September 2000

Prayer for Beginners.  By Peter Kreeft. Ignatius. 125 pages. $9.95.

My debt to Prof. Peter Kreeft of Boston College cannot be measured, and with this new book the debt grows greater still. In this I am not alone, for through his many articles and more than 40 books his clarity, wit, and insight have brought many people into the Church and strengthened many who never left.

As an undergraduate at Boston College, someone (a Screwtape Associate?) warned me not to take a course from Kreeft. I thought it strange that this liberal advocate of free speech, feminism, and dissent should warn me away from any professor; so with one part rebellion and another part curiosity, Kreeft’s course “Thinking About Religion” became part of my sophomore year. My first paper criticized Kreeft for what I called “either/or reasoning” — that is, logic. His meticulous refutation was about the same length as my paper. I was never the same again. He skillfully banished my relativism and subjectivism. In the course of studies with him, he introduced me to Aquinas, Lewis, Chesterton, Thomas Howard, and Fr. Ronald Tacelli, S.J. He took me to lunch and suggested that I pray the rosary. I followed him to daily Mass. On his account, I became a philosophy major and went to graduate school. He changed my life.

His latest book, Prayer for Beginners, can also change lives. It is not for preternatural mystics or those who have gone deep into the interior castles, but for everyday people who yearn to know and love the living God but aren’t quite sure about the next step to take.

So Kreeft begins with various motivations for prayer, explaining, for example, that prayer can save the world, that God commands us to pray, that God’s honor deserves praise, and that only through prayer can we make spiritual progress. He speaks about how to handle distraction in prayer as well as other obstacles to prayer such as sin. Prayer, says Kreeft, should include Repentance for sin, Adoration of God, Petition for needs, and Thanksgiving for blessings (RAPT). His book abounds with good advice and practical suggestions, as did an earlier book on the same subject (Prayer, The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer), which noted that we should pray in a particular place at a particular time (15 minutes minimum), lest we pray in no place at no time.

The book has startling passages: “A good way to act out our acceptance [of God] right now would be to stop reading this book and pray for at least one minute. Will you give God one minute? Please do not give me, the author of these words, that minute and rob God. Please rob me and give it to God. Stop reading me and read God. Stop listening to me and listen to God. Are you finished? Do not read another word until you are.”

I was quite interested in reading what Kreeft said about his personal experience: “I will tell you a little bit…about what I think will happen when you use this prayer [the Jesus Prayer]. For I have tried many other more complex, and more abstract ways to pray, and I have found them all less effective than this most childlike of all ways.” Given the fruitfulness of Kreeft’s service to the Lord, this prayer must have incredibly powerful effects.

It is a strange feeling indeed for me to be reviewing one of Peter Kreeft’s books, rather like that of a private evaluating the general or a water boy appraising the quarterback. Though most have not had the privilege of attending his classes at Boston College, through his writings all can become students of this tremendous teacher.

- Christopher Kaczor



The Genesis of Justice.  By Alan M. Dershowitz. Warner Books. 273 pages. $26.95.

It may be impossible to write a dull analysis of the Old Testament’s first book. Its 48 chapters are loaded with drama, intrigue, murder, lust, and strange twists of fate — it is odd that it’s not more popular among contemporary readers. Dershowitz, a well-known legal scholar at Harvard, examines 10 of its most notable events. From Adam, Eve, and the apple to Joseph confronting his brothers who sent him into slavery, Dershowitz analyzes the questions of justice posed by these incidents from within his own Jewish tradition.

In his view, “justice,” as defined by religious and secular law, is in short supply in Genesis. How “just,” he asks, was it for Cain to murder his own brother and survive? Or for Abraham to be praised for the attempted murder of his own son? What “justice” do we find in the life of Jacob, deceiver and deceived on multiple occasions? Dershowitz reminds us that these events took place before Moses handed down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Therefore, there was no formal code of do’s and don’ts to govern the tribe that would become the Jewish nation.

Interestingly, Dershowitz emphasizes that Judaism, held together by a covenant between God and His people, “could not easily endure without a world to come in which God could keep His promises….” He agrees with the assertion of Christian minister Robert Schuller that there must be some sort of afterlife with perpetual justice, given the crimes and heartaches of this realm.

- Gerard Einhaus





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