Tag Archives: Theodicy

The New Man

The New Man

by Thomas Merton (1961)

This is the least informal writing I have yet seen from Merton. And the most philosophical. Neither trait hurts the book, but I did find myself taking longer than usual to decide whether I would finish the book. Then about a third of the way through I began to start realizing that this could be one of his strongest works ever.

The topic is about Adam vs. the New Adam, Christ. And the Fall. And Baptism. It does not sound all that original, as St. Paul covers this quite well in his epistles. But in his usual fashion, Merton finds something new to say, and a way of saying it that holds the reader’s interest.

Let’s supply some excerpts to demonstrate the point. From the chapter “Life in Christ”:

Everything that has the power to make us real, to bring us to the fulfilment of our destiny, to perfect happiness, and peace with ourselves and one another, is contained in God’s will for us: first His will as implanted in our very nature, and then His will as supernaturally revealed. To want to know something besides this one great good, to desire to add the knowledge of evil to the knowledge of good by turning away from God, is to turn away from life itself and from reality. We die the death.

(pg. 185)

And again from the same chapter:

[T]he patience of the charitable man [is not] merely a hidden weapon by which he shames and defeats his enemies. It is the strength which knows the difference between good and evil, and which knows how to overcome evil with good. Without this strength, this alchemy which silently and inexorably destroys evil, the passive aspects of Christian charity would have no reason for existence. They are never really negative. They are the negation of evil, and evil is a negation. Hence even the passive elements in charity are positive, constructive forces. Very often they are more constructive than the more obvious and affirmative acts of the charitable man.

(pp. 191-192)

So as not to spoil it for you, I will omit the part where Merton gives the best explanation I have ever seen as to why Adam (and we along with him) lost his immortality.



Overcoming Life’s Challenges

Overcoming Life’s Challenges: Lessons from the Life of Joseph

by Bill Crowder (1998)

This is not the sort of book I would normally choose for myself. It was given to me by somebody close to me and I am glad I finally read it–and wish I had read it sooner. In fact this book was exactly what I needed to read, and by the providence of God, my delay in reading it turned out to make for just about the perfect timing for having the greatest impact. (Sorry to be so vague, but this gets more personal than I am prepared to share in this sort of forum.)

So, with all that, I can highly recommend this book to anyone needing a little (or a lot of) inspiration to persevere in the midst of troubles.

This book uses the story of Joseph from the Old Testament (he of the coat of many colors) to show how we should trust in God, even when those closest to us turn on us. The chapters include overcoming treachery, temptation, disappointment, success, and bitterness. The author does a great job of showing how Joseph wasn’t altogether blameless and needed to develop humility–and that these experiences were tailor-made to help him do just that, as long as he trusted that God had a plan for him–a plan that was ultimately good, no matter how it might seem at any of the several low points along the way.

As it turns out,  this entire little pocket-sized book is online, so here is the link to it (the original 80 pages reformatted to 32). Personally, I liked reading the actual hard-copy book during breaks in a day filled with appointments and errands, better than I would have on my phone.




Crossing the Threshold of Hope

Crossing the Threshold of Hope

by Pope Saint John Paul II (1994)

John Paul II will be canonized on April 27, 2014 — just inside four weeks from now. Now might be a good time to pick this one up and read, or reread it.

This was intended originally to be an in-person broadcast interview, but because of the Pope’s busy travel schedule, it had to be cancelled. But the interviewer-to-be, Vittorio Messori, had sent John Paul the list of questions beforehand. The Pope thought they were good questions, worthy of thoughtful answers, so he developed answers to them in his spare moments, sending them back through his secretary, with a suggested title, which Messori kept.

Thus this book came to be. It is a bit of a one of a kind work. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (and later as Pope Benedict VXI) sat for similar book length interviews, but this one was done in isolation — a virtual interview of sorts, that reads more like a live chat might today. If the person live-chatting was the visible head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Here are a couple segments from early in the book. First, from “Praying: How and Why” (all emphasis original):

One can and must pray in many different ways, as the Bible teaches through a multitude of examples. The Book of Psalms is irreplaceable. We must pray with “inexpressible groanings” in order to enter into rhythm with the Spirit’s own entreaties. To obtain forgiveness one must implore, becoming part of the loud cries of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Heb 5:7). Through all of this one must proclaim glory. Prayer is always an opus gloriae (a work, a labor, of glory). Man is the priest of all creation. Christ conferred upon him this dignity and vocation. Creation completes its opus gloriae both by being what it is and by its duty to become what should be.

In a certain sense science and technology also contribute to this goal. But at the same time, since they are human works, they can lead away from this goal. In our civilization in particular there is such a risk, making it difficult for our civilization to be one of life and love. Missing is precisely the opus gloriae, which is the fundamental destiny of every creature, and above all of man, who was created in order to become, in Christ, the priest, prophet, and king of all earthly creatures.

Much has been written about prayer, and further, prayer has been widely experienced in the history of humankind, especially in the history of Israel and Christianity. Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but when he lets God be most fully present in prayer. The history of mystical prayer in the East and West attests to this: Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and, in the East, for example, Saint Serafim of Sarov and many others.

-pp. 16-17

The second excerpt is from ‘What Does “To Save” Mean?’:

Christianity is a religion of salvation. The salvation in question is that of the Cross and the Resurrection. God, who desires that man “may live” (cf. Ez 18:23), draws near to him through the death of His Son in order to reveal that life to which he is called in God Himself. Everyone who looks for salvation, not only the Christian, must stop before the Cross of Christ.

Will he be willing to accept the truth of the Paschal Mystery, or not? Will he have faith? This is yet another issue. This Mystery of salvation is an event which has already taken place. God has embraced all men by the Cross and the Resurrection of His Son. God embraces all men with the life which was revealed in the Cross and in the Resurrection, and which is constantly being born anew from them. As indicated by the allegory of “the vine” and “the branches” in the Gospel of John (cf. Jn 15:1-8), the Paschal Mystery is by now grafted onto the history of humanity, onto the history of every individual.

-pp. 70-71

In some ways, the theme of hope found in these pages seems to have made its way into Benedict’s encyclical Saved in Hope.



God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help

God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help

by Father Jonathan Morris (2011)

Forget if you have an aversion to anyone known as a Fox News Analyst and whose book is recommended by the likes of Glenn Beck (fallen-away Catholic and convert to Mormonism), Bill O’Reilly (a loosely-defined pro-life Catholic), and Rick Warren (a mega-church Protestant pastor). This is a GOOD BOOK.

Fr. Morris embeds a lot of sound traditional Catholic theology and spirituality in what only appears to be a pop-psychology book.

Chapter 3, titled “Getting Unstuck”, which is basically about the insidious influence of the Devil and his lies, should remove all doubt.

His exposition on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love further grounds this work in solid Catholic-Christian theology.

Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross

Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross

by Richard John Neuhaus (2000)

This book was published a year before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It could not have been timed better. I did not discover it until 2012, reading it three weeks into the Easter season. Nevermind that it was too late for Lent–with the author’s repeated appeals not to move too quickly past Good Friday on to Easter, it seemed unexpectedly appropriate to read it well after Easter. That is not to say it is not good Lenten reading: I reread it in Lent 2013, and it worked there, too.

This book does not falsely advertise itself: it really does read like a meditation. The blurb on the back cover is spot on: “Writing in the tradition of C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton, Neuhaus sets out to unpack the macrocosmic truth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus, a truth that sets Good Friday apart from all other days, even from all other holy days.”

If you only know former Lutheran  Fr. Neuhaus for his political commentary, you will be in for a surprise. This is pretty much a purely spiritual book, with nary a trace of the political in sight.

I hope to read it again soon.

Here is an excerpt that rivals the style of the great G. K. Chesterton:

The judgment of the world