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.

Chronicle of Marian devotion doesn't go far enough

{mosimage}Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin (Yale University Press, 533 pages, hardcover $35).

Despite its title, this excellent new book is not a history of the Virgin Mary — it is a history of devotion to the mother of Jesus in medieval Catholic Europe. It presents the creative ways that Christians — and even some Jews and Muslims — thought about Mary and expressed themselves in writing, music, liturgy, art and popular devotions. It also looks back to the origins of the Marian devotion among Eastern Christians, follows the controversies about Mary during the Reformation and traces the spread of her cult to European colonies.

To write such a history is a daunting task. Nevertheless, a history of Mary must include the last, eventful four centuries.

Do I have to go to Mass?

{mosimage}Do I Have to Go? by Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick (Ascension Press, 156 pages, $12.99).

Many Catholics have asked themselves the question at least once — Do I have to go? — but rarely has the question received such a clear answer as the one provided in this book by authors Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick.

Do I Have to Go? explores “the Mass, the Eucharist, and your spiritual life” in easy to read question/answer format. Pinto and Stefanick eloquently cover almost every question imaginable regarding the Mass and the Eucharist.

Fr. Stan tells teens '2' love

{mosimage}U Got 2 Love by Fr. Stan Fortuna, C.F.R. (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 254 pages, $13.95.)

In the latest instalment of the U Got 2 series from renowned rapping priest Fr. Stan Fortuna, Catholics are not only urged, but called “2” love.

This follow-up to U Got 2 Believe and U Got 2 Pray dedicates itself to the dominant force in our faith and provides Catholics with a desperately needed and refreshing approach to a world stuck chasing impoverished and superficial love.

The evolution of Robin Hood

{mosimage}Hodd by Adam Thorpe (Random House UK, 320 pages, $34).

The Robin Hood most of us grew up with was a perfect hero for bookish kids. He was cheerful, generous and just. He surrounded himself with merry men, had a loyal, clever, cute girlfriend and together they robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

If we thought about it later, we might have regarded the Robin Hood of childhood books, movies and cartoons as a gentleman who had taken sides in the class struggle.

The 'Oprahfication' of forgiveness

{mosimage}Forgiveness: One Step at a Time by Joseph F. Sica (Novalis, softcover, 142 pages, $15.95).

Alas, by the end of chapter one, I was trying hard not to be cynical about this book. This goes beyond my own ongoing struggles with forgiveness. I had read Sr. Helen Prejean’s endorsement on the back cover, in which she says this book will change lives. But the book starts with a clichéd story about a woman named Betsy whose husband has left her for another woman. Betsy, naturally enough, wants revenge and plenty of it: “I want to get even!” she screams at the author, a priest and her spiritual mentor. “I want him to hurt like I hurt!” The scenario and the tired dialogue in particular sounded made up.

Many of Catholic artist’s works draw inspiration from the Bible

TORONTO - Chris Fung was born and raised Catholic, but it was through art that he discovered his faith.

That art is about to take centre stage at Fung’s upcoming show, Our Best Is Now: How. The exhibit, which runs from Aug. 16-28, will feature more than 100 pieces from Catholic artist Fung, his sister Janine and cousin Nigel.

Catholic and artist weren’t always titles Fung held or coveted, though. At one point, he didn’t plan on being either.

In his teens, Fung broke away from his faith as “the grass was greener anywhere else.” But when a friend committed suicide, Fung began his journey back to his Catholic roots, whether he knew it or not. To pass the time, he began drawing, though he had no experience with art outside high school art classes. Over time, it became more and more important to him, and the faith seemed to find its way into his art. Now, 12 years later, for the first time his work will be on display at a downtown Toronto art gallery.