Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My Lenten book list: Garry Wills' books

Garry Wills, an ex-Jesuit seminarian, masterful political historian of Nixon and Roman Catholicism wrote a series of controversial books in recent years. These are "Papal Sin", the apologetic and still noncorformist "Why am I Catholic?", "What Jesus Meant", "What Paul Meant", "The Rosary" and "What the Gospels Meant" Common to all these books is that they skewer Catholic stereotypes. While I believe that Wills is still largely on the orthodox side of the fence (hey he ain't a Jefferts-Schori Episcopalian!), he does make good Lenten reading.

BTW the books (except the latest tome on the Gospels) are on sale at 50 pesos each at National Bookstore. I believe that they are too "heretical" for Pinoy Catholic tastes that NBS had to put them on sale.

For I believe that Lent means skewering traditional Catholic stereotypes. In "Why am I Catholic?" Wills argues that Papal primacy evolved as the Spirit moved the Church. Wills isn't a Protestant. He argues FOR PAPAL PRIMACY but that we have to chuck the usual historical teachings that the Magisterium has thrown at us. After all is the Magisterium infallible when interpreting human history?

Wills departs from traditional formularies on papal infallibility, transubstantiation, a Church without hierarchs, contraception, female ordination etc (these are things that DJB has skewered in his blog but since he is no Hans Kung, he can't get an audience with coffee with the greatest doctoral supervisor on these matters, Papa Ratzi)

But what I like in Wills is the penetential apologia he has in these books even if he has oddly orthodox-unorthodox stands on Catholic matters. He is what Australians would call a Catholic larrikin. After all he skewered the modern papacy and its pretensions in "Papal Sin". "Papal Sin" became a big hit that it is read surreptiously in Catholic seminaries. It now can be read since Vatican II chucked out the Index of Forbidden Books.

Wills' "What Jesus Meant" skewers our stereotype that Jesus was "meek and mild", "obedient" and best of all a "Christian model". Christ never intended himself to be Christian and if there was a contemporary that understood that well, it was none other than his cousin, John the Baptist. That was Paul's intent make Christians believe that Christ can conform to what society thinks He is. Thus he skewers the American WWJD cliche (imported to the Philippines by evangelicals). WWJD? Jesus would do what you will never think you would do? (Especially in social matters).

Wills argues that the Gospels is littered with stories of Christ overturning stereotypes. Just read your Bible.

In "Why I am Catholic?" I admire Wills meditation on the Lord's Prayer. I now have a deeper understanding of Eucharist and the Real Presence that the CCC can never have done. Here Wills is very orthodox in an unorthodox kind of way. The reflection I have here is that I can't live without God.

And in "The Rosary" this is made deeper. If we dump our stereotypes of Jesus, it follows that we have to dump our stereotypes of His Mother.

In Wills' meditation on the Lord's Prayer, the Latin translation of the last line Libera nos malo or "Deliver us from Evil" doesn't reflect the true meaning of the prayer in Koine Greek.

It should read as "Wrest us from the Evil hand". This has stronger meaning than what we say in church.

The Lord's Prayer in Wills reading reflects the eschaton or the Last Times. What has to be pondered in Lent is how much Jesus has to give in order to do that.

I recommend Garry Wills as Lenten reading but be forewarned Garry Wills can give the Opus Dei apoplexy!

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