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University of Dayton professor wins first prize at Catholic Book Awards for book about recognizing seven deadly sins

By Hayden Doyle '21

University of Dayton professor Jana Bennett’s newest book won first prize at the Catholic Media Association’s 2020 Catholic Book Awards.

Bennett, who was appointed chair of the UD Department of Religious Studies in July, released her book, Naming Our Sins: How Recognizing the Seven Deadly Vices Can Renew the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in May 2019 via Catholic University of America Press. She edited the book with David Cloutier, an associate professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University of America.

Bennett received positive feedback from readers but, having written a few books already, she knew there wasn’t much more to expect from it.

She was completely unaware the book had been nominated for an award.

“It was a publisher who decided to put it forward for the award and I had no idea they'd done that,” she said. “So the first I hear of it is from the publisher saying, 'Hey, you came in first place in the sacrament category.' I thought, 'Wow, that’s pretty awesome, right?'”

The book covers how to understand the sacrament of reconciliation in the 21st century. Bennett said many see sin as a list of right and wrong, but in reality it’s much more than that. She wants people to think about sin as a part of the spiritual journey. The book is about developing practical wisdom for situations where sin could come into play.

Each chapter focuses on one of the seven deadly vices — lust, greed, gluttony, anger, sloth, pride and envy — and relates it to the modern world.

“One of my favorite chapters is actually the chapter on gluttony,” she said. “People often think about gluttony and mistakenly think it’s about being fat and about you just eating as much as you want anytime you want and that kind of thing. So, we really call that into question by saying, you know gluttony is about a lot more than that. It's about all the ways we get preoccupied with food. I think diet culture in the 21st century is an example of that.”

She thought of the idea nearly a decade ago, when she posted it to the Catholic Moral Theology blog. It was inspired by the notion that people don’t think they actually sin.

“If that was the case, then nobody would be angry at each other and we would all be one big happy family, but obviously that's not the case,” she said. “So I wrote a silly blog post on it.”

That post garnered numerous responses, so she decided it could be the topic of a book. The final product ended up being a more “robust” version of that blog post at 200 pages.

Bennett says she feels validation because of the award, but not just in terms of her hard work. She also thinks it validates how others felt about the book, too.

“I will admit that some of my most gratifying moments with the book have come from people who have randomly written to me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, I had picked up your book in the bookstore the other day and I read it and this is so helpful,’” she said. “I've heard from priests who were like ‘I read this book and it totally changed the way I am hearing confessions,’ and I think, 'Wow, that's pretty amazing.' So for me the award was maybe a confirmation of those good stories.”

M. Therese Lysaught, a bioethics professor at Loyola University Chicago, gave an enthusiastic editorial review of the book on Amazon.

“All those who seek spiritual growth and faithful discipleship should read this book,” she said.

The Rev. David Meconi, associate professor of patristics at Saint Louis University, had a similar thought in his review.

“Drawing on the best of the Great Tradition, from the Church Fathers to the best of contemporary moral theology, these pages should be read by any confessor and spiritual director intent on helping bring God's mercy and wisdom to others," he said.

Bennett wasn’t the only Flyer to be acknowledged at the Catholic Book Awards.

Alumnus Trevor Gundlach ’16 received the second place prize in the First Time Authors category for his book Barstool Theology. Gundlach, who earned a master’s degree in theological studies from the University, is currently the senior project manager at Kettering Physician Network and author at Our Sunday Visitor. In Barstool Theology, he suggests ideas on how to make drinking a part of a theological life, or in other words, becoming a barstool theologian.

“I thought that was amazing,” Bennett said. “Someone pointed that out and I thought that was great. I think, hopefully, it says something to the world. Come here to UD and study theology because we're doing some good theology.”

Bennett’s books also include Singleness and the Church: Toward a New Theology of Singleness, Water is Thicker Than Blood: An Augustinian Theology of Marriage and Singleness, and Aquinas on the Web? Doing Theology in an Internet Age. She holds a doctorate in theology and ethics from Duke University.

The Catholic Media Association (CMA) has been uniting and serving the Catholic press for more than 100 years. It has more than 200 publication members and 600 individual members. Member print publications reach nearly 10 million households, plus countless others through members’ websites and social media outlets.

The CMA Book Awards recognize the outstanding work of publishers, authors and book editors. These books promote exceptional Catholic material to the general public and support readers in their journey to live a faith-filled life.

To read some of Bennett’s other blog posts, visit the Catholic Moral Theology website.

For more information, visit the UD Department of Religious Studies website.

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