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A Gathering of Angels

Just got back from Jerusalem, and my little brain has not yet adjusted to the new time zone. I was very happy to return to new reviews of my book Angels of God: The Bible, the Church and the Heavenly Hosts.

Happy Catholic reviewed it, saying:  “With his customary clarity and thoroughness, Mike Aquilina not only enlightens us about angels but actually makes us realize that our angelic brethren are just that … our brothers.” She says it’s “easy to understand without dumbing down” and “highly recommended.”

Meanwhile, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle said, in the first installment of her review: “I am loving Mike Aquilina’s new book Angels of God: The Bible, the Church and the Heavenly Hosts … I especially love this author’s style of writing. He brings us so much enlightenment on his subjects in a wonderful conversational way. Mike helps us to discover the reality and the power of our Angel friends, escorting them seemingly ever closer to us. I really feel like I’m sitting down with Mike and chatting about the Angels over a cup of coffee every time I pick up this book to read more. I know you’ll love this book and learn much too, which is why I am highly recommending it. I’ll be posting a review of it soon. Stay tuned!”

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Angel Music

Though oceans away, I’m excited to learn that Stateside readers are encountering noted author David Mills‘ review of my book Angels of God: The Bible, the Church and the Heavenly Hosts. It apparently appeared in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, and included these musical words, among others:

Mike Aquilina’s new book, Angels of God, explains why angels are good news for us … Aquilina notes, “Our fellowship with them is not an ornament on our religion; it’s a life skill.”

Angels of God begins by describing the angels of the Bible and how the Church has drawn out the biblical teaching in its understanding of the orders of angels and the work of guardian angels, and of the angels’ place in the Mass. It then describes the three angels whose names we know — Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael — before discussing briefly the right response to the fallen angels. It closes with instruction on how we should “walk in the company of angels.” The book includes a short appendix of prayers to and poems about the angels.

Aquilina … gives an exceptionally clear and accessible introduction to the subject, but that is not all. He shows us that the world is a much happier place when you remember the angels, not least the one looking over your shoulder, and it is a safer place when you remember the fallen angels who wish you harm. The study of the angels is a very practical doctrine.

How is it practical? Let me give just two examples. First, it helps us better understand the Bible. Many of us tend to blank out all the times the angels are included — and they are included a lot — as if they were merely decorative. But they’re not.

For example, how many of us have shot through “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” with no thought at all about who is it doing God’s will in heaven? With at most the vague thought that we are asking that things be better here on earth?

Actually thinking of all the hosts of angels serving God in perfect love and freedom, each doing his part, like a vast chorus (angels do sing a lot), gives us an inspiring vision of what the Church should be and how each of us should be living before the Lord. It changes the way you say that prayer. At least it did for me.

And there’s more. Playing off the mistake that “heaven” refers to outer space and not “the realm of the spirits,” Aquilina notes that “We’re praying not that we might be more predictable, like planets and asteroids, but that we might be as morally sure and true as the angels are.” Thinking about the angels gives us a more precise idea of what we’re asking for …

Angels of God introduces the subject very well, but that is not its only value. By showing us how the angels serve God, and especially how some of them serve God by serving us, it encourages us to serve Him better, because we know we have friends in high places.

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Prescriptions of the Desert Fathers

The Toledo Blade reports on Modern Chemistry and Ancient Medicine:

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have begun using modern chemistry to identify key ingredients in ancient Egyptian medicines. Chemical testing techniques have allowed scientists to identify certain herbs and other ingredients that were added to wine. The mixture had medicinal qualities that were so highly valued that people traveled from abroad to seek them. Some ingredients were recorded as hieroglyphs, and these inscriptions are being used as well to help with the identification of the medicinal ingredients.
Recently two clay jars, one approximately 1,500 years old and the other as old as 5,000 years, have provided residue that can be identified as herbs such as coriander and rosemary. Some researchers, including scientists from Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, are testing these ancient remedies to see if the herbalists of antiquity were on to anything with their concoctions. By taking these ancient compounds and applying them to modern medical studies such as cancer research, scientists are effectively using archaeology to gain greater knowledge of modern science.
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Next Post – in Jerusalem!

We at the St. Paul Center will be leaving for Tel Aviv this morning with a hundred of our closest friends. The pilgrimage will be led by my friends Scott and Kimberly Hahn and Steve and Janet Ray. Steve’s known as the best guide around, so I’m very excited. I’ve never been to the Holy Land. He says you should feel free to join us, at least virtually:
We will—Lord-willing and technology-willing—be uploading about 5-10 minutes of video clips each day to my blog …  You can check out my Blog here.
Pray for us, please!
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Poetry in Mission

In the same day I happened upon Richard Wilbur’s poem “John Chrysostom” and Samuel Hazo’s “Whatever Made Tertullian Rave.” We have, of course, discussed Phyllis McGinley’s “The Thunderer,” about St. Jerome.

Do you know other poems about the Fathers? I’m not talking about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s translations of the Fathers’ verse (included in my book The Fathers of the Church). I mean poems about the Fathers.

It would make a cool anthology. I’m sure at least three of us would buy it.

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Guy Talk

Our diocesan newspaper, the Pittsburgh Catholic, ran my review of a recent book on men’s spirituality.

Read the mainstream media and you’ll get the impression that the Catholic Church is a men’s club where women feel alienated.

Go to church, though, or attend a parish function, and you’re more likely to get the opposite impression. Women dominate the field — as volunteers and in liturgical ministries. Among church leaders and thinkers, anxious conversations turn on the questions of how to “reach” men and “get them more involved.”

It’s not exactly a new problem. I grew up in an Italian-Catholic ghetto in the 1960s, and it was fairly common to see men smoking outside church after dropping off their wives at Mass.

There was, even then, a perceived disconnect between the Church’s thriving devotional culture and the needs of ordinary men.

Thanks be to Robert P. Lockwood, then, for writing a book that connects (or re-connects) the Gospel to Catholic males in an authentically masculine way: A Guy’s Guide to the Good Life: Virtues for Men (Servant Books, $13.99).

A Guy’s Guide is, in a sense, a review of the seven basic habits of Christian life: the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude). But this is no re-packaging. It’s a fresh presentation. The basic definitions are there, occasionally buttressed by witnesses from tradition, but the heart of this book is the storytelling. We learn about faith from the story of Snuffy Stirnweiss, who was the 1945 American League batting champion. We learn about hope by watching Lockwood’s college-aged son fly model airplanes. We learn about charity, self-giving love, from the men Lockwood meets at a Holy Name dinner in Beaver County, Pa.

(In fact, Pittsburgh Catholic readers will often find themselves on familiar turf as they read these stories. Since Lockwood lives in Chippewa, he writes about our steel mills, our ballparks, our roadways and waterways.)

The prose is direct and plain-spoken, but memorable and quotable. What’s virtue all about? “It not about how I make a living but how I live … [W[hat we really want out of our lives is happiness. Not three-beer happiness, I-got-a-raise happiness or the-Steelers-made-the-playoffs happiness but that quiet contentment that comes with living a good life.”

Lockwood speaks consistently to male concerns, and he manages to do it without lapsing into stereotypes or dumbing down his material. In fact, his guide throughout the book is the great poet Dante — a man’s man of the thirteenth century, who was very much engaged in his world and the Church. Though I’ve been reading Dante on and off for decades, I was genuinely surprised by how well he fit beside the batting champions, bankers, barstool philosophers, and other characters in this book. Then I remembered a fact that Lockwood probably had in mind from the start: that Dante addressed his poetry to ordinary men, and he was the first Italian poet to use common, everyday language for that purpose. Lockwood uses his English artfully and subtly for the same glorious ends.

Like Dante, he knows that our greatest obstacles are not the big sins, like murder, grand theft and adultery. If we avoid these, it can be very easy — and deadly — to give ourselves a pass on Christian living. Lockwood identifies the enemy for most of us, however, not as the big sins, or the usual clichéd package of temptations (money, power and sex), but rather as “benign mediocrity.”

Lockwood notes instead that Jesus calls everyone to greatness and, as one manly saint put it, “our hearts are restless” till we answer that call.

I do not know a man I’d hesitate to give this book to. It’s simple enough for those who grow impatient with reading. It’s smart enough for those who appreciate wit and subtlety. Its humor is so strong that, as I read one spot — where our hero goes out to buy a pair of sneakers —  I laughed so hard that my wife feared I would damage my internal organs.

St. Gregory the Great once compared the Scriptures to a river that’s calm and low enough for a child to play in, but deep enough to drown an elephant. This book uses the same rare combination of qualities — simplicity and subtlety — to deliver a powerful reflection on Scriptural living, and deliver it directly to the heart, soul, and gut of us guys.

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Made My Day

Father Christian Mathis posted a review of my book Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols. 

Aquilina succeeds in creating a work that connects modern Christians with those who lived in the first centuries. He invites his readers to reclaim symbols that may be unfamilar while deepening their understanding for those that remain common today. Twenty-five symbols are presented in a clear and straightforward manner along with the beautiful illustrations of Lea Marie Ravotti. The author’s clear expertise on the writings of the Fathers is evident as he easily brings together thoughts from various ancient texts. Examples from Scripture, homilies and early accounts of martyrdom are recounted in order to demonstrate how the early Church was able to strengthen its prayer, liturgy, and communal life by keeping these symbols central.

Read more!

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Call It Matristics

At last, it’s out!

I’m talking, of course, about Karen Edmisten’s The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary, a beautiful, beautiful book. It’s my great honor to have written the book’s foreword, telling the story of my mom and her many Rosaries down the years.

If you haven’t visited Karen’s blog, you should. But I hope you won’t tarry long before going to Amazon to order your own copy of The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary (plus maybe a few for friends and family). Do it for Mother’s Day. Do it for my mom. Do it for our Mom!

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Ancient News

Once again, I’m behind in posting news. Here’s a summary from my email box:

* Wheaton College has established a “Center for the Study of Early Christianity, with a vertically integrated program from undergraduate courses up through master’s and doctoral studies.” Here’s the Center’s site.

* Pope Benedict XVI finally got around to talking up St. Germanus of Constantinople and St. John of Damascus. St. John is often called the last of the Fathers of the “early Church,” so I suppose that marks the end of his series, though word has it that he plans to forge ahead chronologically.

* A kind commenter tells us: “You can wallow in chant from all rites (even extinct ones) if you listen to Radio Walsingham online.  The guy who runs it can answer all your questions; frequently comments on the historical and liturgical context of the music. He has made a CD collection of some of the most obscure and beautiful chants from all eras and nations. ”

* The Roman catacombs — jealous, no doubt, of the catacomb discoveries in the Holy Land last week — have been in the news almost nonstop. The latest development is the video cataloging of the tunnels — “a three-year project to create the first fully comprehensive three-dimensional image using laser scanners.” This will make virtual tours delightfully possible. All the usual suspects have been covering this. Adrian Murdoch will take you directly to the BBC video. David Meadows, too, has been all over it.

* Amy Welborn gives us a snatch of video on St. Anthony of the Desert.

* At PaleoJudaica, we meet an American monk who travels the world gathering images of rare ancient manuscripts.

* Friend Binks points us to PBS coverage of Philip Jenkins on Christianity in ancient Asia.

More to come, surely, as I plow through a backlog of email!

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Angels on the Air

I’ve been doing lots of radio to talk about my new book, Angels of God: The Bible, the Church and the Heavenly Hosts. I’ve never experienced anything like this level of interest and even exhilaration as folks discuss the material. I did Frank Morock’s show (#918, archived here), and Frank said that audience response was tremendous. Yesterday I appeared on Al Kresta’s show (archived here). And last week I recorded a three-part series with Bruce and Kris McGregor for KVSS radio. As those shows air, they’ll be posted on KVSS’s Aquilina Archive Page. Come to think of it, Al Kresta has an Aquilina Archive as well.

The angels book draws from many of our favorite authors (yours and mine), and so do the interviews. I’m indebted to Gregory the Great, Dionysius the Areopagite, Augustine, and Chrysostom, with an occasional dash of Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, Hermas, and Tertullian.