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SCHOLARSHIP WASTED ON JUNK

Q U I C K S C A N

THE LOST GOSPEL: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot
THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS
THE ST. LOUIS JESUITS: Thirty Years
101 WAYS TO HAPPINESS: Nourishing Body, Mind and Soul
RECLAIMING THE BODY: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine
CHRIST THE LORD: Out of Egypt
HEAT
SOLSTICE
CONNECTIONS
GETTING THROUGH GRIEF


THE LOST GOSPEL: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, by Herbert Krosney. Foreword by Bart D. Ehrman. National Geographic. 309 pp. $27.

THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS, edited by Rudolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and George Wurst, with additional commentary by Bart D. Ehrman. National Geographic. 185 pp. $22.

Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M., who studied Scripture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He edits Sunday Homily Helps for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

HERBERT KROSNEY’S ACCOUNT of the finding of an ancient codex, and the adventures surrounding the discovery, comprises The Lost Gospel. The codex contains four documents: James (also known as First Apocalypse of James), a Letter of Peter to Philip, the Gospel of Judas and a fragment provisionally called Book of Allogenes.

The codex was found in a cave in Middle Egypt by some peasants in the latter part of the 1970s. The story of its being taken to Cairo, Switzerland, New York, Ohio and back to Switzerland is complicated. At various times the codex was exposed to hot, humid weather, to a bank vault and even to a freezer. The various humans in these adventures were peasants, antiquities dealers, scholars and other assorted characters. Some were deceptive, dishonest and greedy.

It was not until the year 2000 that scholars and other experts and interested parties were able to do serious work on the documents. By then it was extremely difficult to restore the material. By 2005, however, painstaking labor was able to provide us with at least a glimpse of what called itself the Gospel of Judas.

The book entitled The Gospel of Judas has an introduction by Marvin Meyer, and translation of the document and commentaries by Rudolphe Kasser, George Wurst and Meyer, with additional commentary by Bart D. Ehrman.

There is no reason to doubt their scholarship. They have done the best possible job of restoring the text. They know their field. They worked extremely hard and handled the document with great delicacy.

The document helps fill in some of the knowledge that historians such as Ehrman have been seeking in order to get a clearer idea of the religious currents swirling around the early centuries of Christianity.

For people dedicating their lives to the study of gnosticism and the Coptic language, this document may seem astonishing and provocative. From the perspective of authentic Christianity, however, this so-called Gospel of Judas is, in the words of theologian Gerald O’Collins, S.J., “junk.” O’Collins tells us that it does not merit the name “Gospel.” He even says: “It was junk then and it is junk now.”

Just because it calls itself a Gospel does not make it one. Our authentic Gospels tell us the Good News about Jesus. We hear about his teaching and miracles. Above all, we learn that he suffered, died and rose again for our salvation. The Gospel of Judas does not come close.

Some of the promoters of this “Gospel” claim that it provides an alternative way of understanding the role of Judas. It claims to be the story of Jesus from the perspective of Judas. This is ridiculous. It would be like someone writing an alternative version of Hitler’s career and calling him the great champion of peace and justice in the 20th century.

The promoters of this “Gospel” also like to put down St. Irenaeus (martyred in 220). The fact is that Irenaeus was a great theologian and knew a heresy when he saw one. He realized that gnosticism could ruin Christianity. It is difficult to describe gnosticism in a few words, especially since there were so many forms. Most versions hold that salvation comes from knowledge (gnosis) and it is a secret knowledge only the elite can grasp.

Also, gnosticism contends that the God of the Old Testament is evil. This God is responsible for material creation. Material creation is, therefore, bad. It is important to escape material creation. The elite acquire the secret knowledge to make their escape and attain salvation.

Perhaps the most telling statement in this “Gospel” is found in the words Jesus speaks to Judas toward the end of the document. After indicating that ordinary Christians are evil, Jesus tells Judas: “But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”

In other words, by handing Jesus over to his enemies for execution, Judas is helping Jesus realize his greatest desire. Jesus will be freed from his body (“the man that clothes me”) and be enabled to reach his destiny with the “true god.”

This reviewer wonders, given such an understanding, why Jesus would not just kill himself. This “Gospel” ends with Judas handing Jesus over to the high priests for money. There is no account of crucifixion or resurrection.

This reviewer is astonished that the National Geographic Society would get mixed up in this affair. Though a somewhat different case, it is a reminder of The Da Vinci Code. The latter, of course, is only a novel, but it reflects some of the gnostic literature. Amazingly, some people accepted it as factual history. They may do the same with The Gospel of Judas.

A final note may be worthwhile. The New Testament reports two different traditions about the death of Judas. While it is clear that Judas perpetrated the ultimate betrayal, we also believe that Jesus died to save him. Dante put Judas in the lowest circle of hell, but the Church has never taught that Judas was damned.

You can order THE LOST GOSPEL: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot and THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE ST. LOUIS JESUITS: Thirty Years, edited by Mike Gale. Oregon Catholic Press. 189 pp. $30. Songbook, Morning Light, $13; CD, $17.

Reviewed by CHUCK BLANKENSHIP, a pastoral musician at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and director of institutional sales for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

I REMEMBER the first time I heard the music of the St. Louis Jesuits. It was 1972, and I was helping play for a campus “guitar Mass” at the University of Kansas. A guy in my dorm named Giff Booth, from St. Louis, brought me a well-worn folder that contained what appeared to be the same kind of mimeographed folk music that my fellow “folk Mass” musicians had been passing around for the previous few years. He sang a couple of the songs, and we found ourselves saying, “Wow! Where can we get more of this?”

A couple of years later, the whole country was discovering this prayerful, scriptural music, now published (for real) in a weighty collection of music, Neither Silver Nor Gold: Liturgical Music from St. Louis Jesuits. With songs like “Sing a New Song,” “For You Are My God” and “You Are Near,” liturgical music in Catholic parishes would never be the same.

It’s hard to believe that it has been more than 30 years since the St. Louis Jesuits burst on the liturgical music scene. John Foley, Bob Dufford, Dan Schutte, Roc O’Connor and Tim Mannion quickly became familiar names and sources of quality, dependable liturgical and prayer music for folk groups, ensembles, choirs and congregations from coast to coast—and beyond.

The St. Louis Jesuits: Thirty Years is, as the title page proclaims, a celebration of “the work of five gifted composers and the contribution they’ve made to the prayer and worship of Christians.”

But it’s more than that. It’s a window into the creative process of these generous and gifted liturgical musicians who gave the post-Vatican II Church such songs as “Be Not Afraid” and “Here I Am, Lord,” and have continued to have such a positive impact on the development of our prayer and worship over the last generation.

Rather than simply enumerate the accomplishments and list the works of these musicians, this book takes us to a very special place: inside the creative processes that brought us this prayerful music. In a series of personal interviews, each of the members of the St. Louis Jesuits shares his personal story of the creativity and collaboration that gave birth to their music—stories of discovery, growth, gift and celebration.

It’s gratifying to discover that these hymns and songs we’ve been singing for so many years were born of a deeply prayerful and highly collaborative ministry. Theirs is a fascinating story, exceeded only by the enduring quality of the music they have given us over these 30 years. Take your time lingering over their story, the story of five men who “had neither silver nor gold,” but who have given us all so much.

You can order THE ST. LOUIS JESUITS: Thirty Years from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

101 WAYS TO HAPPINESS: Nourishing Body, Mind and Soul, by Mitch Finley. Liguori Press. 144 pp. $14.95.

RECLAIMING THE BODY: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine, by Joel Shuman, Ph.D., and Brian Volck, M.D. Brazos Press. 176 pp. $19.99.

Reviewed by MARK WILKINS, a religion teacher whose courses at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, include bioethics, morality and justice.

CONVERSION is our constant challenge as Christians. The two books reviewed here offer ideas to help us renew our bodies and our souls—a combination that we tend to overlook while we fixate on one or the other.

Both books are slender, but that is where the comparison would end. Mitch Finley has written a book of prompts—ideas to get us to revisit ways that we can improve our bodies, minds and souls. Finley doesn’t overanalyze or oversell any of his suggestions since they are only a page or so in length. They can be read in any order and worked on individually. The book is written in a breezy way that belies the wisdom contained within.

Finley presents activities such as baking bread, getting a massage, laughing, exercising, praying, volunteering and listening to music as ways to nourish the embodied spirits (or inspirited bodies) that we are. As Finley states, “Whatever is bodily is also spiritual, and what is spiritual is also bodily.”

Joel Shuman and Brian Volck have written a much more challenging work that looks at the same body-spirit issue in a specific context. Essentially, the doctors (the former in philosophy and the latter in medicine) are challenging Christians to harness the power of medicine in the service of a witnessing community rather than having medicine add religion and spirituality to its list of available resources.

In the early chapters, the authors show that how we look at our physical being, at the communal nature of liturgy and at the Incarnation shapes the way that we engage the power of medicine. The premises of the Gospels should affect how we look at medicine, rather than the other way around. Our faith should guide what we expect from medicine, rather than medicine shape the way that we perceive life, health and death.

Medicine is not a good independent of God’s goodness, but a reminder that we need healing for our souls and our bodies.

The chapters on childbearing and parenting, health care for whole populations (not just for individuals), seeking physical perfection and attractiveness, and the frailty and grief at the end of life are intellectually profound and personally moving. Each one makes the point that we Christians have a different worldview because of the Incarnation of Jesus and the metaphor of the Body of Christ. Our physicality is the starting point for how we live, but also the means by which we are connected to (rather than separated from) others.

Each chapter shows what could happen if we turn the focus from the promises of modern medicine to the premises of our faith. Key to all of the doctors’ assumptions is that as Christians we live out the vision community that we acknowledge and embody in liturgy. If God matters, then so do God’s gathered people—without concern for the boundaries of nations or economies.

Having spent a significant amount of time in the last several months in hospitals and assisted-care facilities with family members, I have seen how these events tend to isolate individuals and families in many ways.

Our tendency is to be private with our grief, even in our own families. People tend to turn inward rather than gathering strength from the community. Ministers might bring Holy Communion to the sick, but there is little sense of bringing the community along as well. The sick might not need visitors, but they need to be reminded that they are still connected to the Body of Christ.

Two books, one view: Our body is the starting point for theology and contemplation. That’s the “get-fit” message Christians ought to hear.

You can order 101 WAYS TO HAPPINESS: Nourishing Body, Mind and Soul and RECLAIMING THE BODY: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

CHRIST THE LORD: Out of Egypt, by Anne Rice. Alfred A. Knopf. 322 pp. $25.95.

Reviewed by DIANE M. HOUDEK, editor of Weekday Homily Helps and Bringing Home the Word (both published by St. Anthony Messenger Press).

PEOPLE HAVE LONG been fascinated by the “hidden life” of Jesus, the time between his getting lost in the Temple at the age of 12 and the beginning of his public ministry. From the second century, people have written accounts of these years. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protoevangelion of James both offer details about Jesus’ life as a child, his parents and other members of his extended family. A variety of inspirational authors have offered their imaginative ideas of what the boy Jesus might have been like.

What sets Christ the Lord apart from other recent works is the high profile, even notoriety of its author. Best known for her Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice has long been held up as the queen of dark gothic literature. After the death of her husband, she returned to the Catholic Church of her childhood and combined her research about first-century Rome with a rediscovery of the Bible.

Rice set about imagining the thoughts and impressions of a seven-year-old boy returning to Galilee from Alexandria, Egypt, knowing that there was something unusual, even mysterious about his birth but not yet understanding what that was. He knows that he can think something or wish for something and it happens, but he doesn’t know why.

The novel gets off to a slow start. I found it difficult to suspend disbelief, to get beyond the fact that this is fiction, that this isn’t really Jesus at seven. But the strength of the novel lies in the way it taps into what we know about Jesus as an adult. We get tantalizing glimpses of people, places and events that appear in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ adult life and ministry: James bar Joseph, the other Marys who accompany his mother, a young man named Caiaphas who has aspirations to being high priest one day, the philosopher Philo of Alexandria.

We witness the Romans putting down a violent rebellion and crucifying the insurgents. A line in Luke’s Gospel about Pilate mixing the blood of Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem with their sacrifices becomes a full-scale event witnessed by the family. Such horrific events seem a bit overdone, especially at the beginning of the book, although they provide a backdrop to the boy’s wondering through most of the novel about the mysterious event that led to the family’s leaving Bethlehem for Egypt in the first place.

Through it all we’re inside the young boy’s head as he gets flashes of intuition and insight about the “something more” that he knows. And in a fevered dream he has the first encounter with the great tempter, who raises tantalizing questions about who he is, who he might be, who he could be.

The writing is impressionistic, atmospheric, yet rooted in solid research into religious and secular customs of first-century Israel. Rice lets her readers smell the cooking fires and the freshly pressed olive oil, feel the grittiness of the dusty roads and the horror of countless crosses along the roadside, hear the prayers and psalms of a family rooted in a religious tradition. And she offers a possible answer to the question of whether and when Jesus knew that he was God.

Scripture students might be inclined to quibble about such things as the blending of Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives and a good bit of reliance on the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, but it is, after all, a work of fiction and Rice certainly isn’t the first or last person to blend the Gospels into a single account.

The Author’s Note on her spiritual journey through the writing of this novel raises the work itself above a mere intellectual and unobjective exercise.

You can order CHRIST THE LORD: Out of Egypt from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

HEAT, by Jack Frerker. Pax Publications (7710 56th Avenue NE, Olympia, WA 98516, jackfrerk@aol.com). 217 pp. $15.

SOLSTICE, by Jack Frerker. Pax Publications. 186 pp. $15.

CONNECTIONS, by Jack Frerker. Pax Publications. 261 pp. $15.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a priest of Detroit for 30 years and a practicing psychotherapist (www.careofthesoul.org).

FATHER JACK FRERKER has set his first novel, Heat, in the middle of the steamy summer town of Algoma, a fictional place in Southern Illinois. There, “summer’s usually plodding pace overlays the heat and complexities of the human heart,” the author says.

Gradually revealed are the inextricably connected secrets that occupy and obsess a local pastor. Death and redemption play out with legal implications, and protagonist Father John Wintermann comes up with pastoral solutions to save the day and solve each clandestine mystery.

Because he found so little ink dedicated to the beauty of Southern Illinois, Father Frerker turned to novel writing. Formerly in pastoral ministry, high school and campus ministry, and on staff of the National Federation of Priest Councils in Chicago, Father Frerker is now retired and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Heat is the first of his three novels in print. Solstice also features Father Wintermann and is set at the darkest time of the year. In this mystery he drives to Chicago for a funeral and is trapped by an unexpected ice storm. Discovering a corpse on the icy church steps leads the priest into an encounter with grace where light overcomes the darkness enveloping those closest to the victim. “Darkness is more significant than the cold in this mystery novel,” Father Frerker says.

Connections introduces a different set of characters and explores the evolving relationship between a priest and his bishop over 30 years. A human glimpse of the Church, this insider’s view of the priesthood and priestly ministry also looks at central relationships of love and life. This was actually the first book Father Frerker wrote, but advisers felt it best to publish the lighter fare first.

Another mystery due out by fall, Conspiracy, returns to the Father Wintermann character, who unravels a complicated scheme that claims some people’s lives before the priest provides pastoral and legal solutions.

The author admits that none of the novels have characters lifted from real-life situations, although there are bits and pieces “I’ve lifted from my own life and that of others,” he confesses. All of these novels theologize heavily and slyly teach lessons that may otherwise go unlearned by the reader.

Be ready for a Church ride untold elsewhere.

You can order HEAT, SOLSTICE and CONNECTIONS from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Getting Through Grief

The death of a loved one, especially a spouse or child, shatters the wholeness of our lives and reminds us of our own mortality.

WHEN PEOPLE GRIEVE: The Power of Love in the Midst of Pain, by Paula D’Arcy (Crossroad Publishing Company, 140 pp., $14.95). From the author of Gift of the Red Bird (Crossroad Publishing Company, audiobook from St. Anthony Messenger Press) comes some tested guidance on coping with pain, loss and bereavement. This is a completely revised version of When Your Friend Is Grieving.

OVERCOMING GRIEF: Joining and Participating in Bereavement Support Groups, by John J. Munday (ACTA Publications, 87 pp., $9.95). This attorney married a woman whose daughter was murdered. In a bereavement group he and his wife found comfort, sharing of pain, release of their emotions, coping strategies and hope as they saw others begin to function again. Now they facilitate such groups. This book tells how to find the right group for you and is a resource for those organizing groups.

WHISPERS OF GOD’S LOVE: Touching the Lives of Loved Ones After Death, by Mitch Finley (Liguori/Triumph Books, 158 pp., $14.95), explores concrete manifestations of the Catholic belief in the communion of saints. This book contains 80 brief stories of people who have felt the presence of a deceased loved one. The experience is always healing.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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