Book review from The Movie Snob.
Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (originally published 1927). I had never read any of Willa Cather’s work before, but I found this novel very moving and very beautiful. In the mid-1800s, the United States is consolidating its control over the area that would eventually become the State of New Mexico. The Catholic Church responds to these developments by sending a new missionary bishop to take charge of the area—a Frenchman named Jean Marie Latour. His life-long friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, accompanies him, and together the two clerics (who had previously been toiling in the mission fields of Ohio) experience the beauty and the mystery of the southwestern desert and its Mexican and Indian inhabitants. Michael Dirda sums it up well: “The most serenely beautiful of [Cather’s] books, it seems scarcely a novel at all, more a kind of New World pastoral, evoking the beauty of the desert Southwest, lamenting the passing of traditional Native culture, and glorifying the lives of two saintly Catholic missionaries as they spread their faith in a harsh land.” (Classics for Pleasure 255.) For my part, I add this book to Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as my favorite “Catholic” novels.
The Movie Snob hasn’t been getting out to the movies, so here’s another book review:
Voyage to Alpha Centauri, by Michael D. O’Brien (Ignatius Press 2013). So what is Ignatius Press, reliable publisher of orthodox Catholic books, doing publishing this great big doorstop of a sci-fi novel? Well, because it has a lot of religion in it (of course). In the fairly near future, man has figured a way to build a spaceship capable of going more than half the speed of light. That puts Alpha Centauri, the star nearest to us, within striking distance—if you’re up for a voyage that will take nine years going out and nine years coming back. Anyhoo, the story is told from the perspective of one passenger on the giant spaceship that is built to make the voyage. There are lots of religious and philosophical asides, and there is also a lot of commentary on the surveillance state. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength a little bit. It’s a weird book, but interesting and definitely different.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, by Holly Ordway (Ignatius 2010). Ignatius is a leading publisher of dependably orthodox Catholic books. That, together with the title of this book, tells you most of what you need to know about it. Ordway, an English professor, was a reflexive atheist for many years. But her curiosity and desire to know the truth of things led her into a series of conversations with her Christian fencing coach (of all people). Those conversations led to her conversion to Christianity and, ultimately, Catholicism. I thought it was an interesting and well-written story.
The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate of Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage, and Communion in the Church, by Juan Jose Perez-Soba and Stephan Kampowski (Ignatius 2014). This is no secret: The Catholic Church is struggling to propose its teachings about sex and marriage in a way that the modern world can even comprehend, let alone appreciate. According to the authors of this book, German Cardinal Walter Kasper has proposed that the Church should modify its long-standing practice and allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion after a penitential period. Cardinal Kasper cites the modern practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church and certain very old Christian texts in support. The authors of this book argue that Cardinal Kasper does not treat the evidence of ancient Christian practice fairly, and that an objective reading of the evidence leads to the conclusion that the Church’s present and long-standing practice goes back to the beginning of Christianity. They also argue that the Catholic teaching of the indissolubility of marriage is firmly rooted in good Christian theology. Finally, they argue that the Church has been terribly slow to build on Pope St. John Paul II’s extensive writings on the family. The crisis of the family in the modern world, they argue, is much deeper and broader than the narrow problem of the divorced-and-remarried. In their view, the Church is failing in its mission to teach the truth about love and marriage, to prepare engaged couples adequately for marriage, and to help newly married couples negotiate the crucial first several years of their marriage. They offer this book in the hope of influencing the upcoming Synod on the Family that is coming up later this year—next month, in fact.