The Christmas holidays are a good time to catch up on reading, and the Register has several suggestions. Though Tears of God by Father Benedict Groeschel deals with tragedy, he offers a perspective that is filled with hope — and Christmas is a season of hope. Hope is the feeling we get when we hear of people coming into the Church — because they are convinced that it possesses the fullness of the truth. Francis Beckwith, a recent high-profile convert, tells his conversion story in Return to Rome. Finally, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, archbishop emeritus of Bologna, Italy, offers a picture of who Jesus really is — something we sometimes need to be reminded of when the world’s conception of Christmas smothers the reason Christ was born.
Who Do You Say Jesus Is?
THE MAN CHRIST JESUS
How the Lord Looked, Acted and Loved
by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, translated by Charlotte J. Fasi
Sophia Institute Press, 2009
120 pages, $10.95
To order: sophiainstitute.com
By ELIZABETH YANK
Can we say, with Peter, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God?”
Christ’s divinity is one of the topics Cardinal Giacomo Biffi addresses in The Man Christ Jesus.
Although it is not intended as an apologetic work, but a clarification of who the man Jesus was, The Man Christ Jesus would be an ideal work to keep handy when someone expresses doubts about the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
Like a detective, Cardinal Biffi, the retired archbishop of Bologna, Italy, compiles a physical and personality profile of Jesus. Basing his observations on the Evangelists, Cardinal Biffi draws a compelling human portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. How was he different?
With language that is crisp and easy to understand, he lays out a gripping case for Jesus Christ, Lord and God.
His physical profile includes Jesus’ eyes. They “had to be enchanting, penetrating, and dazzlingly magnetic. Those who saw them could never forget them.”
Cardinal Biffi observes that Jesus’ personality shows an incredible freedom from others’ opinions. He notes, “In time of crisis, Jesus does not back down even when forsaken by most of the disciples. His offering up ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ as food and drink troubles them. But he does not stop being controversial to make it easier for them to accept him.”
Cardinal Biffi provokes the reader to consider Jesus as fully human. But his analysis does not stop at the world’s assessment, calling him a nice man or prophet. Rather Cardinal Biffi goes on to challenge the reader to acknowledge the only logical conclusion that Jesus is “true God.”
He develops this idea more fully in the second half of the book, as he turns to the theological aspects of the mystery of Christ.
As Cardinal Biffi states, “Jesus’ declaring himself God undermines the kindly, tolerant view many scholars use to describe him. Appreciating Jesus as wise, just, and great, they never recognize him as Lord and God. This modest view of Christ is contradicted by all our evangelical documentation.”
Since Cardinal Biffi flips back and forth in his description of the world’s view of Christ and the true image of Christ, if you randomly open the book and begin reading, you might misunderstand a passage by taking it out of context.
Cardinal Biffi dares the reader to fully accept Jesus as a part of his life. “Jesus is not an extravagance, an option, or just a novel idea,” he writes. “His presence or his absence (our acceptance or refusal) touches our soul and determines our fate.”
Elizabeth Yank writes from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Return With Gratitude
RETURN TO ROME
Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic
by Francis J. Beckwith
Brazos Press, 2009
144 pages, $21.98
To order: brazospress.com
By DAVID PAUL DEAVEL
Conversion accounts are usually written with several goals in mind: defending the convert’s purity of motive and honesty of action, laying out some of the intellectual journey traveled, encouraging others of like mind to do the same, and giving praise and thanksgiving — to the people, books and institutions who helped the convert along the way as well as to the God who so providentially arranged encounters with them. One further aim, essential to success, is to tell a great story.
Francis Beckwith’s Return to Rome hits all the notes — and more — while telling a cracking good story. I only wish it had been longer.
Beckwith, a philosopher at Baylor University, was on top of his world in early 2007. As a prolific and well-respected evangelical academic, publishing extensively in the philosophy of religion, law, politics, science and ethics, he had emerged victorious from a highly publicized tenure battle at Baylor and was named a full professor one year later. Cambridge University Press had just published his important pro-life book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice. And he was president of the Evangelical Theological Society. The man might reasonably have settled in as an eminent evangelical intellectual. But, shocking the evangelical world, he returned to the Catholic Church, and was forced to resign his Evangelical Theological Society presidency.
Beckwith was raised in a good Catholic home in, of all places, Las Vegas. He left the Church not for the allure of blackjack or showgirls, but because of weak Catholic life and education in the post-Vatican II years. Looking for a faith to bite into intellectually, he was offered instead “lousy pop music, a gutted Mass, theological shallowness, and ‘social justice pabulum’” that served as proxy for pro-choice politics. His Catholic secondary education was short on Aquinas and long on New Age dreck like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Is it any wonder Beckwith found himself drawn to evangelicals, whose music was pop, but not lousy, and whose minds and hearts were centered on Christianity as something serious? He wasn’t alone, since “virtually every Evangelical Protestant I knew during this time was a former Catholic.”
His intellectual journey through the various worlds of evangelicalism is well told and marked, as he says, “with respect and admiration for the Evangelical Protestants who the Holy Spirit used to deepen my devotion to Christ, which I carry with gratitude into the Catholic Church.” That respect and admiration are matched by an ability to render those figures vividly. John Warwick Montgomery, the intellectually omnivorous evangelical theologian who taught him apologetics, is remembered for driving “the sort of vehicle one would imagine had transported General Franco across Madrid.”
The thought process that guided Beckwith back to the Church is well charted but not overdone. Only one chapter is solely argumentative, an explanation of why he changed his mind on justification. Most insights, such as the impossibility of adequately defining or applying the notion of “Scripture alone,” are brought out in the context of the story. Strikingly, Beckwith is brought up short not just by intellectuals and ideas, but by non-intellectuals, particularly his wife, Frankie. Long before he understood his own mind, she did, and asked: “So why aren’t we Catholic?”
Beckwith’s final chapter does two things: defend the propriety of his dealings with the Evangelical Theological Society and propose a “cross-pollination” of Catholics and evangelicals. Not out to create a hybrid theology, Beckwith instead proposes that not only can evangelicals learn from Catholics, but Catholics from evangelicals — particularly in philosophical and popular apologetics. The clarity and generosity of this account will likely spur others to follow him.
David Paul Deavel is
associate editor of Logos:
A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and contributing editor
for Gilbert Magazine.
Those Who Have Hope …
TEARS OF GOD
by Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR
Ignatius Press, 2009
107 pages, $10.95
To order: ignatius.com
By THOMAS L. MCDONALD
I was 12 when my best friend died, slowly and horribly, from a form of cancer that seemed like a living creature, devouring him by pieces. While everyone around him was either in misery or overlaid with a fragile veneer of false cheer, he remained an oddly shining light in the darkness, attaining that strange grace often found in terminally ill children.
After he died, some of us carried that grace with us in ways small and great, but his mother was utterly shattered. When depression, alcohol and an early death claimed her, it seemed almost a mercy. She had suffered the worst catastrophe any parent can experience.
It is to those who suffer this kind of catastrophic experience that Father Benedict Groeschel — the beloved author, preacher and television host — addresses in his latest book, Tears of God.
He makes clear at the outset that he is not talking about the kind of sorrow we all experience. He is specifically addressing those who suffer “catastrophes of horror,” such as life-changing physical illness and death, natural and man-made disasters, and violence.
He had long expected to write this book while he was dying, “because then I would have a personal experience of the catastrophic.” But a careless step into oncoming traffic in 2004 changed all that, leaving Father Groeschel clinically dead for more than a moment, unconscious for three weeks, and facing a long recovery. He had his catastrophe.
There is no great revelation here: no bolt from the blue that will offer healing from catastrophe in five easy steps. It is a brief book, with 62 pages of text and 30 pages of prayers and quotes. The content is so unsurprising that some might easily mistake it for mundane.
That would be an error, because what comes through, page after page, is the voice of a man who is both a priest and a psychologist, offering words of comfort and counseling to those whose lives have been irrevocably changed by catastrophe. People who have listened to Father Groeschel for years cannot help but hear his steady, calm, soothing voice, with its trace of a northern New Jersey accent, sometimes breaking through to deliver a bit of sharp, succinct common sense.
He makes it clear that there is no simple answer for the Christian, who must realize that the “purpose of this life is not to bring us permanent happiness on earth.” The purpose of life is “the entrance to eternal life.”
Echoing Pope Benedict XVI’s statement that “one who has hope lives differently,” Father Groeschel urges those who suffer catastrophes to integrate their pain into the entire fabric of their lives: “We who believe in divine Providence, in life after death, in salvation and resurrection, we, of all people, when faced with catastrophe, must go on with courage, faith, and hope. We must make things different. We must not remain fixed in the grief of the past, but move on to doing good and making things better in the future. The wound of sorrow will always be there. We don’t want it to go away. We want the wound to heal and scar. We can work while that scar exists.”
Evil may even bring forth good, but people still must pass through confusion and pain. Meditation upon the passion of Christ can help, since people in great distress often find it “easier to pray to Christ Crucified and to meditate on his sufferings because they feel a common experience with him.” Only the suffering of the God who weeps can help us to make sense of such trauma.
Tears of God is for those who suffer catastrophe, those who comfort, and those who mourn the major catastrophes of modern life. In it, we hear the voice of a wise counselor guiding those who suffer.
Thomas L. McDonald writes
from Medford, New Jersey.
- November 15-21, 2009