4 out of 4 stars
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When reading informational and scholarly text, I like to learn a little about the author. It helps me to read with perspective, and sometimes allows me to understand how that particular topic became one of interest to the author, as well as how well it seems to have been researched. John S. Carpenter received his degree in psychology from DePauw University in Indiana, and later a Master in Psychiatric Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis. Through his work, he has actively listened to detailed life experiences from thousands of people. He was oftentimes particularly intrigued by the paranormal encounters and supernatural occurrences described. Even those events that may be considered as questionable by others, he approached with non-judgmental logic, open-mindedness, and curiosity. Knowing this about him, it comes as no surprise that Carpenter became so interested in apparent Marian apparitions. After five years of research, John S. Carpenter wrote this highly readable and informative book over the span of 13 months. The time he put into this work really shines throughout the well-worded and properly edited text.
Be Not Afraid to Follow the Footprints from Heaven is a 465 page book that falls under the category of nonfiction, and more specifically, Religion & Spirituality. It was published on July 21, 2016 by Page Publishing Inc., and is a book you will really want to take your time reading; not because it is confusing or drawn out, but simply because you will want to absorb all of the information the author provides. At least that is the way it was for me.
John Carpenter opens with a message in his Preface about how readers of various beliefs, ideas, and backgrounds can find something within this book to reflect upon. For those uncertain about the existence of God, Carpenter offers supernatural events written with credibility. Physical and correlational evidence is presented for those desiring scientific proof. The detective minded reader will encounter plenty of data to consider. Readers from various religious backgrounds may find their beliefs validated, enriched, or challenged. Non-practicing Catholics can reflect on the rich history presented, perhaps then returning to the Church. Practicing Catholics may learn of Marian apparitions for which they were previously unaware, giving opportunity for spiritual growth. Non-believers will be presented with new possibilities, and perhaps even a new reality.
John Carpenter gives each chapter within his book a thoughtful and captivating title, which of course reflects the subject matter in that particular part of the book. For example, the first chapter is titled, The Awakening. Here, Carpenter reflects upon his childhood and what it was like growing up the son of a Methodist minister. His memories all seem to be positive ones. However, he does mention that there were some things he never learned in church as a Methodist, such as to whom the Immaculate Conception truly refers. After his father retired, Carpenter stopped attending church for about six years. No other minister could quite replace the man he admired so much. He explored different denominations, mainly depending upon who he knew at the time. John S. Carpenter’s life changed when he met his soulmate, Ruthie. She had been raised Catholic, and was able to shed light on why Catholics do what they do, particularly the many rituals. Over time, namely after a lecture trip to Italy, Carpenter truly embraced Catholicism and decided to begin the RCIA process to become Catholic. In his own words, “religion was coming alive for [him] in a fascinating way.” (Carpenter, location 120) Religious concepts and ideas brought to his life new meaning and purpose. This was his religious awakening (hence, the chapter’s title). Carpenter then decided to make it his mission to awaken the souls of others. Will he be successful in this difficult mission?
In addition to using appropriate, yet catchy, titles for each chapter, John Carpenter utilizes many other helpful features throughout this book to grab and hold the reader’s attention while providing this vast array of knowledge. Like many other nonfiction books, there is a handy Table of Contents, which I personally made use of quite often when I wanted to refer back to a particular idea or topic. There is also a great use of photos throughout the book. In fact, the book’s cover boasts of the inclusion of 80 photos. Not only were these photos and the accompanying captions relevant to the subject matter being discussed, they also often helped me to put things into perspective. For example, in Chapter Two, when discussing a miraculous event that occurred in Fatima, Portugal, the author includes a picture to help the reader visualize the huge crowd in attendance that day. It’s one thing to simply imagine over 70,000 people all being in the same place at the same time. It’s another thing entirely to see an actual photograph from that date and time.
The author makes use of special text in his book, as well. In any given chapter, the reader will come across important words or phrases in bold print, as well as various quotes that have been set apart through centering. I found this to be helpful in drawing my attention to particular thoughts and ideas, allowing me to put proper emphasis where needed. In Chapter Four, the following is presented in bold print:
“Belief is a direct result from finding truth. We will choose not to believe, most likely, if anything is proven to be false.” (Carpenter, Location 406)
This idea is relevant not only to this particular chapter, but to the book as a whole. The author recognizes that less people believe on faith alone nowadays. Providing proof and scientific evidence is one of the goals Carpenter has set out to accomplish within this work.
Like any well-researched text, there is a Bibliography included at the end of the book. The author goes a bit beyond the norm with his Bibliography, though, which results in one that is more user-friendly. Carpenter has organized his references in such categories as Multiple Apparitions/Shrines, Specific Apparitions, Heaven/Angels, Scientific Investigations, Other Resources, and Other Internet References. This should make it easier for anyone who desires further knowledge, or for those who wish to fact-check the author’s work. John S. Carpenter also includes two unique Appendices. Appendix 1 lists the 89 Marian Apparitions and Appendix 2 offers additional insight to the Virgin Mary, which I found to be interesting and thought-provoking.
The main focus throughout Carpenter’s book is on several different Marian apparitions, both contemporary and historical. Instead of starting with descriptions of the first known vision of the Blessed Mary and then finishing the book with the most recent account, the author takes a more nonlinear approach. The same apparitions are discussed in multiple chapters, but with emphasis placed on different aspects of the occurrences. This not only makes it easier for the reader to fully understand each apparition by studying each one piece by piece, it also provides a way to validate the authenticity of the visions. The similarities between the different encounters are striking, even though Mary appeared to different individuals or groups in different parts of the world at different points throughout history.
In addition to discussing Marian apparitions, the author also talks about things such as the power of prayer, miraculous healings, and also provides testimony for the existence of heaven, hell, and purgatory. He discusses angels and their roles and duties, including specific accounts that confirm the roles of these angels. One of my favorite aspects of this book is its refreshing nature. The author has set out to inform and educate, not belittle and condemn. I do not have a least favorite part of the book itself, but a cringeworthy moment for me was when the author was describing cases of scientists and doctors trying to distract visionaries with loud sounds, pin pricks, pinching, electric shock, and more.
Without a doubt, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I understand that this book is not one that everyone will feel the urge to pick up and read. I chose to read this book because I have a sincere interest in the contents, and a true desire to learn more. I recommend Be Not Afraid to Follow the Footsteps from Heaven to those interested in Marian apparitions, religious studies, and paranormal events; to those strong in faith, weak in faith but still hopeful, and everything in between; and to those nonbelievers willing to approach the subject matter with an open mind. I would not suggest this book be read by someone unwilling to challenge his or her way of thinking. Approaching any book or idea with the unwillingness to accept new or different information simply does not provide an opportune environment for growth of any kind.
So, does John S. Carpenter achieve what he set out to achieve? He definitely went through great lengths to prove real those Marian apparitions discussed throughout the book. If the Blessed Virgin is real, then Jesus is just as real. This, in turn, points to the existence of God. I came to this book from the perspective of a non-practicing Catholic, and I am leaving with a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic, and also a great many things to still think about and research. On a more personal note, since reading this book, I have started praying the rosary most days, with the intention to get to where I do so everyday. I can only speak for myself, but I do honestly feel like Carpenter has delivered on his promises. To answer that question for yourself, you need only open your mind, and “follow the footsteps.”
Be Not Afraid to Follow the Footprints From Heaven
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