Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bookshelf: Two from George Weigel

All right, bibliophiles everywhere...gather 'round for the first bookshelf installment from my "empire" (that's what B XVI calls his library, so I figured I could adopt it, too.).

On tap for today are two books by George Weigel, Catholic theologian extraordinaire--I love his stuff. Whenever you pick up on of his books you know you are in for a load of insight, humor, and good Catholicism explained in simple, yet eloquent, terms. He writes about Catholicism in a way that makes you want to stand up and yell, "Yeah, I'm glad I'm Catholic!" He draws you into the beauty and Truth of the faith. This is true in all his books, but especially Letters to a Young Catholic (which is the first one I'm reviewing here).

LTAYC (we're into abbreviations :) ) was published in 2004, so it's not exactly 'new', but a paperback version has come out and I bought it about a week ago. The book is part of a larger "letters to a young..." (artist, lawyer, conservative (!) are just a few of the titles in the series), and Weigel has written it as a series of 15 or so letters that derive from particular Catholic spots of worship or pilgrimage. The "big spots", like St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel, and Chartres are here, but we also have Flannery O'Connor's home town, The Old Cathedral of Baltimore, and a parish in North Carolina. Each of these places is a link to a particular part of Catholic tradition, piety, or doctrine. For example, St. Peter's talks about the "grittiness" of Catholicism; Chartres, beauty; The Old Cathedral, freedom, and how Catholics should think about it. His approach is fantastic, because he draws you in with the history of the place you're visiting very vividly (as it should be, considering he's been all these places), then he takes you into the meat of the letter. The book covers many and sundry topics of the Catholic world: homosexuality, women in the priesthood, the Eucharist, the sacraments, how Catholics view "stuff", male and female in the Catholic Church, the Catholic imagination, and many other topics, written in Weigel's accessible yet lyric style. It's a book that's very hard to put down. You don't have to be "young" to read it, but it is geared specifically for people probably ages 16-26, and Weigel very often mentions the "young people" or "youth" of the Church in his letters, especially when talking about JP The Great and World Youth Days. Weigel places a great deal of emphasis on how this generation of Catholics can have much influence on the Church and the world as a whole. If you are a young person, this book leaves you energized and enthused about the work there is to do. If you are older, it should give you confidence about the next generation of Catholics. This would make a fantastic Christmas gift to any Catholic youth on your list (especially for college students, I think), or anyone who just loves George Weigel.

The second book, God's Choice: Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, is a more "scholarly" work in the vein of Weigel's international best seller Witness to Hope: A Biography of JPII. The book recounts the last days of JPII, neatly capsulizes the accomplishments and failures of his papacy, the ceremonies in Rome, and the conclave itself that elected Benedict XVI, as well as the challenges the new pope may face during his papacy. It's a very well paced book, with lots of inside information; since Weigel is the NBC Vatican analyst and was on television a great deal during the death of JP II and the interregnum, all the way through B XVI's installment Mass, he alone has a lot of insight, and can get information from many other people he knows in the media. It is, as I said above, deftly written and highly accessible, with a great pace that moves you through the events that occurred last April with detail and insight. I especially enjoyed the chronicle of JP II's work, including his encyclicals, his travels, and his major accomplishments. I thought it was a great summary of a monumental papacy. There is also a brief biographical sketch of B XVI (although I'd recommend the Pope's own work, "Milestones", if you're interested in his life) that brings the man to life for those who have not read or listened to him before (I would highly recommend reading his prolific book output--he's written so many that you will definitely be able to find some of his titles at your local bookstore). The politics of the vote -- although no one can be exactly sure what happened in the conclave-- are also fascinating to read and study.

Both of these books are well done and deserve to find a wide audience. They'd both make great Christmas gifts, and will further your knowledge and appreciation of our faith, as well as give you great hope for the future of the Church. Enjoy!


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