Wednesday, March 19, 2014

If I Could Buy The World A Book: Top Five List and Review Of Devin Rose's Latest

I'm so excited this week about Devin Rose's newest book The Protestant's Dilemma, excited in a way that I honestly didn't think I could muster again after my passion for his first book If Protestantism is True.  Both, in my opinion, are must reads, but the format and fullness of Dilemma are really perfected and so I'd have to say, if pressed, that it would make my top five books to have the entire world's population read if I could.  

Narrowing down to five is difficult for a normal person.  For someone like this blogger, who has books falling out of every corner of her closet and night table, her car and her kitchen pantry (don't judge me), it's a real brain tester.  To clarify, this is not a list of my five FAVORITE books, which would mix secular and religious and could NEVER EVER be narrowed down to five, but rather a list of the five books that if I could have every poo pooing progressive, every lonely soul, every lukewarm sleepwalker, every sourpussed pseudo-saint, every sullen teenager and every lonely senior citizen read, I would.  Because these five books provide a foundation firm enough to build a spiritual life upon, a life that is a journey with Jesus and TO Jesus.  

First and foremost (sorry, you knew it was going to happen) would be the Douay Rheims Bible.  I know there are easier Bibles to understand, but the beauty of the language here forces me to put it at number one.  To me, the DR is THE definitive Catholic Bible.  If you or someone you know needs a more accessible Bible, then by all means, believe me when I say that getting any Catholic (complete!) Bible into their hands is more important than WHICH ONE.  But if I had my druthers, (and I do because it's my list! Ha!), it's Douay Rheims.  The Scriptures are to be engraved on our hearts, friends.  Please never forget that -- we never stop needing that. We never outgrow the need for our Bibles!  

Second is (and yes, I know I'm looking pretty predictable here) the Catechism of The Catholic Church.  Yes, the 756 page one.  If the person you're sending books to or if YOU cannot commit to a book this long, read it in small snippets, or if you must, substitute Youcat or a more accessible Catechism.  But really, friends, for the full landscape of the teachings of The Church, with Scriptural and Encyclical cross references, there is nothing like the CCC. I have said many times in this space and on radio and TV interviews that the Catechism is what pushed me over the edge.  Its beauty and TRUTH are undeniable, unfightable, and timeless.  It's a masterpiece made by God's own hand as He guided those who compiled it for the edification of His Mystical Body.

A good part of the reason I favor the Douay Rheims in spite of some complaints I've fielded that it's hard to understand is that my third book takes care of that objection.  It's You Can Understand The Bible by Peter Kreeft.  No list would be a list without Kreeft on it.  He's simply the premier apologist and speaker out there, and if I could sit at a table with him and Dr. J. Budzisewski, Father Robert Barron and Mark Shea, well, I'd probably just remain silent the whole time and absorb the wisdom, wit, and holiness of these men. Kreeft's Bible commentary is a book by book exegesis that is written by a lover.  He loves his Bible.  He KNOWS his Bible, and he wants you to be empowered by knowing it too.  The title is key.  It's an answer to a complaint or frustration, "But I can't understand the Bible."  Oh, yes, you can.  Trust me that Kreeft lays it out in a way that is one hundred percent faithful to the Magisterium, sensible, and radiating the message of love that is the Bible from every single line. 

If you know anyone who is an atheist, agnostic, lost, or  just really, really badly catechized even to the point of not knowing basic Christian tenets, or if you know (or are!) someone who simply needs a spiritual kick in the pants, then I have to insist on the forever classic, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  I don't care who or where you are . . . this book will change some part of your life when you read it.  If I know someone who is an angry atheist or an intellect worshipper, or has any kind of chip on her shoulder, this is the first book I think of recommending.  Even before the Bible, because that person will not READ the Bible, at least not with an open mind.  But give them the Bible WITH the Lewis book, because when they get about a quarter of the way through, they will want to pick up that Bible and start peeking at the love note God left them. 

Last and replacing his older book is Devin Rose's The Protestant's Dilemma.  What made me go so ga-ga over this book is the simplicity of his premise.  Rose has the gentleness of a monk, but he also has the real man's audacity to say: Protestantism is an impossible equation.  It doesn't make sense.  It doesn't compute.  If you want to argue with him or me, you have to read his book to do so.  You can't come with canned arguments, because about twenty pages into the book, he has already crushed all of those, all with a gracious smile and a clear and comprehensible style, and you will be left looking for your back up arguments.  Which he will crush in the rest of the book.  Now be clear on this: Devin and I LOVE our separated brethren.  However, if I am Catholic, which I am, to the back teeth, and I've found this amazing thing, I want you to have it too, otherwise I couldn't possibly say with any level of honesty that I love you.  And I do love you.  Did you know that? So to bring the recipient (in the case of my list, every person in the entire world!) into the FULLNESS of the faith, then yes, this book is the equivalent of Atticus Finch's closing argument in To Kill A Mockingbird.  

Well, that's my list, and my fantasy.  If I could bundle these five books together and get them to every person in the entire world, that would be, as my son would say, "Awesome, awesome, awesome!"  How you can help me is to give one or five of these to someone you know in whom you see a need.  Or to yourself if you sense a hole in yourself that isn't being filled.  Maybe you have read these, or skimmed them, or a few of them, but you've been remiss in keeping up with revisiting.  Choose NOW to do that, please.  Spiritiual reading is so key to our eternal lives!  Feeding our hearts and intellects properly is something I see missing in the lives of so many friends and loved ones.  Everything else comes first -- the looks, the food, the drink, the workout, the job, the movies, the shows, the songs, the games, the sports, the drama, the waiting, the wishing, the wallowing.  Nowhere in that schedule is a block of time for reading the words that will make this life Heaven all the way to Heaven?  Nowhere is there fifteen minutes in the day?  

I had a thought as I was reading Devin's book.  I don't know him in real life, but I know he's a busy Dad with a busy wife and active kids.  Still and all, he found the time and the focus to write what I'm going to call here a watershed book in Christian apologetics in its simplicity, directness, and charitable tone.  Before we even crack open Protestant's Dilemma, we can learn THAT lesson from Devin Rose -- to take the time for things spiritual.  Because not just in the end, friends, but in the beginning and middle too, things of the soul are really the only things that count. And the only things that stay. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Last Minute Lent

If you still haven't decided what is beneficial and appropriate for you to fast for Lent, you're not alone.  For most of us, the really inspired ideas are pretty rare. It's easy to turn Lent into a diet, or a way to boast publicly of doing without something pleasurable.  I don't know if we need to identify what the world tells us are common temptations and excesses so much as we need to identify our walls.  What are the obstacles we've constructed that keep us at a safe distance from Jesus?  Those are the things that, for Lent and forever after, need to go. 

For the most part, they will be our pet sins -- the things we let slip under our sin radar because we like these sins and they're not as obvious or gory as the sins someone else commits.  Complaining, for example, or listening to gossip, even if you don't share the gossip you've heard.  If you have been watching a television show or listening to music that you know is really not appropriate, Lent is the perfect time to live without it.  Give it up and see what Jesus puts in its place.  Vanity is another huge area to explore for Lent -- for us ladies, it's almost certain that we can fast something related to our physical appearance, whether it be cosmetics, hair color, nail polish, checking the mirror, or making unnecessary purchases of clothing and/or cosmetics.  

A lot of pet sins are held in the tongue: criticism, profanity, whining, passive-aggressiveness, degrading one's spouse or children, hollering or losing one's temper, laughing at inappropriate jokes, inserting my opinion where it's really not needed (like where it's simply redundant/chiming in).  Try for the entire period of Lent to only say things that will build others up and bring them closer to Jesus.  If you are shy or embarrassed about discussing your faith, Lent is an ideal time to go out on a limb and fast your reticence.  Speak out openly and assertively about God's Law and the Natural Law, and how they save lives and souls.  Speak about Jesus' suffering and how it touches you.  Ask someone where he or she is in the spiritual journey and try to act as a human bridge to the next level. 

Also look for the those things we mock or point up in others. They are generally a variation or protection of our own thorns.  By this I mean, that if I find myself becoming aggravated by a certain kind of person, or a certain behavior and I am fixating on it to the point where it's taking up a lot of my time and thought and even prayer, then it could just be that I'm projecting or protecting.  Projecting my own dissatisfaction or insecurity, or protecting my own sin.  If I see myself becoming annoyed with cafeteria Catholics, annoyed to the point of checking charity at the door, maybe it's not righteous indignation.  Maybe it's that I know there is a teaching THAT I AM secretly ignoring or defying.  And that creates an insecurity in me that only feels soothed when I am shouting so loudly at someone else that I can't hear my own telltale heart under the floorboards. 

Lent is a gift.  It's a not-very-long period of time when we can really test our skills at mortification.  At the beginning of Lent, I can look in the mirror and say, "Okay, kid, let's see what you can do."  Some Lenten sacrifices are more stellar than others, and end up producing much greater fruit.  Some fall on their faces very quickly, and if that occurs, I suggest quickly replacing with something else, so as to stay in the race and not lose momentum. 

There is a Gospel song I could listen to all day and night . . . in it, the words repeat, "Oh, Lord, please remove these thorns."  It refers, of course, to thorns in the flesh, ranging from physical illness to addictions to demonically influenced behaviors.  The song goes on to plaintively beg God to help pull out the thorns because they are hindering spiritual progress.  THIS is our motivation for Lent, not to show we can do it, not to be able to have a really good mortification to share with others, but to move ahead in the marathon, move closer and closer to Jesus.  We do that by shedding weight, dropping baggage.  Food, vanity, smugness, judgment, licentiousness, a roaming eye, a bad habit, a good comeback that we keep inside instead of letting it go on our chosen target.  If you do Lent right, you will feel deprivation, yes, but you will also feel Jesus fill in the blanks with something new and interesting. He will teach you about yourself and your place in the world.  He will teach you that it's not worth it to have the extra donut, the extra pair of jeans, the last word, the peek at the dirty channel, or the Pharisaical high, because after you come down from these, you are squinting to see Jesus' face, instead of being close enough to look Him in the eye. 

Lent is an adventure, a microcosm of the bigger adventure that is Catholicism.  They are both about obedience, smallness, and service.  Neither is about taking, winning, or the flesh.  

There used to be a saying; maybe there still is.  "If it feels good, do it." This was or is the motto of a society that is constantly seeking adventure via the body and the first layers of the mind.  Initial gratification and earthly victory are the gods of that quasi-religion.  I say we modify that for Lent, my friends.  "If it feels holy, do it."  And flip it: "If it doesn't feel holy, don't do it." Strip yourself down and privately examine your conscience and your interior life.  What are your thorns?  Oh, now you see them.  I see mine.  And they're not a pretty sight.

Remove those thorns and run home to God. Adventure takes place in the soul -- not the groin or the wallet or the telephone or the water cooler.  Not by gambling with the health of your brain and body, not with listening to lascivious details of someone else's life, and not by tearing down someone else's relationship with Christ or His Church in order to relive, medicate, or work out your own spiritual hang ups. 

Use Lent to knock down the walls between you and Jesus so He can see you and you can see Him.  Use Lent to rip out the thorns, and approach Jesus boldly to ask Him for what you really desire.