Review: Jesus Wasn’t Killed by the Jews: Reflections for Christians in Lent

Jesus Wasn't Killed by the Jews: Reflections for Christians in LentJesus Wasn’t Killed by the Jews: Reflections for Christians in Lent by Jon M. Sweeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prompted by yet another shooting in a Jewish synagogue, this series of short yet thoughtful essays are something that every Christian should read. This is especially true for any Catholic who wishes to remain faithful to the teaching of the Church as elucidated in Vatican II’s document Nostra Aetate.

And yet there is more to do, more to think about than simply embracing the official position of the Catholic Church (for those who are Catholics) or being faithful to the revelation to be found in that which we call the Bible (for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And this small tome is one way of introducing the broader context in which Christians need to live if we are to truly see our Jewish brothers and sisters as our brothers and sisters and not just as them.

As a preacher who regularly needs to delve into the Scripture readings proclaimed during the Church’s liturgy, there is much I took from this book that will give me pause to think next time I come across the phrase “the Jews” in one of the Gospel or New Testament readings. There is a nuance there that cannot be ignored or misunderstood, glossed over or misinterpreted. As a preacher, if I am to be faithful to that calling, I will need to take on the lessons to be found in this book – and many others that this book will require from other sources – lest I fail to properly preach the Christian message that I have been entrusted to preach.

As a listener to the Scriptures proclaimed, and as a reader of the Scriptures, the task falls to me – as it does to anyone who also is a listener and reader – to be prepared to engage with the themes of this book when it comes to understanding the phrase “the Jews” lest we all perpetuate the misinterpretation that has brought such horror to those who live as Children of the Covenant, God’s Holy People.

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Review: The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Catholic Church

The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Catholic ChurchThe Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Catholic Church by Christopher Lamb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In reading The Outsider by Christopher Lamb, I was constantly reminded of a well-known phrase from any number of police procedural television shows: “Follow the money!” And at the risk of being declared ‘woke’, it becomes clear that when you follow the money – and follow the influence it attempts to purchase – the difficulties being experienced by Pope Francis during his pontificate have less to do with a true understanding of Christianity and more to do with a fear of having one’s ideological position challenged.

One of the most engaging parts of this volume, in which Lamb exposes some of the hostility and opposition directed to Francis, is the very clear timeline towards the end of the book in which the aspects of the hostility and opposition are set out. Lamb goes so far as to name names and speculates on the rationale for those so named taking the position that they are reported to. As I’ve already mentioned, some of that rationale is more about a perceived loss of influence, or a challenge to long-held theological or ideological positions, or even just a perceived ‘opposition’ on the part of Francis to the aims and desires of the one being challenged.

It is was disturbing, though not surprising, to see certain names appear among those Lamb places in the opposition column. That some come from the highest circles of the Catholic Church, where it might be hoped that individuals are more concerned with the service of God and of God’s people rather than their own prestige, only adds to the disturbing nature of the volume. One can understand if not forgive such an approach in the spheres of the media or business – even though it is never right for someone who claims to be a disciple of Christ – but within the hierarchical structures of the Church it becomes a source of great scandal that impedes the proclamation of the Gospel.

Lamb brings his journalistic rigour to this book. It is well documented with facts and insights gained from his role as the Rome correspondent for The Tablet over many years, and strengthened by the reality that Lamb had been right there, in the centre, witnessing the phenomenon on which he writes. It is a compelling read, readily engaging the attention of the reader, as you might expect from a journalist of Lamb’s calibre and reputation.

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Review: Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus

Catholicism in the time of coronavirusCatholicism in the time of coronavirus by Stephen Bullivant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although written from the particular perspectives of the United States and the United Kingdom, and therefore directly applicable to the Australian context, I’m very glad that someone has given some thought to the response and challenges facing the Catholic Church during and after the time of the COVID-19 pandemic event. I wouldn’t agree with everything that Stephen Bullivant has written – in fact, in some points I believe he has missed the mark completely – it was good to have something with which to engage, and therefore to stimulate my own thinking.

From that perspective, this is a good book, and one worth reading at this time in society’s life.

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Review: See Delphi and Die

See Delphi and Die (Marcus Didius Falco, #17)See Delphi and Die by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our hero, Marcus Didius Falco, and his wife, Helena Justina, take a trip to Greece, to see the sites, visit sacred shrines…and to find a killer!

Prompted by familial commitments, Falco and entourage visit all the sites that one might expect to visit during first century Greece – Olympia, Corinth, Delphi, Athens – in search of a killer who had been preying on young women who were also travelling. Venturing into the world of ‘budget travels and tours’, we discover not only the identity of the killer (at the end) but also the long history of travel company who were seeking to make profits by promising much but delivering the very basics.

Along with the identity of the killer, our hero also uncovers the beauty of ancient Greece, or rather what’s left after the Romans have conquered and ravaged ancient Greece. The situation is beautifully captured in the descriptive writing of Lindsey Davis. The ongoing lives of our well-loved characters is always interesting to follow with each volume of the ongoing series of adventures of Rome’s most well-known informer.

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Review: Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

Hannibal: Enemy of RomeHannibal: Enemy of Rome by Ben Kane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The time taken to ‘read’ this book shouldn’t be taken as a sign of disinterest. The reality is that most of my ‘reading’ of audio books takes place when I am in my car – something that has been sorely lacking for the last couple of months during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic event.

The story of this book, set in the lead up to and during the historic journey of Hannibal across the Alps into northern Italy, takes place in a period of ancient Roman history with which I not overly familiar. It was interesting, therefore, to hear the story of two young men – one Roman, one Carthaginian – and their families as it is impacted by the ongoing hostilities that exist between their two City-States. Bound together by a developing friendship, the internal struggles between them are complex and, alas, seem destined to tragedy.

As with his other novels, Ben Kane has woven together an engaging narrative with an historical backstory to provide the ‘reader’ with a tale that captures the attention (even if it took me longer than expected to complete it!). The voicing of this novel by Michael Praed makes only positive contributions to the enjoyment of this tome, his nuance of tone and each individual character being masterful and enjoyable.

A wonderful ‘read’, and one I’d recommend to any student of ancient Roman history.

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Review: Scandal Takes a Holiday

Scandal Takes a Holiday (Marcus Didius Falco, #16)Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another enjoyable read in the ongoing and unfolding adventures of our hero Marcus Didius Falco, his family, and the wider group of regulars who, by now, are well known to the reader.

The opportunity to visit Ostia while searching for a missing ‘journalist’ sees Falco pack his household and head down for a holiday as well. It was going to be an easy assignment, and the opportunity was just too good to miss. And then the trouble starts…

Stumbling across local intrigue, Falco is drawn into more than he bargained for. There is kidnapping, there is murder, there is graft and corruption, and there is foreigners with shady pasts. Falco is almost at home, but his doggedness – along with some help from family and friends – eventually unravels the various threads to reveal not only what was truly happening in Ostia, but also the surprise identity of who was behind it all.

Lindsey Davis is rapidly proving to be a favourite author. Her grasp of her characters, by now well developed and loved, along with the historic setting in which Falco’s adventures are set, are masterful and engaging. Reading these novels are not a burden; it is like delving into the story of the extended family. I’ve already started the next edition…

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Review: The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire

The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on FireThe Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire by Richard Lennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though responding to the summons of the Holy Spirit opens a pathway to a deeper engagement with God and a richer appreciation of God’s presence in the world, our response to the Spirit is often fraught with ambiguity. Such ambiguity arises from the fact that so much of human inclination is given to reducing the Spirit to a mere support for our own desires and goals, on a personal and social/collective level. In other words, we can want to respond to the Spirit, while also wanting to guarantee that the Spirit does not take us beyond the limits of our own designs.

These words from the Epilogue of The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire beautifully encapsulates the significance of what is contained between the covers of this book. The movement of the Spirit is given less credence – and therefore less intellectual consideration – in most of the Western forms of Christianity, and as such the Third Person of the Divine Trinity is often overlooked as people attempt to understand the dynamics of the Christian life.

For Australian Catholics in particular, who are preparing for a national Plenary Council as soon as the current COVID-19 pandemic event resolves itself, a greater and deeper understanding of the place and significance of the Holy Spirit would not go astray. Attempting to discern God’s intention for the Australian Church will require not only consultation and conversation, but also a profound understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit in and around those people who are constituted as the Church.

A collection of essays on a range of topics, each individually coherent yet wonderfully curated as a collection, this book provides the insights of scholars in an accessible form to all readers. It provides food for thought, reflection, and, dare I say it, prayer for those who dare to pick it up and open the front cover. For that reason alone, although published in 2017 this book is all but a ‘must read’ for the Australian Church and, particularly, those who will be delegates to the sessions of the Plenary Council.

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