Review by Heather Voccola
About a month ago, a friend posted on our community website these words: “This book is a game-changer!”. Referring to Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker and published by Sophia Institute Press, her review went on to say that all Catholics should make the time to read this book because they will never view the Faith the same way again. Hyperbole? Not at all.
Immortal Combat is easily one of the most important books of our time. It demands full-attention and it gets under your skin in a way few books ever do. It forces you to take stock of yourself, your own spiritual journey and how you interact with the world around you. Does your faith inform your life? But - does it really?
The book itself is just 144 pages and is divided into two sections: The Heart of Darkness and The Sword of Light. The first section of the book focuses on “the sin of the world”. The second section reflects on the sacrifice of Christ and what it should mean in our daily life. The book is almost impossible to put down, but the first section is aptly named as it is a dark and somewhat oppressive read. However, it is absolutely indispensable to understand what is happening in the world around us and we contribute to it. The second section highlights the gift we have received from God in Christ. It also provides tools that faithful Catholics have available to us to provide some needed relief from the darkness.
Fr. Longenecker is the first priest that I know of who breaks down and explains this idea: “the sin of the world”, a direct quote from John 1:29. During this first section as well, he nails the true heart of our fallen human nature and the battle we all experience in fighting it. The wide way is easy, the world tells us. The narrow way is just too hard. It is eerie to read this book and then read any headline from any nation in the world today. To say Fr. Longenecker is spot on, would be a complete understatement. But does it really matter that the world seems to be so far from God? It’s only a matter of supernatural life or never-ending death.
The second section of the book helps us to reflect on the necessity of this fight and to recognize the tools we have been given, which Fr. Longenecker terms: The Swords of the Spirit. He shows us how we must truly “die to self” in order to become the most effective weapons in this battle. He gives us examples to emulate and shares the importance of our need for repentance. Lastly, Fr. Longenecker talks about the great need for reverence in the Mass and why it matters to the world what our experience of the Catholic Mass actually is.
On the back book cover, Johnnette Benkovic Williams states: “Immortal Combat...holds you up to the mirror of truth, and dares you to become the warrior of Christ you are called to be”. I recommend this book to any Catholic looking to understand how to fight the battle that rages around us, how to become the warrior that Christ needs at this time in history. This book is written for the mature reader though I would recommend sharing these points in discussion or as excerpts with older high school students.
Review by Heather Voccola
Louis de Wohl re-presents the telling of the Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ from one of the lesser known participants in that history-changing event. His story, The Spear, focuses on the life of the Roman centurion who was tasked with confirming Christ’s death on the cross. The story is one possible direction on a path that could have led this man to that exact moment in his life’s journey.
As a work of historical fiction, The Spear weaves together beautiful description, palace intrigue, the story of a damsel in distress and a young man seeking his path in the world after sudden and life-altering events to provide a rich and evocative story. De Wohl develops his characters, even his lesser ones, to such an extent that one can think as they think and ponder what concerns them. They become real people, not just existing on the page.
The creative license that de Wohl takes with the tale of the woman caught in adultery added much depth and framework to the story in a way that did not detract from the main theme of this coming-of-age saga but rounded out aspects of the centurion’s rough edges. By the time the centurion stands before Christ on the cross, the reader is so invested in the outcome that it is impossible to put the book aside.
Louis de Wohl is a particularly insightful writer. He makes it easy to get inside the heads of his characters by focusing on their human responses both good and sometimes not-so-good. It is apparent that de Wohl spent time researching the physical locations and governmental structures of these times and places that he relates in his stories. Each aspect is so clearly described and defined that the reader feels as if the present time has fallen away and the bustling crowd is all around them screaming for the release of Bar Abbas.
The Spear should not be the first book by Louis de Wohl to be undertaken by the reader because it truly is an epic and his other works, all still of masterpiece quality and compelling in their own right, will be slightly dimmer in comparison. The back of the book states, and I agree: “...Louis de Wohl considered The Spear the magnum opus of his literary career.” The works written from the end of World War II through the end of his writing career all deal with Catholic saints and themes, the last of which is called: Pope Pius XII, Shepherd to the World. Perhaps this German author was trying to encourage the world to find healing in the only place it could be found: a relationship with Jesus and his Church.
I was happy to have read some of his other historical fiction and can now balance my expectations and continue looking forward to some of the titles that I have not read yet. I particularly enjoyed The Citadel, a story of St. Benedict and also, Living Wood, a fascinating retelling of St. Helena, St. Constantine and the Cross of Christ. Currently on my nightstand is The Restless Flame, a story about St. Augustine and St. Monica.
For Catholic historical fiction, The Spear truly stands in a class of it’s own. I’ve not yet read another Catholic fiction book with the same sense of urgency as this. I recommend it wholeheartedly to any lover of historical fiction, but would caution parents as there are a few unchaste situations and violence as expected during the historical time period which would be best left to the mature reader.