MAKES US CATHOLIC: Eight Gifts for Life, by Thomas
H. Groome. Harper San Francisco. 336 pp. $13.95.
SPIRITUALITY, ITS HISTORY AND CHALLENGE, by the
Rev. James J. Bacik. Paulist Press. 175 pp. $14.95.
Reviewed by MARK WILKINS, who is in his 28th year of teaching
at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
THE ASSUMPTION made in many religious education
programs is that there is a connection between Church doctrine
and the lived experience of the faithful. What is often overlooked,
however, is that many people find doctrine more intelligible
when the starting point is personal experience rather than
study of the formal declaration of the doctrine.
These two books seem to make similar assumptions—that
people have encountered God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in
their lives and want to understand how these personal experiences
relate to the traditional doctrinal formulations of the Roman
Tom Groome is a professor of religious education
at Boston College. He is a significant (and controversial)
influence in the transformation of religious education from
indoctrination and memorization to reflection and application.
This book is a bit of a departure for Groome from
the previous scholarly works he has written for professionals
in the classroom. In What Makes Us Catholic, Groome
writes for everyone connected to the Roman Catholic Church
by birth or background, for those who are doubters or doggedly
determined and who struggle with all that being Catholic entails.
Groome promotes eight essential ingredients of
Catholicism that can become spirituality for life, not just
reasons for attending Mass. People should begin by reflecting
on their lives from the perspective of faith, he says; then
they should reverse that and reflect on faith from the perspective
of their lives. This brings life to faith and faith to life.
Catholicism is distinguished by its spirituality,
which is one that permeates the everyday in every way. Groome
explores Catholic spirituality in the eight chapters of the
book. Groome asks whether a life of faith is worth the risk.
These are not just dusty academic abstractions,
however. Each chapter begins with a story to get the reader
thinking and ends by suggesting practices that might help
realize the proposed outlook. Practice is, after all, integral
to a Catholic understanding of faith.
Father Jim Bacik, author and pastor of Corpus
Christi University Parish in Toledo, Ohio, has written a book
that considers how to integrate spirituality and theology
in a balanced way that is effective in everyday life.
The first part of the book surveys the relationship
between theology and spirituality. In 10 brief chapters Bacik
notes how the two came to be separated over the centuries,
and then explains the efforts after Vatican II to integrate
Bacik hearkens back to the work of Father Karl
Rahner, S.J., who insisted that the theological task is to
present the Christian faith as a comprehensive and integrated
way of life. Catholicism is not simply a collection of abstract
doctrines, strange rituals and demanding laws. It is not a
philosophy of life but a commitment to a living person.
The core of the faith must be presented in such
a way that it touches the heart as well as engages the mind.
At its best, theology is nourished by prayer and leads to
prayer, not just more intellectual abstraction.
Part Two of Bacik’s work contains short theological
reflections on events and situations that exemplify the theories
proposed in the opening chapters. There are seven chapters
on prayer, five on Jesus Christ and five on the Church, with
the other chapters on marriage, spirituality, forgiveness,
ecumenism, public morality and the afterlife.
Each chapter stands on its own, yet they are wonderful
examples of what the author is trying to do in Part One. They
seem to have been created as essays, editorials or homilies
that have been edited and updated for this book.
The books are a wonderful complement to each other.
Bacik’s essays are concise and thoughtful examples of what
Groome says that Catholicism is. They are good theology if
you let them engage your heart as well as your head, as I
You can order WHAT MAKES US CATHOLIC: Eight Gifts
for Life and CATHOLIC SPIRITUALITY, ITS HISTORY AND
St. Francis Bookshop.
MORNING CAME: Scriptures of the Resurrection, by
Megan McKenna. Sheed & Ward. 229 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor and managing
editor of St. Anthony Messenger.
USING HER STRENGTH in Scripture analysis
and application to modern life, Megan McKenna suggests ways
for Christians to live Resurrection, to live as if they really
believed this central tenet (and mystery) of their faith.
“This is a book about living, about dying, about
rising, about beginnings and endings and how to live the resurrection
now, practicing all the way home,” writes McKenna.
Amid lots of wonderful stories, she tells one
about the great violinist Itzhak Perlman, whose braces attest
to his childhood battle against polio. Once on a New York
stage, in the middle of a performance, one of his four violin
strings snapped. The orchestra stopped, the audience gasped,
the conductor dropped his baton. But Perlman signaled him
to go on, and he finished the entire piece, brilliantly transposing
the music to accommodate the remaining three strings. Afterwards,
he told the audience that this “has been my vocation, my lifelong
mission—to make music out of what remains.”
“Making music out of what remains” is what we
are all to do: “what remains of our lives, our loves and dreams,
our hopes and fears, our sufferings and deaths, our struggles
and our faithfulness, our communities and relationships. This
music began with the Resurrection of Jesus and will continue
now until the end of time.”
Resurrection, McKenna notes, means literally “to
raise from the dead.” Related to rising or standing up, resurrection
has three basic implications: to stand up for (as a character
witness does in a courtroom); to stand behind, like a wall
or protector; and to stand with, in solidarity or communion
with others. God raises Jesus from the dead in all these senses
of the term—and is ready to do the same for us.
McKenna does thorough exegesis of the Resurrection
accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and considers how
the Resurrection is treated in Acts. Then she relates the
Resurrection to Baptism, analyzing our liturgical rites for
In the last chapter she suggests some actions
that might show that the Resurrection has really taken root
in our lives.
McKenna, the author of more than 15 books, was
named an Ambassador of Peace by Pax Christi USA in 2001. The
activities she recommends are wonderfully radical and lifestyle-changing.
Reading the inspirational And Morning Came
would be a good way to celebrate the 50 days of Easter and
You can order AND MORNING CAME: Scriptures of the Resurrection
from St. Francis
HABIT: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns,
by Elizabeth Kuhns. Doubleday. 212 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, assistant managing editor
of St. Anthony Messenger and friend to many who have
worn religious habits, past and present.
NO TRIVIAL FASHION review, this book gingerly
traverses a minefield in Church history. The author describes
herself as a convert. This confirms my suspicion that people
who neither wore habits nor hung around with those who did
are often more fascinated by, interested in and opinionated
about sisterly dress than are many nuns themselves.
History is so much more than fact collection.
This book—a mini-history of women religious through the medium
of dress—packs in a lot of good context, perspective, comparison,
anecdotes, interviews and illustration. All that benefits
the reader, but it makes for an uneven read with many changes
in tone as history, commentary and interpretation are interspersed.
For instance, the Introduction details the paradoxes
presented by habits with a vocabulary of admirable balance.
But, just a few paragraphs later, authorElizabeth Kuhns uses
the charged verb abandon to describe the change in
habit by many women religious in the 1960s and ’70s. In an
early chapter called “Holiness,” she also asserts that religious
dress has “divine origins.” Documentation seemed sketchy to
Chapter Four, “Conformity,” mentions men’s habits
in passing, but not in detail. Since men often wore (and wear)
their habits over—rather than instead of—store-bought clothing,
even broaching the subject seems to cry out for comparison
of origins, rules, patterns and practices of habit-wearing
between men and women religious. That could be an interesting
The Protestant Reformation and, later, the French
Revolution created an atmosphere in which women religious
in habits were as likely to suffer humiliation as to receive
respect. Chapters which detail this changing worldview moved
me. Many foundresses, then and in the 19th century, tried
to adopt less restrictive customs in dress, but Church lawmakers—and
laypeople who judged cloister a higher good than charity—blocked
the implementation of their vision.
I had not known that a distinctive habit was required
for each of the many new foundations of sisters begun in the
19th century. The author provides fascinating explanations
of the tweaks and pleats and infinite creative variety among
the habits nuns wore into the ’60s and ’70s—a sampling of
which are reproduced in 30 black-and-white (what else?) photos
in an Appendix.
Uniform captions detailing information about the
habits themselves—fabric, care, costs—would have added to
the value of these photos, though they already rank as the
best Appendix I’ve had the pleasure of perusing.
Cross-references from the text to the Appendix
would be an improvement. The author may have made a reader-friendly
choice to forgo footnotes, but the citations from the author’s
interviews and research would have helped us to appreciate—and
value—the level of documentation.
The Glossary of Church Terms, on the other hand,
could be reduced considerably, since many of the listed terms
(i.e., deacon, homily, tabernacle) are neither used
in the text nor have any clear connection to the book’s subject.
The book’s conclusion seems quite abrupt: a comparison
between priestly vestments and religious habits. That underscores
the tension which makes this book both informative and incomplete.
Habits are linked on many levels to the roles and contributions
of men and women to Church life. Changing habits is one highly
visible expression of a much larger change in the Church.
That change is what made this book alternately interesting,
aggravating, intense and intriguing.
You can order THE HABIT: A History of the Clothing
of Catholic Nuns from St.
POWER: The Future of Progressive Politics in America,
by Paul Osterman. Beacon Press. 220 pp. $28.50.
PUBLIC, by Michael Gecan. Beacon Press. 191 pp.
Reviewed by WILLIAM DROEL, author of Full-Time Christians:
the Real Challenge From Vatican II (Twenty-Third
Publications) and editor of INITIATIVES, a newsletter
on faith and work.
ABOUT 3,500 parishes and congregations in this country pay
dues to one or another of about 135 faith-based community
organizations. Each organization—with a few exceptions—is
affiliated with one of four national networks. The largest
and oldest of these networks is the Industrial Areas Foundation
(IAF), founded in 1940 by Chicagoan Saul Alinsky (1909-1972)
to assist churches and other mediating institutions to deal
with the forces of urban-industrial life and changing racial
or ethnic patterns.
“The IAF has evolved in a variety of ways,” explains Paul
Osterman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yet
the durability of Alinsky’s basic ideas about leadership training
makes the IAF a nearly incomparable institution in North American
politics and Church life, he says.
Osterman, drawing upon his participation with the IAF in
Texas, details the process of starting and renewing a community
organization. Along the way Osterman assesses the relationship
between IAF and various types of churches. The IAF is evenly
disposed to all denominations and religions.
Yet, for theological, organizational and demographic reasons,
Osterman finds a particularly beneficial fit with Catholic
parishes. Among several examples, Osterman tells how some
Catholic parishes use the IAF base-community method to capitalize
on the charismatic impulses among Mexican-Americans. His observations
on parish life and Catholic theology are all the more fascinating
considering that Osterman began his research “with virtually
no appreciation of religion and found myself marveling at
Michael Gecan has been an IAF organizer for about
30 years, mostly in New York with stints in Baltimore and
Chicago. Through 12 short chapters he details how the IAF
teaches leaders, for example, to run a meeting and raise money.
In addition to such skills training, the IAF also gives citizens
a broad public philosophy that supplies sustaining fiber for
involvement in their churches, unions and civic groups.
In headings, stories and comments Gecan describes
many of the IAF disciplines: the habit of reflection, the
habit of meeting (without going to lots of meetings), the
habit of withstanding tension, the habit of depolarizing tension
at critical moments, and more.
In contrast to rambunctious or ephemeral protest
groups, Gecan explains why and how the IAF builds strategic,
long-term relationships with public officials and business
leaders. The IAF treats officials very respectfully, never
fawning over them but giving them credit when credit is due.
In one of Gecan’s stories, former New York Mayor Ed Koch,
despite his stubborn opposition to an IAF initiative, is given
a high place of honor at a groundbreaking for an IAF affordable
housing project because—in the end—Koch cooperated just enough.
There’s plenty in these two books for those who
believe their faith can make a difference in a pluralistic
world. The essential ingredient to the community organization-type
of faith formation, these books make clear, is the experienced
organizer who can stay above the fray.
The “relative scarcity” of such people, Osterman
notes, is “the major constraint on the growth” of this model.
Although the organizers are paid better than in years past,
their salaries are quite meager. The whole Church would be
well served by attracting more young adults to the vocation
of community organizer and then doing what is necessary to
retain those who show an aptitude for this difficult and often
You can order Gathering Power: The Future of Progressive Politics in America and Going Public
from St. Francis