All I Wanted for Christmas

By: Colin Kerr

Any father would want health for his children and happiness for his wife most of all. Thank God that, for as much as these two things are possible in this vale of tears, both of these were received this year.

This father would also want books. This is what I ask for dormmost Christmases. This year my wife was particularly successful and chose these three great books: On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies, translated and introduced by Brian Daley (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), St. Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy (SVSP, 1999), and Karl-Josef Kuschel, Laughter: A Theological Reflection (Continuum, 1994). I had never heard of the latter, but it looks quite interesting, as it surveys perspectives on laughter from Homer all the way up to Umberto Eco, with the Bible playing a big role in between. I can’t say much more about it at this point, since I haven’t read it yet. The other two will be winners, as is everything from SVSP. I love the Fathers, as you know. Now I have about a dozen of the cute and yet incredibly valuable books of that publisher’s “Popular Patristic Series.”

You will remember St. Germanus from my post on the feast of St. John Damascene and the Iconoclastic Controversy. As for the homilies on Mary’s Dormition (or sleep, i.e. death), this substantial volume contains homilies from both St. John Damascene and St. Germanus as well as from St. Andrew of Crete and others.

I also gave myself a present – actually two presents – during my visit to Ottawa yesterday, which included my mandatory visit to my favorite used bookstore in that city, Book Bizarre. What would a man like me pick up who already possesses far more books than he’ll likely be able to read in the near future, especially when this particular bookstore contains so many treasures? Well, I purchased Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts (Ignatius, 1999) and P. N. Furbank, Diderot: A Critical Biography (Knopf, 1992).

The former likely requires no explanation from me for why I purchased it, other than for why I would purchase this book when Ignatius Press is so generous to me, regularly sending me so many of its germanusgreat books to review? The simple answer: I really want to read it and don’t want to wait and hope that they will send it to me. The second choice requires some comment. I find the ‘Enlightenment’ fascinating. Its intellectual curiosity and, frankly, naivety, with respect to the religion and morality anyway, fascinate me. Diderot was, of course, one of the most influential (and naïve) figures associated with this movement. I like to read deeply about every aspect of our cultural history, but this one is obviously very directly pertinent to the cultural war we face today.

Suffice it to say that I shall review all of these books for you in due time. And perhaps I should get in the habit of regularly reminding you that I can’t do this without your financial support, whether that is by means of taking out a subscription to the Review or by making a donation. You can do either through this website. Or, consider mailing a check, if that is your preference. Let’s have a culturally-rich and faithfully-Catholic New Year! And help me to do what I can to make that happen…

Literary-converts

Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures

Written by Donald Colloway

(Ignatius Press, 2014)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

mary

This stunning book is full of large color photo reproductions of the well-received motion picture. With a fine introduction by Alissa Jung (the stunning young lady who played Mary in the movie), Scripture references and quotes from saints all strung together by Colloway’s reflections, this book can be a wonderful teaching tool on the life of our great Mother. This book is a treat for the eyes and the heart. A perfect book to share with your whole family, both now in this Christmas Season, or any time. In my opinion, books are always better than movies. You can take your time with this work and allow the mystery of God’s love in Mary penetrate you.

 

 

William May (1928-2014)

In dark days of confusion great teachers are often sent by God to give clarity and return people to His Gospel. Such was the case with Professor May. While theologians whose grasp of the basic tenets of the Faith was suspect, whose motivations were often impure and egotistical, and who failed to reason in continuity with the great Catholic tradition, dominated the universities, academic journals and the media’s attention in North America, very few could be found capable of offering an intellectually adequate and doctrinally sound perspective on the controversial issues of our time.

I discovered May’s writings within this crazy context in the mid-90s, during my year of seminary training. In those days I found it hard to find anything that I could be sure was actually Catholic. Back then two names could be counted on, though, despite the efforts of seminary libraries to weed out truth: Ratzinger and May.cath

These were precisely the names that appear in heterodox theologian’s, Charles Curran’s, shameful book, Faithful Dissent, as two of the very few who would not give way to the dissent against the orthodox faith, the ire against which was focused no place more vigorously than on Humane Vitae, Paul’s VI’s encyclical against contraception. Curran was a celebrated leader of dissent in those days, and people – both clergy and university administrators and professors – bent over backwards to accommodate the new spirit of secularism then sweeping through a surprisingly anemic Catholic culture.  The most shameful thing was how few were those who had both ‘Catholic sense’ enough and courage to stand against this wave. That’s the most frustrating thing about reading Faithful Dissent: wondering where our Catholic leaders were. As in the days of St. Thomas More, it was in a layman that the necessary unequivocal fidelity was to be found. I know what it costs to go against the grain. It must have been a brave thing for May, a layman with no claim to office to help him to stand against the tide of dissent carried forth by comfortable and secure clergy who would never have to look for bread enough to feed their families, people like Curran.1111

May was a family man who dedicated his intellectual life to what he lived at home. He raised seven children and wrote many important books on moral theology, upon which he worked, revising and updating, until a very short time ago.

Perhaps the greatest honor a lay Catholic theologian can receive from the Church these days is to serve on the International Theological Commission, which May did for eleven years at St. John Paul’s instance. May also taught moral theology for many years at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America in Washington. Though I never had the privilege of studying under him, from the reports of friends who did have that privilege, I understand that he was a dynamic teacher and, not to mention, quite a character.

In a field that is still developing very quickly, May’s books remain relevant expositions of 4444the Catholic Faith on very touchy and often technical ethical issues. His Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) is a wonderful, approachable, though challenging, work, grounded in the magisterial documents and the principles of the Faith. I hope to review this book soon. I would also mentioned his Introduction to Moral Theology, which was probably the first book of his I came across. Catholic Sexual Ethics, which he wrote with Lawler and Boyle, is also very good. I commend his books to you even as his soul has now been commended to God. RIP, man of God.