Tag Archives: 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge

My Reading Challenge Pick for… “a book by a current Catholic bishop”

We are wrapping up the year for the 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. I’m down to my second-to-last category…

Category: “a book by a current Catholic bishop”

My Pick: Heaven in Stone and Glass by Bishop Robert Barron

You know when you serendipitously pick up just the right book at the right time? It’s wonderful; isn’t it? This book was like that for me. It was on our bookshelf, and you can never go wrong with Barron. This was one of the easiest, most delight-filled spiritual reads for me. You could totally read it in a day. It’s all about the spiritual significance of the architecture of the great cathedrals. 

I’ve been aching recently to travel to Europe and see these beautiful churches built hundreds of years ago in such glory. One day. Hopefully it will not be too long before we can take our family on an adventure like that. But for now, I’m thankful that I can read about these places. Barron took me where I couldn’t visit myself, and reading about his hours of meditation in France’s great cathedrals fed my soul. 

Of course, I knew generally about some of the spiritual meaning behind the stained glass designs and carved stone figures. But Barron gives insights on the architecture that help shake us out of our modern sensibilities and see the beauty of these cathedrals with medieval eyes. His explanations of patterns and themes will drawn your heart heavenward.  My heart was filled with awe and gratitude that these buildings are part of our spiritual heritage. Now I have even more to look for and appreciate when I do take that pilgrimage to Europe one day. 

What did you read for “a book by a current Catholic bishop”?

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

My Reading Challenge Pick for… “a book on Catholic theology”

We are down to the last three categories for the 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. I wanted to get this next category pick posted in November, but oh well. Here we go…

Category: “a book on Catholic theology”

My Pick: A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas by Ralph McInerny

I picked this book for two reasons: (1) I needed to beef up my knowledge of Aquinas, and this seemed to be a good overview and introduction to him; (2) it was on my husband’s shelf, and he recommended it — it was in my house and vetted!

This book cheats a little for this category of “theology,” because it is actually more about St. Thomas’ philosophy. However, that was a nice surprise, because I got to see how Thomas’ philosophy (anchored in Aristotle) supports his theology. In fact, it is a great book to read if you want to understand how a Catholic theology and philosophy work together to help us talk about God. Aquinas is the guy the Church goes to as the ultimate philosopher/theologian; and Aquinas goes to Aristotle.

This book helped me be able to better articulate how philosophical knowledge (arrived at through logic) will never contradict theological knowledge (arrived at through revelation). McInerny quotes Aquinas:

“The gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that a they do not destroy but rather perfect nature. Thus the light of faith which is infused in us by grace does not destroy the natural light of reason divinely given us. And although the natural light of the human mind is insufficient to manifest what is manifested though faith, nonetheless it is impossible that what has been divinely given us by faith should be contrary to what is given us by nature.” (p. 18)

McInerny actually shows how our knowledge about the perceivable world brings us quite far all by itself…all the way to the point where we then need the revelation of the Incarnation to take us the rest of the way.

McInerny demonstrates Thomas’s three ways of knowing God…as best we can know him. Thomas says that we can understand God through the negative — that is, but knowing what he is not. We can also talk about him through analogy (what he is like). As to positive knowledge of God, we can describe true things about him, but never perfectly.  Philosophy and theology help us to discuss God in these three ways, but we will never perfectly understand or know him in the positive — for if we did, he would not be God.

Lastly, I appreciated how McInerny gave three ways that we use philosophy in theology: (1) “to demonstrate the preambles of faith,” like the existence of God; (2) “to make known what is of faith by way of similitudes;” and (3) to respond to contradictions of the faith and show them to be untrue.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this short book. If you have wanted an introduction to Aquinas, then this would be a great start. And you will get the added bonus of understanding Aristotle a little bit better too.

What did you read for “a book on Catholic theology”?

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

My Reading Challenge Pick for…”a novel by a Catholic author”

I’m down to the last four categories of my 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. How about you? I am continuing to share what I am reading for the challenge with you. This was a repeat author for me…and a beloved one!

Category: “a novel by a Catholic author”

My Pick: Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

I fell in love with Norwegian and Nobel Prize-winning author Sigrid Undset last year when I read her epic Kristin Lavransdatter and, about the same time, her biography of my confirmation saint, Catherine of Siena.

Undset is a writer with a profound gift for communicating universal themes of the human experience. Kristin Lavransdatter (both the book and the masterfully-written heroine) still pervades my spiritual imagination; and Catherine of Siena set a new standard for biographies of saints. I’ve written about both books here and here, for last year’s Reading Challenge.

Gunnar’s Daughter, written 10 years before Kristin Lavransdatter and a fraction of its length, is a really quick read…really quick. In fact, it’s a real page-turner. If you have a rainy day and a comfy chair, you might rip right through it. I read it over a couple of days. Here’s the crazy thing though: when I finished, it felt like I had just read an epic! The story and the characters make you feel that way. Though it had none of the intricate layers and extensive plot lines of one of Undset’s 1,000-page novels, the character sketches were none the less thick, real, and lasting in your memory.

If you are sensitive about certain content, read a summary of the plot that doesn’t give the story away. Though rape and childhood death are elements in the story, they are not explicit. (She’s not that kind of writer.) Her characters are such real people — ones that could live during any point in history. I’m just impressed at how much of them she could give me in so few words.

Another interesting element of the novel is that it is set in eleventh century Norway and Iceland, about 300 years before Kristin Lavransdatter’s time period. This is Norway’s pre-Christian era. So you get a sense of how different the religious culture was from a few centuries later during Kristin’s era. In fact, famed king and saint Olav, referenced many times in Kristin, is a character in this novel. Good historic fiction is my favorite way to absorb the history of a time, place, and people.

If you haven’t read Sigrid Undset, this might be a great entry point.


What did you read for “a novel by a Catholic author”?


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey