Book News

Jesus was a Jew. Mary and Joseph were Jews. All 12 apostles were Jews. The first ecumenical council of the Church was held in Jerusalem in about 50 AD and everybody there was Jewish — even if they were there to decide what to do about non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Very few of the people you meet at Sunday morning Mass are Jewish. Still, all these gentiles who surround us in church want nothing more than to know Jesus better. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an invitation to do just that — know Jesus better.

A Pope’s story through a brother’s eyes

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ROME - Recounting their rural Bavarian childhood and subsequent lifelong friendship, the elder brother of Pope Benedict XVI offers a privileged look at the personal side of the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics.

My Brother the Pope, published March 1 by Ignatius Press, is based on interviews with Msgr. Georg Ratzinger by German writer Michael Hesemann and was originally published in German last year.

Third World ethical challenges for the First World

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When I began work as a health care ethicist more than 20 years ago, the discipline was focussed on two main issues: respecting the rights of individual patients, particularly through the practice of informed consent, and working through issues posed by the growth in medical technology. Artificial organs, gene-altering therapies, conceiving children in Petri dishes sounded like the stuff of science fiction. But they were real and ethicists grappled with questions of limits, of preserving human dignity, of trying to understand what death meant when a body could be kept warm and breathing almost indefinitely. This was medical ethics in the first, or developed, world.

The view from here on Dorothy Pilarski's Motherhood Matters

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Editor’s note: Dorothy Pilarski’s Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms is sure to make you think about modern-day mothering.

To wit, The Catholic Register has enlisted two reviewers to give us their take on the recently released book.

The book is available to order from our site or by calling (416) 934-3410.

Author forces mothers to take a look at their lives

By Elena Maria Vidal, Catholic Register Special

In Motherhood Matters, Dorothy Pilarski writes with profundity and wit about matters practical and divine. Full of anecdotes and humour, this book makes us take an honest look at the lives of women today and enourages us to focus on what matters most.

Has “liberation” truly led to greater happiness for women? Are children to be viewed as commodities to be acquired just as we acquire a house or car? Or should children be seen as gifts from God given to our stewardship?

Pilarski makes it clear that until we resolve our confusion about such basic questions then peace of heart will elude us.

“We will find happiness in living out God’s purpose for our lives, not our own,” she writes. “The culture of the early 21st century makes it easy to follow mistaken paths. The media bombards us with the temptation to fulfill ourselves, to find ourselves, to meet our own needs. It is a message of selfishness. And it is spread constantly. Magazines, television, radio, films, books and the Internet promote images of the ‘ideal’ career, body, fashion, home, car, vacation, husband and parenting.

“These ‘ideals’ are often reinforced by friends and family. Influenced by these ‘ideals,’ many of us make important life decisions without first considering our relationship with Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith . . .  As Catholic mothers, we are called to dig deep into our hearts and pray that we are actually co-operating with God’s grace . . . Our children are gifts from our Creator who has entrusted the souls of our children to us.”

Motherhood Matters is comprised of dozens of small essays, which makes it easy for busy people to read. Yet it is never disjointed. One paragraph flows seamlessly into another.

Pilarski substantiates her beliefs about women and motherhood, about divorce, illegitimacy, diseases and the many trials of modern life by using not only her own faith beliefs but by employing statistics from several recent studies. The statistics uphold her piety, showing that when we depart from God and His law there is a price to be paid by us, our children and all society.

Pilarski laments that many women are forced to delay childbearing in order to make money. Even when children are born, women must often forgo nurturing their children and creating a home in order to be part of the workforce.

It becomes obvious in Motherhood Matters that modern culture places less value on motherhood than past generations. Motherhood is depicted as a calling of convenience. Is that fair to women? No, and it is definitely not fair to children.

Women today hear repeatedly that their value to society requires that they be breadwinners like men. Other than that, women are often judged by their sexuality.

Can things ever be made right? Motherhood Matters explores many simple and practical ways women can reclaim their feminine vocation. It examines several obvious truths about women and motherhood, which Pilarski illustrates with short stories from her personal experience.

Motherhood Matters entertains, yet it is impossible to read without taking a hard look at oneself. Throughout the book we are enjoined to turn to prayer as the key to finding the path we are called to follow as women and mothers. We are encouraged to watch and pray, especially when we have teenagers.

“Remaining grounded in a fervent prayer life and being aware of the dangerous messages that exist in the media can better equip parents to understand the challenges that vulnerable teenage girls wrestle with,” Pilarski writes. “Awareness leads to conversations we might have never had. But be prepared. I guarantee that those conversations will challenge you, yet I cannot imagine a life without them.”

The choice that lies before each of us is between a life of authentic love and one of  fleeting material gratifications. No one can make the choice for us. Reading a book like Motherhood Matters makes it easier to choose a life of love, a life which foreshadows the eternity of endless happiness and fulfilment.

(Vidal is the author of three historical novels: Trianon, Madame Royale and The Night’s Dark Shade. You can visit her website at teaattrianon.blogspot.com.)

Pilarski makes her case, but it is not for all

By Eleonore Fournier-Tombs, Catholic Register Special

For Western young women, motherhood is not necessarily a fait accompli. It is often a source of public debate, private questioning, discussion and concern. For women in their 20s and 30s, the possibility of one day being a mother is a source of joy, fear, excitement or indifference. Some women want six children and some women want none. Some women can’t decide and many wonder if they can handle it.

As Dorothy Pilarski writes in Motherhood Matters, being a mother can, no doubt, be a meaningful part of a woman’s life — one that is difficult without a strong support network and a solid faith. With today’s social and material pressures, many juggle several full-time commitments and feel exhausted and unappreciated.

But Pilarski doesn’t stop at these generally uncontroversial claims. Her advice is personal and specific. To the modern young Catholic, her point of view can seem contentious and even harsh.

Pilarski is a well-known Canadian Catholic personality who maintains two blogs, “Gutsy Catholic Mom” and “Catholic Talks by Dorothy.” She also regularly writes for The Catholic Register and has, among many writing and television projects, co-developed a series on Salt+Light Television. She is a mother of two and projects a happy family life.

This collection of essays describes meaningful moments and turning points in her life. She uses personal anecdotes to explain specific advice for mothers, building up to a 45-item list on setting spiritual goals.

While the level of detail with which she discusses her own life is interesting and insightful, the assertiveness with which she makes claims about how Catholic women should approach motherhood might be disconcerting. She argues, for example, that Mary would not have asked another person to raise her Son. By that she means that although women should be encouraged to pursue an exciting career before childbirth, they should take several years off to raise their children. She is critical of women who only take one year off after giving birth. But what about those who can’t afford to take time off or who want to start working again soon after their child is born?

Modern women, and their spouses, take many different approaches to parenting. Some couples decide that the wife should pursue her career while the husband stays at home with the children, other families have extended networks that allow for a warm, loving community even while both parents are working.

Just like men, women often struggle to strike a balance between their work, relationships, spirituality and physicality. Striking this balance is a daily commitment, unique to each person. Motherhood may be a fulfilling and meaningful life path, but it is not the only one, nor is there only one way to engage on it.

Pilarski criticizes feminist women, claiming that a woman should instead be feminine. But feminism — the recognition of the need for political, economic and social equality of the sexes — and femininity — a characteristic that is unique to women — can go hand in hand. Women can be both unique and equal by choosing their own path. And perhaps, unlike Pilarski, they may choose to celebrate Halloween, go back to work or take up yoga when their children are in school.

On the other hand, Pilarski describes raising her children in the Catholic faith with such warmth that it is difficult not to be inspired. Living in joy rather than in fear, and creating an environment in which children can explore and express their spirituality are pillars of the loving home. Her tone in these passages is reminiscent of Jean Vanier’s, who said: “We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”  

In this sense, motherhood, career or any combination of the two is a vocation that a woman feels called to, and that, when chosen, allows for the full expression of faith and compassion. In order to be a role model for those around her, a woman needs to trust in her conscience and intuition. It is then, in partnership with her spouse, that she can create a joyful atmosphere in which children can enter, if she feels so called to do so.

(Fournier-Tombs is a freelance writer in New York.)

The story of Dorothy Day, warts and all

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Jim Forest’s beautifully written and poignant All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day reveals the founder of the Catholic Worker movement as no ordinary saint, if her cause for beatification and canonization opened in 2000 proves successful.

The book does not gloss over any of the controversial aspects of her early life. Before becoming Catholic, Day sought an abortion, hoping losing the child would save her love affair with the baby’s father. Afterwards, she returned to their apartment to find the man had left, leaving behind only a letter urging her to forget him and a small amount of money that he had originally intended to pay a bar bill, Forest writes.

Four years later, she was delighted to become pregnant while in another relationship that, because of his atheism and her entering the Catholic Church, she realized she must end.

A Catholic apologist brashly gets it right

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Michael Coren shows he is a defender of the faith in his book Why Catholics are Right. (Photo courtesy of Michael Coren)One thing needful in our confused time, it has long seemed to me, is a lively polemic in favour of the Catholic faith. Thanks to Michael Coren we have one in his new book Why Catholics are Right.

It is sure to confound and infuriate enemies of the Church while delighting and instructing Catholics who take the time to read and learn from it. Even the title is provocative; today’s ecumenist likes to gather around the campfire interspersing choruses of “Kumbayah” with choruses in praise of other denominations, even other religions, and here comes brash Coren suggesting that Catholics have got Christianity right and all others are (to a greater or lesser degree) wrong. Well, who does he think he is making such triumphalist assertions?

In our local paper a retired United Church minister was apocalyptic while unfavourably reviewing Coren’s book; now I cannot say how Coren reacted to this review, but I have long rejoiced in any criticism emanating from the United Church of Canada, which I consider the pons asinorum of contemporary churchmanship.

Bibby moves beyond his traditional theories

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Reginald Bibby has always told the digital story of religion in Canada. Everything was explainable in numbers. In Beyond the Gods and Back, Bibby finds an analogue tale behind the numbers — a tale of shifting religious perceptions and motivations.

Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, has been studying religious involvement in Canada since the mid-1970s, producing four books on the subject. His approach has been shaped by two academic perspectives — secularization and rational choice theory.  

Bibby talks about a marketplace for religion that is characterized by constant but changing demand and a varying number of suppliers, each vying for a greater share of the market. According to this theory, religious organizations will be more or less successful in the religious marketplace depending on their ability to meet contemporary needs of their members.  

An intelligent look at traditional Catholic beliefs

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Women of the Torah: Matriarchs and Heroes of Israel
Abraham: Father of All Believers
David: Shepherd and King of Israel
Women of the Gospels: Friends and Disciples of Jesus
Peter: Fisherman and Shepherd of the Church
Paul: Apostle to All the Nations
(Brazos Press, softcover, $10 per volume).

For people interested in learning something about current Catholic Scripture scholarship, and more importantly want their lives to be inspired by the biblical stories, Ancient-Future Bible Study is a valuable instrument. Anyone who completes the meditations will be significantly more familiar with the Bible, and these books should inspire readers to learn more and pray more.

Lectio divina (sacred reading) is an “ancient art” for exploring the Word of God with mind, heart and imagination. It’s a way to experience Scripture as real communication with God, with reference to what the Bible texts meant in ancient times and their transforming power to change our lives into the future.

Unwinding a living, active Word that is the Bible

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The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental BookThe Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 265 pages, hardcover, $31.50).

Christians are often described as people of the book. This is because our lives are shaped in a very direct way by the words of the two testaments we call the Bible. We give no other book on our library shelves the same degree of honour that we give this book. No other book challenges us, in so many different ways, to the same degree.  

In part, that is because of the high standard of ethical behaviour it sets before us. But part of the challenge also proceeds from the fact that, for many, its ancient contents are difficult to grasp, with details that even appear to contradict one another at times.

Remarkably true, yes, but one-sided look at historical wrong

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Esther: The Remarkable True Story of Esther Wheelwright, Puritan Child, Native Daughter, Mother Superior by Julie Wheelwright (HarperCollins, 342 pages, hardcover, $32.99).Esther: The Remarkable True Story of Esther Wheelwright, Puritan Child, Native Daughter, Mother Superior by Julie Wheelwright (HarperCollins, 342 pages, hardcover, $32.99).

Julie Wheelwright has an extraordinary tale to tell about her ancestor Esther. But she falls a little short of telling the whole story, and that’s a shame.

Esther Wheelwright lived in colonial New England at a time when violent conflict between settlers and native people was rife. Imagine living under the constant threat of kidnap. Imagine you are six or seven and this is all you have known. This was the way for 18th-century native children in what is now Eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. 

Armed settlers took men, women, children, even babies — and this is in addition to taking the land native people needed to survive on. This was long before residential schooling was instituted. In the early colonial era, some were killed, others kept as slaves. We know little else about them.

Good intentions lost in political correctness

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Politically correct booksWhat does Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and Malcolm X have to do with teaching children about the Catholic faith?

According two new books for Catholic students, teaching kids about Catholic saints and traditions means teaching them about multiculturalism and social justice, while skimming on details about the Catholic Mass.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with introducing children to the hot-button issues of our time like combating racism. In fact, it’s crucial to make the connection between faith and how it is lived out in society.

But in trying to be all things to all people, Jeanne Hunt’s Celebrating Saints and Seasons: Hundreds of Activities for Catholic Children (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and Lisa Freemantle and Les Miller’s Words for the Journey for Kids: Ten-Minute Prayer Services for Schools (Novalis) may be taking kids on a detour that falls short of teaching kids what their faith is really about.