Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Helping Those In Need

December means that the Advent Season is now upon us. Advent is a time when Christians prepare for Jesus' birth which we celebrate on December 25. A lot of people use the Advent season as a way to help those in need. Advent is a time for caring and sharing. Many of us will be collecting food or clothing for the homeless or food for the hungry. We will probably hear sermons about love and caring for the less fortunate. It is important to take our faith seriously, love is a verb, it requires action. We just don't love abstractly, we love in concrete ways: a meal, a jacket, some money.

Each day during the Advent season take a few minutes out of your busy day and pray for those in need; pray for the homeless, the hungry, the orphan, or the widow. Pray for those who are jobless and hopeless. Share your love with those who have no love.

Below is a partial list of some well known national charitable organizations. Take some time and look at their websites and see how you can help them. Each of us can share our God given time, talents, and treasures with those who have none.

Click on each charity to learn more about them:

What are some of your favorite charities? Leave your list in the comment box along with a link to them and in a few days I will add these to this list.

May we always strive to serve both God and neighbor!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters

I am a big Merton fan. When I was in college I devoured many of his books, especially his spiritual biography The Seven Storey Mountain as well as Contemplative Prayer. Throughout the years many publishers have released various collections of his writings, namely his journals and letters. The Merton Center, hosted at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY has over 20,000 of Merton's letters, both the letters that Merton wrote as well as the ones that he received from fans or from business associates or friends. This latest paperback edition published by Ave Maria Press is a nice collection of a selection of Merton's letters and is a welcome resource for newcomers to Merton or longtime Merton fans.

This new paperback edition is identical to the hardcover edition published last year by HarperOne and edited by William H. Shannon and Christine M. Bochen. The letters are organized by topics such as: monastic living, the writing life, culture, peace and war, and various letters on the state of the Catholic Church.

The letters reveal not just Merton the longtime Trappist monk, but the human Merton, the Merton who struggles with his faith, the Church, living the solitary life, as well as seeking forgiveness and love in a world in which war and power rules. People are drawn to Merton first and foremost because he was a real person. So much of contemporary spiritual writing is what I called "sugary spirituality" which offers readers pleasant platitudes or cliched spiritual aphorisms which don't offer much. Reading Merton is like sitting down to a three course dinner. When reading the letters we see the ride range of longtime friendships that he maintained such as: Dorothy Day, Catherine de hueck Daughtery, a well as the French Catholic philosopher and writer Jacques Maritaan and his wife Raiisa, as well as poets, writers, and artists. While living a cloistered solitary life far from family and society Merton's letters reveal a person who was very much connected to the world around him. The letters reveal a man who was widely read, not just in Catholic theology but in Orthodox and Protestant theology as well as in art, music, and other world religions. We see Merton struggling with his Abbot James Fox as well as living in a large monastery with all the trials and tribulations of what that type of living presents. We see a man struggling with love and intimacy as well as his own faith in God.

I encourage newbies to Merton's writings to take and read Ave Maria's new paperback edition of A Life in Letters. Those who are diehard Merton fans won't find much new in this book, but they might want a copy to fill the Merton section on their bookshelves.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

Just wanted to wish everyone a good Turkey Day. I hope your day is peaceful and restful surrounded by family and friends.

On this day I am thankful for:





A government which provides us freedom and safety


All those turkey's out there who sacrificed their lives for millions of Americans (I couldn't resist that one!!)

What are you thankful for on this Thanksgiving?????????

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: Come Sunday by Isla Morley

I usually have four to five books sitting by my comfy blue office chair at a time. Depending on the mood that I am in I will read one book, then another, and then hopefully finish at least one during the month! When I saw an advertisement of Come Sunday by Isla Morley (Picador, 2009) in the Fall issue of Poets and Writers Magazine I knew that I had to read this book; and as I thought, I stayed up late to finish it, there was no way I was going to go to bed and not read to the end!

The two main characters, Greg, a Methodist pastor and his wife Abbe live in Hawaii. Abbe is a transplant from South Africa and is working as a freelance writer before meeting her husband to be. They have one child named Cleo who is killed in a car accident.

Needless to say once you start reading you can't stop. Come Sunday is a page turner, we follow Greg and Abbe as they mourn both their dead child and their soon to be dead marriage. Greg eventually takes a parish in Fresno, CA, leaving his parish, house, and wife behind. We follow Abbe as she visits her native Paarl South Africa where she deals with her difficult past, her alcoholic father and battered mother. We see the racial divide of South Africa as well as the sheer stark beauty.

Morley is truly a wordsmith. The writing is gorgeous and the sentences are crisp, there are no cliches in this book! Likewise the story revolves around the liturgical year beginning on Good Friday and ending on the Feast of Ascension a year later. This structure provides ample meaning as the turns of events hinge on certain feast days in the Church, drawing from their theology and context.

Come Sunday was not an easy read. Many times I caught myself getting mad at Morley because I didn't like the way the plot was turning. Of course this is my problem not Morley's! I wanted a certain character to act a certain way and others to get revenge for what was done to them. I wanted more forgiveness and less hurt.I wanted the book to end a different way too, but again this shows you how good Morley is, she leads you to places that you won't expect.

Come Sunday is also a theodicy asking deep questions about the existence of God and why there is evil in this world. Morley delves deep into Greg's vocation as a pastor and the "Church" people in his parish who don't always act in a Christian fashion. As a pastor I laughed at certain parts as Morley described some people to a "t" with their particular affections and mannerisms, people whom I have known over the years.

Do yourself a favor, go out and buy a copy of Come Sunday, do it now and find yourself lost in a book that delights mind, heart, and spirit.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Advent begins for Eastern Christians

For those of us in the Eastern Church (Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics) Advent, the lenten period before Christmas has started. There is a slight difference between the Advent season in East and West, Western Christians usually have four Sunday's of Advent, in the East we have a forty day period beginning November 15.

Wishing everyone a good Advent season this year.

What do you plan to do this Advent to prepare yourself for the birth of Jesus?

1. Support your local food pantry by donating canned food items?

2. Skipping a meal during the week or maybe cutting food consumption overall, as in, eating less at every meal?

3. Read the birth story of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1-2 and Luke 2?

4. Purchasing a few gifts for children in your local community?

There are a lot of ways that you can serve your neighbor!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review: Defending Constantine

It has taken a while but we finally have a book that presents the Emperor Constantine in a more objective light than what we usually get: an evil secular/worldly emperor who co-opted the Church and imported the Church-state problem to the rest of the world! Or as Leithart says in the introduction, Constantine has been called an anti-Semite, heretic, and a hypocrite. Constantine has been blamed for a lot of things and now with the diligent work and research of Prof. Peter J. Leithart we have a new take on this important figure in Church History.

Leithart is a senior fellow at St. Andrews College in Moscow Idaho and serves as the pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow. He is also the author of Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture.

Defending Constantine must have been a labor of love. Well researched with copious notes and references, clean crisp prose, and a good storyteller, Leithart brings Constantine to life for his modern readers, placing him in his cultural, social, and religious context. People generally refer to Constantine as a power hungry emperor who called the First Ecumenical at Nicea and eventually accepted Jesus Christ, reluctantly of course, on his deathbed. Not so says Leithart. Constantine was truly interested in theological matters and took much time to reflect upon the work of Nicea and the immediate aftermath. He was concerned about the future of the Church and the rise of heretical teachings.

In fourteen chapter Leithart goes through the evidence, parsing the great historians Eusebius and others showing us what Constantine actually was like and the legacy that he left behind. One major theme woven throughout the text is the relationship between Church and State, and the political impact of ones theology.

Defending Constantine is not a quick read. One has to read slowly, taking in all of the evidence and lengthy argument which Leithart presents. Defending Constantine is a book that I wish I had in seminary, it would have made Church History courses a lot easier! I hope that seminary students read Defending Constantine, not only will it make their life easier, it will certainly give them an alternative view of Constantine and his life.

If you are interested in Church History in general or the Emperor Constantine in general go out and get yourself a copy of Defending Constantine, it will fill your historical and theological appetite!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review: Compassionate Fire

My mother always told me that great things come in small packages. I have to agree with that statement, especially regarding the recent publication of the letters between Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Thomas Merton called Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck Doherty (Ave Maria Press, 2010). The book is only about 110 pages, you could easily read it in one sitting. However, don't let this small volume fool you, it contains a lifetime of "food for thought" on the Christian journey.

Much could be said about either of these two people and much has been written by them and about them too. Needless to say Ave Maria Press wanted to share some of the more personal and intimate lives with readers who are seeking truth and some guidance in the spiritual journey. Both Merton and Doherty struggled with their inner demons and temptations, after all who doesn't? Doherty started work setting up her Madonna House and Friendship House in Harlem as a way to live with the mostly African American community there which was poor, hungry, and often left without much assistance. Doherty received support from her longtime friend Dorothy Day who also corresponded with Doherty as well after Doherty moved to Canada.

Merton of course struggled as a monk. As a Trappist he took a vow of silence yet was encouraged to write, an ironic fact in his life that this "silent monk" as Doherty says was called to write volumes about life in God. Merton fought with his superiors and the Vatican censors as well as his own temptations as well. It is also ironic that Brother Louis as he was called in the monastery was buried next to the Abbot Fox in the Gethsameni Monastery cemetery.

The letters are not profound, the reader will not learn anything "new" in them. What you will find are two Christian pilgrims seeking some way towards clarity and integrity in corrupt Church and world. Yes, both Merton and Doherty struggled with the human side of the Church, Merton with his censors and Abbot General and Doherty with the Vatican. Many times she applied for her Madonna House to be a full Apostolate and was turned down. She never gave up. The letters reveal the joys and sorrows, the troubles and tribulations of living a life in community.

Go and read Compassionate Fire, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Some more reviews just in...........

by Dr. Adam Deville professor of Theology at St. Francis College in Indianna. He maintains a book blog called Eastern Christian books, here is the link below..........

next week some more reviews coming and some Christmas season spiritual resources for your Advent and Christmas season.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blog review of A 30 Day Retreat

I just found this nice online blog review of my book, A 30 Day Retreat, take some time to read it and also to look around Elaine's blog, called Walking the Water Way, beautiful pictures too

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review Small Faith Great God

I am hooked on the writings of N.T. Wright. A few years ago our parish prayer group focused on his previous book, Suprised by Hope (Harper Collins, 2009). While not a quick read, we really dug deep into Wright's prose, talking and reflecting upon death, the afterlife, heaven, and the Kingdom of God. When I saw this new book, Small Faith Great God I knew I would like it right away.

Wright, recently retired as the Archbishop of Durham (England) and is now a professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews in England. His many years as an Archpastor and as a New Testament scholar serves him well as an author, speaker, and pastor.

Small Faith Great God is a small book, only 130 pages or so but it packs a punch. The chapters are revised talks and sermons that Wright delivered years ago, only now to see the light of day as a collection of his thoughts about the concept of faith and what it means today. The chapters focus on key biblical themes from the New Testament as we read about Moses, Abraham, Ruth, and the Virgin Mary. Wright includes many scriptural examples but not so much as to be burdensome.

I was a bit suprised though that even in the revised manuscript Wright didn't include more pastoral stories or events that would support his writing. Wright has a fine writing style that is easy to follow but his many years as a pastor would have provided him with some rich insight into the human condition. I was wanting to see more examples of present day faith in action other than just what some of the New Testament texts say. I always enjoy spirituality books that also include stories or vignettes to support their commentary, it makes the reading more interesting.

Also, since this book is probably marketed towards a lay audience it would have been nice to have a series of questions or a short "readers guide" at the end for group discussion. I envision that many parishes will use Small Faith Great God as a Bible study.

Readers look forward to future books by Wright as he enters a new phase of his ministry.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review Things Seen and Unseen

Ave Maria Press based in Notre Dame Indianna is an up and coming Catholic Press. While they have certainly been around for a long time, 140 years and counting, it seems as if they have been publishing some really inspiring titles lately, a new collection of the letters of Thomas Merton, one of my favorite spiritual writers, and now Lawrence S. Cunningham's Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian's Notebook.

I first came upon the work of Cunningham when reading Commonweal Magazine. He writes a regular Book Notes section for Commonweal and also a blog there as well. Cunningham is what I call an ecumenical theologian, he is firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition, yet his writing speaks to the larger/wider Church. As an Orthodox Christian I have found many pearls of wisdom from Cunningham's prose.

Things Seen and Unseen is not a traditional type of book. It is neither a regular journal, diary, or memoir, but a collection of thoughts, ideas, ruminations, from his many years teaching. Each entry stands alone, they are not arranged thematically or chronologically, but each on its own worth. When reading Things Seen and Unseen I immediately thought of the desert fathers and mothers whose writing we have in many collected anthologies. Their short bits of wisdom, usually a sentence or two, sometimes even a paragraph, would be enough to chew on for the rest of ones life.

Cunningham is no different. Collected here is over 30 years of teaching and writing, thoughts from the liturgical year, books that he has written or plans to write, articles, and lectures delivered to students or religious orders. This book is a book to be read and re-read again and again. I can envision using this book for sermon ideas or parish bulletins. Take for example this little insight from his entry about devotional practice and the word "heart" in spiritual writing:

Apropos to the memory of the Lord: The Italian very to remember is ricordare--literally it means to bring back to the heart. How wonderfully rich etymology can be! (page 15).

There are others like it. He speaks about current events or ideas for future lectures. Things Seen and Unseen is not a book to read quickly, but rather, the reader takes it slowly, entry by entry, taking time to reflect and gaze upon these precious pearls of wisdom. Things Seen and Unseen is perfect for lectio divina, holy reading, as we all struggle with the spiritual journey.