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Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life: Insight & Inspiration. By George Martin. Our Sunday Visitor, 2011. 697 pages, paperback. $24.95.

St. Jerome tells us that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. St. John tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). To know God we must know His Word. As Christians, our Bible should never sit on the shelf gathering dust. Our Bible should be the most read book in our possession; it is most certainly the most important book in our possession. Yet, unfortunately many Christians remain personally ignorant of its contents. Many people set out with very good intentions to read the Bible, but often get only a few chapters or few books into it before giving up. They quickly become overwhelmed with unfamiliar people, places, and happenings. This is where a good Bible commentary comes in handy. It allows us to “walk along” with someone more familiar with the Bible as he leads us through it, helping us make sense of what was once terra incognita.

George Martin’s book, Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life, is exactly this sort of “walk along” with an expert. He takes us verse by verse through the Gospel of Luke, helping us better understand every word of the Evangelist. Each chapter of the book corresponds to the same chapter in Luke. We are presented with a brief “Orientation” which highlights key points of a group of passages. This is followed by “Preface” consisting of several verses of Luke along with Old Testament references and where applicable, New Testament parallels. Next is a verse by verse commentary on the verses in the “Preface.” The end of the book contains a brief essay situating Luke within the canon of Scripture.

Overall, this commentary is excellent and quite useful. However, there are a few minor critiques. First, the commentary uses the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms text. The NAB is an “idea for idea” translation, meaning the translators attempt to capture the “essence” of the original passage. On the other hand the RSV-CE is a more “word for word” translation, meaning the translators attempted to preserve as best as possible the actual wording of the original passage. A translation like the NAB is sometimes easier to read, but since it’s the “essence” of the original, we are left with someone else’s interpretation of what the original author meant, not necessarily with what he actually wrote. The vast majority of serious Bible scholars rely on “word for word” translations. The second minor critique involves a lack of maps and charts/outlines. At least a basic map would have been helpful. Also, having a basic chart or outline of the Gospel would have been helpful as well. These minor criticisms aside, Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life is an great commentary and “guided tour” of the Gospel of Luke.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life . The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family.

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The Old Mass and the New

As its act of public worship, the Mass defines the Catholic Church – for good or bad. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, quoting Sacrosanctum concilium, “For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that ‘the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ and it is through the liturgy especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (CCC 1067). Thus, the Mass must be considered with the utmost respect and reverence. It must not be treated as the playground of “innovation” and “experimentation.” Liturgical development should be a slow, methodical, and organic process which constantly maintains its link with Tradition.

Bishop Marc Aillet provides us a compelling work on authentic liturgical reform in his book, The Old Mass and the New: Explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI (Ignatius Press, 2007, Softcover). Despite claims to the contrary, the Roman Catholic Rite has never been completely static. However, the change which occurred grew naturally from what was already present. Never was there a complete and wholesale overnight rewriting of the Mass. Such a move is not representative of true liturgical reform, and is certainly not representative of the wishes of Pope John XXIII and the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. As Bishop Aillet notes, “The motu proprio Summorum Pontificum…does not aim to reestablish the old Missal…But it is trying to invite pastors and faithful to take another look at the way they celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary form of the Roman rite…So above and beyond a fatherly hand extended to those children of the Church attached to the old form of the Roman rite, turbulent and undisciplined but also often unjustly treated as they sometimes may be, the motu proprio constituters an invitation to everyone to rediscover the authentic meaning of the liturgy.” Bishop Aillet provides an important contribution to the discussion of authentic liturgical reform.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Old Mass and the New. They are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

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The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna.  By Davis Bunn.  Howard Books and Touchstone Books, 2010.  336 pages, paperback.  $14.99.

Author Davis Bunn is a self described “gentleman adventurer…equal parts writer, scholar, teacher and sportsman.”  His background is in international economics and finance.  Currently, he’s the Writer in Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.  Since 1990, he’s written numerous novels and earned three Christy Awards for excellence in Christian historical and suspense fiction.

The Black Madonna is the second in Bunn’s Storm Syrrell Adventures series.  These books follow art historian and antiquarian Storm Syrrell as she finds herself drawn into international intrigue.  The first book, Gold of Kings, which involves Syrrell’s search for her grandfather’s murderers, introduces the main characters, but one does not need to read it first in order to enjoy The Black Madonna.

As the story opens in The Black Madonna, Syrrell is struggling to keep her South Florida high-end antique shop open in the wake of a depressed economy.  She competes with other dealers to scrape up “prizes” from the Palm Beach upper crust devastated by Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme.  Just when she believes her luck has run out, she receives a mysterious phone call from an anonymous buyer setting her on a “price is no limit” quest for a mythical religious object.  The anonymous caller wires a large advance into her account and arranges a plane ticket to Europe.  Within hours, Syrrell finds herself jetting overseas and into a “storm” of intrigue, mystery and romance.

Bunn’s writing style flows well and keeps the action moving along.  The plot twists keep the reader on the edge of his seat until the very end.  Bunn also expertly weaves in details of archeology, international finance and Christianity into a very exciting story.

One of the best features of Bunn’s writing is his ability to keep the story “clean” without sacrificing adventure.  In today’s word of often questionable reading material, Bunn’s approach is a much welcome change from the standard fare.  While adults will most certainly enjoy The Black Madonna, it’s also a “safe” choice for young adult readers with its lack of obscenities, gratuitous violence and lasciviousness.  Other authors should take note: Bunn proves it’s possible to write entertaining adult fiction without resorting to R-rated levels to maintain readers’ interest.

Some of Bunn’s characters and scenes seem a bit forced and I believe on major plot element is left too far open – although I realize that’s incentive for the reader to purchase the next book in the series when it comes out.  Personally, I would have preferred him to wrap things up a bit neater.  However, these are both rather small points and don’t seriously detract from the overall entertainment value of The Black Madonna.

I thought The Black Madonna was a great adventure book and agree with United International Pictures Senior Vice President Hy Smith, who said, “Davis Bunn has created a thinking person’s Indian Jones.”  I’m looking forward to Bunn’s next Storm Syrrell Adventure, as well as his other upcoming works.



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The Consuming Fire

The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament.  By Michael W. Duggan.  Our Sunday Visitor, 2010.  686 pages, softcover.  $29.95

Reviewed by Steven Schultz, MA

I fear far too many Catholics operate under the mistaken assumption that the New Testament somehow replaced the Old Testament, or at least rendered it to relative unimportance.  This unfortunate notion causes many of us to give the Old Testament nothing more than a passing glance.  Not only is this notion unfortunate, it’s downright dangerous to our salvation.

The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Therefore in order to truly understand the New Testament, we must truly understand the Old Testament.  Reading the New Testament, we should be struck by the fact of how thoroughly everyone – Jesus, the Apostles, their fellow Jews – knew the Old Testament (or for them, the Scriptures).  Keep in mind, the Apostles were simple working people, yet they all intimately knew the Old Testament.  Why should we hold ourselves to any lesser standard?

Beyond this, the Old Testament is fundamental to our spiritual perfection as Christians and to our salvation.  We are called to live in Christ – to transform ourselves in Christ.  St. Irenaeus terms the process “recapitulation” in Christ.  Our Lord fulfilled and perfected the Old Testament. Therefore, in order to recapitulate ourselves in Christ, we too must live through His perfection of the Old Testament.  Like the Apostles, we too must know and understand the Old Testament to truly and fully live in Christ in light of the New Testament.

Since many of us have “lost touch” with the Old Testament, reading it can prove an intimidating task.  However, in The Consuming Fire, Michael Duggan provides us a great aid in taming this daunting process.  Dr. Duggan is an Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies and the inaugural holder of the CWL Chair for Catholic Studies at St. Mary’s University College in Calgary, Alberta.

The first edition of The Consuming Fire was released by Ignatius Press in 1991.  It has long since gone out of print.  This near edition, appearing nearly twenty years later, is thoroughly revised and updated.  Significant Biblical scholarship has added greatly to our knowledge of the Old Testament since 1991.  Dr. Duggan incorporates this latest scholarship into the new version of The Consuming Fire.

Dr. Duggan sets the stage for our journey by providing introductory chapters on the development of the Old Testament, in particular the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) compared to the Septuagint (the Greek Bible), as well as background on the people, places and history of Old Testament times.  He then takes us through every book of the Old Testament, explaining and relating them not only to the other Old Testament books, but to the New Testament as well.  Each chapter concludes with suggestions for meditative reading along with an outline of the book(s) covered in that chapter.

I have only minor criticisms of this book.  First, I find the section of color maps to be of poor quality.  According to the copyright information, the maps apparently come from a 2005 do-it-yourself software program and they look like it.  Quality maps would have greatly enhanced this solid work.  Also, I take issue with the author’s use of “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” instead of “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” along with his use of “BCE” (Before Common Era) and “CE” (Common Era) instead of “BC” and “AD.”  He claims to do so out of “respect” and an attempt not to “offend” others.  Frankly, I find this complete silliness.

The book is directed towards Catholics.  The terms cited above are standard, traditional Catholic terms.  I don’t expect other religions to alter their terms in order to not “offend” me.  I’m strong enough in my faith that, for example, hearing a Jewish person refer to the Torah or a Muslim talk about the Qur’an doesn’t shake my belief in Jesus as Messiah.

Instead of watering down our terms as a way of being “politically correct,” I believe much more profitable discussion and interchange of ideas takes place when we’re honest about our fundamental beliefs.  I’ve enjoyed extremely profitable discussions with people of radically different belief systems.  We never felt the need to resort to “politically correct” silliness in order to avoid “offending” and thereby appear “tolerant.”

Other than these relatively minor criticisms, I find The Consuming Fire an excellent and profitable book.  Through it, we can come to know more fully the Old Testament and thereby come to know more fully the New Testament and our obligations in Jesus as Christians.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Consuming Fire and be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts while you are there.

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The Godless Delusion

The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism.  By Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley.  Our Sunday Visitor, 2010.  Softcover.  $14.95.

Reviewed by Steven Schultz

There are only two options.  It is either one or the other.  There is no middle ground.  The issue at hand is the existence or non-existence of God.  God cannot partially exist – that position is utter nonsense which any rational person would reject.  Instead, we are left with only one choice or it’s opposite.  Either the theists are correct and God exists, or the atheists are correct and belief in God is a delusion.  In The Godless Delusion, Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley charge headlong into this debate to deliver a sounding blow to atheism by showing through rational argument the logic of the theist position over illogic of the atheist position.

The importance of this conflict cannot be overstated in light of today’s society.  Rejection of belief in a higher power and rejection of the notion man is held accountable for his actions on earth and will face final, individual, ultimate judgment based on those actions are at the heart of all of society’s ills.  The self-appointed intelligentsia tells us God doesn’t exist and that those who believe in such “delusions” are uneducated simpletons – and far, far too many of us accept this since the message comes from “science” and we all know “science” is irrefutable.  Mark my words, atheism will be the downfall of Western society.  As Madrid and Hensley point out, atheism inescapably leads to conclusions which result in the death of society – there is no escaping this reality.

To understand the true absurdity of the atheist position, we must first understand exactly what their position says.  Atheists base their argument for the non-existence of God on what they consider a rational application of the scientific method.  Yet, their argument hinges on a blatant misstep in logic.  Like a magician skillfully employing misdirection, they hope no one notices their leap of faith.  As Madrid and Hensley put it:

“They [atheists] begin with an undeniably true assertion: that the scientific method, if used correctly, has been demonstrated to be a precise and trustworthy method of gaining accurate information about the natural world – as evidenced by remarkable successes and innumerable stunning advances in the fields of medicine, engineering, manufacturing, and technology.  But where the ‘magic’ occurred is when they moved from this true assertion to one undeniably false: that science and naturalism are somehow essentially the same thing.  From this, they drew the preposterous conclusion that because science has been demonstrated as true, naturalism has also been demonstrated as true…In fact, the two are quite distinct.  Whereas science is a method for investigating the natural world, naturalism is a philosophy that says the natural world is all there is.”

In other words, for the atheist, the material word, naturalism, is all there is.  Nothing else exists.  Even our thought is simply a series of chemical and electrical reactions.  If it’s not physical, it’s not real says the atheist.  However, by doing so, he either argues for absurdity or traps himself in his own contradiction, as we shall see.

Some reviews have commented on the lack of specifically Catholic arguments for the existence of God in this work.  However, these reviewers neglect to understand Catholic theological arguments for the existence of God would fall on deaf ears with atheists.  You cannot argue from a theological standpoint with someone who does not accept theology as a basis of argument.  In order to enter into conversation with such a person, you must begin with arguments based on rational logic – which is exactly what Madrid and Hensley undertake in this book.

The authors systematically dissect the atheist position, showing how it leads to utter non-sense and reveals atheists living in a contradiction.  For example, the atheist denies the existence of natural law or absolute right and wrong, instead claiming “right” and “wrong” are merely relative, individual concepts brought about by chemical and electrical reactions in the human brain.  Yet, the same atheist complains of not being treated “fairly” when wronged.  If absolute “right” and “wrong” don’t exist, there can’t be legitimate appeal to being treated “unfairly.”  To claim “unfair” treatment implies the existence of some sort of universal sense of “right” and “wrong” – which also implies existence of something beyond the natural world or beyond mere matter since a universal truth cannot possibly exist as a physical object.  On the other hand, the theist position rationally accounts for the universal human concept of a fundamental and absolute right and wrong as part of natural law created by God.

In a similar vein, atheists are forced to either take an absurd position or to contradict themselves when commenting on the actions of people such as Hitler.  Again according to the logical conclusions of the atheist position, since “right” and “wrong” are merely relative, individual human concepts, there exists no basis on which to criticize the genocide committed by Hitler or people like him.  Hitler’s writings and speeches make it abundantly clear he believed he was perfectly justified in murdering millions of Jews – in fact, he believed he was operating for the “good” of his society.  In order to honestly hold to his position, an atheist must accept Hitler’s arguments and admit Hitler was perfectly justified since he operated within his individual concept of “right” and “wrong.”  Would any rational person hold such a belief?  Instead, most atheists admit Hitler’s mass murder of Jews was wrong.  However, to admit Hitler (or Stalin or Mao who murdered millions of their own countrymen in the name of atheism) was wrong is to admit to the existence of a universal notion of right and wrong (and its subsequent notion of the existence of more than mere physical things), which again reveals the contradiction in which an atheist must live in order to cling to his belief system.

The theist has no such problem of being forced to take an absurd position or to contradict himself.  Instead, the theist believes in existence of things beyond the material world, therefore he is able to unequivocally state actions of people such as Hitler are evil and unacceptable since they violate natural law — God’s law.  Once again, the theist position comes through as the logical, rational position which actually jives with the human experience.  Additionally, the theist position is the only position which consistently describes the human experience without having to resort to modification or compromise of its propositions.

It’s all fine and good to shout from the comfort of one’s living room or classroom, “God is dead!”  Where does it lead when this becomes more than an anti-establishment slogan, but a lived belief system?  As Jewish psychologist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl puts it:

“If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him.  When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere project of heredity and environment, we see the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.  I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz.  The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis like to say, ‘of blood and soil.’  I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”

To understand the true absurdity of atheism, and frankly, the true horror to which it leads, we must fully and honestly face its full implications.  One of the only atheists to ever fully and honestly embrace the totality and reality of atheism was Frederick Nietchie – and we’d do well to remember he died a broken and insane man.  When viewed with intellectual honesty there is no escaping the full evil and horror to which the religion of atheism ultimately leads.

In order for our society to survive, we must abandon the absurd notion that man is his own master.  Hitler, Stalin, Castro – our history is filled with the results of man believing in the absurdity of atheism.  The sooner we accept the fact we have a divine Master, who calls us in love to freely surrender our will to His, the sooner we can begin to right the ship of society.  Madrid and Hensley arm us with the rational arguments to show the absurdity of atheists clinging to a godless delusion.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Godless Delusion.  Also be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues.

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Rebuild My Church

Rebuild My Church: God’s Plan for Authentic Catholic Renewal.  By Alan Schreck, PhD.  Servant Books, 2010.  244 pages, softcover.  $19.99

“Renewal” has become quite a hot-button topic among Catholics today.  Some Catholics have interpreted the call of the Vatican II fathers for “renewal” to mean a complete divorce from tradition with a complete embrace of every innovation.  However, this is a perversion of the actual message of Vatican II.  Even worse, it’s caused a great schism within the Church, with one group accepting anything in the name of “progress” as long as it’s not connected to tradition, while another group refuses accept anything new in the name of protecting “tradition.”  Both positions are wrong, with neither reflecting the true message of Vatican II.  Dr. Schreck’s wonderful book sets the record straight and helps Catholics understand the true meaning of “renewal” and a plan for carrying it out in line with orthodox Catholicism.

At the outset, we must begin with a correct definition of renewal.  Dr. Schreck shows how “renewal” more closely means “revitalization.”  Vatican II did not call on Catholics to throw out the old in favor of the new.  Instead, just as Paul repeatedly told us in his epistles, as Catholics we are called on to constantly reinvigorate our faith.  The word “renewal” itself implies continuity.  To “renew” something does not mean continuously starting from scratch, as many claim the “spirit” of Vatican II demands.  As Dr. Schreck points out, by “renewal,” the fathers of Vatican II meant a constant reinvigoration of our faith – a living tradition.  While moving forward, we are called upon not to lose touch with the past.

Once we understand the meaning of “renewal,” we can then set about implementing authentic renewal within the Church.  Dr. Schreck provides an excellent blueprint for putting authentic renewal into action.  Most important, Dr. Schreck tells us authentic renewal begins with each of us as individual Catholics.  In order for authentic renewal to happen, we must, each of us, live our faith.  Living our faith begins with prayer, for this opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.  Authentically living our faith puts us in a position to constantly renew (or more correctly, reinvigorate) the Church.  Through this process, we open ourselves to the true message of Vatican II regarding renewal.  As Dr. Schreck puts it (only partially in jest), “everything I needed to know about Vatican II I learned (by grace, in an ‘infused’ way) when the Holy Spirit burst into my life.”

Rebuild My Church is a great book for every Catholic, religious and lay.  Understanding the true meaning of “renewal” would go a long way towards healing the divisions within the Church today and helping more Catholics live in faithful obedience to the Magisterium of Holy Mother Church, and thereby in willing obedience with God’s plan for our salvation.

This review was written as part of the Catholic books reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Rebuild My Church.

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The Fathers: Vol II

The Fathers: Volume II.  By Pope Benedict XVI.  Our Sunday Visitor, 2010.  170 pages, hardcover.  $14.95

The Fathers: Volume II is a companion to Pope Benedict’s 2008 work, The Fathers, also published by Our Sunday Visitor.  These books cover a series of catechesis on the early Church fathers during his weekly general audiences.  The first volume comprises talks from March 2007 to January 2008 and covers the lives of twenty-six fathers during the third to fifth centuries.  Volume II picks up with talks from March 2008 to October 2009 and the lives of twenty-five fathers through the twelfth century.

Those who have not read Pope Benedict are in for a treat.  While possessing a highly developed intellect, the Pope never-the-less presents these teachings in an easy to understand manner.  Both books consist of a series of brief sketches on important fathers of the Church.

The Pope not only provides us interesting biographical sketches, but also works in an important theological concept with each brief.  For example, while learning about the life of St. Leo the Great, we also learn about his role in the Council of Chalcedon.  From this, we learn how the Council reacted against the heresy of Eutyches, who denied the true human nature of Jesus, to pronounce the orthodoxy of the person of Jesus as fully human and fully divine.

The short nature of these sketches encourages you to read them whenever you have time.  The book may be read cover-to-cover or you can read any chapter which catches your eye.  This makes it an excellent “nightstand book” or a book to carry with you whenever you might have few minutes to spare.

My criticisms of both books are very slight.  First, Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) provides no introduction to these audiences.  Instead, the books jumps right into the sketches.  I believe OSV could have produced an even better product by providing an introduction to help “set the stage” for these sketches and help set them in the fuller context of Pope Benedict’s teachings.  Also, OSV could have made the books even more useful by providing an index.  Finally, I wish OSV would have included some suggestions for further reading on the lives of the fathers covered.  Again, these are relatively minor concerns compared to the overall quality and content of these books.

Catholics who take the time to read even a small portion of the wonderful works our Church provides find great reward.  While offering us the opportunity to learn more about the fathers during the major formative centuries of the Church, these volumes also give us a wonderful introduction to the teachings and thought of Pope Benedict XVI.

This review was written as part of the Catholic books reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Fathers Volume II .

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