Who among us does not long for lasting happiness? This universal desire is ever present, yet so many today are not happy. Fr. Robert Spitzer’s brilliant exploration of true happiness is an incredible gift for anyone looking for something more satisfying than the next short-lived physical stimulation. With his book, “Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts”, Fr. Spitzer takes a refreshingly comprehensive approach to the human person as a physical and spiritual being with a mind, will, and emotions. He does not limit his focus where one might expect a priest to do so: merely seeking spiritual solutions to the problem of unhappiness. Spitzer’s dual approach to faith and reason as both a scientist and a faithful priest produces a robust analysis of the human person. The author draws on the expertise of psychologists, philosophers, and scientists to illuminate the natural world and the human experience. These all point to something outside and beyond ourselves. But is such a conclusion - finding fulfillment in the divine - just wishful thinking, as Freud understood it? Spitzer appeals to the most brilliant astrophysicists, mathematicians and logicians of our age, who insist we are transphysical, or spiritual beings. Only God can account for the life’s greatest question, say the greatest minds to ever live. As it turns out, obtaining happiness takes some serious reflection about our lives and the choices we make. Even our unconscious attitudes play an influential role in our level of happiness, yet we often remain unaware of their existence, let alone impact. The author reveals four levels of happiness, each with its proper place and role. Most basically, we seek external, material pleasure. Our brains and sensory faculties detect biological opportunities and dangers and so, thankfully, we naturally seek breakfast and clothing. Secondly, we have a self-consciousness which leads us to seek status, intelligence, power, and social opportunities. Third, we have a capacity for self-consciousness and empathy which fills us with the desire to contribute to our communities and the world. Finally, we were created with a transcendental awareness and desire for the sacred and the spiritual. The person who lives solely for the first or second kind of happiness, to the neglect of the third or fourth, will only experience brief moments of happiness, but not the lasting kind we were made for. Spitzer then invites the reader to examine what it means to be human while unveiling the fruits of full capacity living and the struggles of a sub-par life. The strength of his approach rests on common human experiences - frustrations and failures that plague us, as well as achievements and celebrations we strive for. He keeps his feet on the ground with eminently practical examples while empowering his readers to extend their current situation. He guides the reader through the process of changing one’s fundamental attitudes by examining purpose in life, views of others and one-self, and views of freedom. Thus, he makes “escaping your personal hell” a concrete reality. After laying a practical and accessible foundation, the book proceeds to an exploration of the deepest level of happiness. Spitzer crowns his social, psychological, and philosophical analysis with beauty, the Church, and a relationship with God focused on Jesus Christ. With faith, we discover worship, learning, and service as vehicles of grace buoyed up by prayer and ongoing conversion. These realities are richly explored as the ultimate means to true happiness. Those who engage this volume will be happy to learn it is only the first of four. Fr. Spitzer’s brilliance shines through his insights, relatable anecdotes, and profound conclusion. Readers will discover that the build-up of the initial pages creates the tension of a sling-shot: a little effort results in a spectacular and unforeseen flight.
Can you sum up the life of a great saint who changed the world? Can you adequately convey the impact of a man who preached, wrote, and taught for most of his eighty-five years? What can be said about a young man who became a priest, a bishop, and then a pope, that hasn’t already been said? You cannot reduce this man to a book, but you can explore his life by looking at what he loved. The man is Karol Wojtyla – now immortalized as St. John Paul II - and the author who presents a peek into this beloved pope’s heart is Jason Evert. The biography Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves is an excellent read for someone already familiar with the life and teachings of John Paul II, while also serving as a wonderful introduction to this spiritual giant of our times. Evert’s simple and direct style draws the reader in while keeping the lofty subjects accessible. Yet, it is the author’s passion and personal insight that make the book so powerful and applicable. It comes across as the impact of one man’s heart and mind upon the heart and mind of another. The personal insights, testimonies, and conversions shared through encountering John Paul II do not lose their force. The reader may find himself constantly whispering, “Wow!” and finding the nearest person to share, “You gotta hear this…” Evert explores the life and influential events of this incredible man. From the tragic deaths of family members to narrow escapes from Nazis as a young seminarian to his fight against communism as a young Bishop to his attempted assassination in St. Peter's Square, Evert moves the reader through the marvels and miracles that marked Wojtyla's incredible life.The reader will observe the pope’s prayer habits, mystical abilities, the inspiration for his famous Theology of the Body teachings, his continual embrace of personal poverty and detachment, and his insight into the purpose of pain backed by his own road of suffering. Amidst an intense life of prayer, writing, and pastoring, the Holy Father embraced a lifelong penchant for time spent hiking, skiing and praying in the great outdoors with those closest to his heart – the youth. Perhaps most notably, the piercing sanctity and unusual brilliance of this man will not leave the reader despairing over his own futile chances at sainthood, but rather will inspire him to follow the model of the Holy Father as a beacon of hope for personal holiness.Not only will the reader discover John Paul II’s numerous achievements throughout this volume, he will see the motivations that drove him and the power that enabled him to accomplish so much: a faith fortified by prayer and action. After a truly exhilarating tour of the life of young Lolek to the papacy of John Paul II in Part I, the author frames the life of the Holy Father around his five loves: young people, human love, the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary, and the Cross. Each of these loves allows the reader interior access to the man himself, a narrative that goes beyond mere information or a nice story. Evert's reflections deliver profound insights into how this saint viewed, embraced, and focused his life in light of these five loves. Readers beware! Evert creates a dangerous encounter with Saint John Paul II, one powerful enough to effect real and lasting changes in a seeking human heart.
What does the Church want from her Religious Sisters? A response to Jo Piazza’s “Great Nunquistion.”Every nun stands before a “Grand Inquisitor” when she makes her final promises. Why would she freely commit to obedience on that day? Let us return to that question and first respond to the claim: The Church is uncomfortable with women. Since this statement appears to be serious, let’s highlight that one church lady, known affectionately to Catholics as, “Our Lady,” who is more revered, respected, and followed than any Pope has ever been. In fact, most Popes attribute their spiritual lives to her guidance and have told us to do likewise. Yes, that would be Jesus’ own mother: Mary, the Mother of God. There are hundreds who we could mention here, but I’ll note two: Saint Catherine of Siena, who famously told the pope how to “rule the world,” and Mother Teresa, whose alliance with Pope John Paul II is well known. The world is buoyed up by contemporary sisters – Little Sisters of the Poor, Conventional Franciscans of the Renewal, Dominicans, Sisters of Life, Servidoras, and Carmelites, just to name a small portion of the most incredible women revered and loved by the Church today. What is it about these nuns that doesn’t catch the attention of this author? Perhaps it is that they embrace their vow of obedience as a beautiful thing – something they equate with obeying Christ Himself.Piazza’s complaint stems from a worldview (and ecclesiology) which views the Church in an over-politicized way. Everything seems to be judged on a progressive/conservative scale. Pope Francis, and those Catholics who enthusiastically call him, “Pastor,” recognize that the ultimate measure of the Church cannot be political. Instead, the question, “Is the Church as it should be?” can only be answered by the degree of her faithfulness to Christ. Instead of asking, “Is the Church progressive enough?” we must instead ask, “How faithful is the Church to her Head?”The problem of infidelity has been taking place for 2,000 years within the Church, that’s one essential reason for authority. St. Paul censured lots of people claiming to hand down the Gospel. Was that overbearing? What about Jesus, did he not accept that woman as he should of when he told her, “Go and sin no more?” The problem with the Vatican is the problem with Jesus Christ: his intolerance of sin, his expressions of truth over distortion, and his love (sometimes tough love) amidst willful defiance. (Note, I do not propose conservatism over progressivism, but faithfulness over the ever-present temptation to make oneself the pope). The Church is the Bride of Christ (hence “her” or “she”), and the Church is the Mother of the faithful, who are born from the womb of the baptismal font. Nuns are incarnate individuations of the Church. They’re living, breathing metaphors of what each Christian is ultimately called to: union with the Bridegroom.As a bride, each pledges her faithfulness to Christ. And each is a “mother” to those who are part of the Christian family.Is it degrading for Vatican representatives to “investigate” nuns? There are good reasons for any authoritative clergy to criticize, chastise, or censure any members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Catholics are called to faithfully follow Christ, and that includes accepting Church teachings and living them out. Of course, it is a concern of the Church if unfaithfulness is celebrated or codified by a person or group of persons claiming to represent Catholicism. To throw out a fundamental aspect of Catholicism for some perceived gain always results in actual loss. You cannot be more Catholic by being less Catholic. As Pope John Paul II once wrote, a Christian has “the right to receive ‘the word of faith’ not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis and putting at risk the results that Christ and the ecclesial community have a right to expect from it.” Does “the Vatican choose not to celebrate” nuns? A nun who proclaims the Gospel should be celebrated. One who distorts the Gospel should not be. You cannot uphold something contrary to Catholic belief and still be a faithful Catholic. What about the claim that “nuns are an endangered species?” Are the statistics presented an indicator that perhaps the Church needs to redefine religious life in order to increase the amount of nuns? First, I would point out that faithfulness is not measured by numbers. The members of the universal Church are referred to as “the faithful” because they faithfully follow their shepherd – not because there is a certain number of them. The statistical reference shows a huge decline in women religious since Vatican II. It’s helpful to realize that the overall numbers of faithful Catholics declined in that same period. Is the decline due to an oppressive and closed-minded male hierarchy? Maybe those religious left because they chose not to be faithful. Maybe the laity left because they lost their mothers.Second, God calls us to be devout, not to redefine His Church. Faithfulness is hard. But that’s what makes is beautiful! And that’s what makes it a vocation. After years of marriage, a man seeking to be faithful to his wife cannot redefine the definition of their marriage and still claim to be faithful. He can either love sacrificially, or not. He can’t expect her to change the foundation of the marriage and then call her closed-minded if she will not. So why should anyone be faithful? The only thing that can motivate one to fidelity is love. Not that feeling of love, but the unwavering commitment of the will. “Till death do us part” kind of love.You can spot a nun embracing that decision by the contagious joy that flows from the fact that she loves her spouse, the Church, unto death.Ms. Piazza referenced a woman who did not become a nun because the order was not a NGO. One should not become a nun for the wrong reason, just as one should not get married for the wrong reason. A woman should not become a nun because “the Church values what she values.” Conversely, the only reason a woman should become a nun is because she comes to value that which the Church values. She discovers the “pearl of great price.” One discovers the truth of Christ, one submits to Christ, and so one happily places her own desires below the will of her superiors. No one should become a nun to get an education and travel the world. That’s what college and airplanes are for. One should become a nun because she loves Christ so much that she wants to join herself to him alone and serve his Church. She becomes a nun to make of herself a living sacrifice. She becomes a nun because it brings her joy to humbly serve. Not because she has an agenda. Not because she needs to be empowered. The author actually references vows, including obedience, perhaps in a positive light. Yet, this article paints the virtue of obedience as a weakness. Ironically, the author contributes to what she complains about – she furthers the attitude that leads to fewer nuns – an attitude of dissent. If she would like more nuns, she needs to discover the joy of faithfully following the Holy Father as one follows Christ, even when it’s hard. A dissent-oriented disposition cannot embrace obedience as a good and beautiful thing, but only an obstruction that prevents freedom and power. Such a stance will never give birth to vocations. Alternatively, many nuns embrace Jesus’ words, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit.” Nuns are awesome because they love and serve Christ. And they believe the body of Christ to be the hierarchy typically referred to as “the Vatican.” Obedience is how they joyfully live that spousal love. The incentive to be a nun today is the same as always – to sell all she has and go and follow Christ. The most joyful and beautiful nuns show us how to lay down their lives, to die every day by offering their bodies to God as a spiritual sacrifice. Nuns who do that multiply the numbers of religious in the Church. Those who complain like Piazza do not. Nuns do rule the world, just not in the way Piazza would like. Or perhaps not the world she would like.
For a tree to thrive, it must be pruned. Jesus himself said that the Father will prune the living branches of the vine (the Church) so they can produce more fruit. He also promised that this same Church would contain wheat and weeds – saints and sinners – in every age. Today we find old and new problems, which bring ancient and fresh challenges for a Church that desires to set the world on fire with the love of Christ.George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church may prove to be an important work that proposes a particular lens through which to see the Church. He analyzes universal and local problems in the Church (principally, crises of faith) and offers solutions (namely, ongoing personal conversion). What exactly is Evangelical Catholicism? It is not a version of Catholicism, but the core identification of the Church with the work of the Holy Spirit, which brings deep reform in the Church. The goal is not to “get along” in the world, but to bear witness to the truth and facilitate conversions. Evangelical Catholics are not afraid of being labeled bigots, but desire to accurately portray biblical morality as a source of true freedom both in daily life and the public square. They are counter-cultural, embracing the Church’s unique way of life and live with dual-citizenship in this world and the heavenly kingdom. Amidst today’s post-modern culture, Evangelical Catholicism creates a Church that thrives. Such thriving occurs when members begin striving for holiness and embody ongoing conversion to Christ, in particular by living Christian selflessness. In a word, “holiness converts.” Evangelical Catholicism embraces authority in the Church as from Christ against the reign of the “Imperial autonomous Self.” It embraces the Church, not as a business with the Pope as the universal CEO and the Bishops as branch managers, but as the mystical Body of Christ where Bishops teach, sanctify, and govern. It is a liturgically centered form of Catholic life, embracing the ancient and the new, inasmuch as both approach worship as a privilege and a response due to God, not therapy or entertainment. Part I can be a bit repetitive at times but certainly allows the reader to grasp what is at stake and what is needed to steer the Barque of Peter heavenward. The author argues that the needed deep reform flows from the heart of Evangelical Catholicism: personal knowledge of Christ. Thus, it lives from the foundation of divine revelation, Scripture and Tradition. It also depends on both Word and Sacrament for nourishment, because it is the same Christ who is the Word of God revealed in the Scriptures that comes to us through the Sacraments.The One Church, says Weigel, exists in different modes throughout the ages. The Church of the 21st century requires a particular kind of focus, one which cannot flourish simply by appealing to authority or merely emphasizing morality in legal-juridical terms (as was often the case with the Counter-reformation Catholicism of the recent past). Weigel argues that Pope Leo XIII began to reform and transition the Church into a new era, a transition that continued through each successive pope down to Benedict XVI (the last of this transitional phase). The Second Vatican Council was also part of the “dynamic process begun by Leo’s reforms.” Interestingly, this book was published shortly before Pope Francis was elected. So as Weigel discusses how Benedict’s successor can revitalize the Church, the reader can judge if these called-for reforms have begun to take root.Part II details specific areas of reform – the episcopacy, the priesthood, the laity, the consecrated life, the intellectual life, public policy advocacy, and the papacy. Weigel presents the big picture with specific examples, which may leave the reader looking for omitted aspects at times. Yet, the reader will likely gain wisdom from this author’s commentary infused with catechesis, and will even possess a handbook if he desires to help implement the deep reform in the Church which Weigel advocates. Out of its epicenter of friendship with Christ, Evangelical Catholicism lives by the mission of Christ, of which “it is not permissible for anyone to remain idle,” according to John Paul II. Here, Weigel lays out a road map, an instruction manual, or better yet, a pruning kit to help grow the great Tree of Life, the One Church of Christ.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is an artist of common sense and his medium is the English language. His words flow like beautiful music. They catch you, hold you, and satisfy you. Dale Ahlquist allows one to tour the magnitude of Chesterton’s works while keeping both feet on the ground in The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton. The reader will hear Chesterton skillfully proclaim the truth that resonates in mind and heart. Ahlquist reveals this brilliant, pithy, and timeless author.
A myth, like a gun, can be deadly. But myths are unloaded guns. Exposing the empty barrel removes the threat to bystanders and the one taking aim. Everyone benefits from the truth, but not everyone takes it well. Even blanks can backfire. Thus, truth always requires the company of charity.
Flipping on the news on any given day can be overwhelming, and trying to form a political stance from it all can be quite daunting. How do we sort it out? Amidst multimedia bombardment, do we stop to consider where policies even derive?