Q: Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
A: The lack of the whole image of Christ and God. Really. I just wanted to show and make art that had to do with Christ as a warrior and King... rather than mercy and kindness that we all see and understand.
- Author’s response to a question on Goodread
I couldn’t run anymore
I’ll let these Holy people boil and burn
My hated skin, sinful yet,
Because even goodness I’ve spurned.
I hate God
Th’ Saints arrive with raised weaponry
An’ shove their swords through my body,
I feel th’ sting. Yet I can but see
Sighs of blood fill the even air.
I have refused the Christ.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
Through my haughty lungs their blades jam,
So natural their blades pull blood clumps.
This will ne’er heal.
- excerpt from Finibus as advertised by the author
This is my first book review, so of course I wind up with 47 pages of gory poetry, because if you’re going to jump in, you might as well do it head first! If I had to sum up the poem, presented as a collection of songs, I would describe it as gory and graphic images reminiscent of Dante’s inferno but applied to the final judgement and turned up to eleven, then paired with the lyricism of a sonnet (I think this is now the strangest sentence I’ve ever written).
Okay, that’s out of my system. First the what. Finibus is a metric, narrative poem written from the point of view of a martyred priest who is condemned to hell and has witnessed the final judgement. You read that right, a martyred priest condemned to hell (he still had one sin on his heart at the time of his death). The excerpt above gives you a good idea of the tone of it, although several of the songs are far more graphic.
Next the why. One of the strongest feelings (and the feelings were strong) was that I really wanted to know who the author was and why they were writing this. Fortunately, Jonas Perez answered the question himself and you can see his answer at the beginning of the review. If my only judgement of the work (it’s not really a book per se) was whether he achieved his goal, I would say he most definitely did. In no way, shape or form is Christ presented as merciful or kind. Rather he is a vengeful warrior king, exacting revenge on evil and those who rejected him. If St. Faustina’s image of a Christ broken hearted over our sin and death was part one in a movie series, then Perez’s Finibus would be the action hero sequel where Christ has nothing left to lose and now he’s getting his revenge (I hope you read that in the movie voiceover guy, Don LaFontaine’s voice).
Tongue in cheek aside, Finibus is dark. Really dark. It dispenses with all hope, and proceeds with a sometimes terrifying series of events and descriptions that are meant to instill a sense of fear and despair in the reader. I think if you spent time wondering what it would be like to stand before God on judgement day and be declared a stranger to be cast into a Hell of fire, reading this work will give you a strong sense of that.
This is what Finibus is like, only this painting isn’t violent or disturbing enough
If you know me right now you’d probably think ‘wow, that is not Ryan, he must have hated it’. Surprisingly I didn’t. Artistically I will say it is interesting (I can’t analyze poetry well enough to say more about it than that) and accessible. You don’t need to be an English professor to ‘get’ it, but a heavy literary type could probably dig pretty heavily into it. Thematically it feels old. I don’t mean old as in worn out, or tired. I mean old as in the picture it paints is culturally from another era, and that makes it an engaging work to ponder. In fact, I would love to see it done up as a video graphic novel in a Frank Miller sort of style, voiced over by someone like James Earl Jones or Percy Rodriguez (the voice over for the Jaws trailer). Having said that, it would not be my go-to for deepening my faith, working on my prayer life and relationship with God, or a tool I would use for evangelization. I might read it again with a group of teens around a campfire at a retreat instead of telling a horror story, or if I was trying to scare myself into going to confession though.
Overall, I think this would be a love it or hate it work for most folks. Someone who connects deeply with Christ as merciful and sorrowful over our sin won’t likely connect with this. Someone who is new to their faith or not in the Church will likely be confused in the best case, or come away with an image of Christ that is about hatred and violence at worst. If I were to recommend it, it would be to folks who are very mature in their faith, are interested in a unique piece of art, and are strong at discerning the content they consume.
- Ryan Fox
With apologies to Denethor, the steward of Gondor (in The Lord of the Rings), 'stewardship' is a term not often used in everyday secular conversation. Stewards make many appearances in scripture: Joseph was the steward of potiphar (Genesis 39), St. Paul refers to us as 'stewards of the mysteries of God' (1 Corinthians 4:1), and Jesus tells a memorable parable of a dishonest steward (Luke 16). In these contexts, a steward is someone left in the care of another's household, responsibilities, and/or possessions. The steward must always give an account to his or her master for the way in which he or she has handled these duties.
Stewardship is a good metaphor for life in Christ. Our master has entrusted us with time, talent, and possessions during this life - at the end of which, we will need to make an account of our stewardship. How is it that we've used what God has entrusted to us? In this spirit, stewardship ministries, committees, and programs have sprung up in many parishes and dioceses across the continent. These groups and ministries exist with the intention of challenging the people of God to recognize their time, talents, and treasure as a gift from God... and to return them to Him as a sign of our gratitude for these same gifts. It's a big challenge that has the ability to engage and awaken all of us who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday. In my experience, the fruits of stewardship have been limited because it's only discussed on ministry sign-up Sunday, or when the annual parish financial statement is presented. What is needed is resources that challenge us to look at stewardship on a more personal, more regular basis. This is precisely the goal of Tracy Earl Welliver's book, Everyday Stewardship. Welliver states "One of the greatest mistakes we can make in life is thinking that as we grow older, maturity is something that just happens naturally" (page 16), and this book is intended to be a tool to help attain greater spiritual maturity. It contains more than 60 reflections on stewardship each of which follows the same fort of pattern. First there is an excerpt from scripture, which is followed by a brief commentary, an idea to put this reflection into action, and a question which is meant to stretch the mind and the heart. He then leaves a 'doodle box' left for those who would like to journal, scribble, draw - it's a place to start responding to the question.
These reflections center on Welliver's 6 characteristics of an 'everyday steward': one who is mindful, prayerful, grateful, gracious committed, and accountable. He describes them as follows:
This book is a good and practical resource to take stewardship that step beyond a call for volunteers or more money. Welliver's commentaries come from the fruit of his own life in Christ - and are both accessible for someone beginning the journey and substantial enough for someone who is already a good way down the road. I particularly appreciated the practical applications of Welliver's writing - stewardship can be the service we offer to our parish community, the quiet time we take for prayerful contemplation, and the making of a sandwich for a child's lunch. In addition to the six characteristics mentioned above, he also leads us to reflect on our notable liturgical seasons (Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter) and the life of Mary, the Mother of God. I found these reflections to be particularly beautiful - pages I hope to revisit to help bring some more practical meaning to those seasons in the liturgical year.
For anyone looking for a resource or a faith study that has a practical & hands on application for your life in Christ, then Tracy Earl Welliver's Everyday Stewardship just might be a good book for you.
(Mike Landry is a husband, father, & Chaplain who serves ten schools west of Edmonton, AB. You can read more from him at www.thirdplaceproject.com.)
Comment below to win a copy of Everyday Stewardship!
If you’ve been involved in Catholic youth ministry for any length of time, you’ve likely heard of the USCCB document Renewing the Vision (RTV) which, for nearly twenty years, has laid out goals and strategies for ‘comprehensive’ youth ministry across North America. This document has been particularly helpful since some of us start in youth ministry with very little formal training and job description that can be as simple as ‘do something for young people.’ This is why youth ministry groups like Canadian Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies, LIFE TEEN (where I received my certificate), and others all made RTV foundational to their training programs.
RTV was first published in 1997 – as a follow up to a similar document written two decades earlier – and was meant to respond to some of the new challenges faced by young people in the late nineties. Recently, a group of Canadian youth ministers published a new document through the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops. You Give them Something to Eat (YGSE) builds upon the foundation of RTV while also updating the goals and elements of youth ministry to the challenges faced by Canadian youth aged 10-19 today. It was written by a group of faculty from the Canadian Certificate program mentioned above to offer "a vision for ministry to, with, and by maturing missionary disciples" (YGSE, vi). While at seventy pages it may seem like a substantial read for a busy youth minister/coordinator, it's laid out like a textbook: a significant portion is made up of reflection questions & blank space for journalling.
The title, You Give them Something to Eat, was taken from Luke 9:12-17, where Jesus famously feeds five thousand people. After a day of teaching, the twelve apostles told Jesus that the crowd needed to be dismissed to find food, and Jesus told them to “give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13). From there meager offering – five loaves and two fish, Jesus fed the crowd with a full basket of leftovers for each of the twelve. In asking them to provide for the needs of the crowd, Jesus invited his disciples “to become his partners in ministry, feeding and attending to the needs of the many people who had gathered” (YGSE, v). There is no question that today, we stand facing a multitude of hungry young people, and that both the Church and those who answer the call to serve in youth ministry – to become the Lord’s partners - have something to offer them.
Practically speaking, YGSE consists of three main parts: first, six contexts (or settings) where youth ministry takes place today; second, four goals that should be kept in mind to build an effective youth ministry; and third, nine elements we need to be mindful of to build an effective youth ministry. In the first of two articles on this document, we’ll look at that first part – six settings or contexts where youth ministry takes place.
Today’s youth face many challenges. These include a changing sense of hope for the future; frustration when they can’t meet quickly reach the standard of living their parents achieved after years of labor; issues with mental health, sexuality, and sexual identity; and a desire to find life-giving role models and authentic witnesses while they apprentice in the Christian life. YGSE writes that:
“In adolescence, it can seem as if everything is changing within and around the young person. Life can begin to seem very complicated: there are choices to be made, confusion can replace certainty, loneliness and alienation can begin to creep in, and young people begin to test their values as they seek a way and a place to belong.” (YGSE, 2)
It is in response to these challenges that ministry begins in and among young people. Wherever they may be, the Church is invited to go to them in a missionary key and make them apprentices in the Christian life.
Ministry to youth takes place in other settings as well. The Church recognizes the importance of the family as a domestic Church and the parents as primary educators of their children. But, like youth, families in the twenty-first century also face many challenges: busyness, poverty, violence, addictions – not to mention that even the best of parents can struggle to pass on their faith. All of these situations conspire to leave young people without a strong foundation of faith in the home, and youth ministry needs to be sensitive to these complex realities.
Schools are a uniquely privileged place for youth ministry as well. In particular, Catholic schools “partner with parents and parishes to become full and active missionary disciples of Jesus Christ” (YGSE, 6). They do so by religious education classes, spiritual formation, pastoral care, service projects, retreats, prayer experiences, peer ministry, and vocational discernment. This grows on into university years, where campus ministry programs help engage the enthusiasm of young adults to serve others and share their faith.
The Parish community is another place that youth ministry takes place. Our parishes ought to be youth-friendly, a space where young people are accepted, welcomed, challenged to grow in their faith, and invited to serve alongside the adults in the community. YGSE writes that “young people want Church teaching presented in a way that is applicable to their lives” along with “depth of content, and opportunities to learn, explore, discuss, live, and take on for themselves the tenets of Catholic faith” (7).
A unique context for ministry today is social media and technology. Never before in human history have young people had the sort of access they do to information, technology, and one another as they do today. This brings with it many benefits such as immediate access to information, and many challenges including cyber bullying and unlimited access to pornography. YGSE points out that “despite the connective potential and power of social media and other technologies, many young people seem to be more socially alienated and lonely than ever before” (8). Those who engage in youth ministry need to walk with young people as they navigate these technologies – and assist them in bringing the Gospel into these new mission fields.
Finally, youth ministry takes place in the wider community of twenty-first century society. This community has grown skeptical of both the message of our faith and the messenger. While the reasons for this skepticism are varied – concerns with the way the Church has dealt with scandal to problem of evil in the world today – the response has not changed. The Church has always asked to “proclaim the Good News with authenticity, fidelity, joy, and relevance” (YGSE, 10) – proclaiming the same Jesus Christ the apostles first shared twenty centuries ago.
YGSE concludes this section by summarizing what it means to answer Jesus’ command to ‘give them something to eat’ – by engaging a twofold task (10):
Coming in You Give them Something to Eat part 2: The Goals & Elements of Youth Ministry.
Mike Landry is a father, husband, geek, speaker, musician, and most days, he serves as Chaplain to Evergreen Catholic Schools west of Edmonton. Read more of his writing at www.thirdplaceproject.com.
This book is written, formatted, and published in a way that is easy to read and internalize without feeling like you're faced with hiking up a massive theological mountain that will take the better part of a quarter to complete. This book is different. It is separated into nice bite-sized amounts of profound considerations that you can chew on as long as you need.
Without giving too much away, Messy & Foolish really inspired me to start focusing on what is important in my life. Sometimes I relate my life to one of those circus acts trying to balance all of those plates at the same time. This book has really inspired me to 'trim the fat' of my priorities and focus on what is important.
There is so much wisdom and inspiration packed into this amazing little book that I'll have to go through and re-read it multiple times, with highlighter in hand, to remember it all.
If you want to be challenged, inspired, and uplifted, this book is for you! If you have been searching for something or someone to breathe new life into your faith or evangelization efforts, this book is for you! If you have a pulse, this book is for you!
It's not too often that a book catches my attention long enough to read it multiple times, let alone once! I highly recommend this book!
Comment below with "Let's Make a Mess!" to enter to win a FREE copy!
- Lance Rosen
He has nearly twenty-five million followers on Twitter. In the two and a half years he has served in the chair of Peter, he has written, spoken, and traveled extensively to continue the mission of the entire Church – making disciples of all nations. He has inspired millions both within and beyond the walls of the Catholic Church – and has done so with a pastoral tenderness that has made even the mainstream media keep an eye and an ear out not only for his major messages, but also for his daily homilies.
Pope Francis’ latest contribution to this task of evangelization is a pop/rock album entitled “Wake-up,” featuring eleven tracks that mix music with his speeches and prayers. I had the great privilege of getting an advance copy to review, and have been listening to it off and on for the better part of the last week – a challenge given that the Pope’s words are recorded in four different languages (only one track has him speaking English) and that none of the songs are sung in English. But it has been a challenge well worth the effort.
In a nutshell, Wake Up reminds me of World Youth Day. There is nothing in the world like World Youth Day. You leave your home and find yourself in a truly universal experience of being Catholic – being in crowds with hundreds of thousands of other young people who are singing, chanting, laughing, and ultimately seeking a deeper faith. You go through hardships, you experience joy, and you return home changed by the encounter with Christ – and with a much clearer sense of the universal Church. St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have each embraced the opportunity to meet the youth of the world at WYD, where each one has presented the Gospel in a way that is meant to inspire and challenge all who hear it (even if, in order to understand his message, you have to go back and read it after the fact.)
As I began to listen to Wake Up, I was reminded of the WYD experience. It seemed at times like I was being drawn out of my car and into something larger – and it didn't hurt that at times you could hear the crowd’s reaction to Francis. Hearing the Pope speak even though I couldn't understand him the vast majority of the time did nothing to dampen this experience – in fact it enhanced it. Not understanding the words had me paying much closer attention to the passion and conviction with which he spoke, and has had me looking back over the words selected to make up this album (they are translated in the booklet which accompanies the album.)
Francis’ words are selected from his very first greeting following his election at the conclave in March 2013, right up until his visit to the Philippines last January, and they deal with topics related to faith, the world around us, the poor, and the Holy Family.
The music which makes up this album reflects a variety of styles and talents: from the rock beats found in Wake up! Wake up! Go Forward! (the album’s sole English track – though the song lyrics are not sung in English on this track or any other) to a modern cover of the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen), I found the music reflected a good balance of joy and mystery. Those who perform on this album may not be as universally recognizable as the man they accompany – but their musical talent compliments the Pope very well.
All in all, Wake Up is a pleasing listen. Much like the experience of World Youth Day, however, I feel like this album is one that is best digested over time – and will be one I look forward to savouring bit by bit, song by song, and speech by speech in the weeks to come. I am glad to have Wake Up in my music library, and though it may not be a daily listener, it is one I expect to come back to again and again.
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