Practice makes perfect, eventually

{mosimage}Practicing Catholic by James Carroll (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover, 400 pages, $37.95).

James Carroll is a tough guy to read, and for critics a tough thinker to argue with. He’s demonstrated that in 10 novels and five serious works of non-fiction so far. His latest work, Practicing Catholic will for some be his toughest book yet. For others it will be like a long cold drink of water on a fiery day.

Carroll, raised an Irish American Catholic (and the qualifiers are important) on the eastern seaboard of the United States has bedevilled conservative lay Catholics and conservative members of the hierarchy for nearly four decades. Trained as a Paulist priest with two vocations — priest and poet — Carroll is a man of Vatican II who finds his faith and solace in that truly astonishing and earth-shaking convocation which rocked the church 40 years ago and still does to this day.

    A greener shade of Pope

    {mosimage}Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks out for Creation and Justice by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker (Ave Maria Press, softcover, 160 pages, $15.95).

    Anything that helps Catholics live their lives and construct their churches today in an ecologically friendly manner ought to be a good thing. The problem with Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks out for Creation and Justice is that it won’t do these things. In fact, I fear it just might make things worse.

      Glorifying one God doesn't make us the same

      {mosimage}What God Really Wants You to Know , by C. David Lundberg (Heavenlight Press, softcover, 448 pages, $24.57).

      Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the Holy Land emphasized the idea that the three religions of the book — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — share common ground.

      What God Really Wants You to Know, a self-published 427-page tome by C. David Lundberg, endeavours to teach the same lesson.

        Given a chance, peace is possible

        {mosimage}John Dear on Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Patricia Patten Normile, S.F.O. (St. Anthony Messenger Press, softcover, 137 pages, $17.55).

        Millions pray for peace. Many strive for peace and some of us even act on the premise that world peace is possible. Yet peace clearly remains frustratingly elusive and increasingly, it seems, a pipe dream.

          Exploring the dark side of the brain

          {mosimage}Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain , by Kathleen Taylor (Oxford University Press, hard cover, $34.95 [U.S.]).
           

          Could eradicating cruelty ever become government policy? According to Kathleen Taylor, author of Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain, it should.

          Such policy might involve stronger punishment for cruel behaviour, pedagogical programs aimed at fostering empathy in children and the encouragement of openness and acceptance. It would require human beings to admit that our societies — and we ourselves — are capable of cruelty and are often perpetrators of cruel actions. It would also entail that we re-inject moral parametres into our concrete societal objectives. Taylor thinks this is desirable — that is, if we all agree on a definition of cruelty and its causes.

            God books are back

            {mosimage}In bookstores across the country, award-winning author David Adams Richards’ new book God Is: A Search For Faith In A Secular World stands out on the shelves. It is a sharply argued and closely observed testament to a civilization that thinks it is cool to diss God and believers of any stripe. But more than that, the book is part of the evidence that a tide has turned.

            In Ecclesiastes, the wisdom is “To everything there is a season.” It is an insight the publishing industry knows very well. If the trend of the last few years has favoured the militant atheist, the polemical humanist and the over-reaching scientist, the current publishing catalogues say the backlash is on and, as one title aptly puts it, “God Is Back.”

              266 popes in 565 pages

              {mosimage}Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy by Roger Collins (Basic Books, softcover, 565 pages, $40.50).

              Roger Collins believes trying to describe in a single volume the entire history of the papacy — which covers nearly 2,000 years — is probably far too ambitious an undertaking.

              Nevertheless, the author of Keepers of the Keys of Heaven, a medieval specialist and honorary fellow at Edinburgh University, ably demonstrates he has a solid grasp of his subject. To bring such vast material and the stories of 266 popes into one volume is evidence of his competence.

              The task for the serious reader is equally daunting. The 565 pages of text, footnotes and other supportive documentation is a huge challenge. A major slice of Western history is covered. To understand the story of the popes tells us more fully what it means to be part of contemporary Western culture.

              Each of the book’s 21 chapters covers a century or a significant era since St. Peter.

                To Fr. Raby, the person is important

                {mosimage}The Little World of Fr. Raby, 1980-2007 by Msgr. Tom Raby (Catholic Register Books, 190 pages, $14.99.)

                On the matter of Msgr. Thomas J. Raby, I cannot be impartial. At the age of 91, and 64 years ordained, he is the proudest boast of the Kingston presbyterate — the faithful priest who even now, in his infirmity, lives his priesthood as best he can.

                  Women with depression book disappoints

                  {mosimage}Spirit and Dust: Meditations for Women with Depression by Maura Hanrahan (ACTA Publications, 176 pages, softcover, $15).

                  We use many different words to describe depression: despair, blue funk, desolation, desperation, despondency, distress, the dumps, ennui, melancholy, misery, sadness, the blahs, bleakness, dispiritedness, hopelessness, the blues — the list goes on. Winston Churchill called it “the black dog.”

                    Lessons learned from Christianity's medieval past

                    {mosimage}Medieval Christianity in Practice , edited by Miri Rubin (Princeton University Press, 360 pages, $85).

                    In this new book, old voices offer lessons to modern Christians about the diversity and flexibility of their faith. Medieval Christianity in Practice gives short excerpts from medieval writings describing how medieval Christians lived their religion and provides commentary by leading scholars. The Middle Ages ended 500 years ago, but the period still inspires — and haunts — the 21st-century church. So it’s worth a visit.

                    The title evokes one of two opposite responses. For some, medieval Christianity represents the “good old days” when the Catholic Church presided over an undivided Christendom that seamlessly fused secular and religious spheres of life. Medieval conjures up soaring cathedrals, Latin chant, studious monks and nuns, wonder-working saints, heroic crusaders and a pious laity. Self-styled Catholic traditionalists see themselves as the preservers of an authentic and timeless faith passed down from the Middle Ages.

                      Much can be learned of Holocaust sensibilities

                      {mosimage}No Going Back: Letters to Pope Benedict XVI on the Holocaust , Jewish-Christian Relations and Israel, Edited by Carol Rittner and Stephen D. Smith (Quill Press, softcover, 180 pages, $20).

                      When Pope John Paul II visited Jerusalem and Palestine in 2000 he made a powerful and lasting impression. Prior to his visit and throughout his pontificate, the Catholic Church had done much to nurture and follow the spirit of Vatican II. Many Jews thought they had a friend in John Paul II and relations between the two faiths were warming.