Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Review: The Gargoyle Code by Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis, and remember well reading his fictional book, The Screwtape Letters, where a senior demon was "instructing" his nephew demon on the darker art of tempting, deceiving, and ultimately pulling into hell their charges.

It's not the type of book you could apply the word "enjoy," as though describing a pleasant Sunday drive on a spring day. Lewis' book put many Christians on notice that temptation is not always obvious but the intent is always deadly. The goal of the devil and all his minions is the same: destruction of God's beloved creatures, the objects of His love, mercy, and grace.

The Gargoyle Code is written in a similar vein. The book opens with an introduction by an angel who greets the reader by saying, "All blessings to you from the Lord of Light and the Fire of Love. May you know the powerful purity of the most Blessed Lady, and the radiant goodness of all your brothers and sisters in glory. Alleluia! Amen!" The angel reveals that what is being shared are discovered pieces of correspondence between servants of the Dark Lord; namely, Slubgrip, a proud and manipulative demon and Dogwart, who is still young and inexperienced in the realm of temptation.

What is different is that this fictional book of temptation is written from a Catholic perspective. I liked how the book was written with the Lenten season as the backdrop, complete with the sections divided by the weeks of liturgical year. (Starting with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and ending with Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.) The book is meant to accompany spiritual reading during this time of year and could be used as a springboard for meditation on examining one's conscience.

Indeed, the "angel" introducing the book says this:
"And now I must urge you to something which may not be pleasant for you. Please know that I make this request out of the great and radiant love for your soul. I must urge you with all the power and grace within me to read this correspondence as you would read a mirror. As the fiends discuss the poor souls in their charge, see yourself. Do not read in a detached manner as if you are reading about someone else, but engage your heart. Ask for the light to see how you are like the poor souls in these pages. Only then will you be able to spot the fiend's activity in your own life."

It didn't take long for me to become convicted. Slubgrip walks his apprentice through various types of temptations, making it clear how anything not done in moderation has the ability to distract us and pull us away from our relationship with God. Slubgrip's "patient" (the one he is supposed to tempt and eventually drag to hell) is a traditional Catholic man who has a serious illness. Dogwart's "patient" is a young Catholic man who struggles with knowing what to do with his life and if his faith really means anything.

I don't want to spoil the revelations that each of these "patients" experience, or the diabolical scheming that each demon employs in order to steal them from God; but suffice it to say, the storyline is very well-written and kept my attention. In fact, I finished the book (just over 100 pages) in a few days. I would silently cheer the patients as they went through a maze of trials, happy when they found peace and disappointed when they took the enemy's bait.

I've not read any other books by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, but truly enjoyed this one. It gave me pause for thought on several occasions. Catholic stereotypes are tweaked, and readers of Fr. Longenecker's blog, Standing On My Head, will recognize them: the traditional Catholic who is actually a snob, the modern architecture parish that brings shudders to those who love cathedrals, the young idealistic Catholic woman who acts like a "puritanical, prissy, prima-donna." It's tempting to think such characters are in no way close to how we act, but after careful prayer, we may be surprised to see the truth.

The "hierarchy" of the underworld is also explored, revealing how traits such as selflessness and loyalty are non-existent although sacrifice does make an appearance, albeit in a devilish way. It made me realize just how blessed we are, how beautiful Jesus Christ is, how loving our God is and how kindly and mercifully He treats His children. Whatever honesty we have, whatever fidelity we may show, whatever is good and honorable and noble -- all have their origin in God. As Fr. Longenecker's book shows, the enemy's kingdom is dark, evil, and hateful. The book is a strong warning against anyone who feels that "once saved, always saved" is the way to live one's faith. Each day we are presented with the question: Who will you believe and obey?

I highly recommend reading this book during Lent. In fact, I'll be re-reading it again, more slowly and prayerfully, according to the book's Lenten schedule. I have a feeling I'll be frustrating whatever demon has been assigned to me, as I do.


Jackie said...

That's a wonderful review of the book. Even though I bought mine last year , I started reading it but I had to put it down because it disturbed me quite a bit. I will start over again this lent . I could relate to this book in many ways and it was giving me the ebgb's. It was very well written . Ah well .

kkollwitz said...

Haven't read this but Fr. L's other books are imaginative and accessible.