Friday, March 28, 2014

Fr. Barron Friday (Image Books and Word on Fire)

It's a double review here again at Stuart's Study. Today, I'll be reviewing two Fr. Barron products. One of them is his world famous book Catholicism and the other is his latest project Tre Ore. This coming Monday, I will be kicking off an Image Books blog tour to celebrate Catholicism selling 100,000 copies and being published in paperback as well. Also on the blog tour, I will link up a contest that Image Books and Word on Fire are co-hosting where you can win a trip for two to Paris and Rome! Now let's get to the reviews!

If you've seen the Catholicism series, then this book will prove to be nothing new under the sun. In fact, this book is almost a transcript of the video series. This is both good and bad. It is bad because the book will never match the visual appeal of the videos. They were breathtaking presentations that brought us to many great landmarks of Roman Catholicism. However, there is a lot of dense material in the videos that is easy to miss, unless you rewind and re-watch several times. Having it presented to you in book format gives you a chance to see the words in front of your face, chew on them a bit, and hopefully understand. There are many great parts in this book, which Roman Catholics (and I stress Roman Catholics) will appreciate, including focus on the Mass, the Sacraments, and great saints. Now don't get me wrong, this book and series has done a great deal of good for a great many people. Instead of telling you about the good parts, which you can read in the hundreds of reviews on Amazon, I will tell you about the parts that bothered me.

For starters, there is also a lot of bias in this book. Fr. Barron states that Protestants and Orthodox don't hold as firm a conviction on the doctrine of the Incarnation as Catholics do. I would agree with him regarding Protestants, but disagree regarding Orthodox. He mentions sacraments, Liturgy, bishops, cathedrals, etc. All of which the Orthodox have. He then uses an image from the Hagia Sophia (a once Orthodox Church) on the opposite page. Sadly, the whole book only shows you the Western view of Catholicism, and completely ignores Eastern Catholics. The Roman Rite is but one of the many rites in the Catholic Church. This book doesn't even mention them and gives the feeling of "If it ain't Roman, it ain't rite."

Also, I don't like how he highlights Thomas Merton so much in Chapter 9 on prayer. I have spoke with people close to Fr. Barron before, and they have told me that he was shaped "by two Thomases" - St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton. The Summa Theologiae dramatically shaped his early religious life and set him on the path to priesthood. However, it is Thomas Merton that I am wary of. Merton was a Trappist monk who got involved to excess with Eastern religions (primarily Buddhism and Zen) near the end of his life. In fact, Fr. Barron has readily admitted in some of his homilies that Merton went too far to Eastern religions. If he knows that, why bother to include him in the book? He seems like too controversial of a figure to include in a book that is supposed to be a broad strokes view of Catholicism for outsiders, inquirers, new Catholics, and/or uneducated Catholics. If they see Fr. Barron endorsing Thomas Merton and read Merton's later stuff, bad things could happen! I agree with Dan Burke who says the following:

"The Church is in no way lacking in solid and perfectly trustworthy writings on the spiritual life. I personally don’t know why anyone would want to carefully sift through this kind of literature when it is clear that Merton had serious issues even during the his “orthodox” period. It seems a bit like sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant. You will no doubt find much that is of nutritional value, but why not just go take your seat at the table for the best and purest meals available? I would encourage you to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church. To name a few, the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales will more than meet your needs for spiritual guidance and you need not worry that you might be led down a path that leads away from the Heart of the Church."

So for the lack of focus on Eastern Catholicism and the heavy amount of Thomas Merton, I can only give this book 3.5 stars.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. For helpful links, click below:
Tre Ore: The Seven Last Words of Christ is a series of homilies that Fr. Barron gave at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 2012. Tre Ore stands for "Three Hours." This is a liturgical service that is held on Good Friday from noon until 3 PM, which remembers the time that Jesus hung on the Cross. The CD series itself is actually 90 minutes long and the contents are as follows:

Disc One
FIRST: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. 12:39
SECOND: Today you will be with me in paradise. 15:56
THIRD: Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother. 12:28

Disc Two
FOURTH: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 16:13
FIFTH: I thirst. 9:53
SIXTH: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. 8:01
SEVENTH: It is finished. 7:27

I enjoyed these homilies. They were brief (ranging from 8 to 16 minutes), but poignant. For example, The First Word dealt with forgiveness. He touches on "turning the other cheek," and shows how this is a third possible response instead of "fight or flight." I particularly enjoyed The Second Word as this focused on St. Dismas the Good Thief. He was my RCIA saint, and he is largely forgotten in the Catholic world, despite being the first one to be granted Paradise. Topics addressed were sin, temptations, and addictions; how we use them to try and replace God and how it leaves us empty doing so. He also took the time to reveal a bit of his personality and how he is one who seeks glory, honor, and recognition. I could definitely relate to him there, and it was a nice wake-up call that these things can also be used to replace God if we let them.

In addition to the homilies, you get a little booklet with three to four reflection questions for each of the homilies. This booklet is glued to the CD case, which means you won't lose it unless you lose the CDs. However, it also means that you can't detach it, which made it a little inconvenient for me. Thankfully, the questions and answers can also be found on their website for easy printing. Overall, this was a very good program. I think it would have been great, albeit a bit more pricey, if it was a video recording that included hymns, moments of mediation, and the Way of the Cross like normally happens during the Tre Ore.

I received a copy of this from Word on Fire for free in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!