Spring showers don't just fall from the sky. In this season of rebirth, publishers also like to deluge bookstores with hot new titles.

To help readers wade through the releases, OSV staffers reviewed some of the recent titles that publishers and retailers hope will make a splash this season:

"Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith," by Scott Hahn

"Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint," by Donald Spoto

"A Short History of the Mass," by Father Alfred McBride

"Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality," edited by Raymond Arroyo

"The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints," by Ralph Martin

"Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl," by Craig Harline


"Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint," by Donald Spoto
(HarperSanFrancisco, $24.95)

By Colette S. Fike

Writing on a topic for which there is no shortage of interesting material, biographer and theologian Donald Spoto sets out to discover new significance for St. Joan of Arc. Using current translations of her actual words from the trial of condemnation (details about the translations are located in the book's foreword), what he provides is a powerful witness of faith.

There was a period of about four years from the time Joan first heard the voices and when she left the family home (without her parents' permission) at the age of 16 to approach the captain of the military garrison at nearby Vaucouleurs to help restore the kingdom of France during the Hundred Years' War.

During this time, she pondered and prayed, and in the end she didn't let a lack of understanding about why she was chosen stop her from acting on her revelations.

With the advantage of the author's 30 years of research on the subject, his ability to place Joan's words and actions in historical context and his straightforward descriptions of her personality, it is impossible to make her more than a very real girl who had a mission and tried to carry it out with great faith.

While recovering from a battle wound at the home of the king's finance minister, Joan was often besieged by people who wanted her to bless rosary beads and other pious objects by touching them. "Touch them yourselves," she said with a laugh. "Your touch will do as much good as mine!" She had no desire to be considered an object of veneration (p. 108).

One mention that was a little too real was a reported physical examination of Joan by group of women, including the king's mother-in-law, to determine if she was a virgin. Such examinations were commonplace among royal and noble families primarily to ensure that a bride-to-be was unsullied. Joan was examined because if she lied when she called herself "the Maid," it was likely that she would lie about her visions, too.

Although most people already know how this story ends, reading the actual words of the trial are quite disturbing. Especially painful is the callous treatment of Joan by Bishop Cauchon, who is portrayed in this book (as he most likely was viewed at the time) as a high-ranking representative of Joan's beloved Church. In reality, Cauchon represented his English overlords ... a distinction that is subtle, but would have been appreciated from a theologian with a sensitivity for Catholics who are a little worn out from defending the Church at every turn.

The book is worthwhile, especially for the translated quotes from the trial.

Colette S. Fike is the chief copywriter/promotions coordinator for Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.



Using saints to lead us to God

The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints," by Ralph Martin (Emmaus Road Publishing, $16.95)

By Michael Dubruiel

To be human is to search for happiness (often in all the wrong places). Ralph Martin in his latest book points us in the right direction -- God.

When I first picked up his "The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints," I mistook it for an anthology, in the vein of the similarly named "The Journey Toward God," by Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., and Kevin Perrotta, and "The Choice Is Always Ours: The Classic Anthology on the Spiritual Way," by Dorothy Berkley Phillips. But what I found once I began to read "The Fulfillment" is that it is a book on growing in the spiritual life similar to the excellent "The Gift of Faith," by Father Tadeusz Dajczer.

Martin has structured his book on the spiritual path, along the traditional purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. Many modern followers of Christ may be surprised to know that for Christians journeying toward a deeper relationship with God, there is a fairly predictable path that one will take with peaks and valleys along the way. Martin's "guidebook" is an excellent primer for everyone who needs more guidance in deepening his or her relationship with God

In "The Fulfillment of All Desire," Martin uses the writings and teachings of the doctors of the Church to illuminate and clarify how one progresses in his or her relationship to God. He illustrates each step of the spiritual path with the wisdom and background of such saints as Augustine, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Therese of Lisieux. They are presented as real people with real issues, just like us. Elements of their teaching help clarify the aspects of the spiritual path throughout the book.

At 496 pages, this is a big book, but it is well-written and quick-paced. I found that I had read almost a quarter of the book within a very short time, while learning about real problems and more importantly, to me anyway, solutions to the issues that arise as one comes ever closer to God.

For those not inclined to come closer to God, Martin includes in the book St. Catherine of Siena's "Four Torments of Hell" -- a sort of "preview of coming attractions."

People travel down many paths in search of happiness, attempting to fulfill the desires that they feel so strongly. Martin has given us a guidebook to fulfill what Jesus called "the one thing necessary," what it is we really are thirsting after.

Michael Dubruiel, a book-acquisitions editor at OSV, is the author of "The How-To Book of the Mass" (OSV, $13.95).



Priest takes journey through Mass' past

"A Short History of the Mass,"by Father Alfred McBride, O. Praem.
(St. Anthony Messenger Press, $12.95)

By Murray Hubley

In his approach to the history of the Mass, Norbertine Father Alfred McBride prefers ''the forest a little more than the trees'' because ''I think the big picture is more pastorally useful for the busy Catholic who might like to know the story.''

In 128 pages, he guides the reader on the 2,000-year path, along which he has posted six markers or chapters: the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the Eucharist in the early Church; the Eucharist in the age of the Fathers; the Eucharist in the Middle Ages; the Eucharist in the time of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation; and the Mass in the era of the Second Vatican Council.

The starting point is the Upper Room and the Passover meal (the Last Supper). Along the way, there were many additions and changes to the celebration of the Eucharist. There were those that added to a deeper meaning of the sacrament. There were also abuses, misunderstandings and heresies. These challenged the Church to clarify her language about the Eucharist.

The places where the Eucharist was celebrated began with the modest house churches and moved to basilica-type structures where a locale's whole Christian community could gather to celebrate the ''breaking of the bread.'' At the beginning, the apostles adopted a meal setting for the Eucharist, but with the passage of time in the early Church and the development ''of cliques eating with each other, of the rich not sharing their food with the poor and the existence of drunkenness'' the Eucharist was removed from the meal setting. This had the ''advantage of focusing the celebration on the original intent of what happened on Holy Thursday.''

The brief and simple second Eucharistic Prayer owes its inspiration to a similar prayer composed by Hippolytus of Rome in 215. The Apostles and the Nicene creeds were originally meant for use at baptisms, not the Mass. The Nicene Creed made its way into the Mass in the sixth century.

During the Middle Ages, active participation in the Mass waned for a variety of reasons. And it was not until the period before and after Vatican II that active participation of the faithful was restored. The change ''has been a bit breathtaking, and many parishes have gone over the top in experimenting,'' writes Father McBride. But as he notes, ''while a constant diet of experimentation is not healthy or desirable, a loving attention to the quality of the divine celebration is a necessity.''

Murray Hubley is the associate editor of The Priest magazine and the Catholic Almanac (OSV, $24.95).



Hahn shares good reasons to believe

"Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith," by Scott Hahn
(Doubleday, $21.95)

By Darrin Malone

Scott Hahn's latest book, "Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith," which will be released in May, is based on the injunction put forth in the Bible to "always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account" (1 Pt 3:15). He emphasizes, however, that this should be more than just snappy comebacks, which can be unconvincing and even offensive, but should be a solid explanation of what we believe and why. He presents the "reasons to believe" in three different parts: natural reasons, biblical reasons and royal reasons.

In the first part, he presents arguments from nature and reason, pointing out that Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio ("Faith and Reason") says, "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." These "natural" arguments focus on presenting our reasons for believing to non-Christians.

In the second part, "biblical reasons," Hahn shifts the emphasis to explaining our faith to non-Catholic Christians, who often challenge Catholics with, "Where's that in the Bible?" Unfort-unately, Catholics are often ill-equipped to answer this, even though, if they attend Mass, they are as much or more immersed in the Bible as the person making the challenge. The Scripture readings in the Mass cover the entire Bible over a three-year period, so Cath-olics are likely to hear parts of the Bible that many non-Catholic Christians never get around to. In addition, nearly every part of the Mass comes directly from the Bible. And, finally, the entire Mass is patterned on the Bible, paralleling Old Testament temple worship and the heavenly worship in the book of Revelation.

The final, and most fascinating, part of the book presents the "royal reasons" to believe. This centers on David's kingdom in the Old Testament and shows how it foreshadows the kingdom of God, which is the Church. Hahn presents 10 characteristics of the Davidic kingdom and shows their parallels to the Church, including such Catholic ideas as Mary, the pope and the Eucharist.

Throughout the book, Hahn presents explanations that get right to the heart of the matter and make the Catholic Church's place in God's plan for salvation impeccably clear. He also emphasizes that the Eucharist is at the center of the faith, and that it has its origins in the Old and New Testaments.

This book may be helpful for showing non-Catholics the "how and why" of our Catholic faith, but it is also much more than that. It is a valuable resource for helping Catholics rediscover the depth and richness of their faith, which they may have been taking for granted.

Darrin Malone is a book editor at Our Sunday Visitor.



Bite-sized life lessons make up fulfilling meal

"Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality,"edited by Raymond Arroyo
(Doubleday, $16.95)

By Jackie Lindsey

We all know Mother Angelica for her extraordinary contributions to the Church through Eternal Word Television Network and the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Birmingham, Ala. Raymond Arroyo is familiar to TV audiences as news director and lead anchor of EWTNews and host of the program "The World Over."

"Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality," which was edited by Arroyo, is a wonderful book of short excerpts that, according to the introduction, are the "beliefs, teachings, life lessons, wit and prayers that sustained Angelica's incredible journey." They are drawn from her live appearances before various groups, private lessons given to her nuns and interviews with Arroyo.

Mother Angelica's ideas and advice are pithy, insightful and relevant. Here is one such example:

The Possibilities of Suffering

When you are suffering you have the capability of achieving great things. You can:

1. Create great holiness and become a powerful witness to those around you.

2. By accepting your pain you are doing God's will in an awesome way.

3. By offering your pain to God, you can save souls.

God is trusting you with pain. He is trusting you to accept it with love. Don't miss the possibilities.

This is a great, down-to-earth read. The thoughts are deep, but the presentation is engaging. As Mother Angelica says: "The witness of a Christian is holding your temper when you want to choke somebody. It's being nice to your wife when she looks like an old rag in the morning and burns your toast -- again! ... It's showing the world that you can face the trials of everyday life with love and compassion."

Simple and beautiful prayers are sprinkled throughout the book. They are so good you wish there were more of them. Mother Angelica experienced a life filled with pain. One prayer she used often is particularly effective in it simplicity: "Lord, I offer this pain to You to save souls."

Chapters include: Living in the Present Moment; The Power and Meaning of Pain and Suffering; Sin and Temptation; Saints and Angels; and others.

I would recommend this book without hesitation. Its bite-sized entries can be used as part of a daily meditation or skip through the book to find an answer relating to a particular concern you have at that moment. Mother Angelica's faith shines brilliantly through her work and her words. As can be seen in the last line of the book: "I love you, and God loves you more than you know."

Jackie Lindsey is the books editorial development manager for Our Sunday Visitor.



Keeping the Lord's Day in context

"Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl,"by Craig Harline (Doubleday, $26)

By York Young

What are your plans for this Sunday? Your answer to that question probably fits into one of two extremes -- nothing, or specifically something. The notion that "we will just see what happens and go with the flow" seems to be a minority approach. And that seems to be the way it has always been, at least according to Craig Harline, author of the new and interesting "Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl."

Historical books too often get bogged down in details of who, when and where. Even when the author does a good job of explaining the why and how -- I'm thinking here of books such as "John Adams," by David McCullough -- the focus on one specific character or a short period of time often doesn't help us understand how people lived.

To understand that, an approach looking at an overarching theme can take us into the daily lives of normal people -- a decent example is "Night in the Middle Ages," by Jean Verdon and George Holoch, in which, by looking at how people lived half their lives in near-utter darkness, we caught a glimpse of relationships, crime, religion and more.

"Sunday" offers something similar. Harline provides a snapshot of several historical points in time, pulling on extant sources. Opening with a look at ancient times, including how the Greeks and Romans approached a day of rest, he then offers chapters that look at England in 1300, the Dutch Republic in 1624, Paris in the 1890s, Belgium in 1914, England in the 1930s and the United States in the 1950s and onward.

Sundays have had a religious component for centuries, but even the state has been interested in a day of rest and recreation for various reasons -- and sometimes against. Harline culls from sources that resemble diaries and uses concrete examples to set the tone of the populace in each time frame. He also reflects on a variety of Christian denominations and how they viewed Sunday. Catholics will enjoy the multiple times he focuses on the Roman Church.

He analyzes the day of rest through the viewpoints of the rich and poor, worker and nonworker, laypeople and clergy, children and adults. Some of the recounting can border on too much, but overall, the varying accounts show how things have changed. And how some things stay the same -- some people will always be bored with Sunday.

Perhaps most engaging is the chapter on Belgium, which was overrun by Germany during World War I. Soldiers and those close to the front reported that it felt like Sunday ceased to exist. Having to be ready to fight at a moment's notice didn't take a break on Sundays. A glimpse of how the populace survived this horror makes us appreciate Sundays even more.

Well-notated with a long bibliography, Harline has put together an impressive collection of information. Maybe you can put this on your Sunday reading list -- if that's the kind of thing you do on Sunday.

York Young is the periodicals editorial development manager for Our Sunday Visitor.