Saturday, January 03, 2009

Book Review: Prayers for Catholic Men

My husband provides the book review today. This book, Prayers for Catholic Men, can be bought from the Catholic Company.

I'm skeptical of books like these. Generally you cautiously unfold the leaves to find your fingers sticky with the pop ersatz of American Process Cheese Food, what my wife calls "The Velveeta Quotient." Expecting a numbing blast of shallow fiddle-faddle, I was very pleasantly surprised to find the Cheddar Coefficient quite low for this little gem of a book.

I open a book of the genre to which Prayers for Catholic Men belongs ready with a battery of defenses, so that in case of emergency I can close it quickly:

* does it broadly cover life's situations or is it a megaphone for the author's specific cry for help?

* does it address all of *my* concerns of just those of the author?

* does it effectively mix the traditional with the contemporary or read like the Gather hymnal?

* are the non-traditional and contemporary parts strong, substantial, and fortifying or are they wimpy, rubbery, and nauseating?

* are the introductions and comments useful or thought-provoking supplments or are they sources of pity and vicarious embarrasment?

* does it have helpful visuals or does it make you wish you were blind?

* is it fun or is it penance?

* is it concise and elegant or is it loquacious or tedious?

While "Prayers" didn't pass through my guantlet of informal scrutiny unscathed, it did pass through and with only minor wounds. I believe the majority of the book's contusions arise from a generally reactive stance dealing with life's problems rather than a reactive stance balanced with a proactive optimism of spiritual anticipation that leads to holistic growth and maturity.

The worst of the book's contusions arises from its pessimistic rather than optimistic treatment of work -- perhaps a lingering effect of the author's former career as a trial attorney in Chicago, which I imagine would even make a clown pessimistic. The "Prayers for Work" subsection is sorely lacking in prayer that strikes home for men in leadership roles. There is ample content for lower-level managers and line workers, but it treats work more as a means to a fiscal end or necessary evil than as the integral, prayerful expression of self and God that it is meant to be. There are ample tools for dealing with fear, failure, disappointment, and dissatisfaction, but there is little for inspiring, uplifting, empowering, growing, and engaging even in "secular" work as a mechanism for changing the world for the common good. Work is a participation in the divine Creative process and the discussion and prayers in this subsection offer little communion with God on this most important dimension of work.

The book also suffers from omissions or insufficient treatment of several dimensions of the phenomenon of life as an American Catholic male.

The "Prayers for Your Family" section, for example, does address understanding your wife (a Solomon-esque request in and of itself), but lacks prayers for *growth* in other facets of the scope of marital life important to men. Dimensions of marriage such as mutually satisfying emotional, psychological, and physical intimacy; joint financial management; deepening familial relationships; etc., are given independent rather than interdependent treatment -- reflective of the innate Narcissism which often passes for courage in the male psyche, perhaps, but not reflective of the reality that marriage is a joint and equal journey of growth, and family a communal life effort. I expected the "Prayers for Your Family" section to include a good deal of "we" and "us" prayers, but found very little (approximately one) use of these important relationship words.

The few weaknesses of the book are more than compensated by its many shining strengths. Even the "Prayers for Work" section that I consider its weakest had a number of bright spots. In fact, one of the brightest rays in the entire book comes from the "Putting Down Gossip" subsection, in which the comments are concise and full of good, sensical advice and the prayer is poignant, rich, and easy to carry with you.

The "Miscellaneous Prayers" section contains all the traditional, classic Catholic prayers I hoped to find, including:
* The Rosary (with a helpful visual, no less) and the Mysteries of each decade
* The Chaplet of Divine Mercy (again with helpful visual)
* The traditional Act of Contrition
* The Prayer to Saint Michael
* The Anima Christi
* and many others

The more contrite reader can find a very nice guide for examination of conscience thoughtfully located near the beginning of the book so that even the less contrite readers are likely to see and read it.

The author's prose discussions are generally useful, thoughtful, and practical, and the print is easy to read. There is sufficient whitespace and staggered indentation to prevent eye-fatigue and facilitate finding material at a glance. I have been able to incorporate about five of the prayers into my morning prayer regimen just by noting page numbers and marking pages with sticky tabs. I was able to write in a few extra words and lines on some of the author's original prayers to personalize them (oh, yes, I write in books. If they were not intended to be written in they wouldn't have margins).

The book itself is small enough to conveniently carry with you in your pocket, briefcase, or even in your crew sock if you haven't a pocket or briefcase. The binding, covers, and pages feel sturdy and durable and the overall design of the book fits its purpose nicely.

Overall I am impressed by Prayers for Catholic Men. Not only am I using some of it in my daily prayer and for reference, but I have found other parts useful for inspiring new ways of thinking -- perhaps the most valuable asset any book can offer. It exceeded my expectations for content and thankfully failed to meet my expectations for sap and cheese. Low "Velveeta Quotient," high value -- I recommend this book to Catholic men seeking a handy reference for traditional Catholic prayers and for original contemporary prayers addressing several dimensions of life of particular concern to Catholic men.


Clair Bannerman said...

It always amazes me what you manage to read with your busy life, but just so you know I do still keep up with you guys via here, and miss you all! I hope you're recovering from your colds!!

Lisa said...

Great review! Thanks! I feel charged now to get this for my husband.

Suburban Cowgirl said...

Ah, Slog & Ouiz, as usual, I am inspired! Slog, you have a gift for words. Why aren't YOU writing a book? I will tell the Suburban Cow Guy to read this entry.

We miss you guys!!!!!!!

(ps I BEAT my dh at Scrabble! Probably the first and only time in the history of the world!)

Ouiz said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Clair -- I thought that was you! Wow, we miss your sweet, smiling face around here!

Lisa -- I hope your husband enjoys the book as much as mine did!

SCG -- congratulations on the Scrabble victory! Dh and I tend to score about the same on Scrabble, but he tends to play more "like a guy" -- hogging the triple word scores, leaving me with nothing to build on, etc. That's what I can't stand! (and for that reason I will NEVER play backgammon with him again. He's brutal! *grin*