Category Archives: Book Reviews

Shusaku Endo’s Deep River


This is a review and analysis of Shusaku Endos’s 1994 novel Deep River, his last. I started reading Endo recently, and reviewed his Kiku’s Prayer a few months ago. Endo’s controversial novel Silence has also been getting more attention lately due to the Martin Scorsese film adaptation currently playing in theaters.

Deep River may be interesting for those readers who read or saw Silence, and are looking for more from Endo, or are simply trying understand his point of view. Alternatively, it may be of interest to those who ponder why the faith seems to have flourished in some parts of the world, but not taken root in places like Japan. This is a longish review, and includes details that may spoil the story in case you prefer to read it first.

Deep River follows parts of the lives of five different people leading up to their meeting on a trip to India in 1984. Three of them are elderly Japanese men coming to terms with suffering.  The two main characters are a Japanese man and woman engaged in a spiritual duel of sorts lasting several decades.

The three older men, Numada, Kugachi and Isobe, are to some degree biographical sketches of Endo or the men of his generation. Numada, like Endo, is an author who never quite got over the divorce of his parents, and has suffered from significant health problems later in life. Isobe is a representative of the traditional Japanese salary man who realized he never fully appreciated or loved his recently deceased wife. Kugachi is a WW2 veteran still trying to make sense of his and his fellow veterans’ experiences.

The main characters are Otsu, a Japanese Catholic who becomes a priest, and Mitsuko, an acquaintance from college who wrestles with alternative impulses to destroy and understand him. Mitsuko is trying to find herself, while Otsu is trying more and more to submerge himself into the Man of Sorrows.

In terms of style and structure, this is very different from Kiku’s Prayer. That book was almost a documentary about the persecution of Japanese Christians in the late 19th century. Deep River is more an examination of the interior states of its characters as they confront modernity and their own suffering.

Endo almost seems to be asking here  whether any of the suffering explored in Silence and Kiku’s Prayer has been worth it, or why the sacrifice of so many martyrs has borne little obvious fruit. The Christians of mid to late 20th century Japan are considered odd by their compatriots, and Otsu is the butt of jokes and mockery by his fellow students. Endo tries to explore this issue, and offers his own thoughts through the words of Otsu and Mitsuke. Western Christians may not like the message.

Endo went to France as a young man to study French Literature. He alludes to this experience through Otsu’s time in a seminary in France. Endo appears to believe that the Scholastic, Aristotelian influenced mode of Catholic Christianity dominant since the Reformation simply does not work for many Asians. I am no theologian, but briefly, a key criticism of Scholasticism is that it is too rigid, too focused on using reason or logic to approach God. A more recent version of it, “Neo-Scholasticism” was the dominant mode of philosophy and theology within the Catholic Church in the 19th and early 20th century. Some European theologians felt that this approach was limiting, and introduced ideas in the mid-20th century, often called Nouvelle Théologie (“New Theology”)  that relied more on the writings of the Platonic influenced Church Fathers to address the problems presented by Modernism. Please note that this philosophical debate does not neatly fall into “liberal” or “conservative” categories, and there are no good guys or bad guys in this dispute.

Otsu voices Endo’s criticisms of “European Christianity” in a number of passages in which he describes his difficult seminary experience:

For three years I’ve lived here, and I’ve tired of the way people here think. The ways of thinking that they’ve kneaded with their own hands and fashioned to meet the workings of their hearts … they’re ponderous to an Asian like me.

I can’t make the clear distinction that these people make between good and evil. I think that evil lurks within the good, and that good things can lie hidden within evil as well. That’s the very reason God can wield his magic. He made use of my sins and turned me towards salvation.

Again, its beyond my ability to well articulate Endo’s theological or philosophical view.  He is not a heretic, but I think he views the logic, argument based form of Christian evangelization or Christian apologetics as not suited to Asia, or perhaps modernity in general. I think this is why he focused on the “failure” of several Jesuit priests as a key point in Silence.  Rather, I think he is trying to encourage a focus on the more mystical, experience based approach of God’s mercy as often symbolized in devotion to the Virgin Mary, who was the main symbol of faith in Kiku’s Prayer.

Otsu manages to become ordained, but is viewed with deep suspicion by his colleagues.  He eventually winds up in India, where he ministers to dead and dying Hindus in a solo mission of mercy. He carries the bodies of the dying to the Ganges, the “deep river” of the book, which represents God’s deep and unending love for all people. The final wish of many Hindus is that their remains be placed in the Ganges, either whole or after cremation.  The poor that Otsu serve cannot afford cremation, so he carries them on his back, like Christ carrying the cross.

Earlier, I referenced the “duel” between Otsu and Mitsuko, the book’s sole point of view female character, and really a stand in for all of us. Mitsuko and Otsu meet in late 1960’s Japan, and she is a liberated college student who drinks, studies and sleeps around.  She is given the nickname “Moira” after a character in a French novel she has read. Moira is derived from an Irish version of Mary, and Mitsuko is a sort of “Mary Magdalene” figure.

She and her fellow students are amused by Otsu’s Christianity, and they egg her on to test and seduce him.  While watching him pray one day, she makes a bet against the ugly Jesus on the cross that she will steal Otsu away from him. She seduces him into a sexual relationship, and then dumps him after a few months. Otsu is devastated, but later says that he hears Jesus speaking to him to “come to him,” and he interprets this as a sign to become a priest.

Mitsuko goes on to marry, but finds no peace.  She tracks down Otsu to his seminary while on her honeymoon in France, and his determination to keep his faith she finds unsettling.  She eventually divorces and becomes a volunteer at hospital, where she cares for the sick and dying. Years later she joins the trip to India after learning that Otsu has moved to India.

This dual repulsion and attraction is symbolized by Mitsuko’s interest in the various Hindu goddesses she learns about on her trip, such as Kali


The goddess Kali trampling her husband, as Mitsuko tramples Otsu, and we trample the Lord

In Endo’s view, we are all, like Mitsuko, Kali to an extent, wounded by original sin, and trampling Jesus with our resistance. The theme of a trampled Jesus was the key image at the conclusion of Silence.

Endo studied the French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos while he was a student in France. I have also been reading Bernanos and reviewing some of his work at this blog.  Deep River reflects this influence in the struggle between Otsu and Mitsuko. Bernanos’ stories were ones of spiritual combat, often reflected in a confrontation between a priest and a female character. This was a deliberate pairing by Bernanos; not because of misogyny, but because all souls are feminine in relation to the first and second persons of the trinity. We are part of the Church, which is the Bride to Jesus’ Bridegroom. In his novels, the male priests, in a mystical way, often endure suffering to allow the female character to respond to God’s grace.

Otsu is trampled by Mitsuko in her original sin stained Kali form through her insults, her seduction, and eventual rejection of him. The modern hatred of priests was also a theme of Bernanos’ work, best described in his Diary of a County Priest. There a variety of women slander, mock, and tempt the unassuming, gentle protagonist, a character not too different from Otsu. And despite this almost instinctive revulsion, Mitsuko keeps circling around him, and thinking about her sterile life and the promise of the Christian God.  The duel comes to a head when they encounter each other on the banks of the Ganges at the end of the novel. Otsu offers himself as a sacrifice, and in my view, it leads to a spiritual breakthrough for Mitsuko. The ending is not clear, but my interpretation is that she has been given an opportunity to respond to God’s grace.

The positive feminine symbol that Endo offers in contrast to Kali is that of the Hindu goddess Chamunda, a mother goddess who as described by Endo symbolizing the suffering and abiding of India. Chamunda is not beautiful, and her image is worn down by pain and toil.  She is a Virgin Mary figure who shows the wounds of humanity’s suffering in her image. As Mitsuko thinks about Chamunda, she increasingly becomes drawn to the  river Ganges, which Otsu compares to the deep and all accepting love of Jesus.

In the end, I think Endo is making a plea to acknowledge the feminine, motherly side of God, which bears all suffering, and accepts everyone, regardless of their stated faith. As a member of a very small Christian minority in Japan, Endo had come to accept that God had ways of reaching people of all religions.  This feminine side of God is made present in the appearance of several nuns of the Missionaries of Charity at the end of the book, the order led by Mother Theresa. I think the reader is invited to speculate whether Mitsuko, a nurse by training, stays in India and joins the order.   I would also like to think that Endo would welcome some of the developments in Catholic devotion in recent decades, including a new focus on the mercy of God, as described by St. Faustina Kowalska (canonized in 2000), and Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation.




Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

The Marriage You Save May be Your Neighbor’s


Poster of the 1959 film version


I just read Georges Bernanos’ screen play,  Dialogues of the Carmelites, which was also his last work. It is a fictional account of the lives of the Martyrs of Compiegne in the years and months leading up to their execution during the Reign of Terror.  The characters are very loosely based on the actual nuns.  I found it to be well written and enjoyed it very much.  Francis Poulenc later adapted the screen play into the better known opera, and it has got me thinking about marriage and divorce, which may seem an odd connection to make.  Thus this post.

The protagonist is Blanche De La Force, the young daughter of a French nobleman whose wife died giving birth to her. Blanche seeks the Lord, but has a serious flaw in her temperament: she is afraid of the world and its dangers to a marked degree. She takes the name Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ, a foreshadowing of the particular nature of her suffering. Blanche wishes that the cup of martyrdom pass her by, like Christ asked that his own cup pass him by during his Agony in the Garden.  It is Blanche’s mission in life to share in this agony of fear and doubt.

The theme of the story is that Blanche, on her own, is not strong enough to pass the test. It takes the sacrifice of three other of her fellow sisters to give her the strength to make the walk to the scaffold. First, the Prioress who accepts her entrance into the convent suffers an unexpectedly painful and emotionally turbulent death. Next, her best friend, Sister Constance, allows herself to be publicly humiliated to conceal Blanche’s cowardice from the other nuns. Finally, the subprioress, Marie de L’Incarnacion is separated from her sisters while searching for Blanche (who has fled the convent) and misses out on their martyrdom, which causes her great spiritual suffering.

Bernanos’ argument is that we are witnessing a mysterious performance of a communion of Saints in the making. These three sisters who had been gifted with greater strength of character have taken on a portion of Blanche’s fear, humiliation, and shame. By doing this, they allow Blanche to respond to the Lord’s call to martyrdom with courage and a song at the scaffold of the guillotine.

This particular operation of the Communion of Saints is described as “vicarious representation and substitution” by Cardinal Hans Urs Von Balthasar in his analysis of Bernanos’ life and works. Blanche is not solely a beneficiary however, as her own natural weakness and the corresponding suffering is a ransom paid for other members of the Body of Christ.

So it is that Blanche is carried over the threshold by the willingness of these three nuns to take her place… However, none of this should make us forget that all these works of willing, vicarious substitution have found their foundation in Blanche’s weakness and derive their efficacy and power precisely from the way Blanche herself represents the essential weakness of all men before the ultimate challenge: Blanche drinks the cup of fear to the dregs both for herself and in substitution for all others.

“Communion of saints” happens when every member of the Body surrenders his whole being and opens it to becoming but a part of the whole, when he allows his integrity to suffer wounds that make possible the passage through him of the Blood circulating throughout the whole.

Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence, Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 1996).

The Carmelite nuns who were martyred had intentionally offered their lives to God in atonement for the Terror and for the restoration of peace to France.  The Reign of Terror did end ten days after their executions, and even secular historians have acknowledged that their great courage and docility made an impression on the public.

Turning to marriage, I once read a post by a religious describing how marriage is truly a martyrdom on its own.  It often is “for worse”, but we like to forget that. We all know of or have experienced (or are experiencing?) marriages that seem to be cursed by the world: poverty, health problems, infertility, difficult in-laws, etc. Some of these marriages fail, and we might ask, why did God allow it to be so hard for that couple? Some particularly good and strong couples endure hardship after hardship.  If we find ourselves in a difficult marriage, we might be inclined to give up. What does it matter anyway we might say.

And yet, the data suggests that divorce is contagious. If your friends and neighbors get divorced, its more likely you will too. In his Diary of a Country Priest, Bernanos wrote that a communion of sinners exists side by side with a communion of saints.  Might our sins against marriage make it harder for others to persevere? By withdrawing, do we prevent the Blood of Christ from circulating to all members of his Body?  But if that is so, then our obedience might in some way help others endure, like Blanche’s sisters helped her to stay true to Christ to the very end.

If you are in a marriage that is hard, seems pointless, or is burdened by great hardships, one way to find meaning is to accept that you may be going through it for someone else in the Mystical Body of Christ. Like the Martyrs of Compiegne, you can offer up your suffering for other married couples, like Sister Blanche, who might not have a natural disposition towards strength and endurance of hardship. If you seem to gifted with great reservoirs of strength, like Blanche’s sisters, it may be to bear the burdens of others, even if you will never meet them in this life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Spiritual Reflections

A Review: Kiku’s Prayer


This post is a review of the novel, Kiku’s Prayer, by Shusaku Endo. Mr. Endo was a Japanese Catholic writer whose novel, Silence, has been adapted for film several times in the past and in a soon to be released film by Martin Scorsese.

If you are planning to see Silence, and read the book, you might be interested in Kiku’s PrayerSilence is about the suppression of Christianity in 17th Century Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is Endo’s most famous work. The persecution, as measured by worldly metrics, was largely successful. Many Christians were killed and forced to renounce their faith, and the teaching of Christianity and public worship was outlawed for about two centuries.

Kiku’s Prayer is about the events that led to the end of the official persecution, which occurred during the late 19th century after the restoration of Imperial rule during the Meiji Restoration. It could be called a work of “historical fiction,”  in which real people and events are used as the basis of a novel.  Mr. Endo helpfully includes endnotes at the end of each chapter to better identify the real people, places and events referenced in the novel.

However, the main characters are not based on real people. Rather they are ordinary Japanese, Christian and non-Christian, who lived in the Nagasaki region of western Japan.  Kiku is a young woman from the small village of Urakami who moves to town for work, and falls in love with Seikichi, a young man, and secret Christian. So unlike Silence, the main characters are Japanese.

A secondary character is Father Bernard Petitjean, a young priest who has come to Japan to help build the first Catholic church in centuries (to serve foreigners), but who initiates a secret mission to make contact with the “Kakure Kirishitan“, or “hidden Christians”, who have practiced their faith in secret and passed on the traditions for two centuries.  He is successful in meeting them, and this sets in motion a chain of events that leads to their persecution but opens the door to the free exercise of religion in Japan.

I do not speak Japanese, and the book has been translated by Van C. Gessel. This is the same translator used for all English versions of Endo’s work. Accordingly, I cannot comment on the writing style or “literary” quality of Mr. Endo’s work.   The novel is very plot driven, and heavy on dialogue and brief descriptions of what the characters see and do. Mr. Gessel’s translation seems fairly straightforward to me (I am not a literary critic).  This is not a “post-modern” work of fiction, nor does it involve long descriptive paragraphs of what’s going on inside people’s heads or around them. It’s a brisk read.

If you are curious why Christianity had so much trouble making headway in Asia, Mr. Endo effectively uses the local government officials to voice a criticism of how European powers and their colonial predation, sometimes with Church assistance, tainted the faith in the minds of many peoples.

The title of the book is an intended irony, as Kiku is not a Christian, and her prayer is more in the nature of a complaint to the Blessed Mother statue she visits from time to time. In this book, as in books written by Georges Bernanos that I’ve reviewed, it is often the people with no faith, those who renounce the faith, or even persecute the faith, that have been given the greatest crosses to bear in life. If you are a Christian, it is largely an accident of birth whether you were baptized and raised in the faith. Imagine the cross you had to bear if you apostatized under torture or threat of torture. Those people probably felt a sense of despair and very distant from the Lord the rest of their life. But in fact He drew very close to them, and they were drawn into the mystery of the Cross in return.

In this vein, one of the more powerful scenes involves a confrontation between Father Petitjean and a Japanese official, Ito, responsible for persecuting the Japanese Christians:

““I’ll bet you don’t know the first thing about the pains of those who are beaten. And you know nothing of the torment of those who administer the torture!”

Then Petitjean said something completely unexpected. “No, I don’t know those pains. But I do know that God loves you more than he loves Lord Hondō.”

Itō looked up at Petitjean’s face in amazement. He thought perhaps he was being mocked, ridiculed. “You say this God of yours … loves me more than Hondō? A man who’s tortured and inflicted pain on you Kirishitans?”

“You are suffering. But Lord Hondō feels no anguish in his heart. His heart is filled with the dream of taking advantage of the mounting opportunities in this age of Meiji and making a success of himself.”

“And what … what’s so wrong with that? I’m … if anything, I’m jealous of the success Hondō is having.”

“But it’s your jaundiced, wounded heart that God is trying to penetrate, not Hondō’s. God has no interest in a man like Lord Hondō, who is inflamed right now with the lust for success. He is drawn instead to a heart like yours.”

Hatefully Itō said, “I really despise the kind of nonsense you people use to trick the hearts of men. You prey on a man’s weaknesses, but no matter how hard you try to charm me with your Kirishitan babble, I’m not falling for your lofty words and schemes. I see exactly what you’re up to.”

“You’re wrong.” Petitjean shook his head vigorously. “Someday you’ll understand. By inflicting pain on the Urakami Kirishitans, you’re splattering your own body with blood.””

In closing comments, Endo notes his thanks to the City of Nagasaki, which was the location of the last use of an atomic bomb. Nagasaki was not the intended target for the second bomb, but the primary target was obscured by smoke and clouds.  When the bomb was dropped it drifted somewhat away from the urban core and landed in the Urakami Valley, where the story of Kiku’s Prayer begins. The surrounding hills prevented higher casualties, but the Urakami Cathedral, the first built in Japan, was destroyed and all those attending mass for the Feast of the Assumption were killed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Fabrice Hadjadj’s “Against the Microscope”

Earlier this year I became acquainted with the work of  Fabrice Hadjadj, a French Catholic writer of some renown in Europe. I reviewed his first book of scriptural reflections to be published in English, The Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ, on this blog a few months back. This post is a continuation of this effort to raise his profile in the English speaking world.

I recently came across an article he wrote in 2014 about two individuals, one fairly well known, one, not so much: Dr. Jerome Lejeune and Claire Fichefeux. Dr. Lejeune was a medical doctor and geneticist, and a discoverer of the chromosomal anomaly that causes Down Syndrome.  He later became an outspoken opponent of the use of prenatal screening to facilitate the abortion of children with chromosomal anomalies such as Trisomy 21.

Claire Fichefeux was a French woman with Down who died in 2014.  Professor Hadjadj had some acquaintance with her.  Claire was apparently adopted, and served in a civilian capacity in the French military, and may have been working towards becoming a lay member or consecrated religious of a French Catholic organization known as the Community of Emmanuel. She apparently was an eloquent witness for the faith and spoke at a few conferences, including one with Professor Hadjadj.

Hadjadj offered a tribute to Claire some months after her death, and the Lejeune Foundation posted an English translation at their website. The translation is a little awkward in parts, but Professor Hadjadj’s insights come through. The article is primarily a tribute to the then recently deceased Ms. Fichefeux, but also a reflection on the work of Dr. Lejeune.

In his usually creative way, Hadjadj critiques science for causing us to miss the forest for the trees.  In limiting our alphabet to G, A , T, C, and S, we cannot spell “human,” but we can build a prison like Gattaca. I will provide a few excerpts, but its best read in its entirety:

You have understood that focusing on the alphabet causes one to forget about the poem. One ends up seeing in a living being only a “physiological bag”, a “genetic sequence”. You no longer see the unique and interesting shape one doesn’t need glasses to see: the radiant daisy, the fascinating spider, the peacock, the ostrich, the rhinoceros, the orang-utan, etc.

Before we saw a person, now we see an error in a genetic sequence:

Before people used to say: “he is a Mongolian” and, yes, maybe it sounded a bit too anthropomorphic, as if people were being classified into races, making a very debatable and dangerous assimilation. At least they were called after a statement made from a visible appearance: we could still see a face. People marvelled at these little beings who looked like descendants of Gengis Khan suddenly appearing in a perfectly French family… Nowadays, they are named after a person who studied their disease: Down. We now only see an incorrect code, a bad move on a chess board, a typing error which, therefore, needs eliminating.

Hadjadj closes with a request that Dr. Lejeune and a child with Down be beatified by the Church.  All the more appropriate as Claire and those like are “not Down but, Up, up in Heaven.”

Having read much Bernanos lately, I completely agree. Our Church is the Church of the Saints, and the recognition of a Saint who had Down Syndrome is a worthy effort. What defense do we have against a world well armed with microscopes but the child like holiness of a forever child saint. Perhaps it is Claire?  I cannot speak French, but if you can, you may listen to a 30 minute homily given about her by the French Catholic monk Daniel-Ange.

So if you find yourself in a tight corner, a prayer for Claire’s intercession may be in order. It takes two miracles to be canonized, and maybe you can be her witness. It may even be your mission in life.

Read the whole testimonial here.

From Aleteia Media.



Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Witness for the Prosecution


From Inherit the Wind


One of the more interesting things to observe on social media, often not in a good way, is the interaction between believers, atheists and agnostics. There is certainly tension present. Some atheists and agnostics show great frustration with Followers of the Way*, and they do have good cause to be disappointed.

Georges Bernanos captured this dynamic very well in his essay, The Sermon of an Agnostic on the Feast of St. Therese.  In this essay, written in 1938, Bernanos conveys the point of view of an imaginary agnostic who has been given the opportunity to deliver a sermon to a parish of self-satisfied and mediocre Catholics. Bernanos was a Catholic novelist and essayist, and it was considered a sign of his great integrity that he was far harder on the Church and his fellow Catholics than on anyone else.

From the outset, his narrator pulls no punches:

“Ladies and Gentlemen”, he would begin, “I don’t share your beliefs, but I probably know more about the history of the Church than you do, because I happen to have read it, and not many parishioners can say that.”

“… Who among you is capable of writing twenty lines about his or her patron saint?”

Lesson one, don’t BS or condescend to an atheist or agnostic. They have probably come by their position the hard way, either through formal education or long life experience.  Their common sense may exceed yours, and they may very well know philosophy, theology, the history of the Church or the Bible better than you.

Despite this, some will make time for us, even when we ignore them:

For though you’re not interested in unbelievers, unbelievers are extremely interested in you. There are a few of us who at some point in our lives have not made a tentative approach in your direction, were it only to insult you. After all, put yourselves in our place. Were there  … the faintest chance of your being right, death would come as a devastating surprise to us. So we’re bound to watch closely and try and fathom you.

Lesson two, you will have some opportunity to demonstrate or discuss your faith with them, whether you intend to or not. Be ready.

But we are often not:

“Yes, we were drawn to you. But now we’ve decided that you’re not very interesting after all, and it’s rather disappointing. And we hate to think what fools we were, ever to have hoped in you, and to have doubted ourselves, our own unbelief.”

Lesson three, we may be accountable to some degree for their lack of faith. Jesus says woe unto those who are a stumbling block to children. But is he just speaking of physiological age? What if its spiritual age as well? We will have to account for the atheists and agnostics we disappointed by our bad example.

For example, do we take the Sacraments seriously? Bernanos’ agnostic suggests we often don’t:

When you come out of the confessional, you’re in a ‘state of grace.’ A state of grace … are you sure? Can you blame us if we don’t believe it? We’re wondering what you do with the Grace of God. Should it not be shining out of you? Where the devil do you hide your joy?

Lesson four, as Teresa of Avila said, “Lord, save us from gloomy saints.” Behave like your faith matters more than the world

Instead, we seem to put too much faith in politics or money, not God:

But what surpasses the understanding is that you habitually reason about the affairs of the world in exactly the same way as we do. I mean, who’s forcing you? … But when your fathers profess the pitiless economics of Mr. Adam Smith, or when you give solemn honor to Machiavelli, allow me to say that you cause us no surprise – you simply strike us as odd, incomprehensible fellows.

Lesson five: If you make an idol out of your politics, possessions, or career, why should atheists take you seriously about the Good News?

Despite any frustration we have with atheists or agnostics, we must never judge them for their profession of faith. A scientist once calculated that about 150 billion humans beings have been born on planet Earth since homo sapiens came into existence (I have no issue with the concept of the evolution of human beings over many thousands of years, in a manner consistent with the will of the Father. Nor does the RC Church). Billions lived and died before the Incarnation, never knowing the Good News. Billions have lived and died since without being baptized or even being preached to.

For whatever reason, one of the mysteries of Salvation history is that only a vanishingly small number of human beings encountered Jesus in person, and a minority, even through today, have ever been formally inducted into the faith through baptism. Most of the people who have been born went to their deaths knowing nothing of the Sermon on the Mount, the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. Most people did not believe Jesus during his day, so perhaps it is appropriate that most of humanity not believe his followers.

Peter Kreeft has suggested that one of the purposes of the Communion of Saints is for those of us who are wealthy in life to share with those who were not in the next. When you lay up treasures in heaven, it may be for those who were never graced with any spiritual treasure in this life.

Does Bernanos’ narrator offer any advice for today’s Christians? His narrator prophesies our present,  and says we must become children again:

Fear those who are to come, who shall judge you. Fear the innocence of children, for they are also enfants terribles. Your only way out is to become children yourselves, to rediscover the heart of childhood. For the hour shall strike when questions hurled at you from all points of the earth shall be so direct, that you will not be able to answer except by yes or no.

Lesson six, social media places our Faith under the microscope like never before. And we will be questioned by the orphaned children of our age, who will not defer to us or accept the things we take for granted. They find much of the world rather absurd, and laugh at it. And Bernanos advises that we will never respond adequately to their laughter except through the childlike heroism of a Joan of Arc before her accusers.

Christians who listen to me – that is your peril! It is difficult to follow up a society that has foundered in laughter, because even the fragments will be useless. You will have to build it all up again. You will have to build it up under the eyes of children. Become as children yourselves. They have found the chink in your armor, and you will never disarm their irony save by simplicity, honesty and audacity.

You will never disarm them save by heroism.

Lesson 7, argument is of limited value. Apologetics has its place with those who are eager to believe, and need guidance or encouragement. Our Lord had little success with argument with those disinclined to believe him. Do we expect to do any better than Him? While we have a duty to be honest when the question is put to us, we will best persuade through our heroic example, which may include prayer and fasting, and all the ordinary or anonymous sacrifices we are called to make every day.

When I die, I want Jesus to call some of these formerly hard nosed atheists from the far reaches of eternity (Heaven) or temporality (Purgatory). They can be His prosecuting attorney against me in my final confession. Did I ever impress or convert a one by my example, or my prayers? Up to this point in my life, I cannot say with any confidence that I have. I would have to plead guilty to every charge they might make, a witness for the prosecution.


P.S. If you wish to read more Bernanos, many of his writings have been translated into English. Unfortunately, much of it is out of print and hard to come by at a reasonable price. The essay I have quoted from is available in The Heroic Face of Innocence: Three Stories by George Bernanos at a reasonable price in e-book form.

* As Christians were apparently known in their early years. The French writer Fabrice Hadjadj has suggested, half-seriously, that Christians go back to using that description, as it sounds far more mysterious and intriguing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Spiritual Reflections

Book Review: The Resurrection by Fabrice Hadjadj

Here I will review/summarize a new book by Fabrice Hadjadj, titled The Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ. It is a series of commentaries about the Resurrection. Each chapter begins with a quote or quotes from scripture, and Mr. Hadjadj offers some reflections that can be applied to every day life.


First, some background for Mr. Hadjadj. After reading this book I experienced a new regret: I cannot speak French (nor any of the other languages of the Continent his works appear in).  This is his first book to be translated into English.

Mr. Hadjadj is a father and husband, philosopher and teacher. He is of Jewish, Tunisian background, and converted to Roman Catholicism after a long tenure as an atheist.

According to a website about Algerian Jewish culture, the surname Hadjadj apparently can mean “one who argues with God.” A good name for a philosopher.

I am somewhat disappointed this book hasn’t received more attention. It came out in May of this year, and I have found a handful of reviews on the web.   If you google his name you can find a few interviews that have been translated into English.  Artur Rosman has offered some commentary on his books at his Patheos blog.  While he is a famous figure in France, he is virtually unknown in America.

I want to do my part to increase his profile in the Anglosphere, thus this review. I am a layperson with no training in philosophy or theology, so there may be a lot of mistakes. However, you might never catch me at them as you do not need to be a philosopher or theologian to enjoy this book. His audience is the general public. You will find references to Miss Marple, the Superbowl, Disney’s Frozen, etc. throughout. Generally, I found Mr. Hadjadj’s book to be charming, witty, and a pleasure to read.

Now, onto the contents:


Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia writes the intro and calls this a “a brilliant little book” and compliments Hadjadj for his “extraordinary reflections” on scripture. He also calls him “… one of the finest Catholic minds in decades.” I include these comments to show that the book has been reviewed by the Church, and there is nothing problematic in it from this Archbishop’s perspective.

Chapter 1  Your Money or Your Life

Matthew 28:11-15 is the source of reflection. In those verses, the soldiers that had been guarding the tomb are paid by the priests of the Temple to spread the lie that the Apostles stole Jesus’ body.

I had always thought of Jesus commentary on money as a warning against excessive love or pursuit of it. All things in moderation, right?  However, Hadjadj examines how even the ordinary, every day use of money may be problematic at times. Hadjadj explains that money’s three functions as “measure of value,” “store of value” and “medium of exchange” can imitate and supplant the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity if we are not very careful.

Chapter 2  The Myrrh-Bearing Women

The subject verses are Mark 16:1-8. Here, three women arrive at Jesus’ tomb to anoint him and instead find it empty.

Doing one’s duty in the face of despair can lead to great things. The Resurrection was not dependent on Mary Magdalene and the other women going to the tomb. We can imagine an alternative history in which, out of despair or fear, the women stayed home and cried their eyes out.  Jesus would have then appeared in a different circumstance to, perhaps, a different group of people. But it seems that something good would have been lost.

This chapter touches on several topics and questions. One, how we have lost touch with death. We don’t care for and bury the dead like our ancestors. Two, why did Jesus appear to women first, given that their testimony would be subject to doubt? Three, reasons some should be scared by the Resurrection.

Chapter 3   The Head Cloth in Its Place

John 20:1-8 is reflected on. This is John’s version of the discovery of the empty tomb, which includes Peter and his footrace.

The key phrase of this chapter is “After You,” a reference to John letting Peter enter the tomb first, despite outracing him. Hadjadj then applies it to the Lord himself. The Resurrection is the ultimate “After you.” His disappearance from the Tomb makes room for us and the rest of creation. He is invisible but totally present. He carries us along in his wake as he breaks the waves of time and space.

Chapter 4   Go Down and See If I’m There

The verses under discussion are John’s description of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in John 20:11-18.

Hadjadj explores the mystery of Mary’s initial non-recognition of Jesus, and his command to her not to touch him.  The suggested solution is that the body of Christ is to be found in your neighbor, no matter how annoying he or she may be. You must go forth as part of being a Christian.

Chapter 5   Do You Have Something to Eat?

Hadjadj provides three different verses that mention Jesus eating after the Resurrection, and asks, why does the Risen One eat? In short, to do poetry. To expand, eating is democratic, universal, and reminds us of our dependence.

Chapter 6  In Accordance with the Scriptures

The subject verses are from Luke, in which Jesus comments on Scripture. Hadjadj explores the importance of scripture in understanding the Resurrection.  In reading the Bible, we should strive for a personal understanding that can be lived in our own life, and not a pedantic interpretation.

Chapter 7  Out of Breath: Saying Good Day and Forgive Me

The subject verses are John, 20:19-23, where Jesus appears to the Apostles and breathed the Holy Spirit on them.

Hadjadj contrasts the Resurrection of Christ with the sci-fi reanimation of a corpse. There must be joy in living for us to want to return to it.

He discusses how the Lord’s words are Shalom, or “Peace be With You”, which in our times has become “Good Day.” Saying “Good Day” every day and meaning it is the great reset button, a forgiveness of the prior days slights and sins. Forgiveness is even more key in the family context, where we are particularly vulnerable and exposed to the truth of our sins.

I am going to include a long excerpt here, because my descriptions cannot do justice to what a fine writer and thinker he is:

If I make some affectionate gesture toward her, my dear and tender wife can’t keep from getting everything off her chest. In order to become completely receptive to my affection, she has to dump out on me all the grievances weighing on her soul. This is a legitimate way of proceeding, and a sign of great confidence. For her it is a matter of accepting my bouquet of flowers by pouring out onto my head a whole cartload of trash – my own trash, I admit – and for me it is a matter of continuing to hold out those flowers even though they are no longer that fresh and my desire to offer them is completely gone.

A “no-fault” divorce culture never requires us to learn or practice the forgiveness required for the ordinary heroism of married life.

In short, the woman of my life has to become the death of me before she can become the woman of my resurrection.  I therefore have to forgive this woman who torments me by asking me for her forgiveness. To communicate with her not just through our facades but also through our cellars, our pits, our dungeons. Nevertheless our faithfulness in these little trials is what enables us to withstand the big ones.

This is offered without the slightest bitterness on Hadjadj’s part, and I am sure he would say the reflection would be equally applicable if the sexes were reversed.

Chapter 8   Place Your Hand in My Side

The subject verses are the description of Thomas’ doubts and recantation in John 20:24-29.

I said in my Amazon review that this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Hadjadj dives in and provides a very intriguing analysis of Thomas’ character and conduct, based on all the instances in which Thomas is quoted or described in the Gospels.

Why was he not with the Apostles when Jesus appeared to them? Hadjadj posits that Thomas was a hothead, and perhaps the bravest Apostle in terms of taking physical risks. Rather than hiding from the Jewish and Roman authorities, he was parading around in public as if daring them to kill  him too.  He wanted to be crucified, and is perhaps suffering from survivor’s guilt.

Thomas cannot wrap his head around a cross and glory combined. The Resurrection threatens to make light of what has gone before. Hence he objects to the good news. Hadjadj compares him to that gloomy friend always going on about the suffering in the world.

Jesus takes Thomas up on his bet, and appears and breathes the Holy Spirit on him. Hadjadj claims that Thomas’ response (“My Lord and My God”) is the first time in scripture that an Apostle referred to Jesus as “My God” as opposed to “Messiah” or “Son of God.”  I wonder if this sort of makes Thomas the first recorded witness to the Trinity. He has received the Spirit, and now perceives both the Son and the Father as one.

The lesson here is that we should honestly approach our doubts. We should be hot or cold, but not play the part of a firm believer if we are lukewarm. Our very doubts expose our hunger for the whole Truth, one that can transfigure “all the wounds of history.”

Chapter 9  Back to Fishing

The lead verses are John 21:1-8, which describes Jesus’ appearance while the Apostles are fishing on the Sea of Tiberias.

Hadjadj asks a question about this verse I never considered. Why are the Apostles off fishing again after they have received the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t they be preaching somewhere? He acknowledges traditional interpretations, but offers a novel one.

This goes to the question of why so many Apostles, including the inner three (Peter, John and James), were fishermen. Why not shepherds, or hunters, or farmers? It was no accident he suggests.

Chapter 10   Papal Indignity

The lead verses are John 21:15-22, which includes Jesus’ three-fold question to Peter, and the final “Follow Me!” command.

Hadjadj explores why Jesus seems so hard on Peter, or perhaps, why the Gospel writers felt necessary to document his failings more than the other Apostles. Peter’s repeated failures and rebukes opened him to true humility. He would no longer trust on his own strength, and thus would build the foundation of a new Church on the Lord’s strength.

Hadjadj relates that the world would be so fortunate if we all had the same insight that Peter was dragged to acknowledge: we are not worthy. Or as he says it, that we have “concave worthiness.” The more we acknowledge we are empty, the better we can receive.

Chapter 11  To All Creation

Hadjadj opens with Mark 15:15-18, which is Jesus’ commandment to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. He takes the word “creation” literally, and emphasizes the cosmic nature of this, something that cannot always be reduced to a purely human to human interaction.

Hadjadj humorously relates the advantage of seeing your fellow man as a “creature” and not specifically a human being:

… if you tell yourself that this someone is a creature, just like a pig or worm, then you are obliged to recognize that, for a worm or pig, he is nevertheless a fantastic pig or an absolutely fabulous earthworm.

The point being that in returning the focus to the literal command, “all creation”, we can move away from our sometimes particular disappointment with our fellow man, and see Jesus in everything.

In the reference to preaching to the world, he reminds us not to neglect our own family and ourselves. Our own hearts are “wilder than the Amazon jungle.” And “since the earth is round, the remotest end of the world is right here.”

Chapter 12   Laying One’s Head on the Chopping Block

The martyrdom of St. Stephen at Acts 7:55-60 is the inspiration for this chapter.

Hadjadj notes that true martyrdom comes from a zest for life, not a death wish. And that the true martyr has no other power but prayer. And that they will accept martyrdom because they love so much, they even love their persecutors. “After you,” Hadjadj says again.


In his epilogue Hadjadj offers an apology of sorts for his style, which some may find too lighthearted. He hopes that while he have been “whimsical” he doesn’t believe he has been “frivolous.” He says “Times have changed,” and new approaches are required.  I will share a very Chesterton like paradox of his that expresses this point:

And while the engineer designs a superman, God creates man and woman. This is why the Church today is waging countless battles on unexpected fronts: inspired by the Spirit, she glorifies the flesh; as the depository of the supernatural, she becomes the guardian of nature; calling people to be holy, she defends sex. And this is why it is no longer enough to say, as in the past:  “God became man so that man might become God.” It must also be added that God was made man so that man might remain human, and so that in being divinized he might still be even more human.


Well, this has been a very long review and summary of the book. I hope you found it useful if you are considering a purchase.

Finally, thanks to the publisher Magnificat for making this available in English. I hope we see more translations of Mr. Hadjadj’s books in the future.

6/22 update: One correction. I did learn that Hadjadj has authored one other book that is available in English. It is about the Ghent Altarpiece, and was published by Magnificat in 2015.








Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews