Signs Of Life: 40 Catholic Customs And Their Biblical Roots, by Scott Hahn
While reading this book I kept on humming one of Journey’s late-period classics, “Signs Of Life,” in my head. The connection was not as random as one would think, as just like the music of Journey, this book has to be enjoyed with a firm sense of its ridiculousness and glorious cheesiness. Taken on a rational level, this book simply cannot be taken seriously as it demonstrates the most thoroughgoing mastery of the non sequitor of any book I have read for quite some time. Clearly, this book was written to a Catholic audience whose knowledge of the Bible and of biblical worship is at best slight, as a way of calming their concerns that their beloved and superstitious and heathen-based traditions are something that God disapproves of. One simply cannot approve of the author’s reasoning or agree with even a bit of it unless one comes at it from a Catholic perspective because those who deny the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church  will find virtually nothing here to see as connecting tissue from random quotes of the Bible taken out of context and wrenched completely out of place.
At just a bit over 250 pages, this book is extremely fast to read, surprisingly so to me given my general unfamiliarity with the biblical interpretation one can find from a Catholic perspective, and a big part of that is that very soon after starting this book I figured it would be pointless to get upset at the author’s woeful understanding of scripture and his atrocious logical skills and just laugh at it, which saved me at least a couple hours of frustration. After an introduction where the author discusses his own fatal attraction to the ritual and mummery of popery, the book gives 40 Catholic devotional practices divided into nine parts. The first part looks at the beginning of life (?) with such customs as holy water (1), making the sign of the cross (2), baptism (3), the mass (4), and guardian angels (5). After this, the author looks at aspects of time, like the church’s calendar (6), Lent and Easter (7), Advent and Christmas (8), and Novenas (9). After this, the author looks at some daily superstitions/habits like one’s posture (10), morning offering (11), prayers of aspiration (12), the angelus (13), saying grace at meals (14), and undergoing examination of one’s conscience (15). Some brief life lessons follow, like bible study (16), spiritual reading (17), and retreat (18) after which the author looks at stages of life like confirmation (19), marriage (20), priesthood (21), and the anointing of the sick (22). The author indulges his interest in ritual as the “spice of life” by talking about incense (23), candles (24), sacred images (25), relics (26), and fasting and mortification (27). After this comes a discussion of aspects of a supposedly abundant life like confession (28), indulgences (29), the intercession of the saints (30), pilgrimage (31), the presence of God (32) and almsgiving (33). The author indulges his romantic spiritual love in talking about the Trinity (34), rosary (35), scapulars and medals (36), mental prayer (37), and a reverence for the tabernacle (38). The book closes with a discussion of preparing for death (39) and praying for the dead (40) where the author makes the faux pas of claiming 2 Maccabees as scripture.
It does not take much reading of the book at all to see that the author has almost zero interest in living as Christ lived and following the ways of God as they are said in the Bible. Purely and simply, this book is as eisegetical attempt to force an unbiblical Roman Catholic meaning into some convenient texts. The author also spends far more time talking about the practice of popes and various other noted figures in Hellenistic Christianity than looking at biblical practice and behavior. There are admittedly at least a few cases where the author can make a plausible case for the existence of, say, guardian angels for believers based on the story of Peter’s deliverance from prison in Acts, but these moments of plausible explanation are few and far between. As a thoughtful exegesis of Scripture and a demonstration of the book’s point at exploring biblical roots for godly and proper Christianity, this book is a total failure. As a hilarious book to provide the non-Catholic reader with occasional fits of uncontrollable sardonic laughter, this book is comedy gold. More seriously, this book is of use generally to see how Catholics defend their own traditions and rituals, which often bears no close resemblance whatsoever to the sort of worship that God requires of believers, not even a slight familial resemblance at most points.
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