Book Reviews

By Hillary Mast

How do you talk to a child about God? How can complex theological teachings that have taken centuries to define be presented in a way that children can understand them?


It’s easier than you think, as a new children’s book, “Cracks in the Sidewalk”, proves.


Just look at things little ones are already familiar with. Moonlight, lightning bugs, fresh snowfall -- all of these are just little signs of God’s unyielding love for his children, big and small.


Author Tony Magliano, whose columns appear weekly on CNA, gives examples of the countless ways God shows his love for us, while illustrator Lynn Armstrong brings the colorful ideas to life with childlike simplicity.


But God’s love isn’t limited to just signs, the story reminds us; He also gives us people in our lives who show us love and kindness -- something that every child should be able to relate to.


A sweet and charming book, “Cracks in the Sidewalk” makes a perfect bedtime story.

“Cracks in the Sidewalk” is available now in paperback through Eastern Christian Publications.

Posted: October 10, 2015, 6:00 am
By Chris Gilbert

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.

Posted: July 24, 2015, 6:00 am
By Chris Gilbert

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.

Posted: April 2, 2015, 6:00 am
By Lisa Hendey

Beth Gantry, Liz, Elizabeth...the main character of Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is many things to many people.

In the opening pages of this engrossing story, we meet Elizabeth and depart with her on the journey of a lifetime: her solo trip to Israel. She has dreamed of this pilgrimage for many years, but in the end it appears to be her discontent with her life that drives her to finally embark on her voyage. Beth has given her life to serving others and has come to feel only disappointment and resentment in return for her loving efforts. Her relationship with her husband Luke is strained to the point of near divorce. She feels a growing gulf between herself and her teenage children, the oldest of whom has flown the coop for college. Even her spiritual life seems dry and distant.

Beth looks at her journey to Israel as an opportunity to regain the life she feels she has missed out on in all of her efforts to care for others. "Her ache for what life hadn't yet held was becoming almost unbearable at times." Leaving her children in the care of her very driven and increasingly distant husband, Beth throws herself into her travel. Her desire is not to have the typical tourist experience of the Holy Land. Rather, she arranges for apartment housing in hopes of truly experiencing the traditions of the Jewish people. After having spent years studying the Jewish culture, "Elizabeth wanted to know, up close and personal, what is was like to live as a ‘chosen one.’"

Elizabeth's logistical efforts are rewarded immediately when she meets the friendly neighbors at her Jerusalem accommodations. Meir and Ayala Goldfarb, along with their adult children David and Miriam, immediately embrace Elizabeth as a part of their family's Sabbath celebrations and she finds herself invited to dine and worship with them.

Just as the reader is joining Elizabeth in settling in to her wonderful scenario, unexpected tragedy strikes. Beth, at the urging of a very concerned Luke, contemplates cutting her trip short but eventually decides to remain in Jerusalem. The ensuing events draw her even more closely into the Jewish rituals and traditions she has longed to experience. Ultimately, through her wonderful relationship with the Goldfarb family, she meets Sipporah and Rachel, who will become her guides. Their tutelage is both historical and spiritual - embracing their companionship Elizabeth ultimately reconnects with her own personal spirituality. A fire is lit within her as she reconnects with God with a new intensity.

Interspersed throughout the accounts of Elizabeth's trip, we find Luke experiencing his own journey of sorts. As he steps in for the role his wife has played within the family, he begins to understand her perspective and his part in the damage that has occurred in their relationship. Like Beth, he finds himself longing for a deeper and more convicted connection with God. But has his marriage suffered too greatly to be repaired? The closing chapters of this lovingly crafted novel bring a tender response to this dilemma.

Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is not the typical inspirational novel. Part travelogue, part history lesson, part Bible study, this book blends a wonderful story with empathetic characters. Author Cheryl Dickow's research and attention to detail are apparent in this smartly written tale. Dickow's strengths lie in both character development and in educating the reader without taking on an overly dogmatic tone. In reading this novel, I learned a tremendous amount about Jewish culture and its relevance to the roots of Christianity.

The close connection I felt with several of the characters in this book, along with my admiration for the wisdom and spiritual reflections of author Cheryl Dickow, leave me hoping that we will be treated to a sequel to Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage.

Note: Read Lisa’s interview with Cheryl about the sequel Miriam: Repentance and Redemption in Rome.

Posted: August 23, 2013, 6:00 am
By Chris Gilbert

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.

Posted: August 20, 2013, 6:00 am
By Thomas Jordan

How does Islam impact Western culture? William Kilpatrick challenges the typical perspective in Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. He looks at the essence of Islam, the life of Muhammad, and the teaching of the Koran. In doing so, he shows that Islam threatens the Western way of life, and Christianity in particular. But what is this threat and why don’t more people recognize it?

Some say Islam is a moderate religion of peace that condemns Islamic violence as radical. If that’s true, Kilpatrick asks, “Why not open the books on Islam?” He notes how much Islamic violence simply goes underreported, such as the thousands of Christian martyrs in Northern Algeria, the millions in Sudan, and a beheading in Buffalo, New York in 2009. Besides violence itself, approval or admittance of violence remains ignored, such as the stated goal of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America: “a grand jihad eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.” Kilpatrick explains that multiculturalists are motivated to cover up violence connected to Islam because it challenges their core belief that all religions are equal.  The author shows that certain views are reprehensible when Christians espouse them but ignored when Muslims do so.  For example, Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, long considered a moderate Muslim, stated gays and lesbians should be “killed in the worst manner possible.”  The author asks, “What if moderate Muslims are the ones who hijacked the true Islam by ignoring its harsher demands?”

Kilpatrick also discusses a “stealth jihad” or cultural jihad accomplished through law, verbal reconstruction, immigration, and population growth.  Some promote Sharia law to be enshrined in American law as it has been in other countries, yet Kilpatrick insists it flies in the face of the Western concepts of law and human dignity.   For example, permission for wife-beating, amputation for thieves, or marriage of 9 year-old girls cannot coexist with the American Constitution.

Why don’t Westerners see Islam as a threat?  Multiculturalism promotes diversity and claims that all religions and cultures have equal value.  But in practice, its proponents view Christian heritage shamefully, desiring Western demotion and non-Western promotion.   Many of the troublesome aspects intrinsic to Islam are never discussed because multiculturalists protect this religion from fair criticism or scrutiny.   This double-standard eagerly invites Islam as a replacement to Christianity and Western life.  The author also compares responses to the film, The Da Vinci Code with the portrayal of Mohammad.  The same people praise a movie that indicts Christianity and Christ himself, but express outrage at negative representations of Mohammad.   Kilpatrick calls for consistent standards across the board.

Multiculturalism simultaneously impugns Christians while defending Muslims and teaches Westerners to feel guilt for their way of life.  Amidst a growing threat to Western life, Kilpatrick asks, “Who will defend a culture in which they’re taught to regard as shameful?”   Tolerance is the greatest multiculturalist virtue.  But are there things Westerners should not tolerate?  The author shows that America silenced itself against corruption which has crumpled courage.  The result is what Canadian author Kathy Shaidle calls “the tyranny of nice.” 
The fear of offending has driven the multiculturalists agenda.   The British even renamed Islamic terrorism “anti-Islamic activity,” while American military leaders have purposely ignored signs of terrorists within their own ranks.   Major Hasan, who killed 13 at Fort Hood, was said to misunderstand his own religion.  One explained that the shootings were “the work of a man, not a belief system…”  Kilpatrick shows that Hasan’s crime sparked a defense of Islam while Christian criminals implicate Christianity itself.  This double-standard is one reason that “in the end, cultural relativism is a suicidal policy.”

Some atheists have called for a humanitarian response to Islamic violence.  For example, Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke against harsh Muslim practices that defy “universal rights” and called for “promotion of freedom, equal opportunity, and secular values for all.”  However, Kilpatrick points out that secular values simply cannot stand up to a totalitarian Islam because the fruits of the Enlightenment (free speech, free press, democracy, reason) depend on the Christian roots.  Atheists often claim religion causes the world’s problems and removing such “superstition” will increase respect of humans.  Kilpatrick responds that there cannot be human dignity or universal rights without God.  As Pope John Paul II stated, “When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life.”

Kilpatrick compares the Bible with the Koran and Jesus with Mohammad.   He argues that differences are more crucial than similarities, such as the Koran’s regard for Jesus.  The Koran specifically denies the central beliefs of Christianity: that Jesus did not really die on a cross, he is not the Messiah, and he is not divine.  Further, it states those who believe this will be condemned by Jesus himself when he returns.   Kilpatrick calls for open discussion and education, for Muslims to read the Bible and non-Muslims to read the Koran because ultimately only Christianity can stop Muslim growth.

Kilpatrick concludes that the crisis of Christian faith is the problem and its strengthening is the solution.  Christians have a duty to speak out against wife-beatings, forced marriages, genital mutilation, and honor killings.  But should Christians avoid offending Muslims?  Kilpatrick explains, “Christianity itself is inherently a criticism of Islam’s claim to have the final revelation. Simply to assert the divinity of Christ is a blasphemy of the highest order by Islamic standards.  If you are a believing Christian, you are already a blasphemer in the eyes of Islam.”

Posted: January 21, 2013, 7:00 am
By Chris Gilbert

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.

Ahlquist explains that Chesterton’s “ideas are woven tightly together so that his art does not contradict his religion, his politics do not contradict his philosophy, and his economics do not contradict his morality…” He follows thoughts to their logical end, so everything is fair game. He considers evil and sin, rights and politics, happiness and suicide, health insurance and religious liberty, the East and the West, and tolerance and love.  He also discusses Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Aleister Crowley. 

Why is Chesterton so satisfying to read? Ahlquist points out that unlike most writers, he doesn’t just ask questions, but he answers them.  He delivers truth simply yet profoundly. “Though we are all liars, we all love the truth.” He challenges conventional wisdom and flips it on his head.  “Those who talk of ‘tolerating all opinions’ are provincial bigots who are only familiar with one opinion.”   Chesterton’s brilliance flows from his mastery of the subject and his command of language.  Ahlquist says Chesterton could have his own dictionary and provides a few sample selections, such as absent-mindedness: present-mindedness on something else.

Ahlquist examines the seven deadly sins via Chesterton.  The problem is not that we don’t recognize evil, but that we excuse it.  Sloth is still a problem, but lies hidden in our age of technology, “The real laziness is the cause of our apparent bustle.”  Meaning depends on leisure, “it is the happy man who does useless things.”  We’re over-sexed because we have lost the virtue of restraint and have lost the distinction “between sexual passion and sexual perversion.”  Yet, we cannot speak of sin because it offends today’s pervasive relativism.  Ahlquist explains that pride is the “sin that denies sin.”  It is one thing to actually sin; it is another to deny sin’s existence.  Chesteron says if he had one sermon to preach, it would be one against pride.   How do we combat these deadly sins? Repentance.  

Chesterton also warns against hedonism, “A nation that has nothing but its amusements will not be amused for very long.”  Politically, he criticizes those on the left and the right.  “There is now a false idealism of turning Government into God, by a vague notion that it gives everything to everybody; to the denial of the liberty given by God, which is called life…”  Our issues are his issues, “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion.  In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” 
The National Health Care Act proposed in 1912 drew Chesterton’s attention “The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy.”  Ahlquist explains that we worship the body, which is unhealthy.  The conversation about health focuses on freedom.  “The principle of Compulsory Insurance is that the rich man is forced to buy medicine, but the poor man is forced to take it.  This is literal slavery; and it begins the claim for entire support on one side and entire obedience on the other. Slavery is scientific, it is workable, it is comfortable; and…it is intolerable.”   We need God if we want to defend humanity because, “Every right is a divine right.” We must recognize the Creator if we want to defend creation. 

Ahlquist calls Chesterton the, “Apostle of Common Sense.” We need his profound words because common sense is no longer common, and what is common is not sense, but nonsense. Chesterton says we need not the average, but the normal.  He is a champion of normal.  Ahlquist shows that Chesterton is accessible and enjoyable because he is a poet and a prophet.   He is eloquent yet precise, strong yet gentle, honest yet subtle, serious yet humorous.

Posted: December 20, 2012, 7:00 am
By Chris Gilbert

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.

Catholic myths can lead people astray, prevent some from entering the Church, and embarrass the faithful. Thus, we need guys like Christopher Kaczor and his latest work, The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church.  He logically debunks the myths with clarity and brevity. But not without the threat inherent to apologetics – reducing Christian mysteries to mere formulas, reducing evangelization to winning the argument, and in the worst case, speaking truth without charity. Yet the author delivers the ultimate antidote to deadly myths by highlighting the crucial foundation of the Church – the life and love of Christ. Kaczor begins with a proper perspective of real persons living out their faith, and at times, failing to be saints. “Would it be fair to judge a hospital by the patients who disregard doctor’s orders and fail to take their medication?”

Kaczor’s fortifies each chapter with pointed references to Church teaching, saints, experts and psychological and sociological statistics. He relays scientific facts (which are good for critics) without implying, “just believe it.” This, however, may leave the reader seeking a more theological explanation and a less practical or sociological one, such as in the chapter on earthly welfare. In such places a horizontal explanation is emphasized at the expense of the vertical. Of course, the book’s purpose is not to be extensive manual. Yet it accomplishes the subtitle’s aim: distinguishing fact from fiction about Catholicism. 

Kaczor exposes the seven myths quite simply. Is faith an obstacle to science?  Albert Einstein didn’t seem to think so; he said, “Not everything that can be counted counts; not everything that counts can be counted.” Did the Church oppose science with Galileo? What about evolution and embryonic stem-cell research? Or perhaps the Church recognizes the value of both faith and reason as being complimentary.

Does the Church oppose earthly welfare, freedom, and happiness? Not according to Hilaire Belloc. He wrote, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so.  Benedicamus Domino!”

Does the Church treat women as second class citizens or is equal treatment of both sexes a Christian innovation taught by Christ, the Scriptures, and Tradition?

Does the Church oppose contraception because she opposes authentic love?   Or could it be that procreation enhances erotic love, builds marital friendship, and helps parents get to heaven? What about the Church’s stance on homosexuality and AIDS – is it bigoted and outdated? Kazcor’s shines a spotlight on the truth. For example, answering whether Pope Benedict was criticized unfairly, the director of AIDS Prevention Research at Harvard University replied, “This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it’s unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments.” 

Is opposition to gay marriage motivated by homophobia? Kaczor’s chapter on same-sex marriage is probably his strongest. He shows both what marriage is in itself, a comprehensive union, and how same-sex marriage affects the institution of marriage and culture as a whole.

Finally, is priestly pedophilia caused by celibacy? Or perhaps it is caused by a lack of fidelity. Kaczor cites several non-Catholics who explain that the Catholic priesthood is unjustly attacked. More central than media distortion remains celibacy itself, which scandalizes people because many believe one cannot be happy without sexual activity.

The Seven Big Myths disarms spurious arguments with the simple light of truth – a powerful book for Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike.

Posted: November 1, 2012, 6:00 am
By Craig Bowman

Born sometime between 1833 and 1848 in Hannibal, Missouri, Julia Greeley was freed during the Civil War although we don’t know if she was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation or if her master set her free of his own accord. All we know of her parents is their first names, George and Cerilda. As for her own name, it is “most likely that Julia took the name Greeley from Horace Greeley, who endeared himself to many black strongly urging Lincoln to emancipate the slaves.”

She had every right to be bitter and angry. An African American ex-slave who didn’t even know her birth year, she endured discrimination all her life. She suffered a lifetime of illiteracy and poverty. Yet, she responded to her life’s hardships with tireless charity and hidden acts of kindness.

Fr. Blaine Burkey, O.F.M.Cap., of St. Francis Friary in Denver, writes a powerful historical documentary about Julia Greeley, “In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart.” It is the story of an old, one-eyed black woman who appeared to be homeless and dressed in shabby clothes. At the same time, the account is naturally interwoven with early Colorado history, including the establishment of Denver’s earliest Catholic churches and parishes, and the work of Colorado’s first three bishops, Machebeuf, Matz and Tihen. The 140-page volume is stuffed with such historical persons, places and events that are familiar to Colorado natives and students of the state’s history.

Yet, even a simple sequence of events in Greeley’s life isn’t simple at all. As with many heroic lives, the legends abound – and that’s the problem. So, about a year ago, Fr. Burkey launched a painstaking effort to separate fact from fiction. For instance, shortly after her death, the “Rocky Mountain News” reported that “Julia came to Colorado with the second Mrs. Gilpin.” As he does throughout the book, Fr. Burkey underlines that passage and notes that Julia “did not come to Denver with Mrs. Gilpin, and Mrs. Gilpin was not the governor’s second wife; he was her second husband.” This fact-checking is important to us as readers because, as we read Julia Greeley’s life, we want to see as accurate a history of the times as possible.

Julia brought herself to Denver between 1878 and 1880. That same year, she lived with and worked for the former territorial governor, William Gilpin and his wife, Julia. The marriage was not a happy one, and Julia Greeley was dragged into the affair during an acrimonious and highly publicized divorce trial.

The rich Colorado history Julia Greeley witnessed barely fits into the book. The Catholic Church in Colorado grew up in front of her. In 1879, St. Elizabeth’s Parish was established, and in 1887, it was staffed by Franciscan Friars. A year later, after Sacred Heart Church was founded and staffed by Jesuits, Julia was received into the Catholic Church by Fr. Charles Ferrari, S.J. On and off, Julia worked as cook or housekeeper for the Jesuits at Sacred Heart Church, and from the day she was baptized to the day she died, she attended Mass there.

Here’s where the historical narrative fades into the background, and a miracle begins. Shortly after her conversion, Julia joined the League of the Sacred Heart, an organization dedicated to prayer and charitable works. One of the basics of her own spirituality was to place all of the day’s activities into secret service of the Sacred Heart. Specifically and intentionally, Julia Greeley performed her numerous acts of charity covertly. Even though she earned only $15 a month, she gave away all but her rent money. When those funds ran out, she would beg for money or food to help the poor.

More than once, she was subject to scams. When asked why she still trusted people after such fraud, she replied that she would rather take the risk of being defrauded than to neglect even one poor person.

She often provided help to people who would be ashamed to accept help from “one-eyed Julia.” Local artist Isiah McGill depicts Julia Greeley’s secret charity in a scene painted for the book’s cover, capturing its title. A cabin stands in a dark, cold night with a woman holding a sack of potatoes, wondering who put it on her porch. Julia has placed it there but soon realizes that the potatoes might freeze. So, she sends a child to knock on the door and run. “But don’t dast say Old Julia sent ya.” Julia and the child are hiding behind the backyard fence. The fireman’s helmet on the child recalls Julia’s dedication to Denver’s firemen to whom she delivered literature about the Sacred Heart at every Denver station.

Julia Greeley died on First Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 7, 1918 on her way to Mass.

Fr. Blaine Burkey, O.F.M. Cap, and others who know Greeley’s story, hope that the recent publication of his historical documentary on her life will “make both her story and cause more widely known.”


Father Blaine Burkey's book, "In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart," is available locally at Gerkins, Erger, and the Tattered Cover bookstores. It is also for sale at the Cardinal Stafford Library and may be ordered at the Julia Greeley website:

Posted: September 20, 2012, 6:00 am
By Chris Gilbert

What’s the cost of religious liberty?  Perhaps your life. 

In a short companion to the epic film, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Christida, Ruben Quezada tells how he first learned about the forgotten story of Mexico’s struggle for religious freedom.  When a young Ruben picked up a worn holy card, an elderly priest said, “Fr. Pro! He’s Mexican, like you. Don’t you know about him? He was killed in Mexico for being a priest.”  Ruben recounts, “Then, to my surprise, he raised his arms and made a gesture of firing a rifle and exclaimed, ‘Boom! That’s what Mexico was doing with their priests ...'"

Beginning on August 1, 1926, over 4,000 Priests were expelled or assassinated in eight years.  Only 334 priests were licensed (by the government) to serve some 15 million people.  All Church property was seized, public worship became illegal (no baptism, no Mass, no marriage), and priests were forbidden to vote or even speak against the government.  And that’s only part of the true story. 

Quezada’s little book adds depth, richness, and background to the powerful film.  He provides a simple question and answer format that inspires and informs, even independent of the movie. It certainly motivates the reader to learn the history of the Mexican Church.  Quezada explains the big picture of Mexico’s struggle for religious freedom, how it came about, and how the Catholic Church responded.  The persecution was so intense that Pope Pius XI wrote two separate encyclicals to the Mexican Bishops.  Thankfully, both these letters are included in this companion book for easy access and further insight from the papacy.  

The author focuses on specific martyrs and their characters in the film, he highlights the role of the United States in the midst of the war, he includes pictures from the 1920s as well as a gallery from the film, and he discusses the role of the laity, especially the Knights of Columbus. 

A bonus essay by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, “Who Can Be a Priest? The Question that Killed 200,000 Mexicans,” connects Mexico’s history to the present day.  President Calles fiercely enforced anti-Catholic laws and told one bishop who appealed to freedom of conscience, “The law is above the dictates of conscience.” 

We certainly need the lessons of the Cristiada today – that means we need to know the story.

Posted: August 22, 2012, 6:00 am
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