Book Review: American Babylon

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ American Babylon is a weighty description of what it means for Christians to be in the world, but not of the world. It is an often repeated phrase that holds a variety of meanings, but Fr. Neuhaus likens it to the relationship between the soul and the body: “The soul is captive to the body, yet it holds the body together. So Christians are held captive to the world, and yet they hold the world together.”

While a good read, American Babylon is not light reading. Fr. Neuhaus does a great job demonstrating the difference between living in the city of men (earthly life) and the City of God (eternal life), but he often explains these differences by references to competing contemporary philosophies that could be confusing to the inexperienced reader unfamiliar with persons like Richard Rorty, Peter Singer, or the Niebuhr brothers.

Surely the most polemical topic of Fr. Neuhaus’ book is the chapter which asks, “Can an Atheist Be a Good Citizen?” Fr. Neuhaus responds in the negative. Surprising this may seem (to some) at first, I found it interesting that Fr. Neuhaus’ sentiments are echoed in our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s most recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The Holy Father explains that atheism is an impediment to integral human development (see Caritas in Veritate #29). Fr. Neuhaus says that the “new atheism” growing in the world today has no real moral accountability. The atheist is unable to give compelling reasons defending the society (and the actions of the society where he lives).

I found American Babylon to be a thought-provoking and necessarily slow read in order to digest the many wise words of Fr. Neuhaus. Fr. Neuhaus definitely had a talent for engaging the public square on matters of religion and philosophy.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Catholic Store online. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Book Review: Island of the World

One of my favorite things about Michael O’Brien’s novels is that they are like journeys. You, as the privileged reader, get to embark on a journey of self discovery alongside Mr. O’Brien’s main character. Island of the World is no different. I found myself so emotionally attached to this story that I had to set it aside on occasion while I dried my watery eyes, yet its more than eight hundred pages seemed to go by so quickly. Michael O’Brien does not disappoint in this moving story that will remain with you long after you have finished reading it.

Josip Lasta is a very believable and moving character and Island of the World traces his journey of self discovery through his childhood during World War II into contemporary times. Josip’s story is a story fraught with hard times and lots of suffering—and here, I advise the more sensitive reader that there are some mature scenes depicting the violence of war (done tactfully by Mr. O’Brien). But more importantly, this story is about the triumph of the human spirit in even some of the most deplorable circumstances of human life. Josip is confronted over and over again by the sorrows that life (and fallen human nature) can bring: war, death, betrayal, etc., yet he marches on and encounters persons who change his life and demonstrate to him the existence and power of virtue, especially love.

Next to Father Elijah (and perhaps tied), Island of the World is my favorite book by Michael O’Brien. I highly recommend it, especially to fans of Michael O’Brien as well as those who have yet to experience the journey of a Michael O’Brien novel.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Catholic Store online. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Understanding the Sacraments

It’s unfortunate that our (human) understanding of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church has morphed so far from what the Church teaches. The great crisis of faith, why so many are fallen away Catholics, is because no one understands (properly) the Faith.

Many times in my experience with Religious Education and/or apologetics I hear people speak of the great Sacrament of Confirmation as being “one’s personal acceptance of the faith in which they were raised” (i.e., a teenager finally embraces Catholicism as his religion). While that sounds nice, it’s simply not true. The Sacraments are not dependent upon our understanding, they are entirely dependent upon God’s grace. Confirmation is about receiving the GIFTS of the HOLY SPIRIT. Not personal conversion.

Don’t get me wrong. Personal conversion is a wonderful necessity, but it needn’t precede the Sacraments. In fact, waiting on such a conversion could be a means of unnecessarily prolonging the reception of the Sacrament; when, the Sacrament is designed precisely to pour grace into the soul (a necessary precursor to conversion). Especially in our time, when the faith is constantly attacked on all sides, young Catholics NEED the graces of Confirmation (especially those wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit) to guide and aide their faith and protect it from the world.