May 2005

Three Approaches to Abortion: A Thoughtful and Compassionate Guide to Today’s Most Controversial Issue .  By Peter Kreeft. Ignatius. 133 pages. $9.95.

“We cannot wait for the marines to come over the hilltop to save us. We are the marines. If we do not do something, no one will.” Thus writes Peter Kreeft about the obligation prolifers have in relation to “the single most divisive issue of our time,” abortion. In this short but immensely rich book, Kreeft offers a wealth of reasoning and information not only for the prolife apologist, but for any reasoning person.

Kreeft divides the book into three parts, three different “approaches” to the abortion issue. The first approach is the “impersonal” (i.e., objective, logical arguments). For this approach, Kreeft presents a 15-step argument called “The Apple Argument against Abortion.” This argument reasons from the premise that we know what an apple is to the conclusion that abortion must be outlawed. Although, initially, it might sound ridiculous, Kreeft is being very reasonable in his starting point. Starting with what is most obvious and incontestable in everyday experience, Kreeft reasons soundly and relentlessly to an incontestable condemnation of abortion.

The second approach is the “personal” (the subjective motives). In this section Kreeft offers a confession of 15 motives that fuel prolife work. These motives are presented to both further motivate prolifers and to inform inquiring prochoice advocates just why prolifers cannot and will not give up this most crucial fight. Such reasons range from moral honesty to the true value of sexuality.

The third approach comes in hallmark Kreeft form, Socratic dialogue. The title of this final chapter is “What Happens When an Irresistible Force Meets an Immovable Object? A Typical Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Dialogue.” Here Kreeft reintroduces two characters from a previous book he wrote on moral relativism: Libby, the prochoicer, a “sassy, classy Black feminist,” and ’Isa, the prolifer, a “Muslim fundamentalist philosopher.” Through these characters, Kreeft brings to life a debate over 15 of the most common prochoice arguments, touching upon issues such as defining personhood and whether human souls begin when human bodies begin. Kreeft combines elements of both the objective approach and the subjective approach. Here we come to understand not only how to refute prochoice arguments, but also what psychological factors often motivate one to cling to a prochoice position.

In the Preface Kreeft writes that this book is designed for two groups of people: for prolife people to give to their prochoice friends, to explain themselves and their position as fully as possible in a short book; and for prochoice or undecided people who want to understand the prolife position from three angles. Basically, this book should be profitable for anyone of good will, or at least an open mind (and humor wouldn’t hurt).

- Joseph Arias



Angel in the Waters.  By Regina Doman. Sophia Institute Press. 48 pages. $6.95.

If there is one thing young children are almost always fascinated by, it is babies. Being small and vulnerable themselves, perhaps children are instinctually protective of those who are actually smaller and more vulnerable than they are. If children’s love of babies is indeed an instinct, it should be nurtured. If it is a learned trait, then we, as Christian parents, are obligated to form and cultivate it.

The Catechism (#1653) states that the first responsibility for the education of children falls on their parents. A key component of the Christian education of children is instilling in them an immutable respect for life. Where better, then, for parents to start educating (perhaps evangelizing is the more appropriate word) our own children than at the beginning of their intellectual development — before they enter school, begin consuming entertainment, and come under the omni-influence of the reigning Culture of Death.

Sophia Institute Press has recently published a wonderful tool in the evangelization of children in the Culture of Life. Angel in the Waters aims to spike their interest in life from its very beginning, and will “make young children pro-life,” according to the press release, “long before they ever hear the word ‘abortion.’”

Aided by warm, full-color illustrations, this children’s book follows the development of a baby in the womb from his early stages to his birth, and then to his adjustments to his new surroundings in the world outside the womb. The author carefully expresses the sensations the child experiences in the womb — nourishment, sounds, growth, and conversations with his angel. In each succeeding page, the baby advances along the stages of development. The birth is a climactic event, but the author and illustrator thankfully succeed in cleanly gliding over the bloody physiological aspects of human birth. Afterwards, the baby grows accustomed to life in the world, with the loving presence of his mother and father.

The baby’s guardian angel accompanies the baby in the womb, guiding him along through his stages of development. The angel prepares the child for his delivery into the “other world.” And after his birth, the angel tells the child of “another, bigger world outside this one.”

The angel, who is ever-present with the baby in the womb, makes fleeting appearances after the birth. But he explains to the baby why that is: “There are many things in this world to hear. There are many things to see. You will not always hear me. You will not always see me, but I will always be here.” This passage, repeated twice in the book, serves to remind even us adults that we may become distracted by the rush-around tempo of this life, and often encounter difficulty attaining things spiritual. “How will I know you are here?” the baby asks. “When you are quiet, you will know,” the angel responds. Indeed, we must concentrate in our quiet moments of prayer and reflection to shut out the constant noise of our culture, to hear clearly God’s call for us.

May this little book have a huge impact in sustaining the Culture of Life in the next generation.

- Pieter Vree



Life with Mother Teresa: My Thirty-Year Friendship with the Mother of the Poor.  By Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.. Servant Books. 242 pages. $13.99.

How long does it take us to put a saint out of our minds?

Could it be that we are already putting Mother Teresa out of our moral imagination? Not so long ago, a tiny, gnarled woman challenged Swedes bearing gifts (remember her Nobel Peace Prize), Harvard illuminati (recall her commencement talk), and the presidential Clintons (a Prayer Breakfast that pulled no punches). A stark claim was integral to her challenge. Abortion, she said, was “the biggest destroyer of peace.” What awaits a world, she asked, in which so many mothers — with the complicity of so many of us — decide to kill their children?

Yet there are obstacles to Mother Teresa’s early banishment from our minds and hearts. Sebastian Vazhakala, author of these memoirs, is in their front ranks. Vazhakala was the first priest ordained for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. He is now the superior of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative. Most importantly, perhaps, he is the founder of the Lay Missionaries of Charity, which brings the charism of “whole hearted and free service of the poorest of the poor” to ordinary men and women, married or single.

Vazhakala speaks as Mother Teresa spoke. “To describe God’s love,” he writes, “she liked to use the example of one mother’s love for her child. During the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, it happened that this mother and her child were trapped under debris. Though they were not crushed, they could not get out and had no food or water. The mother cut one of her own fingers and fed the child with her blood. When the rescue workers reached them, the mother’s condition was already critical, and later she died.”

Mother Teresa herself suffered greatly. She underwent a long, dark night of the soul and some of the worst debilities of age. Vazhakala tells us that when her health broke decisively in 1996, “her spirit was passing through thick clouds,” and he adds that “one December morning, after Holy Mass in her hospital room, she told me in a very low voice, ‘Jesus is asking a bit too much.’” (Here one thinks of Mother’s own model, St. Thérèse the Little Flower, close to death, confessing “I did not think one could suffer so much.”)

But why speak of suffering? Because in suffering we complete the suffering of Jesus. We quench the thirst of which he spoke on the cross. Put Mother Teresa safely out of mind and heart? If so, it is at our own peril. With Jesus, with Mary, she shows us what it means to stand at the foot of the cross — in whatever form it takes.

- James G. Hanink



The Catechism of the Council of Trent.  Translated into English with notes by Frs. John A. McHugh, O.P., and Charles J. Callan, O.P.. Roman Catholic Books. 603 pages. No price given..

Those familiar with the controversies surrounding the translation and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church may well wonder about the current status of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which, in accordance with a decree of that Council, was promulgated by Pope St. Pius V. Certainly, it has become a hard-to-find volume, despite Pope John Paul II’s declaration in Catechesi Tradendae that it is “a work of the first rank as a summary of Christian teaching.” To make up for its virtual disappearance from the marketplace, Robert I. Bradley, S.J., and Eugene Kevane produced the best translation in English so far (The Roman Catechism, St. Paul Editions, 1984). That fine work being out of print, Roman Catholic Books has done us a favor in reprinting this earlier translation from 1923.

Catechisms, as such, are a relatively recent innovation, having emerged in the Renaissance and the Reformation: This work was published in response to Luther’s Small Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism. Refreshingly direct, it reminds us over and over again that the truths of the Catholic Faith are not merely “interesting” but necessary for one’s salvation. Hence the urgency and even excitement about the Faith that pervades the book.

This Catechism was designed for preachers to enlighten their congregations. To that end, the truths of Catholicism are revealed by using the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Our Father as a framework. Appended to these are, among other items, the Definition of the Immaculate Conception and the Definition of Infallibility. The translators have added both useful historical notes on the development of catechisms in general and this one in particular, and a preaching guide, orienting various parts of the work to the Sundays of the year and major feast days. As the translators conclude, “The Roman Catechism is…a handbook of dogmatic and moral theology, a confessor’s guide, a book of exposition for the preacher, and a choice directory of the spiritual life for pastor and flock alike.” This was true in 1566, when the Latin text appeared, it was true with this edition of 1923, and it has never been truer today. This is an essential book for understanding the Catholic Faith; nor is it too much to add that those Catholics who have not read it will have a shaky grasp of their religion.

- Charles A. Coulombe





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