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Pivotal Battle, Beautiful Poem
BY Stephen Vincent
by G.K. Chesterton
edited by Dale Ahlquist Ignatius, 2003 124 pages, $10.95
To order: (800) 651-1531 or http://www.ignatius.com
This poem, written in 1911 about a largely unknown 16th-century sea battle, speaks directly to the situation of the world today. Decision-makers in the Department of Defense should read it. Soldiers on the front lines in Iraq should memorize it. It should be printed on op-ed pages, and passages should be quoted from the pulpit. Every voter would do well to consider its message before going to the polls.
This is Chesterton's “Lepanto,” a triumph of the English language about a triumph that may have saved that language itself and, in the process, all of Western civilization. In the waters off Greece, in October 1571, a fleet of Christians from a divided Europe faced a larger and more storied fleet of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Led by young Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of Spain's Charles V and half-brother of the reigning Philip II, the Christian ships “burst the battle line,” as Chesterton writes, to crush the Turks and reclaim the Mediterranean and historical momentum for the West. It was an epic battle that marked the decline of Ottoman power — yet, if people beyond history buffs know of it today, it is likely because they've heard of Pope St. Pius V's mystical vision of victory while praying the rosary. (The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Oct. 7, comes from this battle.) The poem itself is almost entirely unknown, even among English-literature majors.
This is more than a shame, writes Dale Ahlquist, editor of this slim volume and president of the American Chesterton Society. Hailing the poem's style, wit and heroic theme, Ahlquist writes, “It should be in every anthology of English literature and part of the standard syllabus in every class of English 101.” Yet the poem “suffers in obscurity because of a combined prejudice against rhyme and meter, against Catholicism, and against G.K. Chesterton.” He also notes an allergic reaction among academics to a poem celebrating war.
In 143 galloping lines, Chesterton sets the stage of the world at the time, with the Pope calling for arms against the Muslim foe. Christian Europe is deeply divided by Protestantism and internecine intrigue, and Sultan Selim II smiles at the prospect of overrunning the West, as Mohammed (or “Mahound,” as Chesterton calls him) guides the galleys from his place in Muslim paradise. The poem does not shrink from blood or the glory of war, and states that God takes sides, as the Holy League raises the cross against the crescent.
Ahlquist reports that “Lepanto” was first published in the Oct. 12, 1911, edition of The Eye-Witness, whose editor, Hilaire Belloc, would say later that the poem “is not only the summit of Chesterton's achievement in verse but in all our generation.” Surprisingly, Chesterton wrote it before he became a Catholic.
The book includes essays by three academics and a retired U.S. Army colonel, who outline the poem's historical background and its significance for our post-9/11 world. Perhaps the people of the West, facing implacable radical Muslims, are ready to read this poem anew.
A further treat for Chesterton fans are two essays, presumably included to flesh out the book to a presentable length, “The True Romance” and the intriguingly titled “If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots.”
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.
BY Daria Sockey
EVENING PRAYERBOOK: SUNDAY VESPERS, LITURGY OF THE HOURS: THE PRAISES OF GOD — AN UNCOMMON DIALOGUE
Patmos, 2004 157 pages, $24.95 To order: (570) 685-5168 or http://www.patmos.us
The Church has been expressing its hope that the laity would come to know the Liturgy of the Hours ever since the Second Vatican Council.
In his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), Pope John Paul II concluded that it “is important to devote greater pastoral care to promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as a prayer of the whole people of God. … If, in fact, priests have a precise mandate to celebrate it, it is also warmly recommended to lay people.”
The problem is that the breviary is not something you can simply open and run with. It requires some instruction.
Beginners are often frustrated and confused, having to flip back and forth from “Ordinary” to “Hymns” to “Psalter” to “Proper of Seasons.”
In addition, there are various rubrics accompanying the prayers (sign of the cross, bowing, knowing when to sit or stand) that can further complicate the learning process.
To the rescue comes Evening Prayerbook. This workbook contains vespers for every Sunday and major feast day of the year. Each two-page spread contains everything needed for each evening — no search-and-flip missions required. Parenthetical comments on gestures and rubrics are in the margins. Especially helpful to those who do not have the guidance of a priest or religious is the tutorial page, which carefully explains each prayer and rubric, and how to alternate responses for vespers in a group setting.
Less essential, but certainly well worthwhile, is the artwork on the margins of each page. Here are lovely designs, reminiscent of old illuminated manuscripts and color-coordinated to the liturgical season of each Sunday's evening prayer.
The book's foreword, by Wayne Hepler, will both inform and motivate the reader to investigate the Liturgy of the Hours. Hepler seasons his own enthusiasm for liturgical prayer with copious quotes from the magisterium. Referring to Dies Domini (The Lord's Day), he writes:
“The Holy Father reminds us in his gentle way that Sunday isn't over when Mass is over. How fitting it would be indeed if after Mass, the football game, naps, or visiting family, the faithful would come together with the whole Church throughout the world and complete their Sunday with the celebration of Sunday Vespers?”
“There is no other prayer like the Liturgy of the Hours,” Hepler continues. “It is the official public prayer of the Church for every day of the liturgical year celebrating the life of Jesus Christ in its Seasons, Feasts, and Saints — especially in the morning and evening. It is the ‘very prayer which Christ himself, together with his body addresses to the Father’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Chapter 4).”
Hepler is certain that praying just one hour of Sunday vespers regularly will “be the introduction into the love affair of a lifetime.” Many of his readers will no doubt end up similarly persuaded.
Evening Prayerbook will be immensely helpful to pastors who need a simple resource for introducing their parish to the Divine Office. Recitation of evening prayer takes between 10 and 15 minutes: a modest investment with an eternal return.
Daria Sockey writes from Cincinnati.
BY Carl E. Olson
Von Hildebrand and the Happy Marriage
MAN, WOMAN, AND THE MEANING
OF LOVE: GOD&APOS;S PLAN FOR LOVE,
MARRIAGE, INTIMACY, AND THE
b yDietrich von Hildebrand
Sophia Press, 2002
130 pages, $12.95
To order: (800) 888-9344
Dietrich von Hildebrand (1899-1977) was a philosopher of profound intellectual and spiritual depth. Hitler hated him (and nearly succeeded in killing him), while Pope Pius XII called him a “20th-century doctor of the Church.” A professor for many years at Fordham University, von Hildebrand wrote books on spirituality, liturgy, marriage, the Second Vatican Council and moral philosophy. These works are notable for their crisp writing, penetrating thought and spiritual richness, balancing technical precision with an emphasis on the deeply personal and relational nature of the Catholic faith.
These qualities are evident in Man, Woman, and the Meaning of Love, originally TITLEd Man and Woman when first published in 1966. While many moral theologians of that time were attempting to reshape Catholic doctrine in the image of secular lies about sexuality, von Hildebrand warned of the grave dangers of the sexual revolution. “A sterile approach to sexuality dominates our time,” he writes. “Out of boredom, people have granted to casual, shallow and neutralized sex a distorted role.” Undoubtedly he was mocked by many who thought their “progressive” approach to sex was anything but sterile. Yet time and sad experience has shown that von Hildebrand, Pope Paul VI and like-minded thinkers were absolutely correct in their prophetic warnings against contraception and about sex apart from marriage.
A central premise of this book and of von Hildebrand's thought is that if love is misunderstood, so is man. “To the extent that we fail to grasp what love really is,” he writes, “it is impossible for us to give adequate philosophical consideration to what man is. Love alone brings a human being to full awareness of personal existence. For it is in love alone that man finds room enough to be what he is.” This unifying theme unites the subsequent chapters, in which von Hildebrand discusses the nature and beauty of love, the sublimity of spousal love and the sexual union, the fruit of love and the moral implications of sexuality. He shows that a puritanical view of sex — one that has often afflicted Catholics — is not only unhealthy but also incompatible with the mind and heart of the Church. The sexual union within the marital relationship is holy; it is the revelation and gift of the deepest self to one's spouse. Catholics shouldn't deny or minimize the realm of sex but rather guard and protect it, treating it with the respect and reverence due a precious mystery.
Von Hildebrand's writing is direct and clean, but many passages are filled with philosophical language that may prove daunting to some readers. However, the book is worth the effort, for it beautifully elucidates the logic and wisdom of Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality. Similar to Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, which often points to natural law and common experience, von Hildebrand seeks to assist those who are serious about understanding the mystery of love. He does so with firmness and passion. This is evident in how he describes artificial contraception as the height of human arrogance and the result of a disastrous attempt at autonomy from God: “It is the same sinfulness which lies in suicide or euthanasia, in both of which we act as if we were masters of life. It is the same irreverence which ignores the indissolubility of marriage and in which marriages are contracted and ended as one would change gloves.”
One flaw of the book, perhaps resulting from a lack of reliable demographic and scientific information in the 1960s, is the acceptance of the supposed “threat of overpopulation.” Von Hildebrand describes this “threat” — now known to be mythical and politically driven — as a “calamity.” No doubt he would quickly revise that assessment if he were still alive. However, there would be no need to revise the remainder of the book. It's just as prophetic, instructive and valuable as the day he finished writing it.
Carl Olson, editor of
Envoy magazine, writes from Heath, Ohio.
BY Joe Cullen
Sex Scandals: Cuts That Only Zeal Can Heal
FROM SCANDAL TO HOPE
by Father Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR
OSV Publishing, 2002
216 pages, $9.95
To order this TITLE:
If the events usually described as the “clergy sex-abuse scandal” remain a whirlwind for you, this little book will go a long way toward putting the matter in a hopeful and realistic — that is, Catholic — perspective. Designed to be a cat's lick treatment of a complicated set of problems while they are still top-of-mind, this book does its job admirably, especially for those who are not Church insiders.
Father Groeschel hopes that the events of 2002 will be the touchstone of a major reform built on devout prayer and personal conversion to Christ. “The bell is ringing in the Church,” he writes, “and remarkably, those who can lead the reform are the young.”
Though still ignored by many, it is becoming increasingly obvious, he writes, that “a whole army of fervent young Catholics” has emerged in the ecclesial movements, Catholic colleges, seminaries and in religious communities such as his own Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. “Practically a theological miracle,” he argues that this cadre forms “the greatest single sign that the Church will recover from the present disaster.”
Father Groeschel does not back away from the many and sordid issues associated with the scandal that are, for him, familiar problems, given his apostolates as seminary professor and spiritual director to priests. Despite the often-bleak subject matter, he also maintains a sense of humor, even wondering if Voltaire merits being named the patron saint of seminary personnel. His motto: “Anything but zeal.”
It may surprise some readers that Father Groeschel faults some bishops in the exercise of their teaching office — not for improper supervision of those below them, or for not being appropriately empathetic to the victims of abuse. He holds that the failure to correctly promote and defend the faith at various levels in the Church has served as the foundation for the current “moral mess” with scandal a natural result.
Though far from an exhaustive treatment of such issues as discipline and fidelity, Father Groeschel's book conveys much about the failure to love that occurs when priests, theologians and the laity are not called to account for their active or passive dissent. How much damage has been done by not caring enough to intervene? Though he recounts the story with little comment, one of Father Groeschel's anecdotes makes the point quite well. He describes how a young priest one Sunday pointed to the Eucharist and said, “This is not the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ.” This, by the way, was the teaching of Huldrych Zwingli, founder of the Reformed Church.
Perplexed, “many of the parishioners complained to the pastor, who said that he couldn't do anything,” reports Father Groeschel. “So they went to the bishop. The bishop also said he could do nothing, so nothing happened.”
If a priest could think and preach so far beyond the bounds of Catholic doctrine and spirituality, isn't it fair to wonder how far might he stray in the living of Catholic morality? And, did “nothing” really happen in the story of the young priest who lost his way, or who was never properly prepared for his journey?
He — and his parishioners, no doubt — may be a few more of the “victims” whom, we pray, only a reformed and ever-reforming Church can reach and heal.
Joe Cullen writes from New York.
BY Brian Caulfield
YOUR LIFE IS WORTH LIVING: THE CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (transcribed by Jon Hallingstad) St. Andrew's Press, 2001 416 pages, $24. 95 To order: (877) 362–0807 or http://www.bishopsheen.org
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who died in 1979, is a priest for our troubled times. Reading this book, a transcription of a popular set of albums he recorded after the close of the Second Vatican Council, a paraphrase of Simon and Garfunkel came often to mind: “Where have you gone, Archbishop Sheen, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you …”
Here is Sheen on what ails us. “The vast majority of people today are suffering from what might be called an existential neurosis, the anxiety and the problem of living. They ask, ‘What is it all about?’ ‘Where do I go from here?’ ‘How do I find it?’”
He offers two solutions. “First, go out and help your neighbor. Those who suffer from anxiety of life live only for themselves … Visit the sick. Be kind to the poor. Help the healing of lepers.”
The second solution is to “leave yourself open to experiences and encounters with the divine, which come to you from without …
“ I am suggesting you will not just reason yourself into the meaning and purpose of life; you will act yourself into the meaning and purpose of life by breaking the shell of egotism and selfishness, and cleaning the windows of your moral life to allow sunshine in.”
Those who watched Sheen's top-rated television show in the 1950s, or who have seen replays on video, will read with the archbishop's inviting voice and piercing eyes in mind. But any reader will be captivated by the gifted evangelist and storyteller, who draws on his wide experience as director for 16 years of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in New York City. His famous conversion stories are here. A young woman of culture comes to see him and he invites her to view artwork in the church. She agrees on the condition that he will not ask her to go to confession. While showing her the splendid paintings, he “pushes” her into the confessional. When Clare Booth Luce asks in tears why God has allowed her teen-age daughter to die, Sheen declares, “In order that you might be here, learning something about the purpose and meaning of life.”
Not exactly common pastoral practice, but the reader is struck with Sheen's zeal and directness.
Perhaps the best advertisement for this book is the experience of Jon Hallingstad. After listening to the vinyl recording that he later transcribed into this book, the one-time Lutheran converted to the Catholic faith. Archbishop Sheen, famous for making converts in his day, is still at work. In the book's foreword, Hallingstad explains his motive for transcribing the 25-album set first released in 1965: “It was as if Sheen himself spoke to me, quietly encouraging me to spend an hour with him each evening. Over the next five months, before I retired each night, I transcribed this work word by word.” Sheen's ideas are organized into five headings: God and Man, Christ and His Church, Sin, Sacraments and World, Soul and Things. Each chapter is an adequate lesson in itself, so readers can skip throughout the book without losing the train of thought.
This is an excellent book to give to relatives who are away from the Church, to evangelicals who approach you at work, or to teens searching for the meaning of life. No theological knowledge is needed to delve into this surprisingly simple presentation of human nature, the longings of the heart and how only the Catholic faith satisfies the deepest needs of each person.
Brian Caulfield writes from West Haven, Connecticut.
Getting to Know Blessed Padre Pio
BY Joseph Pronechen
MEET PADRE PIO
by Patricia Treece Charis, 2001 144 pages, $9.99 To order: (800) 458-8505
Looking to make the acquaintance of one of the Church's most beloved and recognizable saints-in-waiting? Adults and youth will find an agreeable and satisfying encounter in Meet Padre Pio.
With the skill of a perceptive storyteller, author Patricia Treece turns our meeting into an absorbing overview of Padre Pio's life. Weaving together incidents, letters and anecdotes spanning his entire life, she shows how graced with sanctity he was— virtually all his days (1887-1968).
Ordinary people can take heart from these eyewitness accounts. The colorful portrait of Pio that emerges— from when he was little Francesco Forgione to his days as a stigmatic priest whose other extraordinary gifts included bilocation and reading souls— conveys that he was “cheerful and down to earth, retaining his love of pranks and telling jokes.”
“All his life Padre Pio was known among his friends as a man with a good sense of humor,” Treece writes. “Playing pranks on his sister and fellow novices, and later making his Capuchin brothers laugh by telling innocent little jokes and stories during recreation, Padre Pio fulfilled the paradox that a follower of Christ must both ‘pick up [his] cross and follow me’ and be filled with ‘the joy of the Lord.’”
Some of his simple jokes made me laugh out loud. Francis de Sales once observed, “A saint who is sad is a sad saint.” Pio wasn't sad.
On the other hand, well-chosen examples from Pio's voluminous letters of spiritual direction to his spiritual children “reveal Pio as a man steeped in the Scriptures, totally dedicated to Jesus Christ and exquisitely sensitive to the subtlest spiritual currents of the soul.”
His spiritual direction was uncompromising, yet gentle and full of love. The priest for whom Jesus and Mary were everything speaks to the heart on how and why to avoid spiritual dangers like vain-glory, and to bear crosses as a sign of loving God and accepting his will.
Although intended for specific individuals, the letters are so universal as to apply to any one of us. We can take this spiritual direction as if Padre Pio wrote it only for us.
The letters include a fascinating account the padre wrote about his trip home after his medical discharge from the WWI army. It combines his sensitivity, good cheer and down-to-earth observations with strong hints of supernatural intervention through unwavering trust in God.
Directly or indirectly, Padre Pio always told people to trust in God. The book recalls how he healed one young man on crutches who feared he'd fall without them. “At last, urged on by Pio, he dropped the crutches, but clutched fearfully at the wall to support himself,” writes Treece.
“‘Come on, walk,’ Pio laughed. Something in the confident laugh caught the crippled man's soul. He let go of the wall. He walked. His foot, mangled in an accident, had been healed.”
Treece has done a fine job selecting incidents that illuminate Pio's extraordinary gifts, his superhuman love for people, his chosen role from God— in short, the wonders of a great Christian soul.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
Want to Add Meaning to Mass? Study Scripture
BY Michael J. Miller
Father Peter Stravinskas, founding editor of The Catholic Answer, certainly has a gift for explanation and a wealth of experience. In this concise volume he explains, step by step, the various prayers and rituals of the Catholic Mass of the Roman Rite (Novus Ordo), and offers scriptural meditations to help readers participate in it more fully.
The book is divided into four main chapters, devoted respectively to the Introductory Rite (“Coming into His Presence”), the Liturgy of the Word (“God Speaks to Us”), the Liturgy of the Eucharist (“The Perfect and Acceptable Sacrifice”), and the Communion and Concluding Rites (“Receiving the Lord and Sent Forth to Serve”). There are also helpful appendices on Latin in the Liturgy and on postures and gestures used in worship as well as a glossary of sacred vestments and other liturgical objects.
The first part of each chapter describes what happens during Mass and why. Often the approach is experiential.
In the first chapter, for example, we learn how the Entrance Song and procession, the Penitential Rite and the Gloria (on Sundays) all prepare us to encounter the mystery of God's presence and action among us.
Occasionally the comments are historical. “The Liturgy of the Word has its origins in Jewish Tradition (Catechism, No. 1093, No. 1096), patterned after the example of Jesus and the first Christians,” writes Father Stravinskas. “Synagogue worship, right up to the present, is a heavily verbal ritual, including prayers, psalms, [etc.]. … The Scripture readings in Our Lord's time were based on a three-year cycle, just as they are in the present liturgy of the Roman Rite.”
At several points, the author provides a thoughtful English translation of a prayer in the Mass. Particularly interesting are the notes on each of the four eucharistic prayers, all of which clarify their origins and distinctive emphases.
Father Stravinskas shows sensitivity in dealing with pastoral questions, such as the status of the Tridentine Mass, the proper dispositions for receiving the Eucharist, and the rare circumstances in which non-Catholics are allowed to receive Communion.
One advantage of the step by step commentary is that the author heads off controversies; the answer is usually there before the objection arises.
There is much to learn about the Mass that cannot be conveyed in classroom mode. Therefore, in the second part of each chapter, the author offers a series of short meditations, designed to be read and pondered at the rate of one per day. Each meditation consists of a phrase from the Mass and a Scripture passage, followed by a page of reflections.
A sample: “The Lord be with you. [The Greeting]. ‘Boaz himself came from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” And they replied, “The Lord bless you!”’ (Ruth 2:4) … The next time you participate in the Mass, listen for those words and try to experience them for the first time — in all their dazzling audacity. The priest is praying that the Lord will come and make His dwelling within you.”
Father Stravinskas has kept this non-technical explanation of the Mass short and simple, by keeping it on the sure and solid foundation of traditional Catholic theology. Study questions after each chapter make the book suitable for use by discussion groups. This edition is the first publication of Newman House Press, the print apostolate of the Scranton Diocesan Oratory of St. Philip Neri.
Michael J. Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.