Friday, June 13, 2014

A Reason Open to God and The Garden of God (CUA Press)

Education is something dear to my heart. Though I am not a formal teacher, I take pride in educating others. Whether it is Monday through Friday on the job site, Sunday morning catechesis, or instructing my son daily, I love to help others learn and learn as well. Our previous pope, Benedict XVI, also had a lifelong love of learning and education. This can be seen in his book A Reason Open to God, which is a collection of essays, speeches, homilies, etc. he gave on the subject of education. Sections in this book include: The Problem and the Urgent Task Ahead, Faith and Reason; Freedom and Truth; Education and Love; Pedagogy and Learning; The Church - Education in Faith and Community; Culture and University; Science, Technology, and Theology, and Caritas and Mission.

I particularly enjoyed the section entitled "The Church - Education in Faith and Community," which was actually the longest section in the book. In one 2011 address, Pope Benedict quotes Vatican II by saying that, "Christian education has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of the Faith they have received,...and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth." This seems like a deep statement to ponder, but put simply he is telling us that we must continue to learn and grow in the Faith and not stop once we have received the Sacraments of Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. Also in this section, Pope Benedict reminds parents that they are the first people responsible for teaching their children the Faith. That seems like a no-brainer, but as someone who has been a catechist for several years, it seems that more and more parents are calling on the Church to be the first, if not only, responsible party for teaching the Faith. The Church is most certainly there to assist in the matter, but parents and family have to put in the time as well.

This book will come off as intimidating to some people due to size (300+ pages) and subject matter. However, there is something in this book for all Catholics. Whether you are a priest, professor, teacher, catechist, parent, or just a lover of education, you will find something that will benefit and edify you in this book. The editor of this book did a masterful job gathering, compiling, and sorting each of these talks. He didn't shy away from anything Pope Benedict said either, as he also included the infamous Regensburg lecture. For those who don't remember or know, this was where Pope Benedict described Islam as violent and inhumane. My only complaint with the volume is that the index didn't have a list of every speech organized by date, in case one wanted to easily reference a particular speech. This complaint aside, this is a 5-star book and one that belongs on the desk of every priest and teacher.

The Garden of God resembles A Reason Open to God in presentation and format. It is another collection of addresses, speeches, homilies, etc. from Pope Benedict XVI, which Catholic University of America Press (CUA Press) has released. I'm not sure why, but I actually expected it to be a book he wrote and not a compilation of his words, so there was initial disappointment. However, that disappointment quickly dissipated when I started reading the book. The book is divided into three parts - Creation and Nature; The Environment, Science, and Technology; and Hunger, Poverty, and the Earth's Resources. CUA Press improved the Table of Contents (TOC), compared to the TOC of A Reason Open to God, by listing each address' title. This makes for easier navigation should you have a talk that you want to reference or read again.

Pope Benedict discusses many facets of ecology (like alternative energy), specific places (like the Amazon River or the Arctic) and events in history (like Chernobyl). I had a hard time picking a favorite section or address in this book. A lot of them spoke to me in different ways. In one homily, Pope Benedict discusses God as a "Creator Spirit." He says that "we cannot use and abuse the world and matter merely as material for our actions and desires; that we must consider creation as a gift that has not been given to us to be destroyed, but to become God's garden." In a 2010 message for the World Celebration of Peace, he references his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he explains that, "The environment must be seen as God's gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations. The last bit I will share with you is too long to quote, but in it he says that Creation as a whole is not more important than humanity. However, that does not give us the right to use it as our dumpster and prevent future generations from reaping its benefits as well. I could list countless other quotes and information I gleaned from this book, but there is not enough room.

We are very blessed to have had Pope Benedict XVI leading our Church between the likes of other great popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. One can tell from reading this book that Pope Benedict had a great interest in ecology, and more specifically human ecology. In fact, he was sometimes referred to as the "Green Pope." What is truly remarkable is that Benedict reigned during the same time as Ecumenical Bartholomew I, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the "Green Patriarch." If ecology or environmentalism is an interest of yours, I recommend Pope Benedict's The Garden of God and Patriarch Bartholomew's books Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration and On Earth as in Heaven.

These books were provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!