Sunday, March 30, 2008

Book Review: Vatican

Malachi Martin is a very interesting character in the history of the 20th century Church. He was born in Ireland and became a Jesuit priest in 1954. His books are most often about the Church and are written from a conservative/traditionalist point of view.

Vatican is a historical novel that takes place between 1945 and 1986. The story follows a young priest from Chicago who is sent to Rome for a few years before becoming the archbishop of the Chicago archdiocese. From there the reader is taken into the innermost chambers of the Roman Curia and views popes, cardinals, and bishops from a completely new perspective-inside the Vatican bureaucracy. There are good men, holy men, evil men, traitors, and everything in between. The battle between Catholicism and Communism is examined, as well as the specific evils of the 20th century-mass genocide, slavery, abortion, and the dirty money that finances and grows from these crimes.

I've read Hostage to the Devil already, also by Malachi Martin. He is a man who truly understood good and evil. A thing that strikes me about this book, especially when comparing it to another book written by a priest, The Tremaynes and the Masterful Monk, is the thorough knowledge of the human condition. Both priests truly understand people and how they tick.
Because Vatican takes place in historical settings, many of the characters are people we've seen on television, but with different names. Pope Pius XII is called Papa Profumi, while Pope Paul VI is called Papa Da Brescia. It is good to have Wikipedia handy to know which pope is which in case you are not well versed in 20th century popes (can you name the 20th century presidents?).

A couple of criticisms: the book is very long and begins quite slowly. I set it down numerous times early on and I'm fortunate to have been underway for seven weeks, giving me the time to chip away at it. Especially in the early part of the book, the lists of Italian names can be daunting. An index would have been nice.

It's up to the reader to be cautious when it comes to deciding what is fact and fiction in this book. It is tempting to assume that everything in this book is real. Ultimately, none of us will know what is real and what is fiction until we die, and it is far more important to focus on growing our spiritual life than whether or not secret organizations run everything in some sort of shadow government conspiracy. Fun? Lots! But not practical to the Catholic Faith.

Martin has put together a great novel that will introduce the workings of the Vatican to many happy readers. While slow at times, the book is worth reading, and some divine moments shined through that were beautiful and moving.

Ideology: *****
Content: ****
Importance: ***
Insomnia Effect: *** at the beginning, **** near the end

Total: ****

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review: The Tremaynes and The Masterful Monk

From time to time, a book comes along that is far more enjoyable than the other nine books I happen to be reading. This book is viewed as a special treat among good books. Hardly a minute flies by without sitting down to continue reading, often working hard to not plow through the book too quickly. Upon closing, the book is set aside with relish and a warm feeling that goes a little beyond mere sentiment.

The Tremaynes and the Masterful Monk is one of these books. Owen Francis Dudley, an Anglican clergyman who converted to become a Roman Catholic Priest, is the author of this and a few others in the series. I have read all but The Coming of the Monster, which I will save for another day. It was my familiarity with the series that created so much anticipation for this book. I had, in fact, saved it for when I needed a good read and had the time to do it relatively quickly.

The Tremaynes and the Masterful Monk continues the story of Father Anselm, a British monk. Some familiarity with the previous titles will help the reader understand the backstory (and there are spoilers for those beginning with this title), but essentially it is a story about a horrible, evil man named Gordon Tremaynes and his encounter with grace. Mr. Tremaynes is a sadist (when this book was written, the idea of sadism was relatively obscure) who has lived his life exacting very intricate tortures upon others, including his younger brother. This younger brother happens to be acquainted with Brother Anselm, who finds himself tangled in the affairs of this family. The first half of the book is more historical, building a background to demonstrate how evil and remorseless Gordon Tremaynes is. The second half of the book is Brother Anselm working with his family to do something to change him. This is a story of God's grace.

Probably the biggest draw to this book, as well as the whole series, is the character of Brother Anselm. This is a man of God that we all wish we knew. He is a living saint, he is brave, he is good and morally sound in such a way as Americans can hardly imagine. He embodies Catholic teaching and decency. He is beloved by his friends and feared by his enemies. He is a manly priest, a concept foreign to many. If you want your boys to look into a vocation, this is the book you should give them.

I picked this book up while a third of the way through Malachi Martin's Vatican, which got set aside for a few days. It took me less than three days to finish it-I was underway at the time-and it was everything I expected it to be. This is an enjoyable read that will spiritually refresh you as well. I give it my highest recommendation-but start with The Shadow on the Earth and read them in order.

Ideology: *****
Content: ***** (Brother Anselm smokes cigarettes, but does not appear to be addicted)
Importance: *****
Insomnia Effect: *****

Total: ***** This book (and series) belongs in EVERY Catholic's house and should be consulted as the model for the manly priesthood that Jesus Christ instituted.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

What Must Be Done Pt II

Politically, the next election looks bleak. Obama looks poised to pull a J.F.K. on McCain this fall, and Obama's pro-life record is abysmal. McCain is a 50/50 guess on the pro-life as he has voted pro-life before, but also supports stem cell research with already created embryos. Also, he generally creeps me out and seems to be even bolder than Bush in what he'll tell people...I can't imagine he would bode well for the international image of the U.S.
Obama's personality cult looks to engulf even President Clinton's if his success continues. Hillary would have been a one term president, I think, while Obama could easily hit two terms. This is scary and will likely result in a steep increase of big government doing big government things. Considering we're already broke, I'm expecting a redux of FDR's programs from the 30's. Gary North has good investment recommendations to hedge for a recession, and I recommend his site for just that.
Anyhow, back to what needs to be done. The USCCB, long known for its backbone (this is my tongue in my cheek), needs to work on creating blocs of Catholic voters who are willing to sit out elections if need be. The Republican Party is not the pro-life party...they are just less pro-choice than the Democrats. Many are choosing to sit out the election this fall, and I understand their choice. I'm unsure yet if I'll vote for McCain or a write in/third party. However, a million people (or many millions) organized under the pro-life banner refusing to vote for a weak pro-life candidate may set the stage for the next election to have some stronger pro-life candidates. Then again, there were plenty of good options for Catholics available: Ron Paul, Alan Keyes, Sam Brownback (great on pro-life, not great on empire, but would have been plenty fine), Mike Huckabee (terrible on many issues but very pro-life). I think at this point even Romney might have done something just to create a legacy for himself...maybe not.
Regardless, the bishops need to get their act together and stop playing the tax avoidance game. They also need to stop saying ridiculous things like the death penalty and racism being intriniscally evil, and make it a one issue decision once again: abortion. I personally hate how our government grows and grows and wastes all of our tax money on stupid wars, but I can live with that. I can't live with abortion. We need to take it down no matter what the cost.