The last days of December and the first days of January, in addition to being a moment of joy and happiness and an occasion of reunions and festivities, are marked by several liturgical celebrations, from the Feast of the Nativity to the Holy Innocents to the Three Kings. It is also for many a moment of rest and refreshment with family or community. Why not take advantage of Christmas to refresh yourself intellectually and spiritiually? Here are some suggestions for books to nourish your spirit.
The Peace of Christmas offers an opportunity to reflect with Pope Francis on the many moods and challenges of one of the central realities of our faith: Our God became one of us, came to dwell in our midst, and began life as we all do, as a tiny baby, needy and vulnerable and dependent on the people around him for his very survival.
Through the pope’s insights and reflections, you will be comforted and challenged, enlightened and reassured. He knows that Christmas is many things to many people, often changing with the times and circumstances, with your experiences in the months since last Christmas. Just as God chose to become one of us, so our lives are shaped and changed by the world around us. (In English)
Published in 2012 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, this work of biblical exegesis explores rigourously the biblical accounts of the birth and infancy of Jesus. Paradoxically, the Gospels are relatively quiet, not to say mute, on these important moments in the life of Christ. This relative absence of biblical texts has freed the imagination of Christians but also of artists. Case in point, The Young Messiah, that terrible Hollywood film based on the equally horrible novel by the American author Anne Rice. This book by Joseph Ratzinger invites Christians to resist the two interpretive tendencies what he judges to be erroneous: first that consisting of “considering the facts of the infancy of Jesus as naive or pure invention;” and then that tending to consider the Gospels as “an exhaustive account” of the life of Christ. This work tries to “reconcile the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith.” “The important thing,” he says, “is to recognize that they were not written to satisfy our curiosity, but to respond to the preoccupations of faith.” (In Englsh. Also available in French – L’enfance de Jésus)
This book is, in part, a side-effect of N. T. Wright’s magnificent work on the Resurrection of Jesus-Christ, and, in part, a response to a number of major tragedies that have recently struck our world. This book is the compilation and edited version of five lectures that he gave on the subject at Westminster Abbey in 2003, and, the expanded version of a short documentary that appeared on TV in the U. K. in 2005. This book seems to be primarily intended for popular audiences, though it would definitely be of interest to philosophers of Religion who deal with the problem of evil, and Christian theologians, for reasons that I will explain later. N. T. Wright begins, in his preface, by noting the limitations of his book. He is not addressing the philosophical problem of evil; which he tends to see as being more of a smoke screen, or a way of avoiding the true difficulties, than as a valid inquiry. Nor does he pretend to fully treat, in this short book, each of the important Christian doctrines that he integrates into his response to the problem of evil.
At this point it is worth mentioning that he is seeking to give, not his own version of a response to the problem of evil, but what he sees as the Christian, and therefore biblical, response to the problem of evil. He claims that Theologies that consider the importance of the cross in God’s plan to deal with sin rarely deal with the larger problem of evil in general, and philosophers who deal with the problem of evil have very rarely brought the cross of Christ into the equation. Wright, in this book, proposes to reverse these trends. The Christian response to the problem of evil cannot remove the cross from the scenario. For Christianity, the cross of Christ, and all that was accomplished on that cross (and in His resurrection), is the final solution to the problem of evil. Final, not in that evil has been done away with (many great atrocities and tragedies have happened since the cross), but in that God has provided the means by which all evil will be ultimately destroyed, and by which justice will be given. (In English)
Pape François: C’est Noël tous les jours, Éditions Michel Lafon, 2018
Faithful to his usual practice, Pope Francis publishes again this year a book of meditations and reflections for the liturgical season of Advent and the Feast of the Nativity. Picking up certain themes developed during his pontificate, from Laudato Si’ to The Joy of the Gospel to The Joy of Love, he invites Christians “every day to cultivate patience, to confront pain with losing hope for better times, to respect the other as much as oneself, to protect Creation in its entirety, particularly the nature that feeds us, the cradle of our humanity.” Christmas, he says, is “the symbol of hope and of the love of God for human beings.” But, in the eyes of the Holy Father, “the true sense of Christmas is found in the day-to-day.” (In French)
(Novalis 2018) To live the liturgical season of the Nativity is to feel again in one’s soul and one’s body the mystery of the Incarnation, of God made man. “A Saviour is born to us,” the prophet Isaiah tells us. This God made man, this Emmanuel, God with us, is also the Prince of Peace, the one who announces the Realm of God to come. To live and to celebrate Christmas, then, is to enter into the messianic hopes of the Hebrews of the 1st Century. However, to celebrate Christmas is also to be confronted by the scandal of the Incarnation: this God made man is born into horrible conditions, between exile and exodus, between the homicidal madness of Herod Antipas and the massacre of the Holy Innocents. All of this ultimately poses the delicate question of earthly evil and the “collaboration: of the God of love – providential, omniscient, merciful and all-powerful – in this evil.
In this short booklet of only 32 pages, Jacques Lison proposes an exploration of this theological and philosophical question about earthly evil. “Where does evil come from? Does its presence render impossible the existence of God? And then, in the end, what remains of our infinitely good God if he is powerless before evil? In this small practical and accessible work, Jacques Lison responds to all of these questions that we currently ask ourselves about the relationship between God and evil. Giving priority to the plight of victims, he resolves the thorny dilemma between faith in God and the recognition of the reality of evil. The recommended supplementary readings will allow the more interested reader to probe the question more deeply.” Theologian and liturgist, Jacques Lison is editorial advisor to Novalis publications and at Bayard Canada. Notably, his reflections are available in Prions en Église. (In French)