The Pope's Soldiers: A Military History of the Modern Vatican by David Alvarez. University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, Kan., 2011). 429 pp., $34.95. When current visitors to the Vatican hear about the pope's men at arms, visions of Swiss Guards fill the mind. Today, the halberd-bearing, brightly costumed soldiers basically provide decoration for papal events. But they were once part of the armed services which for centuries protected not only popes but their kingdom in central Italy. The Swiss Guard was one of several separate branches of foot soldiers. Popes even had a small navy that protected the shores and ports of the Papal States. What is left today are the ceremonial Swiss Guard and the Vigilance Corps, the Vatican police force responsible for maintaining order in Vatican City. David Alvarez's "The Pope's Soldiers" traces the history of the pope's armed forces starting with the aftermath of the French Revolution, a time of the pope's evaporating political power as a European head of state. This waning influence was reflected in the shabby state of the papal armed forces, mired in nepotism, corruption and inefficiency. Alvarez takes the history to the present day where the main security task is training a handful of skilled bodyguards to protect the person of the pope in the Vatican and on his foreign travels. Alvarez, author of several books on 19th- and 20th-century espionage against the Vatican, mentions the militarily more colorful previous centuries when the Papal States had political power and its well-oiled military machine was frequently led in battle by warrior-popes, providing incongruous situations where the representative on earth of the Prince of Peace was ordering men to kill or be killed. Alvarez chose the later time period because he feels that its military history has not been studied enough given that popes and their territories were still in danger. This era was a time of transition, when the Vatican began turning swords into plowshares, depending more on diplomacy than on military might to defend papal territories and church influence with other governments. It also was a time of self-questioning by generations of church authorities as to whether the concomitant roles of the pope as a king and as the religious leader of the Catholic Church were complementary or incompatible. The book mentions these dilemmas but does not go into detail about the debates. As it is a military history, it devotes most of its pages to describing efforts by Vatican military commanders to upgrade the quality and quantity of the armed services. This was especially true in the 19th century when popes had to face threats from the militarily far superior French army under Napoleon and later from the kingdom of Northern Italy, which in 1870 successfully invaded the Papal States. In the process, popes were for decades "prisoners of the Vatican." The book is filled with tactical descriptions of battles which would interest students of military history but may seem too drawn out and boring to ordinary readers. One also might have hoped for more information about the current situation and how people are specially trained to be papal bodyguards in the age of terrorism. —Agostino BonoThree books on faith in our daily lives Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, 2011). 183 pp., $19.95. Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life by Karina Lumbert Fabian and Deacon Steven Lumbert. Tribute Books (Archbald, Pa., 2011). 113 pp., $15.95. Fragments of Your Ancient Name: 365 Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation by Joyce Rupp. Sorin Books (Notre Dame, Ind., 2011). 406 pp., $22.95. Most Catholics will agree, at least in principle, that being Catholic requires more from us than just spending an hour a week at Mass and dropping an envelope into the collection basket. These three books offer insight and guidance for our everyday lives as people of faith. The most dense and challenging of these is Franciscan Father Richard Rohr's "Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life." Father Rohr, an international speaker and best-selling author, packs a lot into each chapter. He is a lecturer who loves his subject and knows it so well that he takes off at full speed. Luckily the reader can stop at any time to absorb Father Rohr's advice. This is a book that readers should feel free to mark up with notes and highlighters to come back to, because Father Rohr is perhaps better absorbed in lighter bits. (My niece and nephew, both students at the University of Notre Dame and Rohr fans, assure me that his audiotapes are a rewarding and memorable experience.) Father Rohr's writing is reassuringly conversational, though his thought patterns can be challenging and he writes full speed ahead. He adds humor where it is absolutely due ("I hope that this book will at least assure you that you are not crazy"). He actually says, in his introduction, "Maybe we should just call this book 'Tips for the Road.'" If you are the type of person who is curious and self-aware, inspired to explore the meaning of your religious self and alert to how life unfolds according to your own behaviors, attitudes and perspectives, this is a book that will inspire and inform. "Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life" is a sort of bullet-pointed diary, a cheerleading roster encouraging everyday people in the everyday realities of our lives. Team-written by Deacon Steven Lumbert and his daughter Karina Lumbert Fabian, "Why God Matters" comes to the reader in small doses. Each chapter gives an open-minded reader a "dose of faith" as an active element of a normal Christian's life — anecdotes that pose real-life challenges recognizable as something you might discuss with a friend or pastor at your church over coffee and doughnuts. Call it 'comfortable theology.' Then Deacon Lumbert and Fabian end each vignette with a "life lesson," a passage from the Bible and a selection from the Catechism of the Catholic Church relevant to that chapter's topic. There is also a lovely list of websites and books "for further reading." "Why God Matters" was recently named the 2011 Christian small-publisher book of the year in the Christian living category. In "Fragments of Your Ancient Name: 365 Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation," Joyce Rupp tells us that when we "name" something, we connect more deeply with it. The daily meditations offer a wide variety of prayerful ways to name and so regard the Divine. Though there is a lengthy introduction, there is no commentary on the meditations themselves, which draw from an impressive variety of sources and traditions of faith (the Carmelite Breviary, the Quran, the Old and New Testaments), folk rock (even that shockingly venal folk rock "guru" of the flower-child era, Leonard Cohen) and some relatively modern writers. It is up to the reader to assume authority over each meditation. This strikes me as being quite right, since prayer takes on different mantles of meaning, depending on who is praying and what inspires the prayer. This is a great, unassuming book for reminding us of our individuality, and how we bring our own viewpoints, strengths and weaknesses to prayer and faith. — Elizabeth RackoverThe Reviewers:— Agostino Bono is a retired CNS staff writer and former Rome bureau chief. —Elizabeth Rackover is a freelance writer. She lives with her family in southeast Michigan.