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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Image of God, Terrorism and Conversions...

Having the time to read a complete book is not always easy in the agitated life most people live today.

Although finding the time is hard enough for me with a fulltime career and as a husband and a father of three young kids, it is even harder for my wife, Yanik, who aside from a fulltime job as a Press Secretary for a U.S. Congressman, has a busy and burgeoning real estate business, runs her own translations company and, if that weren’t enough, she just started selling Avon products (she’s a workhorse!).

I recall one time during a night out at dinner with my wife’s cousin, Rey, his wife, Dulce, and another couple, Rey asked me, “How is it that our wives (Dulce and the wife of the other friend) stay at home all day (both are stay-home-moms) while your wife has three jobs?” He asked this facetiously (and everyone got a laugh out of it) but, giving it some thought, that’s a REAL good question.

Adding to my wife’s hectic workload, she then gets home, supervises the girls’ homework, runs around after our energetic 3-yr-old son, works out (a video exercise program called Insanity, which is apropos for its intensity and the lunacy it takes to do it daily), bathes the kids, does the laundry, cooks dinner and prepares the next day lunch for the kids and herself. Not to minimize the fact that she often also schedules real estate appointments, negotiates contracts, writes press releases and schedules interviews for her boss before settling down for the night. Needless to say, when she winds down after her long day, she doesn’t have an incline to pick up a book.

So, while my wife endures a frenzied and unselfish lifestyle for the sake of our family, let me tell you about all the books I read over the summer...

Fortunately for me, I have my sanctuary, where I retreat to when things get a bit dicey  or when the kids have settled in for the night (I have made definite strides since last school year but, as most things in my life, I am a work in progress).

During the past several months, I had the chance to read four books (plus a children's book with my daughter) and recently started a couple of others. I guess you can say that I might have a slightly lighter workload than Yanik; but I work very hard at it!

I wanted to share some thoughts on these books for your consideration. Let me start by mentioning a book by one of my favorite authors, Scott Hahn, titled First Comes Love, which I actually began earlier in the year but finally finished it in early July; since I read two other books in between. I have a tendency of reading more than one book at a time.

I have read several of Hahn’s books, among them; Reasons To Believe, Rome Sweet Home, The Lamb’s Supper and have listened to many of his tapes. As much as I have enjoyed all of them, First Comes Love, may well have been my favorite. As one of the most highly regarded theologians and Bible experts in the country, he can get very intense and deep into a subject. Like most of Hahn’s books, because of the profundity of the subject matter, as soon as I finished First Comes Love, I wanted to re-read it. It’s not that his style is hard to understand but, for me, the theological material that he so passionately explains leaves me wanting to delve in deeper.

First Comes Love, basically explains how we are created in God’s Image, by using examples from Sacred Scripture, Papal writings, the Church Fathers (the book is littered with quotes from St. Augustine and St. Ambrose among others) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, Hahn demonstrates that God’s Image is not just reflected in individual human beings, as most of us understand, but also in family because God Himself is Family; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hahn describes how from the beginning, starting in Genesis, God created man and woman in His Image of family. Just as God is Father (Lover), Son (Beloved) and Holy Spirit (Love), He created man (lover), woman (beloved) and child (fruit of their love).

The closest we, as humans can imitate God, is through the relationship between husband and wife, when two flesh become one and through that union, we become three (family); an active participation in God’s Creation.

While reading First Comes Love, I picked up a couple of other books. First a book edited by Patrick Madrid, a well known Catholic Apologist, titled Surprised By The Truth 2, and then a novel by Piers Paul Read, named Death of a Pope. It was the first novel I read in more than four years.

Read is a well known author and may be best known for writing Alive, the story of the Uruguayan rugby team, whose plane went down over the Andes and the survivors had to eat the flesh of the dead, in order to live (you might remember the Hollywood remake several years ago). I bought the book because it was advertised in one of my favorite internet sites, National Catholic Register and it peaked my interest.

For me, Death of a Pope, was a bit disheartening, in the sense that it falls into secular ideas of the pope’s authority within the Church and the Church’s role in society. I guess the frustration stems from the fact that it was advertised on NCR’s site and I expected more orthodoxy.  

It is set on the backdrop of the final days of Pope John Paul II’s life, his death, and eventual conclave to select a new pope. The premise in the book is that a new pontiff would be able to modernize and change course of Church’s teachings, specifically relating to the ordination of women, homosexual marriages and artificial birth control among others. The dialogue exchanges between the main characters have a liberal slant and indicate, in my opinion, a deficient understanding of the Church.

There is actually an interesting plot; a conspiracy that would lead to a terrorist attack against the Vatican in the midst of the conclave with millions of faithful and the Church Magesterium in danger. There is a group determined to start a new crusade against Islam. Secret service agents from Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France and U.S. trying to figure out what the plot is and a love affair (there’s always a love affair), or what appears to be, between a former priest turned freedom fighter and a journalist.

Despite my discouragement in some of the views expressed in the book, the overall storyline was intriguing and the suspense Read builds was effective and kept me on edge until the end. But, the premise that a former Catholic priest and a Cardinal, one-step away from becoming the next pope, could somehow conspire to lead the Church in an entirely new direction from its two thousand year history, dampened my overall appreciation for the novel.

I guess if you read it as, what it is, fiction and not overanalyze the details (which I often fail to do); it is an interesting read. And, if you consider the way it ends, where God ultimately protects the Church, despite the odds, it is more acceptable. But, my concern is that some, who are not as learned on the Catholic faith, can be misled (ala The Da Vinci Code). So, the book left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth, although it did revive an interest in fiction literature, which I had ignored for years.

Surprised by the Truth 2, was a simple read on fifteen conversion stories; Fundamentalists, both ministers and laity, a Mormon, a New Ager/Pagan, etc., who in their search for truth find their way into the Catholic Church. I enjoy conversion stories because they help reinforce and strengthen my faith. However, while the book includes Madrid’s own re-version (he was always Catholic but, like many of us, drifted), and the conversions of well known writers, Fr. Ray Ryland, Thomas Howard and Tim Drake, it wasn’t as powerful as Surprised by the Truth. I read the original a few years ago and it featured the stories of some heavy weight converts; Steve Wood, Stephen Ray, Tim Staples, Marcus Grodi, Jimmy Akins, Paul Thigpen and several others.

Since Death of a Pope re-ignited my dormant interest for fiction, I then picked up a book in my shelf by Marcus Grodi, the host of my favorite television show, EWTN’s The Journey Home.

Grodi’s book titled, How Firm a Foundation, is loosely based on his own conversion from Protestant Minister to Catholicism. Grodi was actually influenced by good friend and seminary classmate, Scott Hahn, who converted several years before him.

For me, How Firm a Foundation, was a fascinating read. Here too there is a conspiracy plot by a radical Christian zealot, who fervently comes to believe the Catholic Church is The Whore of Babylon described in the Bible and the Pope is Satan. He is convinced that Catholic priests have infiltrated Protestant churches and that the main character in the story is one. It so happens that the minister’s son falls in love with the zealot guy’s daughter, prompting him to take matters into his hand, according to what he feels God is telling him to do.

It could get a bit technical in parts because of the subject matter (trying to describe the internal turmoil and anguish of a man who was raised and believed one thing his whole life, only to start doubting what he believes is not an easy task). The toll this discernment takes on his family life, the spiritual, emotional and financial uncertainty, and the rejection by some friends and family is vividly described since Grodi experienced this firsthand. It is a long book but I enjoyed every page of it.

I recently started reading, Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, which is considered among the greatest Christian books ever written, and am halfway through a book my boss gave me to read (and should have finished by now), Live.Local.Broken News by AR&D Senior Strategists, a consulting firm that advices local news departments how to improve their product in today's technologically developing environment.

So, while it may seem that I have a lot of time in my hands, don't be fooled.  I may have a bit more than my wife has (that's obvious) but I truly am passionate about studying and learning everything possible about my faith and make the time whenever and wherever I can.

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