Faith Seeking Understanding



Be Saints!, by Amy Welborn

Welborn simply takes words addressed by Benedict XVI to schoolchildren and sets them in the context of a picture-book.

Benedict’s thoughts, as usual, flow from a depth of meaning which he wishes to convey. While his words are simple enough to take in, it is helpful for parents to explain them more fully to their children as well.

The key to it is very simple—true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our heart.


Friendship with Jesus, by Amy Welborn

Similar to her book Be Saints!, this short picture book simply conveys the words of Benedict XVI to children—in this case, his answers to the questions of first communicants.

This book is specifically aimed at first communicants and would make a good gift for them.

Our sins are always the same—but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same… Otherwise, we might not see the dirt building up. Something similar can be said about the soul… if I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself. Then I no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve and that I must make progress.




Early Christian Writings, Edited by Andrew Louth

This small collection by Penguin Classics includes several of the most important early Christian documents (first and early second century). Perhaps the highlight of the collection are the various letters from St. Ignatius of Antioch, who met with and wrote to various churches as he was led to be executed in Rome. Aside from giving practical and spiritual reflections, these early Christian writings also give us a picture of the early Church—a picture that is decidedly Catholic. This is necessary reading for all Christians in an age in which lack of knowledge of our roots has led to the endless division of Christianity.

While these texts are very old, the translation is very approachable and each author is prefaced with a brief historical explanation. Set in this historical context, each work is relatively easy to understand and appreciate the importance of.

And so I entreat you (not I, though, but the love of Jesus Christ) not to nourish yourselves on anything but Christian fare, and have no truck with the alien herbs of heresy… You will be safe enough so long as you do not let pride go to your head and break away from Jesus Christ and your bishop and the Apostolic institutions… nobody’s conscience can be clean if he is acting without the authority of his bishop, clergy, and deacons.


Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, by Brant Pitre

Brant Pitre does an excellent job of explaining the Jewish images and traditions which are taken up by Christ at the Last Supper. His book, then, gives new insight into the meaning of the Eucharist and an exciting look into Jewish sources which many Christians are no longer familiar with.

The book is short, easy to read, and very interesting—it could be recommended to almost anyone with some background knowledge in the faith.

According to both the Jerusalem Talmud and Babylonian Talmud, at each of these feasts, the priests in the Temple would do something remarkable. They would remove the Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence from within the Holy Place so that the Jewish pilgrims could see it. When they removed the holy bread, the priests would elevate it and say… “Behold, God’s love for you!”


The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI)

The Mass is the “source and summit” of our faith—it is all-important in our spiritual lives. But it can be difficult to grasp the meaning of it and the importance of its gestures, words, and rituals. Ratzinger (before he was Pope Benedict) became famous for this work of Scriptural and theological reflection on exactly these questions. While this book is not a comprehensive view of everything done at Mass, it provides a good lens by which we can begin to understand the meaning and the depth of the Catholic liturgy—a lens which is very necessary today.

As in all of his works, Ratzinger is easy enough to understand, although he demands some focus. Almost any reader will follow the flow of his thoughts and gain insight from this book. At the same time, the more knowledgeable reader will be able to pick up on more of his allusions and implicit arguments.

The common turning toward the east was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord”.


Love and Responsibility, by Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II)

Written before he became pope, this lengthy book from Karol Wojtyla was the beginning of what would later come to be known as his “Theology of the Body.” The later reflections would be decidedly more biblical, however. This book primarily considers the question of sexual love from a philosophical standpoint, establishing a clear anthropological groundwork for reflection on human love and the responsibility it involves.

Although this book is certainly best understood by those who have a greater depth of knowledge, it is one whose points can be appreciated by young adults and the more mature among adolescents. It is a good foundation for understanding the Church’s teaching on marriage and sex, and, although it is difficult to work through, its relevance and its forthrightness makes it more approachable for otherwise less eager readers.

The person—especially a woman—may be disillusioned by the fact that over time a man’s affection turns out to be only, so to speak, a cover for desire or even for an explicit will to use. Both a woman and a man may be disillusioned by the fact that the values attributed to the beloved person turn out to be fiction. Because of the dissonance between the ideal and the reality, affective love is sometimes not only extinguished but even transformed into affective hatred.


Calvary and the Mass, by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

This small book takes the seven last words of Christ on the Cross and relates each of them to a different part of the Mass, solidifying the direct connection between Calvary and the Mass. In so doing, Sheen gives good insight into the meaning of the Mass and our participation in it. As usual, Sheen uses a great deal of imagery and of practical examples to explain his points.

The book was written long before the reform of the liturgy at Vatican II, and therefore refers to what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. All the same, the moments of the Mass which Sheen highlights remain present (except for the last Gospel) and are just as easily applied to the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The book is easy to read and can be finished very quickly, making it a good choice for somebody hesitant to commit to something longer.

As our Blessed Lord on that day chose the thief as the small host of sacrifice, He chooses us today as the other small hosts united with Him on the paten of the altar.


The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

This short work is essentially a reasoned defense of traditional moral values—which is to say, not of any individual moral value in itself, but rather of the very idea of holding moral values. Lewis contrasts this position to the modern one, which tends to pit rationality and science against any morally dogmatic position—in the process destroying what is essential to mankind.

Although Lewis’ work delves into philosophical questions, his thought is easily followed and stated in familiar language, making it quite accessible.

They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda—they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental—and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion… And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible… In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.


Leisure: the Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper

This short philosophical reflection by Pieper delves into the question of what leisure is and what it is for. In it, he discusses how our ideas of work and leisure have been turned backwards and have left us with a decidedly less human culture—indeed with a crisis of culture. He calls for a return to leisure as it was once understood: as the pinnacle of human activity, the foundation of culture, and the condition for living out religion.

Although it helps to be aware of the historical and philosophical movements described in this book, it is possible to understand what Pieper is getting at regardless, as he addresses a culture which we are still all too familiar with. His points are practical and pertinent—and perhaps especially applicable to the young generation.

The vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost. There is an entry in Baudelaire… “One must work, if not from taste then at least from despair. For, to reduce everything to a single truth: work is less boring than pleasure.”




Introduction to Christianity, by Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI)

In this work, Ratzinger reflects at length on each section of the Apostle’s Creed. But, rather than simply explaining theological concepts on their own terms, Ratzinger delves into historical and philosophical questions as well. Ratzinger has a real talent for discerning the heart of an issue and for dealing with it directly. He brings to light modern patterns of thought and clearly and honestly responds to them without being dismissive.

Because Ratzinger interweaves between strands of theology, history, and philosophy, this work can seem overwhelming to somebody who is not at least somewhat familiar with the persons he references. At the same time, readers who are not daunted by this can follow Ratzinger’s train of thought well enough, and will gain a great deal from the effort.

First of all, the believer is always threatened with an uncertainty that in moments of temptation can suddenly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him… In a situation like this, what is in question is not the sort of thing that one perhaps quarrels about otherwise—the dogma of the Assumption, the proper use of confession—all this becomes absolutely secondary. What is at stake is the whole structure; it is a question of all or nothing.


Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, by John Paul II

This book is a compilation of Pope St. John Paul II’s Wednesday addresses on the love of marriage. His reflections largely rely on scripture, beginning with a lengthy consideration of the words of Genesis and what they teach us about human nature. Having formed this foundation, he goes on to consider the words of Christ as well as other biblical passages regarding marriage.

John Paul II is a profound thinker who uses words very intentionally. His concepts are almost poetic, and his argumentation moves in a circular fashion, frequently returning to a previous point in order to deepen it. Because of all this, his work requires some real effort and dedication to digest. Even so, his insight is well worth the trouble and lends a new perspective on both Scripture and on the meaning of human love.

In mature purity, man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence, a victory about which St. Paul writes when he exhorts everyone to “keep his own body with holiness and reverence” (1 Thess 4:4). Even more, such maturity partly shows the efficaciousness of the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose “temple” the human body is (see 1 Cor 6:19). This gift is above all that of piety (“donum pietatis”), which gives back to the experience of the body—especially in the case of the sphere of reciprocal relations between man and woman—all its simplicity, its lucid clarity, and also its interior joy. This is evidently a very different spiritual climate than the “lustful passion” Paul writes about.


After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre

In this book, MacIntyre considers the movement of ethical thought throughout the centuries, concentrating on the major shift from virtue ethics to emotivism, or simply nihilism. He directly addresses the issue of our inability to have an actual discussion on morals and to find bridges amidst disagreements. Rather than addressing individual moral questions, he gets to the heart of the issue: that there is no longer a stable system of morality by which we can address moral issues. In the question of moral convictions, reasoning has been replaced by emotion. In addressing this issue, MacIntyre masterfully sheds light on some of the greatest difficulties of our age and how they must be responded to if civilization is to continue through what he terms as “the new dark ages which are already upon us”.

MacIntyre’s argumentation requires committed readership, but is well worth the effort—especially since his analysis so acutely addresses the cause of the political and social disagreements which threaten to tear humanity apart.

Modern conservatives are for the most part engaged in conserving only older rather than later versions of liberal individualism. Their own core doctrine is as liberal and as individualist as that of self-avowed liberals.