Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We'll Never Tell Them by Fiorella de Maria

A masterful story from beginning to end, We'll Never Tell Them has many layers and stories within stories. Our two main characters are Kristjana and Leo, who are kindred spirits separated by years and history. The background is World War I and World War II for the story told by Leo about his mother Liljana. Liljana has had a very hard life growing up in Malta with an abusive mother with mental illness and moving to England where she finds her first family through her friend Emily. She meets the love her life as a nurse during WWI.
Kristjana is a nurse who has run away from her life in England back to Jerusalem where she interned during college. Her life parallels Liljana's in that she is also from Malta and moved to England. Leo is her patient dying of cancer and wanting to pass on the history of his family through storytelling. Kristjana is learning about herself and her life through Leo's story of his mother, Liljana.
We'll Never Tell  is written from the point of view of the Kristjana character. She matures and decides what direction to take her life. The overarching story is about love and loss as seen through World Wars I and II. This points to what is important in our humanity and dignity. There is strong family themes of what makes a close family and what keeps us apart. James Hampton stands out as a constant character throughout Liljana's story. He is a lawyer that Liljana meets as a child and has a reoccurring role and plays a significant unexpected part in Liljana's life.  The descriptions really transport you to a different time and the reader easily becomes invested in the story of Liljana. The story is tragic and involves some adult topics but nothing is explicit. The modern day character of Kristjana is a little harder to identify with for me but I am still interested in what will happen with her as you follow her thoughts and struggles in modern day. There is a sense of hope at the end and this book that makes you want to know about the history of war torn England.
I would recommend this book to you as a fictional story that will keep you reading to the end. Fiorella de Maria, the author, is a winner of the National Book Prize of Malta for her previous book The Cassandra Curse. She was born in Italy of Maltese parents and this gives the story authenticity. In this story of We'll Never Tell Them there is a connection between Kristjana and Liljana and perhaps even between Liljana and the reader. I will not spoil the ending but let you discover it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Broken Gods: Hope Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart by Gregory K. Popcak, PhD

Don't let the title fool you, because it sounds almost blasphemous, but the author is speaking of gods, small g. The author, Dr. Popcak wants to help us be our best selves but not just in a superficial way of self help but in a deep soulful way of spirituality. I was skeptical at first upon introduction, although you can not argue with St Thomas Aquinas "The only begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods" Chapter two is where we start to understand about the seven longings of the human heart and how these align with the seven deadly sins, and the seven heavenly virtues. First it important to understand how the brain is most open to change when the mind experiences four qualities represented by COAL or curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.
By chapter four we have the format set for the rest of the book which is a desciption of the longing of the heart, how the deadly sins keep us from it and how specific virtues can help us counter this tendency and reach our hearts desire. Dr. Popcak is a counselor and it is evident in his approach to spirituality. I liked the format and thought the prompts at the end of each chapter would be helpful to revisit when you need support in a particular area of longings of the heart or to avoid a certain deadly sin.
I would recommend this book to you because I felt like I learned a lot. For instance being overzealous about your health and diet can also be the sin of gluttony or thinking you can attain salvation through the body. Broken Gods may be a little technical for some readers and steeped in pyschological terms but definitely a good read. This book is comforting in how it helps you to see your barriers to spiritual fulfillment and how to address them one at a time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Abbey: A Story of Discovery by Father James Martin, SJ

Finding good Catholic fiction is sometimes hard. Look no further, Father Martin has hit the mark with his new book The Abbey. There are characters in this fiction story that we care about due to Father Martin's power of description and his insight into their minds and hearts. There is Anne, who has lost her son 3 years ago at just 13 years of age. Her heart ache is palpable and you can relate to her loss. She rents a home to Mark who is a handyman carpenter at the local monastery and their interaction brings her face to face with the Abbot, Father Paul. The Abbey of Philip and James is a part of her memories of her parents, herself as a child, and ultimately how she sees God and religion. Through her experiences at the abbey with iconographic Marian art and heart to heart conversations with Father Paul you experience her spiritual journey. There are sessions of spiritual direction with Father Paul even though Anne does not recognize them as such and she doesn't know why she is drawn back there time and time again. Each of the characters grow spiritually on their journey throughout the story with their relationships that develop between them.
The book is more about asking the right questions than it is about finding the answers. The characters are changed at the end but it is open ended enough for us to fill in the end for ourselves. Anne wants to know how to talk to God and how to know when God is speaking to her. Perhaps we have all had these questions at one point or the other. The dialogue is beautiful between Anne and Father Paul. The conversations between Anne and Mark seem purposefully clumsy and so appropriate for their thoughts that are going through their heads. I loved the quote from Thomas Merton "“The first and most elementary test of one’s call to the religious life—whether as a Jesuit, Franciscan, Cistercian, or Carthusian—is the willingness to accept life in a community in which everybody is more or less imperfect.” Father Paul is honest about religious life and the challenges and joys of living in community. But being a Secular Franciscan myself made me appreciate this quote from the book "But people on the outside faced pressures that sometimes made it harder to remember God. For one thing, there were the constraints of time. That’s why Paul believed mothers and fathers and doctors and lawyers and teachers and janitors—at least many of them—were holier than monks. They had to make room for God in a world that often crowded out God.
I would definitely recommend this book to you. You definitely won't be sorry. The story is realistic and hopeful. To be Father Martin's first novel it is promising and definitely delivers what it promises in the subtitle: A Story of Discovery.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Testament Basics for Catholics by John Bergsma

After reading this book, I want to read the previous book by Dr. Bergsma called Bible Basics for Catholics: A new Picture of Salvation History. But don't worry if you have not read it yet because the first chapter in this book gives you a quick summary of the Old Testament. One of the things that appealed to me about reading this book is an interest in understanding the overarching story of salvation history and more specifically the history of the Church founded by Christ and told in the new testament. I love the organization of the book. It simplifies the whole of the new testament by revealing the differences and similarities of the Gospels and Paul's letters. You will find shortcuts and  suggestions to help you remember important points of the bible and chronological timeline. But there is also an indepth analysis of the books of Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews and Revelation. Dr. Bergsma states "Every sacrament is rooted in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism is a sharing in Jesus’ dying and rising . In Matrimony we give our body to our spouse as Jesus gave his body on the Cross. The Eucharist makes present once more the sacrifice of Christ’s crucified body . And we could go on."
It is a big help in bible study to understand the audience the author of the original bible books  intended and the Greek meaning of words unpacked for the reader. But, I also think in Testament Basics the author speaks in common language we can all understand. You can read it like a novel straight through and keep it close by when studying the new testament. There is also enough catholic theology that helps in understanding the church's perspective as well. Bergsma states "We should call them “the books we read when we celebrate the New Testament,” or “the books that tell us about the New Testament,” because that’s what they really are. The New Testament itself is the Eucharist . To read the New Testament books without going to Mass is like looking at a menu without ever eating the meal, or reading about swimming without ever jumping in the pool. The Bible says the “new testament” is the Eucharist."
Dr. Bergsma is an associate professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville Ohio. He is a Catholic convert as of 2001 and a Catholic Biblical Scholar and Theologian. He earned his PhD in Scripture from Notre Dame. I would definitely recommend this book to you. It was a pleasant surprise to find humor and ease of reading. I was prepared for a more professorial dry read but Basic Testament is very readable, easy to understand but gives the more experienced bible student a vast insight into scripture.