Books for Your Stockings
Some people dread shopping for Christmas gifts. And it’s not always easy to think of a good gift for certain recipients. But there’s always books. Yes, people still read books — and some even appreciate getting them as gifts. The Register has a few ideas, including a novel, a book of Marian apologetics, and a humorous look at raising kids.
Faith, Hope, Hilarity
BLESS ME, FATHER, FOR I HAVE KIDS
by Susie Lloyd
Sophia Institute Press, 2009
181 pages, $14.95
To order: sophiainstitute.com
By DAVID DEAVEL
There is a certain type of home-schooling mother that gives home-schoolers a bad name. She thinks and tells others, sometimes in so many words, that their failure to home school — or even to home school in her own particularly intense way — is actually a form of child abuse. She radiates a defensive sort of piety that seems more heat than light. And she is humorless.
Susie Lloyd ain’t that lady.
For those who know her columns from Faith & Family and The Latin Mass magazines, or have read her first book (Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water!), her new collection of humorous essays, Bless Me, Father, for I Have Kids, will be another call from a writing voice that makes you wish Mrs. Lloyd were your own neighbor. Or at least a fellow parishioner.
You don’t have to home school to appreciate her writing. Lloyd’s writing is anchored concretely in her life as a home-schooler, but her essays are not sermons on the proper way to home school — or even raise kids. Instead, they are wonderful glimpses at the domestic insanity that is the joyful lot of any Catholic family.
“Is That Icon Frowning at Me?” gives a play-by-play account of the Lloyd family’s attempts to make it through the Divine Liturgy at their Byzantine Catholic parish. Anybody who’s carried a squealing child to the back during Mass knows what will happen next, and Lloyd expresses it perfectly: “The three-year-old sees, hustles out of Daddy’s pew, and patters down the aisle to catch up. Do I send her back? No, I don’t want to risk the Boomerang Effect. So now I have two of them.”
The “Boomerang Effect” is just one of the delightful terms she coins. “Hysterione,” the mysterious hormone pervading pregnant women’s bodies, is another. But Lloyd doesn’t just stop at clever terms. She also ranks up there with Gresham, Neuhaus and others who have come up with iron-clad laws of life, though her sense of humility causes her to name hers for somebody else: “Mrs. Murphy’s Law” of bringing children out in public tells us, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong in front of other people.”
Of course being a mother or father is certainly about humiliation caused by children (God’s own humorous way of sanctifying parents), but what always comes through in Lloyd’s writing is how much joy her children bring her. She dedicates her book “to the children, who are frequently called expensive. To us you are priceless.”
She means it.
In fact, to label her simply a “humorist” is not really adequate. She certainly is funny, but the laughter is in service to articulating a vision of Christian family suffused with wonder. The first chapter, “Unto Us a Son Is Born,” milks plenty of comedy from the birth of the only Lloyd male after six females. But her account of how the six girls (who wanted another girl) behaved was what caught my eye: “They took turns holding him, cooing at him, claiming him. He weighed all of eight and a half pounds. And yet I pictured him someday towering over them, teasing them, protecting them.”
Lloyd’s final chapter, “Our Father,” is a poignant stream-of-consciousness prayer at the end of the day, enunciating the worries of inadequacy that modern parents, especially mothers, feel. It ends with the true test of any worldview: gratitude.
Parents, and not just home-schoolers, can be grateful for the off-beat, humorous witness of Susie Lloyd. She shows how family life can be lit up from within by thanksgiving, sacrifice and taking oneself lightly.
She even makes one want to home school.
David Deavel writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.
Christian Realism, Alive
THE DEATH OF A POPE
by Piers Paul Read
Ignatius Press, 2009
215 pages, $21.95
To order: ignatius.com
By JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND
These days, when airplanes fly into skyscrapers and roadside bombs kill innocent civilians, we tend to seek the guilty among the growing ranks of Islamic fundamentalists. But not long ago, no one was surprised to read of Christian militants employing violence to wreak vengeance and impose summary moral judgments against their enemies, political and sectarian.
In his new novel, Piers Paul Read — the British author of the international best seller Alive — draws us into the world of one such contemporary Christian: Juan Uriarte, an ex-priest who has learned to justify the violation of moral absolutes in matters of personal morality and now may be preparing to advance his progressive ecclesial agenda through violence.
What does Uriarte seek to accomplish — and why? Such questions lead the reader to move quickly through Read’s unusual narrative, which provides context for the protagonist’s motive by offering a comprehensive portrait of the Church in the wake of Pope John Paul II’s death.
Charismatic and idealistic, Uriarte once fought with left-wing guerrillas in El Salvador. Now he works as an administrator of a Catholic foreign aid agency, but he continues to espouse a radical form of liberation theology transplanted to Africa, where the AIDS epidemic and political oppression combine to make social advancement a near impossibility.
Angered by the late Pontiff’s doctrinal orthodoxy — specifically John Paul II’s rejection of the use of condoms as a means of reducing the HIV/AIDS infection rate — Uriarte yearns for a new pope in a more progressive mold. But how far will this activist go to achieve his dream?
The story begins in London, where Uriarte is on trial as a terrorist, accused of “conspiring to cause an explosion with the intent of taking human life.” He quickly attracts an admirer, Kate, a young, disenchanted English Catholic and journalist who is covering the courtroom drama.
Kate is looking for a cause that will establish a bridge between her childhood faith and her growing desire to effect change, to do something worthwhile. Maybe Uriarte can provide a solution to her dilemma.
But Uriarte also has attracted the attention of the British intelligence establishment, including one David Kotovski, who suspects that the former Basque priest seeks to acquire nerve gas for some sinister purpose.
Much to his surprise, Kotovski soon finds himself attracted to Kate. But before he makes his move, Kate soon becomes Uriarte’s latest follower. Now, Kotovski must also discover whether she seeks to actively support Uriarte’s personal crusade.
When Kotovski turns for answers to Kate’s uncle, a Catholic priest, he receives an ambiguous response. Father Luke makes this observation:
“Now as I understand it, this man Uriarte is charismatic in some sense. And my niece, though she seems at first sight to be sane and sensible, has perhaps been looking for something — some issue, some ideal — to take the place of her lost faith. We all have a yearning to do good; it is implanted in our consciences by God. If Uriarte was to offer her a role in some radical plan for the betterment of humanity, then it is possible that she would take it.”
Such nuggets of Christian realism are scattered throughout The Death of a Pope. At times they advance the plot; at times they burden it with an excessive helping of intrusive cultural context.
The author is well versed in every aspect of modern Catholic life throughout the globe, from the fruitful legacy of previous generations of European missionaries in Africa to the Gospel’s fading relevance in Europe.
But what would make this novel even more compelling is just plain unvarnished storytelling.
Joan Frawley Desmond writes
from Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Mary at Christmas
MARY, MOTHER OF THE SON
by Mark Shea
Catholic Answers, 2009
Three volumes, $34.95
To order: catholic.com
By ELIZABETH YANK
For many evangelical Protestants, the whole idea of Mary — who she is and what she stands for — is a major roadblock, akin to a megaton boulder, to the Catholic faith.
With vim and vigor, Register columnist Mark Shea tackles the topic of the Blessed Mother in Mary, Mother of the Son, a three-volume set, unveiling the truth about her and deconstructing misconceptions.
I plunged into Vol. III, Miracles, Devotion, and Motherhood. I was drawn to the intriguing title of Chapter One, “Spooky Feelings vs. the Law of Love.” This volume focuses on Marian devotions, such as the Rosary, private revelations (Are they real?), apparitions (more than Fatima), Mary’s role as mother of us all (Do Catholics honor her too much?), and who Catholics really worship.
Armed with Scripture, Tradition and concrete analogies, Shea gives life and meaning to otherwise incomprehensible, or at least difficult, concepts about Mary.
He reminds us of how we should live our faith: “Life in Christ and his Church can’t become the mere memorization of dogma and doctrine. It would be like saying music ‘is’ little black dots on a lined paper. Living the Tradition is like knowing your family — it’s not just memorizing data and ideas, it’s a thing you swim in, something you eat and drink and breathe.”
One thing is definite. When you read Shea, you have entered the mind of a persistent, evangelical apologist. He wants to know why Catholics honor Mary, why Catholics pray the Rosary.
Shea meticulously answers those all-consuming questions for evangelicals, paving the way for them to open their hearts and minds to Mary and the Catholic Church.
At the same time, if we want to be effective witnesses of the faith and evangelize evangelical Protestants, then we need to know the way they think and where they are coming from, so we can answer their numerous questions.
Because Shea addresses caboodles of questions, the reader may prefer to pick and choose topics of interest rather than read it cover to cover.
Like my husband disassembling his motorcycle, laying it all over the floor, working on individual parts, and reassembling them, Shea meticulously breaks down a topic, defines and refines the objection with clever analogies, and reassembles the issue. The reader will want to read short passages and savor them, like a fine wine, not gulp them down.
Shea’s subtle wit and clear analogies offer readers a fresh perspective on the topic. When you think there is nothing more to be said about Mary, Shea shares, “For Mary is no more Ashtoreth than an Easter egg hunt is a fertility cult.”
He presents what could be stuffy theological dogma and doctrine in practical terms.
If you have ignored your Mother for too long because you feared Marian piety, this may awaken a renewed sense of the true beauty and scriptural soundness of devotion to Mary.
Elizabeth Yank writes from
South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- November 8-14, 2009