reading List

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This is my list of essential Catholic texts. I've mentioned these texts elsewhere, but I thought they were worth gathering all in one place:
  1. The Bible (RSV - Catholic Edition)
  2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
  3. Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life - Papal Encyclical against contraception, Pope Paul VI, 1968)
  4. Story of a Soul, Saint Thérèse de Lisieux and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
  5. The Theology of the Body, by St. John Paul II
  6. The Lives of the Saints
1. Yes, I realize The Bible isn't only for Catholics, but the RSV Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition) is one of the more common versions approved by the Catholic Church. This is important to note, since many of us also use our Bibles for the study of Scripture, and this version of the Bible (besides being complete) strikes a good balance between offering an understandable translation, and the non-intrusive use of Greek and Latin terminology, also very important for study.

In passing, the Catholic Church believes that it is difficult to believe in the fullness of God's revelation when the Bible upon which a religion is based does not read the fullness of the Word.

2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an extremely important text for Catholics. If a Catholic (or non-Catholic for that matter) wants to know what the Church believes (and why the Church believes what it does) this text explains it. Line by line it explains the theological underpinnings of the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds, the Our Father, what the Sacraments are, the offices of the Church, the divinity of Christ, the Virginity of Mary and her true status in the Church, along with all of the basic tenets of our religion. The CCC is an indispensable text in a Catholic's religious life.

3. Humanae Vitae was released in 1968 by Pope Paul VI as part of the Catholic Church's attempt to explain the theological basis against married couple's use of contraception (The Pill), including voluntary sterilization. It is important to note that one of Pope Paul VI's advisers on the document was Carol Wojtyla (who would become Pope John Paul II and eventually St. John Paul II). I would argue that this is one of the most important social, political and religious texts of the twentieth century. In addition, Pope John Paul II claimed that The Theology of the Body (his amazing new understanding of modern society and modern humanity) was an attempt to unpack, to explain Humanae Vitae. Since Humanae Vitae is concerned with the issue of humanity's response to a radical change in sexuality, a primordial human drive, this text is of supreme importance.

4. St. Thérèse's The Story of A Soul shows us one of the most humble souls in action. In her biography, St. Therese offers her to serving God - as all the saints do. But St. Thérèse shows us that we are all God's children, that we are all called to offer our daily work to God, regardless of the ordinariness of that work, or our station in life. She is an extreme person, both in her overblown reactions to people's criticisms, and in her devotion to God, but that is the beauty of her biography. When we are serving God, should we not all be extreme? Can we ever say, "I've done enough?"

I've included Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ here with St. Therese because she was obviously highly influenced by this monk's devotion. He, too, was a bit of an extremist in his humility, but The Imitation is an extremely sobering account of a truly devout man who, once again, offers the reader a challenge to true devotion to God. Are we up to accepting this challenge? Also, although the whole text is worth reading, the last section (20 pages) is a beautiful meditation on the Eucharist. I have never read such love for the Living Bread of Life that we Catholics are called to receive for Holy Communion. If you want to know why the Eucharist is so important to the Catholic Church, this section explains it. We (Catholics) might not all have this reverent attitude towards the Eucharist, but we should. As a Kempis says, "If angels can be jealous of mere man, they are jealous of us since we can get closer to Christ than even they can by partaking of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion" (a Kempis, Imitation, paraphrase)

5. The Theology of the Body is just beginning to be understood and integrated into the Catholic Church's basic teachings. This "new" theology (it is not new and every word of John Paul II's interpretation is in accordance with traditional Catholic teaching and with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church) will change the world in the twenty-first century and beyond. The TOB is a life-affirming response to the Culture of Death (a term encompassing abortion, euthanasia, pornography, etc, as a disregard for the value of human life and dignity). The theology is based on the fact that God made men and women - and that it was good. Their intimate union is natural and expected, and welcomed by God, so long as the man and woman give themselves to each other in a total emptying of self, where there is no using of the other for any reason, including sexual gratification. The marital union of man and woman points to the Heavenly Feast that God promises us, once we too are resurrected body and soul in the afterlife.

The problem occurs when Satan, plagiarizer and father of lies, convinces us (as he did Adam and Eve) that we are not to trust God to give us what we want and we should grasp it, regardless of whether the other person wants to give it to us. Since the Fall of man, we have been under the influence of Satan's warping sexuality and eros to lead us away from the true afterlife. Instead of trusting that God will provide for us (if intimate union feels great here on earth, imagine what this will feel like in Heaven?). And so we grasp at what we can here on Earth, and we use others and are used by others, and we lose our way on this earthly pilgrimage toward Heaven. Satan is happy, knowing that we idolize sex, promiscuity, pornography, etc. (overindulging in the immediate sensations) and by doing so we keep ignoring God's call that He has something better for us, if we just take a moment and become aware of our actions.

The TOB is not equal to the repression of our desires. The belief that sex, or our bodies, or feelings, are bad is a Manichean heresy. Catholics do not (should not, ever!) believe that. Nor is prudishness acceptable. Sex is good. Why? Because God created us as sexual beings, as Man and Woman. And everything that God creates is good. All He asks is that we remain aware of the divinity of our actions.

He gave us the gift of life, He expects us to pass it on, therefore we should not thwart God's plans by using contraception! (Do you begin to see how Satan enters the picture here?) God created us as complete persons (body and soul) and He expects us to treat each other as complete persons should, namely we should love the whole person, body and soul. He expects us to give ourselves completely (as His Son did by dying on the Cross). Can we claim to ever do that? Of course not. But we should at least try

I hope I've given you a sense of why I consider those five (or six) books to be of primordial importance to understanding and developing one's Catholic faith. I will, over time and between promoting my fiction, post other thoughts on Catholic theology.

If you click on the Book Review tag you can track down my short reviews of most of the texts mentioned above.

Thank you for reading!

Addendum, June 30, 2014:
When I first wrote my blog post, I forgot to include one of my favorite texts to the list: The Lives of the Saints. I recommend this text to everyone who wants to witness how men and women throughout history have lived a faith-filled life and, oftentimes, the price they willingly paid for living that life. The best part of this text is that one can read and meditate upon one saint per day. A truly inspiring year-long spiritual exercise!

Once again,
Thank you for reading!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: Confessions

Confessions by Augustine of Hippo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My version of The Confessions was 350 pages long. The first half of the book is Augustine's autobiographical account of his life of sin and his way back to God. This part of the book is the confession part, and at times it seems that Augustine boasts of his exploits. Theologically speaking, one could do without this part of the book.

I found the second part of The Confessions to be some of the most frustrating philosophical/theological text I have ever read. If I were to ever teach another course in (Aristotelian) logic I would be at a loss as to which bad ontological argument to select. The arguments are simply that bad. I wish they were part of a dialectic of thesis/antithesis, but they're not. Based on these arguments, Augustine could not argue his way out of a paper bag. So, this part of The Confessions should also be avoided.

But then we come to Book XIII, the last section of The Confessions. When I began to read this section, I did not think that Augustine had written it. I'm still undecided. The arguments are cogent and his theology is sound. I have never read such edifying exegesis on the opening of Genesis. Book XIII begins on page 316, and in these pages we are confronted with a great mind examining a great text.

I will read the last 34 pages of The Confessions again and again, and I would encourage all serious readers and faithful to do the same. Initiates in the Catholic Church looking for encouragement or strong ontological arguments would do well to bypass this book in favor of some of Augustine's more brilliant writings, such as his homilies.

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