Books for Christmas

That “there is no end to the making of books” is attested by both revelation (see Ecclesiastes 12:12) and a browse through your local bookstore—which, if well-stocked, will help you get the following to deserving readers on your Christmas list.

N.T. Wright, “Paul: In Fresh Perspective” (Fortress Press). The former Anglican bishop of Durham is the Anglosphere’s premier biblical scholar and to read his books is to feel oneself in the hands of a master-teacher. This small volume is a distillation of the analysis in Wright’s massive, two-volume study, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” (the fourth installment in his masterwork, “Christian Origins and the Question of God”). It’s a great read for both information and inspiration, and ought to be a considerable boon to preachers.

Jonathan Last, editor, “The Seven Deadly Virtues” (Templeton Press). The title comes from a naughty song in “Camelot,” but in the hands of Last and his colleagues (all prominent conservative writers), the content is not a celebration of vice but a witty introduction to the virtuous life, crafted especially for denizens of a culture deeply confused about right and wrong—and about the reasons why doing the right thing makes for happiness. Give it to a regular reader of the National Catholic Reporter, The Nation or some other publication convinced that conservatives are dour, cranky meanies—but get one for your favorite college student, too. The culture wars were never so much fun.

Roger Scruton, “Notes from Underground” (Beaufort Books). The distinguished British philosopher who (as he puts it on the dust jacket) “rescued himself from the academy twenty years ago,” adds to his literary laurels with an evocative novel of life in Prague during the last years of communism. The moral wilderness of mirrors in a police state, against which Vaclav Havel and John Paul II counterposed “living in the truth,” is dissected with insight and compassion. And while Scruton reminds us of just how bad life was inside the communist culture of the lie, he also explores, in an artful way that never descends to vulgarity, the passions that could be summoned up by that experience. The portrait of a clueless American legal philosopher who insists to hard-pressed Czech dissidents that abortion is the first of human rights is devastatingly delicious.

Fred Kaplan, “John Quincy Adams: American Visionary” (Harper). If he’s remembered at all these days, it’s as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the film “Amistad;” but John Quincy Adams was arguably the most talented and consequential public servant in American history. He served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, represented the United States diplomatically as ambassador to the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia and Great Britain, negotiated the Treaty of Ghent (which ended the War of 1812), and served as President James Monroe’s secretary of state before winning the presidency himself. Adams spoke multiple languages, taught at Harvard, was a competent poet and assiduous diarist, and was happily married to Louisa Catherine Johnson for 51 years. It’s hard to imagine such a man in the sound-bite politics of today, but it’s good to be remembered of the kind of people America once nurtured, in the hope that remembering might inspire us to do so again.

Allen C. Guelzo, “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion” (Vintage Books). There is certainly no end to the making of books about the three most decisive days in American history. But having read my share of them, I learned a lot from this latest entry into the lists, particularly in terms of the logistical concerns behind Robert E. Lee’s two invasions of the North, and the human character of the combatants. Guelzo has mined the materials of the new social history in service to a fine piece of good old-fashioned narrative history.

Evelyn Waugh, “Scoop” (Back Bay Books). I first read it in high school; I re-read it for perhaps the 20th time a few months ago. No novel I know is so consistently entertaining. Give it to someone condemned to a long flight in the middle seat.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash