Between Heaven and Mirth, by James Martin, SJ (A Book Review)

Folks who have been visiting this space know that I have a soft spot in my heart for the writings of Fr. James Martin. You see, the very first post written here, by Webster Bull, he mentioned his book “My Life With The Saints.” I also read that book and enjoyed it immensely. Fr. Jim, see, has what I like to think of as a unique, folksy style, that appeals to many. Stephen Colbert has noticed, [Read more...]

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Who Is Jesus Christ? by Eric Sammons (A Book Review)

Yesterday I wrote about classic books in the packs and pockets of the saints and how reading them can help us too. For example, St. Francis de Sales (whose feast day is tomorrow) and his worn copy of Dom. Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat. St. Teresa of Avila turned from reading trashy romance novels to reading books like Francisco de Osuna’s The Third Spiritual Alphabet.

Francisco himself constantly references the works of Jean Gerson, which were over 100 years old by the time he read them. I recommend Gerson to you as well.

When the saints above were picking up these volumes, however, they were written by their contemporaries. So just like them, I’m going to recommend a new book to you today: Who Is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew by Eric Sammons.

Who is Eric Sammons? Eric is the director of evangelization at his parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland and is working towards his Masters degree in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also a husband and father of five children. Did I mention he co-founded the non-profit Little Flowers Foundation that helps Catholic families adopt special-needs children? He also blogs at The Divine Life. I like Eric because he is a baseball fan too, and a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, which was my favorite team from childhood. That and he’s obviously a disciple of Our Lord.

But enough about Eric, and on to why should you buy this book. It’s quite simple really. As I mentioned yesterday, you are in Christ the King’s Army, or are thinking about joining it. As such, you are willing to put your life on the line for His Majesty. Therefore it makes a lot of sense for you personally to get to know Him better. This slim, accessible volume, will help you do just that.

There is even a strategic and tactical reason for you to learn as much as you can about Jesus. In the Marines, leadership responsibilities are pushed down to the lowest levels from the highest. Any break in the chain of command, due to death, injury, or absence of one’s superior, does not absolve the subordinate from responsibility to act, in any situation, the way his commander would.

The mission is shared with all and known by all. In the Marines, we call this Commanders Intent. By knowing the commander better, we know how he would act if he was here. Therefore the subordinate knows how to act in his absence. We act as the commanders proxy in any situation. This means we need to have a personal understanding of the commander and that is where Eric’s book comes in. Eric has taken the Gospel of Matthew, and all of the titles of Our Lord and Savior given therein, and has addressed each one in a way that gives us a fuller understanding of who Jesus Christ is.

Reading this book is a wonderful way to get to know Our Lord better. Eric guides us by the hand by exploring our incomplete perceptions of Him first, (Man, Rabbi, Ghost(!), Carpenter’s Son) and even those of His contemporaries and of the Apostle’s (John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah). After all, He did ask the question “who do the people say that I am” followed up with “and who do you say that I am?” Eric goes on to explore the roles of Jesus, the prophecies and types of Christ, and his role as a son and as the Son.

Eric takes us through each of these names, or roles, or types, in a way that is easily understandable. I have read aloud portions of this book to my children before family prayer time. I’ve had my children read chapters during “quiet time” too. I’ve read it during breaks at work when my batteries need a recharge as well.

The chapters are short, but dripping with scripture references, the works of the Church fathers, and Eric ends them with reflections and points to ponder. Eric too is a convert to Catholicism, and reflections on his conversion, and examples from his walk on the Way, are helpful to all of us as we too walk this path.

Getting to know Our King better is one of the reasons why I am Catholic. This rich book, published by the good folks at Our Sunday Visitor, will help you (and your family) do the same. Buy a copy and keep it in your, back-pack, briefcase, lunch box, or purse. You’ll be glad you did.

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Listen My Son, St. Benedict for Fathers (A Book Review)

This is a first for me, as I’ve never been asked to write a book review before. But a few months back, I wrote a post about how a particular section in the Rule of St. Benedict resonated with me as a father. It turns out, that I wasn’t alone.

Full disclosure time: Father Dwight Longenecker offered to send me a copy of his book at no cost if I would do a review of it. I accepted his kind offer, even though I had no idea how to write a proper review. I still don’t. But since Father D. does such a good job with this, it isn’t difficult for me to recommend this book to fathers, or anyone in a leadership position.

I’ll confess that I was skeptical of applying the entire rule to fatherhood and family life. It helps a lot to know that when Father D. wrote this, he was a novice oblate, and a former Anglican priest. Married and a father of four, he has some real-world experience in being a dad. Nowadays, he is still a husband, a dad, and a Roman Catholic priest. He is a parish priest at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He also blogs at Standing On My Head.

What Father D. has done with this book is break the entire Rule of St. Benedict up into daily reflections.  He has devised a scheme whereby you can read the rule three times over the course of a one-year period. For example, Chapter VII of the Rule, Humility, would be read on January 25th, March 26th, and September 25th. In this way, the Rule is divided into bite-sized morsels, and so are Father D.’s reflections. Let’s take a look. First, St. Benedict:

Brothers, Holy Scripture cries aloud to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ When it says this it is teaching that all exaltation is a kind of pride. And the Prophet shows that he himself was on his guard against it when he said, ‘Lord, my heart has no lofty ambitions, my eyes do not look too high; I am not concerned with great affairs or marvels beyond my scope.’ Why thus? ‘If I did not think humbly, but exalted my soul, as a child on the mothers breast is weaned, so did you treat my soul.’

Father D. then provides a short reflection on the virtue of humility, usually no more than four paragraphs. Here is an excerpt.

For Benedict, humility is linked with self-knowledge. The truly humble person is the prodigal son, who gets to the very bottom of his resources, where, as the Authorized Version puts it, he ‘comes to himself’(Luke 15.17) and realizes his need of the father’s love. This kind of self-knowledge does not grovel before others. Nor does it indulge in maudlin self-pity or overblown guilt. Instead, it is a clear, hard, and realistic self-appraisal.

Father D., then expands a bit more, freely helping explain Benedict’s thoughts on humility as it relates to pride and further explaining, and referencing, the quotes from Scripture that Benedict used in the section of the Rule that is being read on this particular day. He also dips into other resources in his reflections, from the works of other saints as well as from other Scriptures that help bring clarity to applying the rule to the role of fatherhood.

I would go further and say that his reflections also help anyone, be they a father, or simply someone who fills a leadership role, apply the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. After all, that is what the rule was intended to do; to take Christianity and apply it practically to life within a community.

Father D.’s reflections help to keep the Rule relevant for those of us who are shepherding flocks inside our homes, or at work, rather than inside the confines of the cloister.

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