Almost exactly a year ago, I used this space to tell the tale of moving many books into my newly converted “shoffice” in the wilderness near Elmira, Oregon (pop. 546). Admittedly, it’s not really wilderness when you’re a mile from the corner market and there are nearly as many horses in the backyard as deer and turkeys. Still, I cannot hear a freeway, which delights me every day. And the skies are amazing.
Anyhow, I spent many hours during the first half of this year organizing my 28,000 or so books. And, in doing so, I ended up re-reading pages, chapters, and sections from hundreds of them. It was, so often, like meeting old friends I’d not visited with for months or years. More than once, opening yet another box of books, I exclaimed, “Oh…I forgot about that one.” By the middle of the year, some order had been found:
For those who are wondering: No, I haven’t read them all and, no, I did not organize them using the Dewey Decimal System (the very thought makes me shudder). I have sections for certain authors—Aquinas and Augustine, Chesterton and Belloc, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Sheen and Sheed, Newman and Knox, and so forth—and for certain topics: theology, history, spirituality, art, music, Scripture, Christology (one of the largest sections, with six bookcases), soteriology, apologetics, and so forth. And it makes no sense to anyone but me. (You can see samples of my shelves on my Twitter feed: here and here and here, for example.)
I mention, in my list below, some of the books I’ve revisited. And I noticed that many of our wonderful contributors also highlighted books they re-read in 2022. That is heartening. Our world is dominated by the cult of Now and New, as if the past were not just boring (as it is for many) but angering (as it is for the ideologues).
C.S. Lewis rightly condemned chronological snobbery, a sad failing that he admitted to have practiced as a youth; the old books and the new books drawing upon the old books are an antidote for such deadly pride. Yes, by all means, let’s read books that provide comfort; let’s also read books that challenge us in ways big and small (the Bible comes to mind immediately, as it should).
With that, I hope you enjoy these many and varied lists!
Carl E. Olson
Editor, Catholic World Report
Christopher R. Altieri
Bradley J. Birzer
David G. Bonagura, Jr.
Anthony E. Clark
David P. Deavel
Thomas M. Doran
Conor B. Dugan
Fr. Charles Fox
Ronald L. Jelinek
Timothy D. Lusch
Ines A. Murzaku
Carl E. Olson
S. Kirk Pierzchala
Robert R. Reilly
Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Capuchin
I did a little self-torture in my book selection this past year: I read not one, but two, and technically three unfinished novels. First, The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. His last book. The perfect mystery. No one knows how it ends. Then The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis, which is part of a collection that included After Ten Years, another unfinished novel. Why? you ask. You will have to wait for the answer. That’s what I’m doing.
As a follow up to Dickens, I read The D. Case by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini in which an international conference of famous detectives (including Father Brown) meet and attempt to solve the mystery of Edwin Drood. Do they? Why should I tell you?
Then there was Was It Murder? by James Hilton (author of Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips) Fortunately, this one was finished. Unfortunately, I figured it out. Well, was it?
I read a very satisfying mystery novel, This Thing of Darkness by K.V. Turley and Fiorella De Maria, which combines the yarn-weaving of the latter with the movie knowledge of the former. Let’s just say it offers a new take on that gentleman who was buried in his Dracula cape: Bela Lugosi. The title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which I also read this year.
One of the best and most underrated novelists of the 20th century is Bruce Marshall. I’ve read most of his novels, but this year added another: The Divided Lady. Not as good as the others, but better than most other novelists.
Myles Connelly is always a treat. I read his The Reason for Ann and Other Stories, expertly introduced by Stephen Mrirachi.
Another great 20th century novelist: Walker Percy. I read Love in the Ruins and (for the second time) The Thanatos Syndrome. His near-future tales take place in what is now our past, but he was not exactly wrong in his predictions. He got the predicament right.
And I thoroughly enjoyed a lovely and lyrical novel The City Mother, by Maya Sinha, which included lines like: “Nietzsche had always seemed off to me, like some annoying nerd who kept raising his hand, a nerd whose passionately high opinion of himself was not shared. Didn’t he end up insane?”
And speaking of good one-liners, here’s a book that was full of them: Serpent on the Rock by Alice Thomas Ellis. Writing in 1994, she is firing the early countershots to political correctness and with no fear. She really unleashes on the feminists, which in its wilder aspects is falling into paganism and witchcraft and pouting about not being Catholic priestesses. She says feminism has not done one iota of good in the world. Exclamation mark. She lets the male idiots like D.H. Lawrence and Henry VIII have it, but will not put up with brainless liberalism just for the sake of getting along. “There is no real virtue in affecting to be stupider than you are or pretending to respect view which you inwardly consider to be mistaken.”
I helped myself to two excellent Peter Kreeft books: The Snakebite Letters and Three Philosophies of Life: Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs.
It occurs to me that eight of the books I read were by Catholic converts. What a mystery.
And speaking of converts and mysteries — and one-liners — what about G.K. Chesterton, you ask? I re-read The Everlasting Man. So should you. (You haven’t read it even once?! Now that’s a mystery I can’t solve.) And I’m working my way – the second time – through his G.K.’s Weekly essays: “It is a fallacy to talk about impartial criticism of repulsive things; for our very repulsion is a part of the criticism.” And: “There is an attack on the family; and the only thing to do with an attack is to attack it.”
Dale Ahlquist is President of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and the author of several books; his most recent is The Story of the Family: G.K. Chesterton on the Only State That Creates and Loves Its Own Citizens.
Christopher R. Altieri:
If all goes well, I’ll be front-loaded with fodder for my list in the coming year. This past year, however, has been for me one of slow reading in a few favorites – a few of them great classics and a few others that deserve to be – punctuated by interstitial reading in some very fine poetry.
Teaching a theology course to juniors in high school, with a focus on Church history and the Sacraments, led me back to St. Bonaventure and his Itinerarium mentis in Deum. The reason for this was straightforward: I recognized early on that my students were – are – laboring under what Allan Bloom described as a “crippled eros” that is barely aware of itself, let alone of its scope. I want to get back to the source.
I began reading Xenophon’s Memorabilia in translation after a friend told me he had made his way through the Greek original over the summer. Xenophon’s Socrates is cool as Plato’s, and practical, even almost pedestrian, and willing to give counsel. Xenophon’s Socrates strikes me as one our young people need to know.
The leadership crisis in the Church led me to Machiavelli’s Il principe, which still seems to me to be required reading for anyone who would understand our current and long-standing circumstances. This time, I read an old BUR paperback edition from my student days, which I found when I unpacked boxes of books that crossed the Atlantic and found their way to me at long last.
My teacher, Giorgio Salzano, has written a new book called Inferno purgatorio paradiso. Giudizi degli uomini e giustizia di Dio – Hell, Purgatory, Paradise: The Judgments of Men and the Justice of God – but I haven’t read it yet. A visit with Giorgio in September – his first stateside trip in twenty years and an unspeakable grace that presaged for me the conversation of happy eternity in contemplation of wisdom – brought me back to his Democrazia regale: Cristianesimo autorità potere, which I have decided I must translate and bring before an Anglophone audience. It is a masterpiece and a philosophical tour de force, which I will teach before I die.
That led me to Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture, with two lectures first delivered in the mid-1940s in Germany. One gives the book its title, the other is “The Philosophical Act” – and the 2009 Ignatius Press edition properly presents the essays as companions. Fr. James V. Schall’s introductory essay will still be extremely helpful to readers who – as he rightly notes so many do – come to this book by chance.
Dulcis in fundo, I’d like to tell you just a little about a marvelous collection of poetry by Jane Greer: The World as We Know It Is Falling Away. Thirty poems that see the world as it is – passing away – and with the poet’s stubborn faith in the promise of a hope, which does not disappoint. That’s roughly how I put it in the blurb I wrote for the volume, from which I will assign “Thorn” to my juniors.
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, teacher, editor, and author of three books, as well as contributing editor to Catholic World Report.
If you are looking for a realistic but deeply Catholic novel about a character who spends his life desperately (and futilely) trying to run away from God and everyone else in his life, read Maurice Baring’s The Coat Without Seam. Baring was a very talented writer who died in 1945 and was a friend to the great Catholic writers Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. My only regret is that I did not discover his books sooner.
If you want to read about recent cultural battles involving religion, such as Catholic liturgical experimentation and feminism in the Church, get a copy of Jesuit at Large. Edited by George Weigel, I really enjoyed this punchy (pun intended, read the book) collection of the writings of Jesuit priest and linguist Paul V. Mankowski. I am sorry not to have noticed Fr. Mankowski’s works before his passing in 2020. But perhaps it was finally time for the truth to come out about how he was silenced by his own order. And for us to respect him for his decades of obedience to that order.
If you want to read a biography of an amazing modern saint, read Charles de Foucauld. It would have been easy for Jean-Jacques Antier to tell the story of this playboy-turned-soldier-turned-monk-turned-hermit into a flowery hagiography. I don’t know if I have ever read a book that helps you understand the reasons behind a saint’s ascetical practices so effectively; after his conversion, de Foucauld ate only one or two very light meals a day for decades. And it made me feel true contrition over my own pathetic attempts to make even minor sacrifices for our Lord.
If you want to understand what has been and is going on in China, read Steven Mosher’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Pandemics. Why doesn’t the media cover the history of pandemics (and China’s role in them), the Chinese government’s manipulation of global organizations like WHO, and what actually happened in Wuhan in late 2019? Read this book by Mosher, who has spent decades studying and telling others how the CCP manipulates its own citizens, along with the rest of the world, if you want to find out the rest of the story about China and Covid.
Dawn Beutner is the author of Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year from Ignatius Press and blogs at dawnbeutner.com.
Bradley J. Birzer:
Overall, it’s been a great year personally (goodness, did I love my classes or what—in the spring and the fall; all hail, Hillsdale!), and I always love counting back and remembering my many reads for the majestic CWR end-of-the-year reading list. Unlike last year, which was filled with new books—especially those by Michael Ward, Abby Hall/Chris Coyne, and Holly Ordway—this year’s list is much more about RE-reading old books. I’m in the middle (well, ok, nearly done and, therefore, well towards the end) of writing a comprehensive history of the Inklings. As such, I’ve spent most of 2022, reviewing and re-reading older favorites rather than reading books published in this grand year (and, by grand—I don’t mean Biden, Whitmer, and their nasty political minions and machinations; rather, I mean non-political things, like my family doing really well and, thanks be to God, thriving).
Even my new books of 2022, though, are deeply related to the Inklings. Indeed, the best book I read this year was Brian Sibley’s edited version of Tolkien’s Second Age, The Fall of Númenor. A compilation of Tolkien’s mythological writings of his Numenorean mythology, The Fall of Númenor is a coherent and cohesive narrative. That is, Sibley has done for the Second Age what Christopher Tolkien (RIP!) did for the First Age in The Silmarillion. Sibley’s book is a stunning retelling of the creation and the downfall of the Godly island of Númenor. Men, given the gifts of longevity but not immortality, explore and subcreate the world, cofounded, ultimately, by their desire to be everlasting. Thus, they focus on God’s restrictions and rules rather than his gifts and admonitions. Succumbing to the temptations of Morgoth’s lieutenant, Sauron, the men of Númenor attempt to invade the Blessed Realm of immortality. In wrath, the gods (Tolkien’s angels, known as the Valar and Maiar) bury the invading force and remove Númenor (Atlantis) from the circles of the world. Good Númenóreans, the ancestors of Aragorn, escape the catastrophe and found the realms of Arnor and Gondor in Middle-earth.
Several of my colleagues published books relatively recently, and I devoured them all: James Strausberg’s God’s Marshall Plan; Darryl Hart’s Benjamin Franklin: Cultural Protestant; and Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope (our textbook for American Heritage). What would we do without brilliant co-workers?
The best non-recent book I read this year was Owen Barfield 1926 work, History in English Words, an overwhelming (in the best sense) and penetrating look at the history of language, especially etymology. Throughout, Barfield discusses the influences of every possible cultural encounter on the English language—from Sanskrit to Celtic to Latin (especially through the Catholic evangelists) to Danish to Dutch (navigation terms, especially). “The study of comparative grammar suggests rather that they spread outwards from their centre in a series of little rills, each one, as it flowed, either pushing the rill in front of it a stage farther on, or flowing through it and passing beyond”.
Given my own work on the Inklings, I reread (perhaps for the 30th time), The Lord of the Rings. It’s a book I’ve been reading since 1979 or so. It never fails to grab me, and there are passages—especially the death of Gandalf and the ride of Theoden—that never cease to move me, emotionally.
Again, because of my own Inklings work, I reread C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength as well as Tolkien’s Silmarillion. These are timeless works that continually surrender their genius with each read.
Bradley J. Birzer is Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and Professor of History, Hillsdale College.
Margaret Thatcher: The authorized biography: A memorable evening in 2022 was spent at St Simon Zelote’s church in Chelsea – a talk by Charles (Lord) Moore, marking the publication of the third and final volume of his excellent biography of Margaret Thatcher. All three books are an excellent read. It’s not just the insights into the events of the Thatcher years: the Falklands war, the collapse of Communism … and it’s not just the insights into personal things – Dennis Thatcher was always known as “DT” and in their retirement years they worshipped each Sunday at the chapel of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea (for American readers – that’s Britain’s famous home for retired soldiers). It’s much more than that … the saga of an era which is just slipping into history and which has been usefully evaluated.
John Henry Newman: A Biography by Ian Ker and Newman on Vatican II by Ian Ker: A sadness this year was the death of Fr Ian Ker in November. He was a delightful man, a hard-working and dedicated parish priest, and a scholar who was able to open up the results of his scholarship to all sorts of audiences. During the year I re-read his superb biography of St John Henry Newman, and also his Newman on Vatican II. For his 80th birthday, a festschrift was produced: Lead Kindly light: Essays in honour of Ian Ker and it is my must-read for 2023.
Balderdash and Piffle: English words and their curious origins by Alex Games: I came across Balderdash and Piffle:English words and their curious origins in a charity shop and bought is for £2.25p. Lots of gosh-I-didn’t-know-that material here. Among much else, I learned that the old word for begging was “skeldering” and that Skeldergate in the city of York was the street famous for that activity. And that it was King Alfred (9th century) who first described the common language of the non-Celtic inhabitants of the land as as Englisc.
The Queen by Matthew Dennison: It was, of course, the year of Queen Elizabeth II – first her Platinum Jubilee and then her death. Matthew Dennison’s The Queen, produced for the former event, makes good reading and is a fitting tribute to a great monarch and a noble Christian lady. It was good to be a Londoner in June and to be crammed in that vast crowd in St James Park cheering her. It was solemn to be a London in those September days standing outside Buckingham Palace with the solemn crowds, just – well, just being there, somehow saying “thank you”.
Joanna Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom.
David G. Bonagura, Jr.:
Defenders of the Unborn, by Daniel K. Williams. With Roe consigned to the failed Supreme Court decisions of history, the pro-life movement begins a new chapter as it seeks legislation to protect life on the state level. Before Roe—and before most members of the movement were born—pro-lifers fought state-level battles. Who these pro-lifers were, what motivated them, and how they arranged their coalitions is the backbone of Daniel K. Williams’s outstanding history of the pro-life movement, the only one told by a fellow pro-lifer. The book is fair-minded, well researched, and a very intriguing read.
Infinite Regress, by Joshua Hren. Joshua Hren’s debut novel is brilliant on so many levels: plot twists, character development, narrative style are just the beginning. Hren plumbs the depths of religious faith and human concupiscence in all their varieties. His insights into the human psyche are extraordinary. And a character’s essay entitled “Hell: An Aggiornamento” rivals The Screwtape Letters for creativity and perspective.
Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard Weaver. Weaver’s analysis of the foibles of modernity is penetrating and sharply written. Penned in 1948, Weaver saw first what have become ingrained features of 21st century America: egoism, false egalitarianism, the worship of comfort, and much more. Here is a one-sentence tease of the punches Weaver throws: “[M]odern industrial and political organization, which is irrational hierarchy, make the citizen an ethical eunuch.”
Christopher Dawson: A Cultural Mind in the Age of the Great War, by Joseph T. Stuart. Stuart’s deep-dive into how Dawson came to see the world and write history opens the great historian’s “cultural mind” for better understanding of his work and legacy. Of particular note is how Stuart highlights the sociological and anthropological dimensions of Dawson’s historiography. The final two chapters on Dawson’s work on politics and education are groundbreaking contributions to the field of Dawsonian studies.
Treasure in Clay, by Fulton Sheen. Over the years I have heard so many wondrous Fulton Sheen stories: When he asked Our Lady to send someone to pay his hotel bill at Lourdes, when he read the soul of a confession-hating stewardess on an airplane, when he had a run-in with a wanted international spy. What I did not realize was that these stories—and so many others that are charming, inspiring, and humorous—are told by the Archbishop himself in his moving autobiography that reveals the challenges, triumphs, and occasional failures of a devoted servant of God who also happened to be America’s most prominent Catholic for decades.
Write Your Own Story: How I Took Control by Letting Go, by Patti Ann Browne. Former Fox News anchor Patti Ann Browne’s introspective, self-deprecating, and faith-filled memoir of her life and career as a journalist is a swift and rewarding read. It is also a reminder to all of us that God is the real executive producer of our lives. As Browne writes, “I needed more faith. I had made it through the rain again. God works in strange ways—sometimes our worst experiences are blessings in disguise.”
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary and is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism and Staying With the Catholic Church” Trusting God’s Plan for Salvation.
So many books, so little time. As usual, I list only non-Ignatius Press books. If I added Ignatius Press books, the list would be very, very long! Here we go.
Benedict XVI: A Life, Volume 2, Peter Seewald. Takes up Ratzinger’s story following Vatican II, where Volume 1 left off, through his resignation from the papacy and into his retirement. An outstandingly insightful biography and mini-history of the Catholic Church since Vatican II, through the lens of Joseph Ratzinger’s life.
Bread from Heaven: An Introduction to the Theology of the Eucharist, Bernard Blankenhorn, OP. A contemporary Thomist account of Eucharistic theology. Great reading during the Eucharistic revival.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote. The novel upon which the better-known film is based. Much sadder than the film. Far more problematic. I’d much rather live in the universe of the film, with its 1960s Hollywood happy ending, than the world of the novel. Still, wonderful writing by Capote. This was my second time through the book. There’s no Paul Varjak/Ersatz “Fred” in the novel, only a first-person narrator who doesn’t cage the bird or tame the Cat, nor is caged or tamed himself in the process. On the other hand, there’s the great bartender Joe Bell and no painful performance of Mr. Yunioshi by Mickey Rooney.
From the Dust of the Earth: Benedict XVI, the Bible, and the Theory of Evolution, Matthew Ramage. A great read written by one of the great young theologians of our day. I may do a review of this book somewhere. It raises a number of issues—not simply about B16’s theology of creation but more generally how Catholicism and science fit together, and how biology and Christian anthropology and soteriology related to one another.
Liberalism and Its Discontents, Francis Fukuyama. The author tackles the challenges to liberalism after the end of history. Apparently, it is yet to be determined whether the Last Man will be a liberal. Integralism and “neo-liberalism” are both critiqued as temptations, as is CT politics. I found the book insufficiently philosophically and spiritually “sourced” to deal adequately with liberalism and its discontents, yet the book is still a worthwhile read.
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis Discussion Group was launched in Napa this year. This is our first work we’re reading to discuss. I first read this book over forty years ago. It had a formative influence on my Christian faith and helped me become a Catholic. It’s a delight to read it again and to talk about it with others.
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Joshua Foer. I learned a lot. I think. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the book was about.
Origins of the Great Schism, Walter Ullmann. The classic history of the great medieval Two-Pope Contest for governance of the Catholic Church that became a Three-Pope Contest before it was finally ended in the early 15th century and after having done immense harm to the reputation of the institution of the Papacy. The Holy Spirit isn’t fickle but you might think he were if you adopt some Catholics’ views of papal elections. This book demolishes naive views of papal elections, among other things.
Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Christopher Butler. A quick overview of the topic (in case you didn’t get that point from “A Very Short Introduction”).
Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament: The Evidence of Early Composition, Jonathan Bernier. Sort of carries on where John A.T. Robinson’s Redating the New Testament left off. More on this book, somewhere or other, in due course.
The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism, Matthew Continetti. A retelling of the Conservative movement’s modern history in light of the post-Reagan challenges, especially Mr Trump.
Taking God Seriously: Two Different Voices, Brian Davies and Michael Ruse. Atheist Ruse and Theist Dominican Father Brian Davies discuss God and the issues of Atheism and Theism.
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman. Written in 1992, this book arrived during the transition, at least in popular culture, from analog to digital, as the computer revolution was just beginning, and not too long after Al Gore invented the Internet. Still pertinent, even more pertinent, in 2022.
A Theology of the Christian Bible: Revelation, Inspiration, and Canon, Denis Farkasfalvy, O.Cist. This book sets out to take up the discussion of its title’s topic since Vatican II’s Dei verbum. There are too many themes to take up in this brief summary but it raises serious questions about how to understand the divine and human authorship of Scripture.
Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh, Thomas S. Kidd. A spiritual/theological/ethical biography of sorts of the prime author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President. This is a manifestation of my love-hate relationship with the brilliant American Founder, confused Theist, and slavery-critical slaver.
To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II, George Weigel. A kind of “making of Vatican II” so sixty years later. Gives a good overview of what led up to the Council, what the Council was about, and what followed afterward. Weigel aligns himself with the John Paul II-Benedict XVI view of Vatican II and the postconciliar era. Pope Francis? Well, yes, sort of, but not quite–that’s for another book.
The Socratic Method, Ward Farnsworth. An accessible presentation of the strengths (and to a lesser extent, weaknesses or limitations) of the so-called Socratic Method. The author draws on Platonic dialogues and other resources to explain and demonstrate how to discuss and attain a measure of truth socratically.
Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity, Brett Salkeld. A Catholic yet ecumenical reading of the Catholic teaching regarding Transubstantiation. Another helpful resource for the Eucharistic revival.
Mark Brumley, President and CEO of Ignatius Press, is author of The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics and 20 Answers: Catholic Social Teaching, among other things.
I am part of a reading group with a few guys in the same state of life as me (i.e., married with a lot of kids running around). When we began a few years back, I felt as though I was struggling with managing my time. So did the others. “Time” became the theme of our first year.
After that, things felt off balance. So, we finally evened it out by introducing “space” this year — reading about various spaces in our lives, along with outer space, of course.
Our year began with Genesis. Reading chapters 1 & 2 (plus John’s prologue) meant we were in the deep away. We coupled these chapters from Scripture with Joseph Ratzinger’s ‘In the Beginning…’, which provided an accessible and relevant commentary on the Word’s forming and ordering the empty and void earth.
Moving beyond the earth, we considered “the heavens,” as CS Lewis calls them in Out of the Silent Planet. This novel considers the cause of earth’s silence — the problem of human sin — and various overreaches of science that threaten to disrupt the harmony of God’s heavens.
Next, we read British astrophysicist Jo Dunkley’s book Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide. I am no astrophysicist, but I did find this book quite accessible. It is also interesting to consider the questions that needle at modern science, along with a corresponding hubris that our intellects (and computers) will eventually exhaust space of its mystery.
From the macro-level, we zoomed in to consider the various “spaces” of daily life. It seemed right to start with the home, so we enjoyed Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Her Dutch family home and watchmaker’s shop became the source of refuge and peace for many escaping Nazi occupation in Haarlem during World War II. The image of Corrie’s father and their devotion to the word of God in Scripture stays with me daily. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited offers deep consideration of a particular place where family and faith coincide and forge memory. Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter does, too. Berry invites his readers to consider the physical place a husband and wife call “home,” and the life they build there together.
Speaking of building, we considered the workspace next. We tackled St. John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens, his 1981 encyclical on the dignity of work and the situation of work in the broader socio-economic context of our age. Then we read Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford argues for the value, even the intellectual value, of the traditional trades in a post-industrial world. Beyond that, Crawford highlights the concreteness of working with our hands, seeing real progress, and knowing with certainty whether we did a good job or not. Carl Olson’s “shoffice” that he highlighted last year is a good example of a project that turned out well and he knew it, unlike the vague and uncertain results produced by an overly bureaucratic corporate America.
In the realm of relationships, we just finished John Cuddeback’s True Friendship, an excellent book exploring the nexus between friendship and virtue from Aristotle to Aquinas to Aelred. Now, we’re digging into Edward Sri’s Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love. This reflection on John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility will allow us to examine the relational space of spousal love.
From here, we’ll look at the sports field, the marketplace, and the Internet, etc. But, all of these spaces are for another time…like 2023.
Brad Bursa, PhD, is an assistant professor of Theology and the Theology program director at St. Thomas University (Miami, FL).
The first section of George Wegel’s To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II, which explains the historical roots of Vatican II, is reason enough to read it, offering a brief and very necessary explanation of the various intellectual and ecclesial trends that provoked this still very contentious ecumenical council. Unsurprisingly for the author of a best-selling biography of St. John Paul II, he ends that section citing then Bishop Karol Wojtyła’s letter suggesting council discussion topics. According to Wojtyła, Vatican II needed to remind lay Catholics of the “specific responsibility … in the various occupations of secular life, in which they are responsible for the Church and its witness.” The laity and the clergy, the Polish bishop argued, were engaged in a mutual effort of “building-up of the Body of Christ.”
As I noted at The Spectator World, this year there were two books on the many controversies stemming from our cultural confusion over gender: The Genesis of Gender by Abigail Favale and Unraveling Gender: The Battle Over Sexual Difference by John S. Grabowski. As a former feminist academic Favale speaks with the voice of an insider well-versed in the rhetoric of capricious gender ideologues. She expertly explains how feminists’ eagerness to jettison biology as essential to female identity has ironically undermined the objectives of the feminist movement. Grabowski’s work, an explicitly Catholic book, combines science, philosophy, and theology to prove the illogic of our transgender moment.
Ryan Anderson’s and Alexandra DeSantis’ Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing is a tour de force carefully repudiating the arguments of the pro-choice movement. It was also perhaps 2022’s best-timed book, its publishing coinciding with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Philosopher Edward Feser’s All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory, though indeed coming from a Catholic perspective, offers a perhaps unparalleled critique of CRT on philosophical and logical grounds.
We need not only texts that criticize the anti-human ideologies, but give us hope. R.V. Young’s Shakespeare and the Idea of Western Civilization does just that, not only repudiating Shakespearean scholarship’s descent into identity politics, but reminding us of why the Bard is still the best. Christopher Shannon’s American Pilgrimage: A Historical Journey Through Catholic Life in a New World in turn tells the remarkable story of Catholics in North America, providing both necessary warnings and exhortations for how to reinvigorate a truly Catholic subculture in our country.
Casey Chalk is a contributor for Crisis Magazine, The American Conservative, and New Oxford Review. He has degrees in history and teaching from the University of Virginia and a master’s in theology from Christendom College.
Anthony E. Clark:
Each evening in our home this time of year we stand around the Advent wreath for special devotions. Today we read from Matthew 1:20-24, and pondered how Joseph’s initial unease over Mary’s pregnancy was relieved by the message of an angel. With so much change and apprehension in the world I have often wished an angel would appear to me with an explanation, but the message of Advent reminds us that change is inevitable and that the Infant is the hope that cures all fear. Seasons passed while I sat near my window with views of sunshine, rain, and now snow . . . with books that transformed the maelstrom outside into the peace afforded by good reading.
I reread Cicero’s On Old Age, a book recommended by the late Father James Schall, SJ (RIP), and as I read this trenchant treatise I see why he returned again and again to this work. Perhaps Cicero’s wisest quip is: “Slowly and imperceptibly old age comes creeping on,” but while others disparage the wrinkles and aches of age, Cicero celebrates our era of dotage as “the crown of life.” Thank you, Father Schall for counselling me to read these words of optimism.
After Cicero, I picked up something far from ancient philosophy – I read my first Agatha Christie novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. At fifty-five, I felt like a late arrival to the cerebral gymnastics of Hercule Poirot, but now I’m a captive reader. Poirot shall likely be on next year’s list!
Last year took me to Edinburgh and Prague, and soon I shall travel again to Rome, the living divine room for all Catholics. My custom is to ask St. Padre Pio to accompany me on my rollicks through the cobblestone streets, so I pulled some books about his life off my shelves and dusted them off. It was Father Gabriel Amorth’s book Padre Pio: Stories and Memories of My Mentor and Friend, recently released by Ignatius Press, that was most captivating. Whatever controversies have been imposed upon this holy priest, his witness to Christ pierces through the mire of his detractors. Padre Pio’s life seems to me like an allegory for the Church in general; despite its enemies, it persists doggedly in its mission to love and heal.
And also in preparation for my month in Rome, I read This Is Rome, with splendid photographs by Yousef Karsh, and text by Bishop Fulton Sheen and H. V. Morton. Rome is, as Bishop Sheen writes, a city “entwined with the life of Our Lord and the Apostles,” and as is my habit, good books will be at my side during my pilgrimage in the Eternal City.
Also on my list of first-reads at the eleventh hour is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Truth be told, much about the “children’s story” is, I expect, is lost on children readers who read Carroll’s tale more appropriate for adult minds. “Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality.” A more incisive observation on modernity is difficult to imagine.
Several other books were read and re-shelved: Jonathan Spence, The Death of Woman Wang; Joseph W. Ho, Developing Mission; Ross King, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling; and Henrietta Harrison, The Perils of Interpreting, to name a few. Among the great joys I anticipate at the close of every year is the annual invitation to provide this list the Catholic World Report. Reflecting on the nourishing books that have marked the year reminds me of the passing years and anticipates the next, as Advent anticipated the Birth. Cardinal Newman once wrote that, “Time is short, eternity is long.” Has anything more obvious been said? Has anything more profound been said?
Anthony E. Clark, PhD, is an associate professor of Chinese history at Whitworth University and the author and editor of several books on Catholicism in China.
David P. Deavel:
Last year I said I’d read Phil Rolnick’s The Long Battle for the Human Soul, the first volume of his trilogy titled A Post-Christendom Faith, and also Victor Lee Austin’s Friendship. I did and I’m glad I did. The first tells the story of the long withdrawing of people in the west from Christian faith—not, as Matthew Arnold imagined it, the “melancholy, long, withdrawing” of a sea of faith. Rolnick’s later volumes will plot the course for theology in such a context. In the meantime, Austin’s volume gives us the great and weird news: despite human weakness and perfidy, God means for us to be friends with him. . .and, in the end, extend our friendship to all his friends.
Rolnick’s book pairs nicely with Glen Scrivener’s The Air We Breathe, which informs any latter-day Arnolds why the high culture—and other nice things—we value in civilization can’t be had apart from Christian assumptions. One of those nice and essential things is the gift of family, which has been under attack for a couple hundred years. Dale Ahlquist’s The Story of the Family collects Chesterton’s prophetic writings on both the theological and natural understandings of men, women, sex, and marriage. J. P. de Gance and John Van Epp’s Endgame: The Church’s Strategic Move to Save Faith and Family in America provide blueprint and resources for Catholics and other Christians to begin to recover healthy understandings of them. We need a sane family culture and a sane political culture. Daniel J. Mahoney’s The Statesman as Thinker is a breath of fresh air in its discussion of historically great statesmen and the virtues that are needed (personally and culturally) for them to succeed.
Of course, the deepest answer is that we all need Jesus. I found Sr. Claire Waddelove’s The Our Father a good little guide to the prayer that Jesus taught us. Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus gave me (and my freshmen) a good guide to understanding how strong the case for the Gospels and Christian orthodoxy is. At greater length I read and taught both Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, which pays the reader in wisdom with rereading, and Roch Kereszty’s Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, which covers the bases and points one to some forgotten medieval theologians—a delight since I had not read it before. At a different theological level but no less useful were two volumes of Ronald Knox republished by Cluny Media: The Belief of Catholics and The Mass in Slow Motion. Both give solid insights into Catholic belief and worship in the tones of a smart and charming friend.
Rereading that great scholar of medieval philosophy Ralph McInerny’s memoir, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You, provided delight from beginning to end, as did coming back for the umpteenth time to Hilaire Belloc’s farrago The Four Men, this time in Deacon Nathan Allen’s annotated edition. Both match well with Austin’s book in their attention to friendship.
We should be friends with the saints and would-or-will-be saints. Jessica Hooten Wilson’s The Scandal of Holiness makes the case that we should make friends with fictional saints. To that end, I enjoyed philosopher Siobhan Nash-Marshall’s debut novel, George, which gives us a fictional St. George of the Lockdown-and-Great-Reset. Randy Boyagoda’s first two novels of a trilogy about Princely Umbiligoda, titled Original Prin and Dante’s Indiana, are comic takes on a man whose personal life has left him in a dark wood in the middle of his years—and how he is finding his way back to the Light.
David P. Deavel is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.
Fulminate though many do about Twitter, I have found a wonderful community of colleagues who regularly share references to very useful books, the first four of which on the list below came to my attention thanks to them.
Erotic Revelations: Clinical Applications and Perverse Scenarios by Andrea Celenza shows that we need to clearly distinguish between and openly talk about erotic attraction vs. sexual enactment (as between patient and psychotherapist, priest and parishioner, etc.). The extent to which we discuss erotic elements with trusted mentors may help deprive them of the power of secrecy which so often masks and precedes destructive enactments and evil boundary violations. There are obvious applications of this in the Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis.
Three books by the San Francisco psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden are thrilling and liberating in different ways: Reclaiming Unlived Life: Experiences in Psychoanalysis; Coming to Life in the Consulting Room; and Rediscovering Psychoanalysis: Thinking and Dreaming, Learning and Forgetting.
Attachment in Psychotherapy by David J. Wallin is a landmark book that came out in 2007, but I only recently finished. It confirmed and challenged in equal measure and will pay regular re-reading.
It is popular among some evangelicals and Catholics to buy into the bogus language of “porn addiction” and, in doing so, avoid taking responsibility for any number of problems. David Ley’s book The Myth of Sex Addiction is a bracing corrective to this spurious pseudo-diagnosis.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore is based on unprecedented archival access, and is written in a rollicking fashion that is hilarious and horrifying all at once. One of the book’s myriad laudatory reviews called it “biography as savage gossip,” and that captures something delicious about the book.
I recently did some advanced training in treating psychotic disorders with Michael Garrett, a New York psychiatrist who is author of the very valuable Psychotherapy for Psychosis: Integrating Cognitive-Behavioral and Psychodynamic Treatment. Equally rich but in different ways is the international collection edited by David L. Downing, Outpatient Treatment of Psychosis: Psychodynamic Approaches to Evidence-Based Practice. Psychotic patients are often given poor or no psychotherapy to help. Garrett and Downing and others offer techniques to help such patients actually recover, as they very much can do.
I just re-read Bruno Bettelheim’s Freud and Man’s Soul, a short but terribly overlooked book crucially relevant to all who maintain their unjustified suspicion of Freud. As Bettelheim shows, the Strachey translation of Freud’s German deliberately and systematically excluded all the myriad references to the human soul in Freud’s work, making him appear hostile to the spiritual life when he was not. They also rendered his poetic German into an abstract and almost mechanistic English shot through with a dogmatism that is foreign to the mind of Freud.
Orna Ophir’s Schizophrenia: An Unfinished History has many historiographical virtues, and after reading it I immediately assigned it to students in my history of psychology class. It is an excellent book in so many ways, as I noted here.
One of the weird and wholly unexpected interests, then fascinations, and now near-obsessions I developed during Covid-tide was with narrow boats on the British canal system, about which there are many channels on YouTube, almost all of which I began watching in 2020 and continue to do so. This summer I ordered and read with slow and wistful devotion Anthony Burton’s utterly charming book, full of lush and beautiful photographs, Britain’s Canals: Exploring their Architectural and Engineering Wonders. That book makes me long to get to His Majesty’s United Kingdom to cruise the canals.
Dr. Adam A.J. Deville is associate professor and chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, Indiana).
Thomas M. Doran:
I didn’t set out with a theme in mind for this year’s reading. However, the Creator and creation jumped out of these four memorable books.
The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller isn’t a Catholic book but a number of Catholics are quoted or profiled, and C. S. Lewis’s works had a great influence on Pastor Keller. Keller started a church with orthodox Christian beliefs in the center of Manhattan that attracted many well-educated and skeptical secularists to his congregation—no small feat. He says, “I have been arguing that the Christian understanding of where we came from, what’s wrong with us, and how it can be fixed has greater power to explain what we see and experience than does any other competing account.” Admitting his Protestant Christian perspective, Pastor Keller, like C. S. Lewis, does a remarkable job of explaining why Christianity makes so much sense and why popular objections to Christianity do not.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to encounter alien life on a faraway planet, look no further than Ed Yung’s An Immense World: how animal senses reveal the hidden worlds around us. Page after page, I was astounded by the variety, range, and alienness of sensory spheres possessed by animals, many of these sensory worlds (Umwelt) extending well beyond those of humans. From tiny leafhoppers to elephants, Yung and the many scientists he meets describe the wonder of life on planet Earth. This isn’t a Christian or even theistic book, though I couldn’t help “seeing” the Creator behind the dozens and dozens of creatures Yung and his sources describe.
When the Wright brothers began experimenting, the great majority of people, including the “wise,” thought human flight was impossible and those who pursued it were fools. In his book, The Wright Brothers, David McCullough writes, “In no way did any of this discourage or deter Orville and Wilbur Wright, any more than the fact that they had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own. Or the entirely real possibility… they could be killed.” Whether consciously or not, we create in imitation of our Creator.
In 1966, Katey Kontent, while strolling with her husband through an exhibition of Walker Evans photographs, happens upon the image of a man she knew 30 years earlier: “Tinker in a cashmere coat, clean shaven, a crisp Windsor knot poking over the collar of a custom-made shirt.” A little further on, she is stunned to see the same man in a photo of subway riders, taken between 1938 and 1941, “… ill shaven, in a threadbare coat… But he looked young and vibrant too; and strangely alive.” When she points out that the man in this second photograph is also Tinker Grey, her husband furrows his brow and says, “Riches to rags.” “No,” she said. “Not exactly.” Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles, gritty and dark at times, is sprinkled with religious references and symbols. A prominent theme was seeking meaning and purpose in this created world. Wealth, human respect, power, pleasure? As Katey observes, knowing the story of her long-ago friend, “No. Not exactly.”
Thomas M. Doran most often writes about the environment, infrastructure, and literary topics. As T. M. Doran, he’s had three novels published by Ignatius Press, and his next novel was recently accepted for publication.
Conor B. Dugan:
As I look back on my reading itinerary of 2022, a number of titles stick out.
First, the fiction. Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy is a beautiful novella that reminded me of why Cather is such a master with the written word. Any Cather is worth reading. I also tackled Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue reissued by Cluny Media. A modern day Francis, Mr. Blue gives us an example of Gospel simplicity in a world that has become cynical and calculating. I am embarrassed to say that I read my first, but not last, Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express, this year. The classic mystery didn’t disappoint. I also picked up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel This Side of Paradise. It a great portrayal of the Jazz Age. Finally, in fiction, I reread Brian Moore’s novella Catholics, the story of an outpost of Catholic monks who still celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and the Vatican lackey sent to shut them down. The moral dilemma faced by the Abbott is rendered vividly and the story has eerie parallels to our present day.
Second, I’ll mention two books by Orthodox poet Scott Cairns. Cairns’ Idiot Psalms: New Poems is delightful. His wordplay is fantastic. Later in the year, I read Cairns’ book on suffering, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain, which I hope to review in more depth. The End of Suffering is a profound meditation on suffering from a deeply Christian perspective. Suffering is not an abstraction for Cairns and it was particularly helpful to me in a moment of suffering.
Third, let me mention a couple of fun books. Judgment of Paris: California Vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine by George M. Taber is a wonderful account of a 1976 taste-test that helped put California wine on the map, a general history of wine-making, and, in particular, an account of some of the forceful personalities who changed California winemaking into the well-known craft it is today. Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakes Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman is a rollicking good time and particular fun for someone, like me, whose sports consciousness came of age in the 1980s. Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays was a revelation. Didion who died a year ago can turn a phrase—as anyone who has read her knows. I loved her observations of 1950s and 1960s California.
Let me close with a few more serious books. Reinhard Hütter’s John Henry Newman on Truth and Its Counterfeits: A Guide for Our Times, which I also hope to review in more detail, is a remarkable account of Newman’s thought and its application to conscience, knowledge, and the modern university. Hütter is a scholar who is also a wonderful writer—in a non-native language! Jan de Volder’s The Spirit of Father Damien: The Leper Priest-A Saint for Our Times is a good way to be inspired to holier living. St. Damien of Molokai’s sufferings and joys are made real in this account. Finally, let me mention The Sabbath of History, a book which pairs beautiful Holy Week reflections of Joseph Ratzinger with the arresting paintings of William Congdon, one of the Action Painters and part of that movement along with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and others. It was a beautiful way to spend my Good Friday.
Conor B. Dugan is a husband, father of four, and attorney who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Fr. Charles Fox:
The New and Eternal Covenant, Anscar Vonier. Vonier was one of the great theologians of the early-twentieth century who wrote in English. Vonier’s works are characterized by their clarity and economy of expression, and nowhere is that more true than in The New and Eternal Covenant. In it, Vonier seeks to present the core of the Catholic Faith, the essence of life in Christ. He does so by focusing on the New Covenant established in and by Jesus Christ. In Christ’s dying and rising, His Ascension and in the whole life of the Church, especially in her sacraments, that we find the covenantal dynamic of God’s promises and their fulfillment.
Shepherding the Family of God: The Spirituality of Diocesan Priests In St. John of Avila, Fr. Gustavo Castillo. Diocesan priests gladly and rightly borrow from many streams of Catholic spirituality. In the works of St. John of Avila, according to Fr. Gustavo Castillo of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we find a spirituality offered by a diocesan priest for diocesan priests. Although it is difficult to summarize this spirituality in a single line, perhaps this quotation from St. John of Avila’s Treatise On the Priesthood best captures its essence: “There must be between Christ and the priest a very deep interior friendship, similarity of customs, a love and hatred of the same things, and a love that is so endearing to the point that, from two, there can remain only one.”
The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader, James C. Hunter. In a world awash with leadership books, Hunter offers a compelling argument for servant leadership as a source of strength, accomplishment, and the fulfillment of both team and individual goals. The heavier emphasis, of course, is on team goals. Hunter defines leadership as, “The skills of influencing people to enthusiastically work toward goals identified as being for the common good, with character that inspires confidence.”
The Cost of These Dreams, Wright Thompson. In this collection of short stories, the renowned sports writer Wright Thompson highlights American heroes, villains, and ordinary people united by their desire to achieve something truly great. Striving to win sports championships, to combine accomplishment and longevity, or to overcome terrible adversity, the people in Thompson’s stories all pay a dear price, one that in public life often goes unseen, but here is laid bare and raises the inevitable question, “Is achieving such greatness worth such a cost?” It is to Thompson’s credit that he refrains from answering this question, but simply presents the stories and lets his readers decide.
Fr. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit.
I did a lot of “comfort food” reading this year—revisiting old favorites by Jane Austen, Tolkien, and Lewis, among others. I’ll include here my favorites among the books I read for the first time in 2022.
Dune by Frank Herbert. I wanted to read the book ahead of seeing the new movie, but didn’t get to it before the film left the theaters. I had seen the 1984 movie (starring Sting, soundtrack by Toto)—fortunately the book is so gripping and immersive from the start that it wasn’t hard to banish the memory of that adaptation. And once I did see the new movie (on the small screen) I enjoyed it, though I have some quibbles; I’m looking forward to seeing the second installment when it comes out in 2023.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. This book had been recommended to me many times and I’m so glad I finally picked it up! Another completely immersive read—you feel as if you’ve really spent time in Piranesi’s mysterious world and could navigate through its endless halls and passages if you ever found yourself there. Clarke’s nods to Narnia are more artistic flourishes than attempts to engage with Lewis’ themes or ideas, but they help deepen the spell of her storytelling and bring an eerily familiar quality to her portrait of Piranesi’s world.
Olav Audunsson II (Providence) & III (Crossroads) by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally. These are the two middle volumes in Undset’s four-part epic set in medieval Norway. Nunnally’s translation is being released one volume at a time; the final installment will be published at the end of next year, so keep that in mind if you have a hard time with cliff-hangers! Olav is darker in content and tone than Undset’s other medieval novel, the greatly beloved Kristin Lavransdatter; though the characters here aren’t as lovable as those in Kristin, Undset depicts them with such rich psychological detail and spiritual insight you can’t help but be drawn into their story.
Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Fr. Thomas Dubay. Another book that has been recommended by multiple people over the years. I haven’t actually finished this one yet; I’ve been reading it bit by bit over the last few months. This isn’t because the book is a difficult read or a slog to get through; Fr. Dubay’s writing is very accessible. But I’ve found it helpful to read a small section, and then pause for a bit for reflection. I know some have found Dubay’s approach to be somewhat harsh or impracticable, particularly when it’s applied to lay people; I have found it to be challenging, for sure, but in the best of ways.
I started listening to audiobooks in a big way this year; two that I particularly enjoyed were David Copperfield, performed by Richard Armitage, and Jane Eyre, performed by Thandiwe Newton, both available on Audible.
Finally, my favorite family read-aloud was Tales of My Father’s Dragon, a collection of three short novels by Ruth Stiles Gannett. My five-year-old daughter was the perfect age for these stories, which are simple, charming, and full of adventure. The hero, Elmer, is resourceful and earnest; his dragon, Boris, is loyal and brave. From what I’ve seen I don’t have much hope that the new Netflix movie captures the books’ spirit, but I hope its release will inspire people to pick up these lovely stories.
Cate Harmon is social media manager for Ignatius Press.
Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview by Fr. Harrison Ayre (Pauline Books and Media, $22.95). The rare combination of good pastoral sense and theological aptitude, Fr. Harrison Ayre’s Mysterion is sure to open up new vistas for any disciple’s faith life. The saints have true vision because they have seen the Lord, and this book will help us see more like they do. Readers will find the means to attune themselves more fully to Christ as he reveals himself to us and find inspiration for renewed resolve to take up his mission.
Legacy of Mercy: A True Story of Murder and a Mother’s Forgiveness by Gretchen R. Crowe (OSV, $19.95). I might be partial since this is my wife’s third book, which I’ve read at various iterations. But it’s truly equal parts riveting and inspiring. The captivating chronicle of a double abduction and murder of two Franciscan University of Steubenville students catches readers’ attention in the first half. But that only sets the stage for one mother’s response to the tragedy, who is herself something of a Marian figure, allowing her son’s death to be transformed and purified by giving only love in return. Any reader will find new meaning in mercy.
Sacrament of Salvation: An Introduction to Eucharistic Ecclesiology by Rev. Msgr. Paul McPartlan (Bloomsbury, $40.95). I’ve recently revisited this little gem in the midst of the National Eucharistic Revival. I’ve long regarded it as a must-read, and am only more convinced about that. McPartlan’s monograph offers a sweeping read of salvation history, all through a Eucharistic lens. It offers a clear vision for the Church’s unity, made possible in and through the Eucharist. While also weaving important contemporary themes such as ecumenism, evangelization and ecology throughout, this book will help any Catholic find renewed appreciation for the Eucharist at a time when the Church is calling us to do so.
To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II by George Weigel (Basic Books, $32.00). Nothing in today’s Church remains more vital than the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. But judging from Catholic social media posts from across the spectrum, the continued debates for the “soul” of the Council seem to be more a bugaboo than anything else. Sixty years on, the need for the Council’s implementation and true identity remains a vital task. Weigel’s book helps ground the ever-present Vatican II debates in reality. And his timely and helpful perspective is a needed balm to help the Church move away from reigniting decades-old battles to define the “real Vatican II” and insuring its meaning isn’t up for grabs yet again — thanks to his presentation of conciliar implementation of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The Wise Men Who Found Christmas by Raymond Arroyo (Sophia Institute Press, $17.95). As the father of three, my reading is often not my own! I am always on the lookout for new Catholic children’s books, and my kids love the Christmas genre. Raymond Arroyo offers a delightful, faithful and creative tale engages readers with fills in some of the gaps of the gospel’s infancy narratives, while drawing from tradition. Families will enjoy the mystery and find inspiration in the ways the Christ child brings mercy and grace as a babe in Bethlehem.
Michael Heinlein is editor of the Our Sunday Visitor publication Simply Catholic.
Ronald L. Jelinek:
As 2022 dawned, President Biden was doing his best impression of 2021: telling us (again!) that a winter of death awaited the unwashed, imploring us to mask up, shut up and get vaxxed. He inspired my resolutions: to tune him out, to treasure time spent with family and friends and to enjoy Reagan, my new mini-labradoodle. And – whenever possible – to mix in some great books.
My Catholic men’s book club delivered. Sohrab Ahmari’s The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos challenges our unhappy culture to reconsider what freedom is for and to recapture it. Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins is a disturbing dystopian novel featuring an unlikely protagonist trapped in a HoJo’s. When he’s not being chased by assassins or women, Dr. Tom More discovers life’s meaning.
Three novels offer different perspectives on the lives of Catholic clerics. George Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest is a tragic account of a French priest’s difficulties attending to his thankless flock. Amidst the brokenness of his world, Bernanos reminds us that “Grace is everywhere…” A.J. Cronin’s classic, The Keys of the Kingdom, is an epic read following Father Chisholm’s work in a remote Chinese mission. It has everything: heartbreak, despair, drama, action – and hefty doses of temperance and fortitude. For those looking for unmatched writing, humor and character development, my pick is Wheat that Springeth Green. J.F. Powers’ second and final book is a jocular journey from the pews to the rectory. You’ll laugh. And think.
My family’s book club tradition continued this year. My wife, two oldest daughters and I FaceTimed Grammie to read and discuss The Giver. My then-eighth grader read it two years earlier and hadn’t stopped talking about it. For good reason. It is Lous Lowry’s Newberry Medal winner and a simple but very well told story about a world where independent thought is punished and the dignity of human life forsaken. Impressed by our daughter’s taste in books (and thankful for the Catholic school which cultivated it), my wife and I decided (on our own) to afterwards pivot toward the novel’s more famous relative – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. No introduction or comment required here – but I’ll just add that if you think you remember having read it before, read it again. It deserves another look – post-pandemic.
During the summer, typically with that aforementioned dog by my side, I enjoyed time under a shady tree with a few less-intense reads. I devoured David Pietrusza’s 1948. Fans of his other “year” books, will enjoy this one detailing Harry Truman’s improbable victory against a field of weak, stand-for-nothing Republicans. Pouring another glass of lemonade (or was it a pint of Leinenkugel’s?), I drank up P.G. Wodehouse’s Joy in the Morning. Anyone looking for a simple laugh and a good phrase or two, can’t do better than Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
My lapse in judgment at summer’s end deserves forgiveness. You see, I’m a long-suffering Mets fan and my team last season was on its way to a 101-win record and a sure first place finish. Before they ruined it in September by being swept by the Cubs (!) and the Braves, I did enjoy, The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman. It is an outstanding account of the legendary 1986 team that beat Bill Buckner’s Red Sox – during better days. A lifetime ago.
And now my men’s book club is wrapping up the year with Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. A terrific Advent read. More than a book, it’s a vocation.
Merry Christmas – happy reading.
Ronald L. Jelinek, Ph.D. is a Professor of Marketing at Providence College.
From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks is an important book for anyone over 40 to read. The Harvard professor and Catholic convert notes that just as physical strength declines as a person ages, so too does fluid intelligence, our ability to quickly solve new and complex problems. By contrast, crystallized intelligence, something akin to wisdom, can continue to grow allowing us to enhance relationships, grow spiritually, and nurture those around us. Yet, many successful people continue a relentless pursuit of kinds of “success” that are best realized by fluid intelligence. The older they get, the harder it becomes to achieve these goals. Brooks recommends a shift as we age to give greater focus to building loving relationships and using accumulated experience for helping others rather than chasing higher up social hierarchies.
In his Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, offers us a memoir. The audible version is read, with great verve, by Bono himself who also sings and provides clips from various songs. U2 almost broke up after its first album Boy because both Bono and U2 guitarist the Edge felt called to serve God as Christian missionaries. They decided to leave the band. But their manager talked them out of their decision, by asking them whether God wanted them to break their legal contract which required them to go on tour. Bono provides articulate reflections on art and faith, peppered with frank acknowledgements of personal failures, “I’m also deeply conscious that I can’t live up to the badge I’ve pinned on my lapel. I’m a follower of Christ who can’t keep up.” While Bono’s politics will irritate some readers, his lyrical prose and keen eye for vivid detail make a great read.
Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hart made many fine points, but somehow I got off task and didn’t finish it.
Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson offers a history of the British empire on which the sun did not set, until it did. He points out that the spread of English power brought both burdens and benefits to those who were subject to that power which spread by a combination of business interests, evangelical impulse, as well as political calculations. The contemporary world, for better and for worse, would not exist today were it not for the British Empire.
In Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins tells the story of his boyhood mired in poverty, racism, and family dysfunction to his life as an obese young man stuck in dead end job killing insects, to becoming the most fit and tough of the Navy seals. This man is an inspiration.
Dopamine Nation is Anna Lembke’s take on our society drowning in short term pleasures of social media, fast food, and easy pleasures which lead to long term pains of social comparison, obesity, and addictions. Her narrative appeals to scientific research as well as personal stories from her clinical practice as well as her fight against her own addiction.
Rickson Gracie is one of the greatest practitioners of jiu jitsu of all time. In his memoir Breathe: A Life in Flow, he talks about his life growing up in Brazil with his nine siblings and half-siblings, his rise as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of his generation, immigrating to the United States, and the tragic murder of his son.
Christopher Kaczor is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University and co-author of Jordan Peterson, God and Christianity: The Search for a Meaningful Life.
Timothy D. Lusch:
While my number of books finished for the year was down markedly in 2022—a statistic that I am certain no one else cares about—I nevertheless read in my usual moody and maniacal way. It is a discipline that yields rather reckless results. Some things connect, others exist in intellectual silos of dubious value outside of my own pleasure.
Pleasure is not how I would describe Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The bleak and barren tale of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world replete death cults and cannibals is not for the faint of heart. But then, McCarthy never is. His landscapes and characters face hard realities and spiritual desolation. And yet, there remains something of the Old Testament hope of salvation—even, or especially, as the world dims.
The world dimmed quickly for Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire. His short reign—under the growing shadow of the Ottomans—culminated in his desperate attempts to save what remained of Roman glory. He was fully aware of his end and met it with great humility and courage. Donald Nicol’s The Immortal Emperor was a riveting story. And he even follows the threads of Constantine’s descendants in the generations after their world unraveled.
Allen Guelzo gives a similar treatment to Robert E. Lee in his excellent biography Lee. There is something fated about these men, even as they chose their own paths. Lee’s life didn’t end violently, nor did a thousand-year empire collapse on top of him. But the world as he knew it was destroyed. The character of the man, flaws and all, is laid bare in this fascinating book.
The character of Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge is revealed slowly and, in ways tragic and humorous. The book is episodically structured, though mostly linear in time, but the effect is not jarring. By the end of the novel, I was left with an acute sense of the passage of time. A passing that, no matter how hard Mrs. Bridge tried to avoid the raw wounds of life beneath its pleasantries, she could neither avoid nor delay.
Delay of decline is all that seems left to us who care about this country. David Mamet, playwright and essayist, spares little criticism of where Leftist ideas and policies have taken America. Recessional—like his plays and essays elsewhere—is razor sharp and relentlessly logical. It is a tonic for the muddled mush of talking heads on television and the stupidities of Twitter.
Timothy D. Lusch is an attorney and writer.
The Washington, DC Mormon Temple is a larger-than-life structure that seems to materialize like a mirage out of nowhere as you top a hill on the Capital Beltway. Words can’t do the exterior justice. Built in 1974, it was a landmark that held a magnetic pull on my imagination as I grew up in the DC area. When the LDS Church opened it to outsiders for the first time in close to 50 years, I was finally able to tour the interior last May. That experience triggered a rush of memories of my conflicted young self’s encounter with Mormon theology. With those mixed emotions as backdrop, my heart raced as I read Lighthouse: Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Ronald Huggins’ just-released biography recounts the journey of the unlikely couple who unearthed the truth about Joseph Smith’s history and shared it despite the Mormon Church’s displeasure. The Tanners represent what’s best in the evangelical tradition. Their tale is nothing short of heroic.
I also dusted off the Tanners’ own encouraging personal affirmation of faith, A Look at Christianity, and Latayne Colvett Scott’s mesmerizing Mormon Mirage. From a different quarter, From the Susquehanna to the Tiber is a new autobiographical account of one more former Mormon’s journey out of Deseret, this time into the arms of the Catholic Church. Distinctly masculine, remarkably dispassionate, it packs its own punch. Deo Gratias.
Adian Nichols’ Conciliar Octet: A Concise Commentary on the Eight Key Texts of the Second Vatican Council felt unforced and convincing as an apologia for the good stuff at Vatican II. There was also Dom Gaspar Lefebvre’s Catholic Liturgy: Its Fundamental Principles, a book representing the pre-conciliar Liturgical Movement at its vigorous peak. Another book that seemed both reactionary and right: Msngr. John McCarthy’s Catholic Biblical Scholarship for the Third Millennium.
In Bible study, Exodus was the book at hand. Three helpful commentaries: Burning Bush, Burning Hearts by Brisn Kranick; Exodus Old and New by Michael Morales, and F.B. Meyer’s enduring classic. I of course had to rewatch Dreamwork’s Prince of Egypt and Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments. Orrison’s Written in Stone provided lots of trivia about the latter. Another Hollywood book I liked was Good Stuff, a tribute to Cary Grant by his daughter.
On a lighter note, I got to play Monopoly for Millennials, discover Filthy Cherries, obsess over cars (Ford Bronco: An Illustrated History), get to know a good priest (Jesuit at Large), and relax watching “All Creatures Great and Small,” as well as a Star Wars series I actually enjoyed (“Andor”).
Coming full circle, I discovered the musically-gifted Bonner Family when I watched them perform a drum-driven version of “How Great Thou Art” on the Utah set of the TV series The Chosen. I still can’t get it out of my system. “Then sings my soul…” a peerless soundtrack to the season. Merry Christmas.
Joseph Martin is Associate Professor of Communication and Graphic Design at Montreat College.
I enjoyed Franz Werfel’s The Song of Bernadette. The genesis of this fictionalized account of St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes is a touching example of charity transcending religious boundaries. Werfel was a Jew who fled to France upon Hitler’s annexation of Austria. When Nazi Germany invaded France and began deporting Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Werfel escaped Europe and found sanctuary in America thanks to the kindness of others, including the nuns at Lourdes. Although Werfel never converted to Christianity, he wrote this pro-Catholic novel to express his gratitude to the French sisters.
Verbally abused by her religion teacher for being anything but bright, Bernadette does not understand theological concepts like the Trinity, yet Mary appears to her. The involuntary mystic is ridiculed and persecuted yet persists in her faith. As the novel is set in secularist nineteenth-century France, Lourdes’ mayor fears that rumors of a Marian apparition might make the government hesitant to provide infrastructure funds for such a hub of medieval superstition, yet eventually concludes that perhaps the miraculous waters from the grotto indeed have (scientifically explicable) healing properties and dreams of making Lourdes a prosperous spa town. The twenty-first century is even more hostile to belief than the nineteenth, yet signs of God’s presence abound; thus, The Song of Bernadette is as relevant as ever.
Although I disagree with Mahatma Gandhi’s beliefs on polytheism, reincarnation, or vegetarianism, reading his Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth inspired me as a Christian. The Indian leader’s complete lack of wrath at his and his nation’s persecutors forced me to painfully acknowledge how distant I am from Jesus’ message of loving one’s enemies. At a time when war is claiming the lives of innocent civilians again, Gandhi’s example is proof that injustice indeed can be successfully defeated without violence.
Speaking of present-day wars, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine encouraged me to reread Richard Pipes’ Russia Under the Old Regime. One of the leading historians of Russia, Pipes brilliantly demonstrates the social, geographical, and political factors that have shaped the nation’s authoritarian political culture over the centuries. Recent events show that, sadly, the spirit of Tolstoy is unlikely to influence Russian policymaking anytime soon.
El Libro Negro de la Nueva Izquierda: Ideología de género o subversion cultural (“The Black Book of the New Left: Gender Ideology or Cultural Subversion”) by Argentinean journalists Nicolás Márquez and Agustín Laje is an extremely brave and uncompromising work that needs an English translation ASAP. Well-versed in Marxist social theory, the authors convincingly demonstrate how today’s gender ideologies derive from the same ideological seed as communism.
We see, for instance, how the leaders of the New Left have been advocates for the decriminalization of pedophilia since at least the 1960s. The authors demonstrate impressive familiarity with data from the social and natural sciences (which is easily available, but many writers, including conservative ones, deliberately ignore) demonstrating the immense moral, psychological, and medical destruction wrought by abortion, sodomy, and the mutilation of sex organs.
Finally, Margit Balogh’s Victim of History: Cardinal Mindszenty – A Biography was a fascinating portrait of the heroic Hungarian cardinal whose faithfulness to the Gospels led to his imprisonment by both the fascist Arrow Cross and the communists. Balogh does not shy from Mindszenty’s character flaws (I was shocked by his ethnic and religious chauvinism), but the reader nonetheless feels admiration towards the cardinal. Also, the Vatican’s previous disappointing treatment of Mindszenty in the name of better relations with Hungary’s communist regime is relevant considering its justly criticized recent concessions to the People’s Republic of China at the expense of faithful Chinese Catholics.
Filip Mazurczak is a journalist, translator, and historian.
The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God by Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP (CUA Press, 2022): Easily one of this century’s most important treatments of the doctrine of the Trinity. Fr. White both explores the attributes of God from the mystery of the Trinity as well as show how the Paschal mystery is the most profound revelation of the Trinitarian life of God. There are rich treatments of biblical and patristic texts as well as a defense of how such are preserved and deepened by St. Thomas Aquinas.
On Divine Revelation: The Teaching of the Catholic Faith by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (Emmaus Academic, 2022): This masterwork of the twentieth-century’s towering Thomist, who taught Pope St. John Paul II appears in English for the first time. I’m of the view that much of what Garrigou-Lagrange lays out in this comprehensive treatment still hits the mark and therefore will be a resource for the future.
The Science of Sacred Theology by Fr. Emmanuel Doronzo (Arouca Press, 2022): Written after the Second Vatican Council by one of Garrigou-Lagrange’s students, this treatment of fundamental theology is quite compelling. It’s good that Arouca Press put this classic back into print.
The Two Cities: A History of Christian Politics by Andrew Willard Jones (Emmaus Road, 2022): Following upon the publication of his notable dissertation, Before Church and State, Andrew Jones offers what was originally supposed to be a high school church history textbook. It morphed into much more. While it is a fascinating examination of certain historical touchpoints, this book is a theological argument about the nature and work of the Church. As Conor Dugan concluded his review for CWR, “Jones’s book is history at its best, setting us up to imagine and create a more hopeful and civilized future.”
The Holy Rule: Notes on St. Benedict’s Rule for Monks by Dom Hubert van Zeller (Sheed & Ward, 1958): I’m a big fan of Hubert van Zeller, but I had never come across his commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict until late this year. There’s a lot here to mull over and van Zeller’s treatment makes the Rule of St. Benedict seem fresh and vibrant again.
Aquinas on Scripture: A Primer by John Boyle (Emmaus Academic, 2022): In this brief yet insightful book, John Boyle boils down St. Thomas’ often dense and terse engagement with Scripture to its core principles and aims. His book is an incredibly lucid, accessible, and helpful explanation that will do much to assist the burgeoning interest in St. Thomas’ commentaries on Sacred Scripture.
Dr. James R. A. Merrick is a former Anglican priest and a lecturer at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Holbein: Capturing Character. Ed. Anne T Woolett (2021).
How much poorer would our picture of Henry VIII’s court be without Holbein’s marvelous portraits? This handsome catalog of an exhibition at the Getty Museum analyses the artist’s contributions to the portrait genre.
Paul Koudounaris, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasurers and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs (2022).
Keep Catholicism weird! Surely the weirdest form of Counter-Reformation devotion to the saints was the practice of exhibiting jewel-studded skeletons from the catacombs in fantastic costumes for the edification of the faithful. This book is a handy introduction to the practice, most popular in Germanic lands.
D.A. Brading, Mexican Phoenix Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries (2001).
Brading surveys the Guadalupana’s changing meaning for Mexicans and analyzes the historiography of the apparition with a scholarly rigor quite unlike typical pious accounts.
John Guy, Mary Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart (2004/2018).
Although recently reissued as a movie tie-in, this is a serious and not unsympathetic biography based on original archival research. Pair this with Jenny Wormald’s Mary Queen of Scots: Pride, Passion, and a Kingdom Lost (2001) which evaluates Mary as a ruler. Guy claims Mary didn’t write the Casket Letters that implicate her in her husband’s murder; Wormald says she did.
S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Troublesome Tribe in American History (2011)
Centering on the life of their last great chief, Gwynne demonstrates in grisly detail why the Commanches were called “The Cossacks of the Plains.” The story of Quanah’s kidnapped white mother inspired the novel and film The Searchers.
Candice Millard, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (2006).
This vivid and harrowing account of how the Rio Roosevelt in Brazil got its name leaves the reader expecting poisonous jungle plants to sprout from its pages.
Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings (2021).
Here’s a lively, engaging, and up-to-date synthesis of Norse history and archaeology that nicely complements Tom Shippey’s Laughing Shall I Die: The Lives of Great Vikings (2021).
Richard Rex, The Making of Martin Luther (2017)
Rex focusses on Luther’s formative years, identifying influences and marking trails through the “tangled thickets of his writings” with wit as well as clarity.
Lyndal Roper, Living I Was Your Plague: Martin Luther’s World and Legacy. (2021).
These published lectures serve as a pendant to Roper’s excellent biography of the Reformer, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (2017), tackling unlovely aspects of his character including his bellicose masculinity and bitter anti-Semitism. Beginning with the noble image consciously created in his own day, she ends with such embarrassing quincentennial kitsch as a Luther rubber ducky.
Christopher Zehnder, A Song for Else. Vol I: The Vow (2021).
Fiction rather than history, this poignant novel aspires to do for pre-Reformation Germany what Sigrid Undset did for medieval Norway. Zehnder introduces a bright peasant lad whose hopes of upward mobility are wrecked by an unwise marriage. When will we see the next installment?
Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages. (2021).
By looking at what titles Tolkien actually owned or discussed, Ordway dispels distortions planted by Humphry Carpenter and opens new insights into JRRT’s mind.
The Great Tales Never End: Essays in Memory of Christopher Tolkien. Ed. Richard Ovenden and Catherine McIlwaine (2022).
Although Christopher Tolkien didn’t live to see this beautifully produced and profusely illustrated Festschrift, it’s a fine tribute to his lifetime of labor on his father’s legacy.
Kara Dansky, The Abolition of Sex: How the “Transgender” Agenda Harms Women and Girls. (2022)
James Lindsay, Race Marxism.: The Truth about Critical Race Theory and Praxis. (2022)
Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody. (2022)
By education, Lindsay is a mathematician-physicist and Pluckrose a medievalist. Their relentlessly sane analyses expose the philosophical roots of much contemporary madness. These complementary books are keen weapons for culture warriors.
Sandra Miesel is an American medievalist and writer.
I will limit my entry to one important thinker and a couple of books. 2022 was my year with the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970). I have taken a deep dive into his work as I am gearing up for research on a project into his thought on Christendom and Christian Civilization. It has been a joy so far to study him more in depth and see the importance and relevance of his thought for our times.
That said, I got things started with Dawson’s The Historic Reality of Christian Culture. This short and out-of-print book packs a punch and was a source of much inspiration. In fact, it has propelled my desire to greater study of his understanding of Christian Culture. I happened upon this gem a few years ago while rummaging through one of Carl’s (and mine too) favorite used bookstores in Eugene, Oregon: Window Books. This place is a treasure chest for great books in theology, philosophy, history, and literature; you know, all the important stuff. As for this book, I hope someone republishes this work in a collection of short essays from Dawson and does us all a favor……. Hmmm, maybe I should?
Subtitled “A Way to the Renewal of Human Life”, Dawson provides practical insights into renewing Christian culture, but his analysis of its undoing and how it happened is the starting point for renewal. I thought this worth sharing in his own words, when referring to the decline of Western Christendom, he says,
“The process of secularization arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith” (p. 19).
From there, I read (long overdue) Bradley Birzer’s incredible and illuminating biography of Christopher Dawson Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson (Christendom 2007). Having read several of Dawson’s works before, this book opened the roots of his thought, the influence of St. Augustine’s theology of history on his life and Dawson’s own vision of Christian civilization. I can’t say enough about this fine book, and I highly recommend it.
So far, 2023 looks like another adventurous year wandering through the vestiges of Christendom with Dawson as I am just breaking open the newly published Christopher Dawson: A Cultural Mind in the Age of the Great War by Joseph T. Stuart (CUA Press 2022). Perhaps I will say more about this next year.
Rolando Moreno is the Director of Catechesis and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Portland.
Ines A. Murzaku:
When I saw Carl Olson’s message “It’s that time of the year again!” I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, which dwells on the inward journey through nature, with the eternal as the destination. In chapter Sunday he writes: “read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Wise advice, as how many books one has planned to read and had never had time to get to them at all, because of time spent on not-so-good-books? For Thoreau reading is a noble intellectual exercise which needs to be shared. With this type of sharing in mind, here is my list of the most influential books I read in 2022:
Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition (2008) and The Reception of Vatican II (2017) both volumes edited by Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering, include valued contributions from reputable scholars using as a framework the hermeneutic of reform, renewal in the continuity of the one subject, and not rupturing with the pre-conciliar Church as John XXIII explicitly understood the commitment of the council called by him: “[the council wishes] to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion.”
Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II (2019), authored by Eduardo J. Echeverria, is a solid work of scholarship connecting Pope Francis’ papacy with the reception of Vatican II and how some neo-traditionalists “see Francis as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with Vatican II,” a view not shared by the author.
Papa Francesco e il Dialogo Cristiani-Islamici (2017), by Paolo Branca, is good collection of primary sources in source language of Pope Francis’ intervention on inter-religious dialogue, focusing on Christian-Islamic dialogue.
Personal Vocation: God Calls Everyone by Name (2003), co-authored by Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw, is a valued guide to vocation discernment, a “divine calling and guidance.”
Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (2002), by Robert Greenleaf, Peter Senge, Stephen Covey, and Larry Spears, is a valued source for the application of servant leadership in business, education, churches, etc.
Re-reading Ex Corde Ecclesiae: Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities (1990), by Pope John Paul II, which has always been a source and resource as we think to build new and innovative curricula.
Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity (1988), by Mother Teresa, is a book I have read and continue to keep on my desk. Referring to the constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity has been an eye-opener to understand Mother Teresa’s theology of the Eucharist, service, discernment, love, and joy.
Mother Teresa, CEO: Unexpected Principles for Practical Leadership (2011), by Ruma Bose and Lou Faust, a successful entrepreneur and executive and a leading business expert, respectively, has helped me understand aspects of Mother Teresa I had not previously considered: her innovative and service leadership as a founder and “CEO” of a successful religious order of women.
To Love and Be Loved (2022), by Jim Towey, is a book I am currently reading on St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata. It offers a splendid personal portrait of Mother Teresa as the author knew her. The author was a personal friend and trusted advisor of Mother Teresa.
In conclusion, I enjoyed reading all these books. I have followed the advice of Henry David Thoreau in Walden or Life in the Woods, where he dedicates a chapter to Reading, advising us “to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours” to this artful and noble enterprise.
Ines A. Murzaku is professor of Church history and director of the Catholic Studies Program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
My reading this year has (once again) primarily involved re-readings, preparing for various scholarly projects, introducing favorites to my children, and preparing to teach high school literature classes for Homeschool Connections. Most memorable among these re-readings have been:
- The Anubis Gates and Declare by the incomparable Tim Powers, one of the greatest living novelists. Declare is likely his best, but I confess that the energy, color, and ecstatic weirdness of The Anubis Gates make it especially dear to me. The clown Horrabin is one of the most terrifying creations in literary history.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Reading the Brontes is always a fascinating experience, but re-reading (and teaching) this novel was transformative. The Ignatius Critical Edition helped facilitate a shift in my own opinion of the novel.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This work is one of many which seem to run on a “loop” in our household. Rob Inglis’ narration of the audiobook is one of the familiar sounds from my childhood, and I am thrilled to listen again (and again and again and again), even when my sons beg to hear Chapter 8 (the spiders in Mirkwood) for the six thousandth time.
- Oliver Twist, Bleak House, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I am fanatically devoted to Boz and have been since an early age (after I recovered from my eleven-year-old dislike of Great Expectations). Re-reading with students and especially with my own children brings great joy. In particular, Dickens’ mastery of redemption through violence continues to have a strong influence on me as a reader, as a teacher, and as a writer.
- The Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple novels of Agatha Christie. This, like Tolkien, has powerful nostalgic value for me. The top floor of my grandmother’s house is overloaded with paperback copies of the works of all of the great, Golden-Age mystery novelists. Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Chesterton, Allingham—these were dear, intimate friends to my cousins and to me. After beginning to introduce my eldest two daughters to Christie through Why Didn’t They Ask Evans and the Tommy and Tuppence novels, I have successfully drawn them into a deep love of the Hercule Poirot novels and (my personal favorites) the Miss Marple novels. Now, when they commandeer my evening reading time for lengthy debates over Msgr. Knox’s famous “Decalogue” (Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction), I remind myself that the cause is virtuous and my sacrifice of time meritorious. (Also, incidentally, I am renewed in the conviction that Passenger to Frankfurt is absurd to the point of being rather tedious.)
Two new works also stand out:
- The Presence of God by Fr. Anselm Moynihan, O.P. In addition to providing beautiful, rich insight into God’s transformative presence in the soul open to embracing Him, this succinct and precise little book is of a length that even a mother of five can manage to read.
- Faith of our Fathers by Joseph Pearce. I anticipated this book in last year’s list. It has more than surpassed my already high expectations. My Pearce bookshelves, like my Powers bookshelves, groan with significant and fascinating works. This new book on the history of Catholicism in England truly may be the most important book to date in an illustrious career.
Eleanor Bourg Nicholson is author of A Bloody Habit (Ignatius Press).
Carl E. Olson:
In the process of unpacking hundreds of boxes and arranging books on some 60 or so bookcases, I kept dipping into books I’d not seen for months or, in some cases, several years. A few that stand out are more than a few books by Russell Kirk, including his brilliant Enemies of the Permanent Things, Frank Sheed’s Is It the Same Church?, Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Faith and Certitude, Dorothy Sayer’s Creed or Chaos?, and various works by P.G. Wodehouse, Kenneth Roberts, and Tim Powers.
Early this year, our men’s reading group read Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World. I had read it over twenty years ago; I gained much more from it this time around, perhaps because The End seems a bit more real this time around. I then dug out Guardini’s The Life of Faith and The Faith and Modern Man. It was refreshing to read Guardini’s sharp and relentless insistence that the way forward through modernity and post-modernity is a renewed embrace of divine revelation and an unwavering commitment to dogma–precisely because both are from Christ and lead us deeper into the divine life.
I usually don’t mention Ignatius Press books here, but Abigail Favale’s The Genesis of Gender deserves high praise for bringing clarity, wisdom, and authentic compassion to a complex and emotional topic. I interviewed her for CWR here. And then there is James Hitchcock’s Years of Crisis: Collected Essays, 1970-1983, published in 1985 by Ignatius Press (with Roman Catholic Books), which was not so much like a trip to the past but snapshots of 2022: chaos in the Church, open dissent by Catholics high and low, cultural insanity, anti-Catholicism and anti-reality, and much more. It was a strong reminder that the crisis of today is the crisis of many decades past. Chickens, home, roosting, and all that.
Speaking of crises and controversies, James Lindsay’s Race Marxism: The Truth About Critical Race Theory and Praxis addresses CRT with the sort of verve, detail, and polemical zest expected from the co-author (with Helen Pluckrose) of the excellent Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody. The reader need not agree with all of Lindsay’s stances and assertions to appreciate the importance of his work, which runs contra to, well, everything we might call “mainstream” today (I prefer “brainwashed” and “insane”, but it’s all part and parcel now).
Donald J. Johnson and I became good friends while he lived nearby in 2018-2020 and he was researching and writing Twisted Unto Destruction: How “Bible Alone” Theology Made the World a Worse Place. It is both provocative and convincing, a work of both apologetics and cultural criticism that draws deeply on numerous sources while moving along like a thriller. Challenging for both Protestants and Catholics alike.
Made by God, Made for God: Catholic Morality Explained by Matthew K. Minerd and The Abuse of Conscience: A Century of Catholic Theology by Matthew Levering are excellent works of moral theology. The former is ideal for young adults and basic catechesis, informed by Minerd’s unique background as a Byzantine Catholic who has translated several works of Thomistic philosophy and theology. The latter is often dense but also continually rewarding and often surprising. You will never think of conscience the same again.
Healing Fractures in Contemporary Theology, edited by Peter John McGregor and Tracey Rowland and The New Apologetics: Defending the Faith in a Post-Christian Era are valuable, current collections that have much to offer both the specialist and serious lay person who are looking for serious engagement with current challenges written from solidly orthodox perspectives.
Years ago, as a young Catholic, I read Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Trojan Horse in the City of God and The New Tower of Babel, which helped me make sense of the immediate post-conciliar era. The Charitable Anathema, a collection of essays and addresses, is equally valuable, forming a sort of trilogy that features von Hildebrand’s winning combination of cultural criticism, spiritual insight, and firm directness. Strong meat for an anemic age.
I didn’t read enough poetry this year, but did read The World as We Know It Is Falling Away, a new collection from Jane Greer that is poignant, powerful, haunting, and, at times, rather daunting. She faces mortality and eschatological truth with both feet firmly planted on the ground, often reminding me of Emily Dickinson.
Not everything was heavy reading! Karl Keating asked me to blurb his delightful romp through history, titled 1054 and All That: A Lighthearted History of the Catholic Church. ““It takes a special gift,” I wrote, “to pen a work of ecclesiastical history that is pithy, informative, and truly funny. Karl Keating has that gift. Rarely is the Church’s past rendered with such wry readability!” Finally, Richard Barnett’s The Book of Gin: A Spirited History from Alchemists’ Stills and Colonial Outposts to Gin Palaces, Bathtub Gin, and Artisanal Cocktails provided a wealth of distilled knowledge about the origins, controversies, highs, lows, and everything in-between of my favorite (natural) spirit.
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco (and Postscript to Name of the Rose). This is an incredibly clever, philosophically interesting, and engaging medieval murder mystery which, in the end, proves itself lacking in soul. In the end, nominalism wins and there is no meaning or order, just sound and fury and fragments of books signifying nothing.
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell. The Jesuits ruin outerspace. A gripping and page-turning story with compelling characters. Russell nails the Jesuit spirit on the head. That said, she misses a number of theological questions her story raises and seems not to understand the others. Also, PSA: alien sodomy.
Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry. This book is wise and deeply humane. It is written as a memoir of a rather normal woman from a small town who has become wise through experience. Her love and humanity are evident on every page. A book I have returned to repeatedly this year.
Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse. A balm for my weary soul.
The City Mother, Maya Sinha. Mary Eberstadt rightly described this book as “hypnotic.” I recognized the characters, I was the characters (at least as a younger man), I felt for these characters. Sinha’s seemingly effortless prose drew me into the rhythm of daily life of the main couple and I felt amidst the delights of new motherhood the walls were slowly closing in. The novel is, how to put it, comfortable in its own skin. It is not trying to imitate the 20th c. greats, but is very much its own 21st c. novel about decent, likable millennials and how the invisible world breaks through, and does not break through, their Epicurean lives. A real literary achievement.
Lying Awake, Mark Salzman. This lovely and meditative novel follows the daily life of a Carmelite nun as she experiences mystical visions which are possibly caused by an epilepsy-inducing tumor. Written with admirable simplicity, this novel made me want to pray.
The Shape of My Heart: A Pilgrimage Remembrance, Rich Ray. [My official endorsement for the back cover:] Filled with humor, history, and wisdom, Dr. Ray leads us on a pilgrimage through the rocky terrain of Spain and our own hearts. This memoir shows how grace works through the mundane, one step at a time.
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. I loved this book. Can delight create a space for being human amidst a dehumanizing regime?
Paradiso, Dante. It only took 800 years, but I have finally read all of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Grief Exposed: Giving a Voice to the Unspeakable, by Mike Sollom. It is difficult to know how to describe this book. Powerful. Raw. Transparent. Heart-wrenching. Mystical. Beautiful. Terrible. It made me love my children more and made me want to be a better father to them. It opened up the Scriptures in new ways for me and gave a glimpse into the terrifying mystery of God.
Why We Are Restless, by Benjamin and Jenna Storey. This excellent book covers four French thinkers (Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, and de Tocqueville) to show us the sources of our modern discontent. I found the analysis illuminating and was inspired to write a review.
Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. I read this with the express intention of being consoled and, dag, be careful what you ask for. Lady Philosophy is an unrelenting mistress and she leaves you no place to hide from yourself or your troubles.
Markmaker, by Mary Jessica Woods. A truly excellent debut novel with compelling characters and a coherent world. What happens when a young tattoo artist, bound by an oath to only paint truth in the flesh, is co-opted by the government to tattoo the exile mark on an innocent man? Can he atone for his oathbreaking? Must he descend to the underworld to paint truth there, to raise the living dead, to raise up a new people?
Dr. Jared Ortiz is Professor of Religion at Hope College and author of You Made Us for Yourself: Creation in St Augustine’s Confessions (Fortress Press, 2016)
My year of reading began with Louis Bouyer’s Woman in the Church. I’m always looking for positive, creative, and even playful reflections on womanhood, and Woman in the Church was exactly that. I found Fr. Bouyer’s exegesis and synthesis rich and anything but flatfooted or ham-fisted, and he left his conclusion open-ended in the best way. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but feel free to join me in pestering Ignatius Press for another print run.
If you want a better understanding of profound grief, check out Mike Sollom’s Grief Exposed, a collection of journal entries written after the loss of his adult son, Jim, to cancer. Grief Exposed isn’t a treatise or self-help book, but instead gives voice to the anguish and doubts that come with grief. Mike is a former Protestant pastor; he and his wife are recent Catholic converts. I highly recommend Grief Exposed for (a) those who are grieving and are ready to ask these questions along with Mike, (b) anyone who is accompanying a grieving person, and (c) professional counselors, therapists, and most especially clergy.
The Odyssey has found its way into my current writing project—to my surprise, as I have not read The Odyssey since 1999. (That’s twenty-three years, for those of you keeping score.) I’ve been listening to the Robert Fagels translation read by Ian McKellen, which has been a delightful way to become reacquainted with the tale.
Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander is a book I should have read four years ago when I began work on my novel In Pieces, which, like Master and Commander, is set in the late Georgian period and features a sailor protagonist. I spent hours upon hours…upon hours…researching sea life in the Age of Sail. Turns out all I needed was to read O’Brian. Hindsight is 20/20.
This year, we at Chrism Press published four novels by Catholic authors: Maya Sinha’s The City Mother (domestic noir); Kaye Park Hinckley’s Shooting at Heaven’s Gate (Southern Gothic); Roseanna M. White’s Shadowed Loyalty (historical romantic suspense), and Mary Jessica Woods’ Markmaker (space fantasy). 2022 has been a good year for Catholic fiction.
Rhonda Ortiz is a lay Dominican, award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and founding editor of Chrism Press. Find her online at rhondaortiz.com.
My reading is both vocational and recreational. The former is related to whatever I’m currently writing or teaching, as well as whatever titles we select for the online FORMED Book Club which I record every week with Father Fessio and Vivian Dudro of Ignatius Press. Were I to include this vocational reading, the list would become too unwieldy. I am, therefore, going to concentrate solely on my recreational reading. The following are books I have read in the past year, either at home in the evenings or on planes when I’m travelling, purely for the pleasure of doing so.
This year I have revisited the novels of Robert Hugh Benson and Maurice Baring, re-reading works of theirs for the first time in many years. I’ve re-read Benson’s Lord of the World and By What Authority? and Baring’s C. and Robert Peckham. Of Baring’s novels, the former was better than I remembered it being (perhaps I got more from it as a more mature reader), whereas the latter was not as good as I recalled.
I’ve also read some classic novels for the first time, thereby rectifying longstanding sins of omission. These include Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vinland by George Mackay Brown. Of these, Vinland is the least known and yet is the one that I enjoyed most.
I try to keep abreast of what’s worth reading in terms of contemporary Catholic fiction and, with this in mind, I’ve read This Thing of Darkness by K.V. Turley and Fiorella de Maria and Barely a Crime by Robert Ovies, both of which I highly recommend. I’ve also re-read Michael D. O’Brien’s contemporary Catholic classic, Father Elijah, which holds its own beside Benson’s similarly themed Lord of the World.
My wife and I are also admirers of the fiction of Tim Powers, whose novel On Stranger Tides was the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I’ve read this, as well as Declare and Last Call. Somehow, Tim Powers manages simultaneously to swim in the toxic mainstream and remain a faithful Catholic. His books have made the New York Times Bestseller List, though we won’t hold that against him, as well as being the inspiration for a blockbuster series of swashbuckling movies.
The non-fiction that I have read recreationally this year is literary criticism. I’ve enjoyed Richard Crashaw and the Spanish Golden Age by R.V. Young, which was as expected considering that Crashaw is one of my favourite poets and R.V. Young one of my favourite critics. I’ve also re-read The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Encounter with Dante by Barbara Reynolds.
Last but indubitably not least is poetry. I’ve returned to David Jones’ Anathemata, which must rank as one of the most difficult and obscure poems ever written. It’s worth the effort for the discovery of the “veins of pure gold imbedded in masses of impracticable quartz”, to employ a phrase that Coventry Patmore used of his fellow poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I find that reading Jones’ poetry out loud adds to the enjoyment because his phrasing and word choices are so sensually sonorous.
And finally there are the anthologies of poetry from which I’ve been reading for the “Poem of the Week” podcast on my personal website (jpearce.co). In the past year, I have read selections from One Hundred and One Famous Poems (1924), English Religious Verse: An Anthology (1937) and The Golden Treasury of Longer Poems (1950).
S. Kirk Pierzchala:
Works of Mercy by Sally Thomas (Wiseblood Books). This short, bittersweet novel explores the spiritual complexities lurking below even the most mundane human relationships. Kirsty Sain is a respectable but emotionally distant widow who goes through the motions of life as she regularly cleans the rectory and attends services at her small-town Catholic church in North Carolina.
Her semi-reclusive existence is up-ended when she becomes entangled with the Malkins, a boisterous and charmingly dysfunctional family. When tragedy strikes, Kristy is the unlikely and unwilling tool thrust forward to share mercy and forgiveness from resources she wasn’t sure she possessed.
To learn more about Sally Thomas’ influences and artistic philosophy, I recently interviewed her. You can read that here.
Somewhither by John C. Wright (Wisecraft). Somewhither is a space-opera/fantasy, densely packed with action, imagination and engaging characters.
While investigating mysterious doings in the Oregon town of Tillamook, homeschooled teen Ilya Muormets falls through a pesky portal, finding himself imprisoned in a vast Dark Tower, large as several cities, where he is subjected to a series of unimaginable, diabolical tortures. During his captivity, Ilya learns to control and exploit his powers of regeneration, and is eventually rescued by a resistance network plotting to thwart an invasion of Earth by an ancient and indescribable evil.
This story has tons of John C. Wright’s signature ingredients: incredibly skilled world building and the effortless evocation of hellish horror side by side with glimpses of heavenly beauty. The sparkling points of humor were a welcome counterpoint to the pervading sense of dread and obscene evil that Ilya and his allies must endure while battling their way through the Dark Tower towards freedom.
Be warned this story does end on quite the cliffhanger, so be prepared to move on to the second book, Nowhither, expected to be available by the end of this year.
A Winter’s Promise (The Mirror Visitor, Book one) by Christelle Dabos (Europa Editions). This is a detailed and captivating adventure, in which the heroine,
Ophelia, is a retiring, bookish sort. She is also gifted with the ability to travel through mirrors and read any object’s past by touch. She lives in a culture that has developed from the remnants of a previous world that was broken up under unknown circumstances. Other clans in her world have equally impressive, if less benign, gifts, and they seek to exploit her in their complex political games. Through an arranged betrothal to Thorn, a man she has never met, she is thrown against her will into the ruthless cloak-and-dagger games played by decadent and vicious aristocrats vying for power in this decrepit, nightmarish society. To survive, Ophelia draws on hidden reserves of intelligence, resourcefulness and courage. Her ordeal is made more challenging by her mixed feelings for her mysterious fiancé, a distant, tormented figure whom she wants to trust but can’t.
This is an enchanting steampunk/magical/dreamlike adventure with an intriguing romantic angle. I found the politics complex enough to be fun and not overwhelming, as there is an unmistakable satirical element here. It’s a very long book, and the first of a quartet, but I enjoyed it immensely and am eager to learn how Ophelia will fare as her adventure continues.
S .Kirk Pierzchala is a lay Dominican and novelist living in the Pacific Northwest.
Robert R. Reilly:
Collected Works of P. G. Wodehouse (Overlook Press):
I have read all of P. G. Wodehouse several times, and I am always rereading him – usually more than one book at a time – more necessary now than ever to maintain one’s sanity. As Evelyn Waugh predicted, “Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.” Thank heavens Wodehouse wrote nearly 100 novels and collections of short stories. Due to the condition of my memory, they always maintain an element of freshness and surprise. Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Mr. Mulliner, Lord Emsworth, his prize pig the Empress of Blandings, Psmith and Gussie Fink-Nottle are my constant companions.
An autobiographical note: my great uncle, playwright William Anthony McGuire, worked with Wodehouse on Broadway. My uncle wrote the scripts and Wodehouse wrote the lyrics to some hit musicals produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, including The Three Musketeers and Rosalie. As a starving actor in NYC, I was often fed by my great aunt, who really had some stories to tell. I forever regret that I didn’t ask her to arrange for me to go out to Long Island to meet Wodehouse.
Here are some samples of his genius. I have been rereading, probably for the fifth time, Uncle Dynamite, a lesser-known but nonetheless equally delectable feast of sublime silliness in the Wodehouse oeuvre. In its opening pages, this dialogue takes place:
“How is Lady Ickenham?”
“Fine… she is taking a trip to the West Indies.”
“No, she went of her own free will.”
One can only feel joy at such a sentence as this from Carry on, Jeeves: “He has an enormous bald head, all the hair which ought to be on it seeming to have run into his eyebrows …”
In “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest,” Wodehouse introduces twenty-five-year-old Motty by saying: “He had the same yellow hair as his mother, but he wore it plastered down and parted in the middle. His eyes bulged, too, but they weren’t bright. They were a dull grey with pink rims. His chin gave up the struggle about half-way down, and he didn’t appear to have any eyelashes.” In four sentences, you have the man standing before you.
Three selections from Bill the Conqueror, which I’m currently rereading:
“The arrival of his Cousin Evelyn deepened Bill’s gloom. Even at the best of times she was hard to bear. A stout and voluminous woman in the early forties with eyes like blue poached eggs, she had never had the sense to discard the baby-talk which had so entertained the young men in her debutante days.”
“A warm breeze blew languidly from the west and the sun shone royally on a grateful world; so that even Wimbledon Common, though still retaining something of that brooding air which never completely leaves large spaces of public ground on which the proletariat may at any moment scatter paper bags, achieved quite a cheerful aspect…”
“It was the sort of garden from which snails, wandering in with a carefree nonchalance, withdrew abashed, blushing and walking backwards, realizing that they were on holy ground.”
In saving an upset Bertie Wooster from a disastrous engagement to the brainy Florence Craye, Jeeves explained why in Carry On, Jeeves: “… it was her intention to start you almost immediately upon Nietzsche. You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”
From Full Moon: “Tipton removed his gaze from the cow. As a matter of fact, he had seen about as much of it as he wanted to see. A fine animal, but, as is so often the case with cows, not much happening.”
From Piccadilly Jim: “Men with new religions drank tea with women with new hats. Apostles of free love expounded their doctrines to persons who had been practicing them for years without realizing it.”
“Her face was not only shrewd and determined, it was menacing. She had thick eyebrows, from beneath which small glittering eyes look out like dangerous beasts in the undergrowth. And the impressive effect of these was accentuated by the fact, that while the left eye looked straight out at its object the right eye had a sort of roving commission and was now, while its colleague fixed Mrs. Pett with a gimlet stare, examining the ceiling.”
From The Luck of the Bodkins: “Mr. Llewellyn took the bulky envelope from her and opened it. As he perused its contents by the light of the library window, his lower jaw drifted slowly from its moorings, so that by the time he had finished his second chin had become wedged into the one beneath it.”
“Mr. Llewellyn’s physique was such as to make it impossible for him, whatever the provocation, to turn like a flash, but he turned as much like a flash as was in the power of a man whose waistline had disappeared in the year 1912.”
There are also these delectable lines from the autobiographical Over Seventy, in which Wodehouse speaks of his butler: “I was telling him what hell it was to get stuck half-way through a novel, and he was telling me of former employers of his and how the thing that sours butlers is having to stand behind their employer’s chair at dinner night after weary night and listen to the funny noise he makes when drinking soup. You serve the soup and stand back and clench your hands. ‘Now comes the funny noise,’ you say to yourself. Night after night after night. This explains what in my youth had always puzzled me, the universal gloom of butlers.”
Of his experiences in World War II, Wodehouse wrote: “Young men, starting out in life, have often asked me ‘How can I become an Internee?’ Well, there are several methods. My own was to buy a villa in Le Touquet on the coast of France and stay there until the Germans came along. This is probably the best and simplest system. You buy the villa and the Germans do the rest.”
Not surprisingly, Wodehouse excelled at repartee. Told that Francis Bacon had written Shakespeare’s plays, he replied, “awfully decent of him.” My favorite Wodehouse quote was a consequence of a woman telling him that she preferred his work to Shakespeare’s. Wodehouse responded: “Shakespeare’s stuff is different from mine, which is not to say it is necessarily inferior.”
I close with a salute from a German friend to whom I introduced Wodehouse’s works with the result that he became addicted: “Wodehouse is the soufflé of the English language, a lightly whipped concoction of handcrafted perfection. P. G. Wodehouse is sunshine manifest in words; he shines directly on your soul and lifts it up. He is the Johan Strauss II of storytelling. He can’t be touched. He wrote only bangers.”
Robert R. Reilly was the director of the Voice of America and served in the White House as a Special Assistant to the President (1983-1985) and is the author of books on Islam, classical music, and the American Founding.
Victim of History: Cardinal Mindzenty by Margit Balogh (Catholic University of America Press, 2021). This book is a riveting read. It takes one back to the days when cardinals were regal lions who went to war against the forces of evil and refused to take a step back. Mindzenty, whom the Communists accused of running a black market in underwear, among other unjust allegations, declared that he would not stop fighting the Communists until the “lid of the coffin closes over me”. He also decreed that his body was never to be laid to rest in Hungarian soil until every last Soviet soldier had been run out of Hungary.
Sue Ryder: A Life Lived for Others (Gracewing, 2022) by Joanna Bogle. This is another inspirational biography – this time the subject is a woman with leonine courage who did her best to assist Russian and Polish victims of the totalitarian twins of the twentieth century.
The Abuse of Conscience: A Century of Catholic Moral Theology by Matthew Levering (Eerdmans, 2021). This book is hugely important for anyone interested in moral theology.
Sigrid Undset: Reader of Hearts by Aidan Nichols (Ignatius, 2022). This is another gem from Fr Aidan whose books are always a literary feast, in addition to their theological value. Undset, for those who have not yet discovered her, was a Norwegian-Danish Catholic novelist of the early part of the 20th century.
The Primacy of God: The Virtue of Religion in Catholic Theology by R. Jared Stout (Emmaus Academic, 2022). This is a synthetic masterpiece drawing together biblical wisdom with the theological insights of Aquinas and Balthasar and Christopher Dawson’s meta-history.
The Eschatological Person: Alexander Schmemann and Joseph Ratzinger in Dialogueby Andrew T. J. Kaethler (Veritas, 2022). This work explores the intellectual affinities of two of the master theologians of our era – Schmemann representing the East and Ratzinger representing the West.
Postscripta: The Voice of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Current Challenges for Theology and the Church edited by Bogdan Ferdek and Julian Nastałek (Pontifical Faculty of Wracław, 2022). This work, from the stable of Ratzinger scholars based in Wracław, examines the statements of Pope Benedict made during his “Emeritus period”.
Mary, Daughter Zion: An Introduction to the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger by Martin Onuoha, Peter Lang, 2022. This is an excellent scholarly account of the Mariology of Ratzinger.
Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper (Profile Books, 2022). A good Christmas holiday read for those interested in Tory student politics in Oxford in the 1980s. This is not an academic book but something in the genre of light social history.
People of Colour and the Royals by Lady Colin Campbell (Dynasty Press, 2019). This is a book for all those whose response to the Hollywood narratives of Megan and Harry is one large yawn.
Tracey Rowland holds the St. John Paul II Chair of Theology at the University of Notre Dame (Australia) and is the author of several books on Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, culture, and theology.
In our family, books are everywhere—literally—on shelves, in stacks on the floor, on nightstands, on windowsills, on pianos. Books are constantly being read, discussed and studied. But in this busy year my own time to read was limited to a few minutes before bed. The books on this list had the ability to keep me awake– for that reason alone, they should be included. Alas, there’s no heavy intellectual fare here. Nonetheless, each of the books on this list touched me deeply, on an intellectual or spiritual level.
My husband gave me Andrew Kaufman’s The Gambler Wife for Christmas last year. I found myself engrossed by the story of Anna Dostoevsky, the woman who loved, inspired, and supported Feodor Dostoevsky through a great deal of tragedy and hardship, and whose pragmatism and business sense were largely responsible for Dostoevsky’s success. This book provided a thought provoking look at cultural, intellectual and spiritual movements in Russia in the late 1800’s, particularly feminism— movements that prepared the soil for the Bolshevik revolution.
My spring reading was a book my mother loved, Baroness Elisabeth von Guttenberg’s Holding the Stirrup. I loved it as a teen but it had been many years since I read it, so I opened it to see if it could still charm me, and indeed it did. Elizabeth was the cousin of Claus Von Stauffenberg, the German army officer who attempted to assassinate Hitler. She married Baron Enoch von Guttenberg, a German army officer who worked tirelessly to defeat “the Evil” that held his country in its grip. This is the story of the Catholic nobility who resisted the Third Reich, many of them giving their lives in the process. It is a fascinating look at the rise of Nazism and the rise of Communism.
My summer reading was another Catholic classic, Robert Hugh Benson’s By What Authority. Again, I had read Robert Hugh Benson as a child, and decided to revisit him to see if I still loved his books. Initially, I found the old fashioned style of the novel to be off-putting. At a certain point, however, the book captured my imagination and I couldn’t put it down. At almost 600 pages, By What Authority is a saga— again, of good, even saintly, people whose country is in the grip of evil. Benson’s heroes are not all Catholics. The book is a realistic and compassionate look at how ordinary people in England were impacted by Henry VIII’s break with Rome, by Puritanism, and by the persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth. It is also a beautiful story of conversion and martyrdom, as Benson’s deep piety shines through.
The last book on my list, Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, is a book I purchased to pass on to my children. What shines through this extremely readable biography of John Paul II is the great pope’s deep and lifelong love for the Blessed Sacrament. An easy read and a highly inspirational one.
Monica Seeley writes from Ventura, California.
My three best books in 2022 were Blaise Pascal’s Pensees, The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, and Eight Tales From the Major Phase by Henry James.
T. S. Eliot said of Pascal, “I know of no religious writer more pertinent to our times.” The “times” Eliot meant were 70 years ago, but Pascal’s pertinence hasn’t diminished since then. Although only an outline and notes for a longer volume that Pascal didn’t live to write, the Pensees is a classic in its own right—a book whose reflections on the flawed splendor of the human condition are as timely now as they were in the 17th century and seem likely to remain that way.
As for The Diary of a Country Priest, this surely is one of the most powerful works of religious fiction ever written. Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment are in the same league but hardly anything else, although it’s possible Flannery O’Connor would have made it if she had lived longer. Partly a psycho-spiritual character study, partly a commentary on the spiritual crisis of the West, Bernanos’s Diary is one of the small number of significant works of fiction written from a wholly Catholic perspective.
There are many collections of Henry James’s short stories, and Eight Tales From the Major Phase is simply the one that happened to come my way this year. As you might expect, it includes such gems as “In the Cage,” “The Altar of the Dead,” and “The Jolly Corner.” Among other things, the stories are reminders that James’s subject matter extends beyond the interactions of rich Americans and crafty Europeans and now and now and then reaches even the outskirts of religion.
Russell Shaw is the author of more than 20 books.
Several books worth recommending graced my bedside table this past year. Here is a list by category.
Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society (Emmaus Road) by Fr Gerald E. Murray will serve as a welcome balm for anyone keen on understanding the current turmoil in which Holy Mother Church finds herself, a series of superb interviews with the crack Vatican reporter Diane Montagna and our most incisive, judicious, encouraging canonist.
In These Times: Living in Britain Through the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815 (2014) is a deeply researched, brilliantly written history of every aspect of Regency England by the enviably prolific Jenny Uglow who shows how England’s obsession with Bony (as Bonaparte was known) defined the English for decades. Smartly produced and copiously illustrated, this is the book to read whenever one finds time to revisit the Hornblower novels of C.S. Forester, for if Forester gives readers the life at sea during the Napoleonic Wars Uglow gives us the homefront in all of its teeming creative changeableness. Uglow’s book is also a good complement to That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: The History of a Love-Hate Relationship (2008) by Robert and Isabelle Tombs. Robert Tombs, many readers will know, also did a marvelous job with The English and their History (2016), which remains one of the best histiographical studies of English history.
The Early Papacy to the Synod of Chalcedon in 451 (1920) by Adrian Fortescue is the book to read if one has the stomach to chart just how much the Church has gone astray in recent years. “How would God prevent a pope from declaring heresy ex cathedra,” Fortescue asks. His answer will intrigue anyone troubled by the crises so well disentangled by Fr Murray: “That we must leave to God,” Fortescue writes. “His Providence is almighty; if he intends a thing not to occur, it will not occur.”
Art and the Sacred Journey in Britain 1780-1850 by Kathryn R. Barush. Elegantly written and full of good out-of-the-way scholarship, Prof. Barush’s book will reward all readers interested in how faith and aesthetics joined forces in British Romanticism. Her pages on George Richmond – the painter and draughtsman who drew such memorable portraits of Newman and Keble – are particularly fascinating, as are her musings on Blake and Pugin. Wokery may be ruining the work being done in many disciplines but art history, by and large, still manage to resist the infection.
Lives of the Lord Chancellors 1885-1940 (1964) by R.F.V. Heuston is full of brilliant pen portraits, including ones on Churchill’s boon companion Lord Birkenhead and Somerset Maugham’s brother Lord Maugham. Here is a store house of biography which anyone keen on law or high politics or both will find not only instructive but delightful.
Saint Benedict in his Community (Gracewing) by Richard Newman is a gracefully learned study of the founder of the Benedictines and his Rule, which demonstrates the great providential good that can come of time of turbulence and division.
J.K. Huysmans’ The Crowds of Lourdes (1906) is a must for anyone interested in understanding the depth of the French novelist’s conversion. Full of wit and psychological acuity, the book is at once a piece of first-rate reporting and a witty, moving meditatio on Christian affliction and hope.
Lovers of the poetry of Walter de la Mare will enjoy Reading Walter de la Mare: Poems Selected and Annotated (Faber) by William Wooten, whose readings of this still neglected poet are luminous.
Nina Balatka (1867) by Anthony Trollope is a novel of great lyrical power, set in Prague, about a love-crossed romance between a Catholic young lady and her Jewish beau. A surprising departure for Trollope but an unforgettable gem all the same.
Anyone fond of Kipling should get hold of Kipling: Stories and Poems edited by Daniel Karlin (Oxford), a critical edition of admirable erudition and exceptional perspicacity. Since Kipling was steeped in Scripture, the notes here are an invaluable guide to how the masterly poet drew on Christian sources for his prophetic, brilliantly traditional verse.
Edward Short is the author of several acclaimed books on St. John Henry Cardinal Newman. Most recently, he chose and introduced The Saint Mary’s Book of Christian Verse and What the Bells Sang: Essays and Reviews, both published by Gracewing.
This past year was all about atheism and the death of God for me. It was also about the mystery of kenosis: only a God who dies is worth both living and dying for. These themes formed the basis of a senior elective I taught this past Fall that ended up leaning heavily on Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s analyses and theological responses to the epochal movements in thought and culture that have brought us to the present moment.
De Lubac’s classic Drama of Atheistic Humanism (Ignatius) formed the basis of a foray into our cultural “masters of suspicion,” i.e. Feuerbach, Comte, Marx, and Nietzsche and others. Balthasar supplied the backbone of substantial intellectual and theological engagement with the primary currents of the Hegels, Heideggers, and well, every other thinker of note. Some real gems in regard to the pathos of finding meaning after the rejection of Christ are to be found in his Theo-Drama (particularly volume IV), specifically in his reflections therein on time, death, freedom, and power as fundamental riddles of existence which, this side of infinity, always end in some titanic or promethean reduction that only intensifies the futility of finite freedom.
Balthasar’s classic Love Alone is Credible (yes, this is my second year in a row recommending it) proved to be an indispensable, if challenging text to communicate his strong thesis that short of the inbreaking of the Word made Flesh (the “third way of love”) no aspiration or strategy of finite freedom, whether “cosmological” or “anthropological,” can hope to ever bridge the gap that separates it from the glory of the infinite freedom of the God who gives himself and makes himself known only as love in the event of the Son.
A deep dive into the mystery of the kenosis of the incarnate Son as the only effective answer to the mystery of finitude and a world torn apart by evil and suffering, and then consideration of just how far into God this kenosis extends took us to parts of his Theo-Logic (primarily volume II). Further to this theme, spending some serious time with Balthasar’s Mysterium Paschale was also rewarding. One of my favorite quotes here, to aid with wrestling with the implications of the mystery of a God who can pour himself out as the Word made Flesh without loss of his divinity, is the following:
…absolute Love contains in advance, eternally, all the modalities of love, of compassion, and even of a ‘separation’ motivated by love and founded on the infinite distinction between the hypostases — modalities which may manifest themselves in the course of a history of salvation involving sinful humankind. God, then, has no need to ‘change’ when he makes a reality of the wonders of his charity, wonders which include the Incarnation and, more particularly, the Passion of Christ, and, before him, the dramatic history of God with Israel and, no doubt, with humanity as a whole. All the contingent ‘abasements’ of God in the economy of salvation are forever included and outstripped in the eternal event of Love. (ix)
Dr. Conor Sweeney is associate professor of theology at Christendom College.
As this year was the centenary of James Joyce’s Ulysses, I finally decided to read this modernist masterpiece from cover to cover. I had tried twice before, the last time some twenty-five years ago, but had dropped out after the first few chapters each time, the first paragraph of ‘Proteus’ leaving me utterly confused. This time around I made it through with the help of three books that held my hand, so to speak: The Cambridge Centenary Ulysses which contains both the text, a helpful apparatus, and fine explanatory essays about each chapter; Patrick Hastings’ witty and learned The Guide to James Joyce’s Ulysses; and Edna O’Brien’s dazzling James Joyce: A Life, a beautifully written biography in which O’Brien, herself a remarkable writer, gives an accessible biography that intentionally embodies Joycean wordplay. A biography written with the style and panache of the subject. I came away from these books thinking that Joyce was a repellent, twisted human being but an amazing writer. I cannot say I enjoyed Ulysses as I enjoy reading Dickens or Waugh but it is a stunning literary work to which I shall have to return. I now understand a little of what all the fuss was about.
It was also a good year for books on the Jena set, those German Romantics who gathered in the city in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Peter Neumann’s Jena 1800: The Republic of Free Spirits is a brief but entertaining account of Schelling, the Schlegels, Schiller, and company in the year 1800, as the group is slowly starting to fall apart into factions and rivalries. Andrea Wulf’s Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self offers an account of the same group over a longer period of time in a fast-paced narrative history that also offers a fine introduction to German Idealism. German Idealism might not be promising material for an entertaining read but Wulf makes it so. At bottom, this talented, influential group were as petty and envious of each other as the rest of us mere mortals often are.
My book of the year is Abigail Favale’s excellent The Genesis of Gender. Given the significance of transgenderism in our society, and given the Biden administrations apparently unconditional commitment to enabling the kind of medical child abuse and destruction of parental rights that the trans lobby is demanding, it is important that all Christians – not just those with formal positions in pastoral leadership – understand what is at stake. Dr Favale, trained in gender theory at the highest level, has produced a book that lays the issues out with precision and, in the process, offers the clearest explanation of the claims and assumptions of gender theory that I have ever read. And, unlike the gender theorists themselves, she does so in elegant and pellucid prose. This is a text that deserves the widest readership, putting us all in Dr Favale’s debt.
Carl Trueman teaches humanities at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and is the author of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.
This year’s travels through books old and new have brought me to a more well-rounded, albeit not any clearer, understanding of the culture in which we find ourselves today. The best (of the best) books rather let me ponder what is wrong with the cult of modernity and what we might do to push against the mainstream.
Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy gives a serious, balanced look at the way Christians tend to worship and how they ought to worship. The late Roger Scruton’s Beauty: A Very Short Introduction addresses beauty’s purpose of leading the beholder into disinterested contemplation of the Beautiful – “disinterested” in the sense that the beholder has no selfish intentions in approaching the Beautiful. Scruton ridicules the “Disneyfication of art,” what he views as the mass production of cheap, phony substitutes for genuine creative works. These may be represented by synthesizers in the music industry or by cutesie lawn decorations that are just caricatures of real sculptures. Most interestingly, Scruton likens pornography to slavery and frames an argument for why porn is at odds with any real beauty.
I had the opportunity to read a few relatively academic works this year – and ones recently published too. When considering a book “good,” or considering it for a “best reads” compilation, I ask a) whether the story or content is itself interesting and b) whether the writing, the way in which the content is delivered, is eloquent and precise. Riley Black’s The Last Days of the Dinosaurs is certainly well-written and, if you’re open to evolutionary musing, poses some interesting scenarios to imagine the next time you have dinos running through your head. But, somehow, this book about extinction had its climax interwoven with the author’s liberating transgender experience. This seems to be more propaganda than paleontology. Yet, in a world sensationalized with scientism, it’s refreshing to find Black write: “Science is a way of knowing, but hardly the only way.” Perhaps there’s something outside science that can benefit us.
The sexualization of research seemed unnecessary, but I was bound to encounter it again. Dr. Stephen Orgel’s Wit’s Treasury – a book detailing the evolving standards of what constitutes a literary classic – wasted much breath in disclosing the sexual tendencies and heresies of Renaissance writers and translators. Perhaps the science journalists and academics must turn their texts racy for the sake of garnering some interest, but it fails to improve the meaty content: any actual research. In fact, it takes the reader’s attention away from that main objective. Still, Orgel has a point when he bemoans the modern world’s dependence on the sciences and respective dislike of ethics, philosophy, and the imagination.
Turning back to faith-filled works, Ego Eimi: It Is I by Fr. Armand de Malleray offers stunning reflections (metaphors) on the Holy Eucharist. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in typology and the living beauty of our Catholic faith. I discovered a small volume, Why I Know There Is a God by Fulton Oursler, the author of The Greatest Story Ever Told, and found it chock-full of touching stories and advice still relevant to us 21st century pilgrims. For fiction, I could do no better than This Thing of Darkness (by K.V. Turley and Fiorella de Maria), a stirring mystery with hellfire, pop culture, and an uncanny shiver of realism; and Tolkien’s Silmarillion, a dense and unconventional novel filled with much of the same beauty found in the pages of LOTR. The latter pick, of course, was in anticipation of Amazon’s Rings of Power.
John Tuttle has a BA in journalism & mass communications and theology from Benedictine College.
Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Capuchin:
By chance I came across a book I thoroughly enjoyed – Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. Although it was first published in 1963, yet the story he tells remains fascinating. In the late 1940s, Mowat, working for the Canadian government, spent two summers and a winter in far northwest Manitoba to study wolves. The primary purpose was to find out how numerous they were and to suggest ways to exterminate them. Being “ravenous,” it was claimed that they were not only dangerous to human beings, but that they were also decimating the caribou herds. During the course of his observations, Mowat discovers that neither claim was true. The wolves were not exceptionally dangerous to human beings, and it was hunters, particularly “sportsmen,” who were responsible for the caribou decline. What makes this book fun to read is that Mowat tells of his escapades with the wolves, the Canadian government, and the Inuit who befriended him in such a humorous manner. While the book has been criticized as to its scientific validity, I found myself ever-growing in sympathy for the beleaguered wolves – but then I am a Franciscan!
Well, if you want to see the papacy maybe at its worst you will probably not find a better book than Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias and Their Enemies, 1431-1519. Of course, Pope Alexander VI is at the center of this lascivious tale, but then there are also his children and his multiple mistresses who also figure prominently as well. While licentiousness figures throughout the story, even incestuous lust, yet there is also shameless greed, murderous hatred, and cruel revenge. The desire for power, with its shameless display wealth, goes unabated. Wars are incessantly waged and enemies are shown no mercy. Alexander’s son, Cesare, may be even more of a villain than his father. Alexander’s daughter, Lucrezia, is not immune from the vices of her father and brother, but, in the end, she is the only member of her family who appears to have had a true conversion. Towards the end of her life, she lived in a convent of nuns – striving to live a holy and humble life – though Alexander did receive the last rites, including confession on his death bed. Whether he would have truly wanted to live his life differently than he did is another question. This book is not a pleasant biography to read, but it does provide a window into the Borgias and the time in which they lived. The one saving virtue is that Alexander, in the midst of his sin, never attempted to change the Church’s magisterial teaching on faith and morals – a true work of the Holy Spirit, a work that Spirit must continue to do in our own troubled time.
Having delved into the bad and the ugly, I next went to the good – Sigrid Grabner’s In the Eye of the Storm: A Biography of Gregory the Great. In reading this life, one comes to see why Gregory is truly great. Throughout his life, from childhood to his death, he was an ardent Catholic – his mother was a great influence upon him. Coming from a leading Roman family, Gregory possessed a great concern for Rome at a time when the eternal city was in the throes of death. His care for Rome continued during his papacy – the physical renovation of Rome, the assurance of a just legal system, and a care for the poor and the sick. It was the people of Rome who elected him as pope! Moreover, the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople was of no help to Gregory. Rather, ignoring Gregory’s plea for help when the Lombards were at Rome’s gates, he turned a blind eye. In the midst of all his Roman and earthly concerns, Gregory was the great evangelist to the people of Rome, as well as sending missionaries far afield, and, as is well known, to England. He wrote homilies on Ezekiel and the Gospels and his treatise on Pastoral Care. The irony is that what Gregory most desired during his entire life was that of being a simple cloistered monk. God had greater plans for Gregory, and, in being obedient to God, Gregory became great. This book is well worth a read – it lifts up the soul and inspires the heart.
Since my college days, I have been fascinated by the Habsburgs. They epitomized Catholic royalty. Andrew Wheatcroft’s The Habsburg’s: Embodying Empire, is an excellent book that focuses on how the Habsburg’s saw themselves and so portrayed themselves. Both the Spanish and the Austrian Habsburgs were, on the whole, imbued with the Catholic faith, and they saw themselves as the Catholic soul within their empires – enlivening the faith among their people. Of course, this is most clearly seen in Emperor Blessed Karl (1887-1922). The Habsburgs tended to have very large families, and so their bloodline extends widely to this day. I would be proud to have a smidgen of that blood.
St. Bede the Venerable (d. 735) is one of my favorite Saints. It is extraordinary that, living in remote northern England, he became such a great theologian and historian. John Bequette’s Bede the Theologian: History, Rhetoric and Spirituality, gives a good account of Bede’s life and work. This may not be the best biography of Bede, but it gives one a taste for Bede and his accomplishments.
Today most people who visit the Vatican want to see the pope. However, that was not always the case. From the earliest days of Christianity, people made a pilgrimage to Rome to venerate the tomb of St. Peter and seek his intercession – some still do. Of course, the question arose over the centuries: Is Peter actually buried under the High Altar in St. Peter’s? Are his bones actually there? In The Bones of Saint Peter: The First Full Account of the Discovery of the Apostle’s Tomb, John Evangelist Walsh tells of the excavations under St. Peter’s in the hope of finding Peter’s bones. Walsh gives a fascinating and complete account of the archeological and scientific search for Peter’s bones – sometimes too complete. The bones were found! If one reads the book, one will enter St. Peter’s Basilica with a new sense of awe and reverence. Moreover, one will pray at Peter’s tomb with great expectation that he is indeed hearing one’s prayers and so will answer them – one is merely one of millions who have done so over the centuries.
I have been writing an essay on the Greek Orthodox theologian and bishop St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359). In doing so I have read two of his major works, The Triads and The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. In these volumes, Gregory makes a distinction, one that Western theology does not make, between God’s essence and his divine energies. God, in his essence, always remains transcendently unrelatable and unknowable. He relates to humankind only through his energies, and so only God’s energies are known but not his essence. Throughout his entire discussion concerning this distinction, in both works, Palamas never clearly conceives and articulates what the difference is, which he himself admits. Thus, consternation ensues. The reason that he is unable to identify the distinction unambiguously resides in the fact that it does not exist. It is philosophically and theologically an utterly erroneous distinction. God does not possess energies that are distinct and different from the manner in which he actually exists. Gregory may be a holy Saint, but he definitely was a bad theologian.
Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap. is a noted American theologian and the author of several books.
2022 was not a banner year for reading for me. Perhaps if the deadline for this piece were a week later and I would have, by time, finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger and Stella Maris, it would have been, but at this point, we’ll have to wait until 2023 to see how that pans out.
As it is, I’ll use this space to highlight an unusual mid-century novel called The Feast. Written by Margaret Kennedy, originally published in 1949 and recently reissued by Faber, the novel begins, as does the recently concluded HBO series The White Lotus, with deaths at a seaside hotel. As with The White Lotus, the identities of the deceased won’t be revealed until the end, as the narrative picks up a week before the events at hand. Unlike The White Lotus, The Feast offers meaty, surprising food for thought and spiritual resonance.
We begin the story with one Anglican clergyman visiting another. The host can’t socialize as much as he’d like because he has a challenging funeral-type sermon to compose: a few weeks before, a cliffside had tumbled down, burying an inn located at the base of the cliff and all those who happened to be inside. There were survivors – not in the inn, but who were outside and away at the time – and they had their own stories to tell.
And so we begin – moving to a week before the tragedy, as the guests gather in the ramshackle inn.
This is postwar Britain, so the eccentricities and personal foibles and tragedies that gather under this roof do so in the context of recent trauma, family strife, dislocation and present shortages and rationing. The story is told through third-person narration, journal entries and letters. They are a mixed lot, from various classes, including some minor aristocrat types, a female writer, a blustery, emotionally abusive clergyman and his daughter, as well as two groups of children, who, in their losses, interests, obsessions and idiosyncrasies reflect, I think the cost of war.
One set of the children at the inn are the Coves. There are three girls with their widowed mother. The mother is a nasty piece of work, covetous, grasping and controlling, but the children, while emotionally beaten down, still have their inner lives and each other.
The Cove children manage to maintain their emotional and mental balance through the notion of the feast. In their reading and imaginings, the feast has grown into a cherished ideal – but not to go attend a feast, but to give one. More than anything else, they would love to be able to have enough to share in a great party.
Midway through the week at the inn, a tragedy involving the Cove children is averted, and in response one guest and one inn staff member decide – well, they are going to help the children make their feast happen. It will be lovely – held at night, at the top of the rocks, under the night sky, bright with stars and the moon. There will be marvelous food and drink, a procession, and costumes!
So these children who probably have the least of anyone else at the inn – the least family support, the least money – become the givers of the feast, to which, of course, all are invited.
So…who accepts the invitation? Who doesn’t? What motivates those who refuse the invitation? And what are the consequences – for saying “yes”… and saying “no” to the invitation to the feast?
Amy Welborn is a writer living in Birmingham, Alabama. She is the author of many books, including the forthcoming, Loyola Kids Book of Feasts, Seasons and Celebrations.
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