Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Legacy of Pope John Paul II

As a convert to Catholicism from the Southern Baptist denomination in 2003, I felt like I missed out on some of the Catholic experience that peers my age had. With Blessed John Paul II's death in 2005, I only really got two years to experience his life and teachings. I vaguely recall an encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharista, being released shortly after I was confirmed into the Church. I didn't realize it at the time, but this would be the last of his fourteen encyclicals.

The reason I bring this up is because the book I am reviewing today, The Legacy of Pope John Paul II, deals exactly with his teachings as presented in the fourteen encyclicals he wrote. You would expect a book with this title to be thick and intimidating, but it is quite the opposite. At approximately 160 pages, the author, Alan Schreck, made this book a very manageable read by devoting roughly 10 pages per encyclical to all of them but one, Evangelium Vitae "The Gospel of Life." This is understandable as this particular encyclical addresses the importance and value of all human life.

Midway through reading this book, I realized that there are two ways one could and should read. The first way to this book is the way I initially read it, and that is straight through. As I said above, it is a very thin book, and I had a hard time putting it down. I was able to it read in two days, and that's just because work got in the way. One should read the book straight through so that you get a basic overview of what exactly Blessed John Paul II's teachings entailed. Spoiler Alert: It has a lot to do with the Jubilee he declared in 2000 and the teachings of Vatican II.

The second way one should read this book is with the encyclicals. This will take you much longer, and that's why it should be done second. If you try and read it this way initially, you might not make it through this book for years, if ever. I have plans, which I hope to follow through with, to take each of the fourteen encyclicals and use this book as a guide to work my way through them. Dr. Schreck's "Questions for Reflection" and "Further Reading" at the end of each chapter are exactly the tools needed to accomplish this task.

My favorite chapter, definitely a hard choice to make, is Slavorum Apostoli "On Sts. Cyril and Methodius." I think I like this one best because of my love for Eastern Christianity. One might look at the title of this encyclical and think it, doesn't belong with the other fourteen, but they would miss out on a gem, as these two saints were great missionaries and Blessed John Paul II uses their lives as teaching tools for all of us.

This book easily deserves a 5 out of 5. Any author that can make high theology accessible without watering down the message deserves five stars. This book should be in your library and I am happy it is part of mine.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Legacy of Pope John Paul II. The Catholic Company has great gift ideas for all seasons of the liturgical year, be sure to check out their Advent selection and Catholic Christmas Gifts.