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Review: Andrew Seddon’s Saints Alive!

Saints Alive! by Andrew Seddon

I love the way the blogosphere can bring like-minded people together, especially when it means I get a wonderful new book to read. This happened recently when Andrew Seddon sent me a nice email after visiting my science fiction blog. When I learned he is a writer, too, I asked if he would like me to review one of his books, and he kindly sent me a copy of his Saints Alive! New Stories of Old Saints.

There are a number of things I like about this book, the first being that he chose to write about saints that most of us probably know very little about (many of whom you’ve probably never even heard of). The saints selected for this volume all lived in the first four or five centuries of the Christian era, before the Roman empire collapsed, and many of them died as martyrs to the faith. But they lived so long ago that many of them have fallen into obscurity.

For a writer, this presents a challenge, as Seddon admits in his introduction, because so much of the little we do know of these heroes of the early Church is based on legends that have been so embroidered by the Christian imagination that it is difficult to tell how much of what has come down to us might be based on, or at least inspired by, fact.

Why take such a risk? Seddon indicates his reason in the book’s forward:

In many ways, Imperial Rome resembled our own culture. Rome was an expanding, powerful civilization which catered to the rich at the expense of the poor. […] But some refused to collaborate with the pagan society, and paid for their faith with their lives. The situation is no less dire today […] It is my hope that these stories, based on the lives of real people […] will inspire us to courage and faithfulness in the challenging times in which we live.

He goes on to say that he hopes the stories will make a valuable contribution to the current Year of Faith, and I think they do.

Bernini’s Santa Cecilia

A few of the saints, or at least their names, will be familiar to many readers: St Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop whose letter to the Romans has been preserved; St Cecilia, to whom an ancient church in Rome was dedicated and is often visited by tourists and pilgrims today (and Bernini’s famous sculpture also immortalizes her in our imaginations); St Martin of Tours, the Roman soldier turned Christian hermit, who was tricked into letting himself be made bishop. But I’m sure that most of the saints chosen — Saints Ariadne, Sabinus, John the Dwarf — will be unfamiliar to most readers.

Despite their obscurity, Seddon manages to shed light on each of them, not by recounting their entire life stories but by narrating a key moment in their lives — often, but not always, the moment of their deaths — which illuminates the distinctive  sanctity of each. These moments are well-chosen and well-narrated, turning the accounts into enjoyable short stories as well as instructive examples.

Saints Alive! will appeal to adults and youngsters alike. In fact, I think they would lend themselves to being read aloud and discussed afterward — wouldn’t that make a nice project for this Year of Faith! I think you’ll find that these stories really do bring these early saints to life in your imagination. And if you do fall in love with these heroes of the early Church and would like to know more about these saints, you can turn to the “Notes & Sources” at the back of the book.

You might also want to read some of Andrew Seddon’s other books.

Logos Software offers great resource for studying the Catechism in the Year of Faith (and beyond!)

The Year of Faith that officially began last week calls Catholics to reacquaint themselves with (or perhaps enter more deeply into) the Faith they profess, in order to live it more effectively and to present a more compelling witness to the love of Christ for the world. Reflecting on this, I realized that there will probably be lots of people using the Catechism to systematically review the Catholic faith. Sure, lots of Catholics own a copy of the Catechism and perhaps even pull it out from time to time as a reference to clarify the Church’s teaching on one point or another, but probably few have tried to read it cover-to-cover. Many parishes around the country have, in the last few years, used the Why Catholic? Program to re-catechize the adult faithful, a program which is based on the Catechism and follows its organization (i.e., fleshing out the tenets of the Nicene Creed). My experience with Why Catholic, however, was not very encouraging – there was too little of the Catechism and too much of the usual touchy-feely rubbish that has contributed to the current “crisis of faith” throughout the Church: “This week reflect on how the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is meaningful in your everyday life, then list three reasons why you feel more sparkly-special just knowing that God is Three in One.” Blech.

Back when the “new” Catechism was actually new, Ignatius Press brought out The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: A Compendium of Texts Referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Including an Addendum
— a collection of the texts of all the passages from various Scriptures and patristic works referred to in the footnotes of the Catechism. I loved this, because most readers of the Catechism, like myself, are not going to have at hand the huge library of Catholic reference works you would need to understand all the footnotes, so most people would just skip over the notes as not being that important. However, the whole reason the footnotes are included in the Catechism is to show that the Church is “not just making this stuff up” when it comes to official doctrine, but rather the Catechism is simply a new enunciation of truths that Christians have held all along for, now, two thousand years. The notes show the sources of particular statements and explanations in the Catechism, and root the Catechism in Christian tradition all the way back to the first written expression of the Faith in the Bible and early Church Fathers. (By the way, this Companion to the Catechism is now available for Kindle.)

Unfortunately, even though I have the Companion, I have seldom used it. For one thing, it is physically unwieldy, even bulkier than the Catechism itself and, then again, I find it somewhat disorienting to read passages (even lengthy passages) lifted out of the context of the documents from which they were taken. (I am a big proponent of reading things in context, to avoid misunderstanding.) In those days, the terms “hypertext” or “hyperlink” were still unknown to all but the geekiest of computer nerds, but if I had known what hyperlinks were, I would have known that that’s what I was wishing the Companion provided – a link to the specific passage a note referred to, in the place where it actually occurs in the original source.

Well, now, just in time for the Year of Faith, the Logos Bible Software company has produced an inexpensive version of exactly what people like me have been wanting (perhaps without knowing it) since the new Catechism first came out back in 1994. You may be familiar with Logos as the company that, for nearly twenty years now, has offered Bible study software that allows Scripture scholars, students, and enthusiasts to study the Bible with hyperlinks to different translations and commentaries. They’ve expanded their offerings enormously over the years, with lots of add-on libraries, and have perfected a system for connecting related texts and allowing readers to switch between them with ease. I’ve known about Logos for about fifteen years and admired their product but, frankly, it’s always been too expensive for me (the entry-level base package costs around $250) – it’s been one of those things on my “if I ever have money to spare” list. So I was delighted when, a couple of months back during the Catholic New Media conference, I saw a demo of a new, inexpensive ($49.95) stand-alone package designed just for Catholics – in fact, the Logos rep I spoke to said that this package was created specifically in response to the Holy Father’s call for Catholic entrepreneurs to find ways to use the new media and new technologies in the service of the Church, and brought into production in time for the Year of Faith.

All these works are included in Logos’ Catechism software package.

Here are all the works included in this package:

Watch the video here to get an idea how this software works. I like the fact that you can add your own notes. This software is available for Windows, Mac, and smart devices such as iPhone or Android tablets (although how you’d use it on a tiny iPhone screen beats me). If you buy this Catechism package and fall in love with the Logos system, you can later purchase one of the regular Logos base packages and use this Catechism bundle with the larger system. (I believe this is not true of other Logos bundles, which are essentially just plug-ins or add-ons to the base packages and won’t work without the base.)

As an aside — I was

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drooling looking over the software specs just now and thinking, “Hey! Logos software does for the Bible and the Catechism what the Perseus Project does for classical literature – but the Perseus Project does it online, for free.” I’ve been in love with the Perseus Project for years, ever since, as a graduate student, I took a course in Latin Historians as an independent study. The Perseus Project has huge libraries of classical-era Greek and Latin works, as well as English translations of most of them, and allows you easily to flip back and forth between the original text and English translation, or to click on a particular word to check its meaning and morphology. In other words, the Perseus Project has much of the same kind of functionality as the Logos Bible system. And, as I find out by perusing the Logos Software channel on YouTube, the Logos folk also recognized the similarity, so they now offer a free Perseus collection add-on, which allows users of the Bible software to include the classics collection in word searches. Here’s a video that shows how this works:

Okay, enough of the scholar-geekery. My point is that Logos Software has made available to ordinary Catholics a fantastic tool for studying the Catechism, in the context of the Catholic teaching tradition, for a very reasonable price. For fifty bucks, you get a wonderful library of Catholic reference works AND a superb software system for discovering the connections amongst these works. If you haven’t yet settled on a personal plan for improving your grasp of Catholic teaching in this Year of Faith, here is a great place to start.

©2012 Lisa A. Nicholas

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