GOD'S CHOICE: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel. HarperCollins. 307 pp. $26.95.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a
teacher and writer at St. Xavier High
School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently
edited (with Bill Madges) Vatican II: Forty
Personal Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).
ONE YEAR AGO, the world heard the
news: “Habemus papam” (“We have a
pope”). For the first time in a generation,
these words were proclaimed
announcing the election of a new pope.
I must confess that, when I saw Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger emerge, I was surprised.
Like many others I had
him as a possible papabile (“papal contender”), but
thought him too old, too
curial, too European and
too controversial to succeed
Pope John Paul II. But
as George Weigel, senior
fellow of the Ethics and
Public Policy Center and
biographer of Pope John
Paul II, examines in God’s
Choice, in the end Ratzinger
(now Benedict XVI) was the right and
natural person for the office of Bishop
Before Weigel tells the story of
Benedict XVI, however, he necessarily
looks back at the last days of Pope John
Paul II, with whom Benedict, as prefect
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, was a close confidant for
close to 25 years. Weigel captures well
how it seemed for a moment that all
eyes and ears were focused on Rome
and the last hours and, later, funeral of
Pope John Paul II.
With his death, the Catholic world
felt great sadness but also anticipation
as to who would be his successor. As
was evidenced by the phrase echoed at
his funeral, “Santo subito” (“Make him
a saint now”), everyone agreed that
whoever succeeded John Paul II could
never fill his shoes.
Here Weigel considers the impressive
legacy John Paul II (whom many
already call John Paul the Great) has left
the Church. Whether through his travels,
encyclicals, canonization of saints,
interpretation of Vatican II, invitation
to youth or political involvement,
Weigel sees John Paul II expressing a
much-needed Christian fearlessness: a
belief that Jesus must be proclaimed
to the world.
The next part of the book explores
the preparations for and the actual days
of the papal conclave. This could be
summed up in the adage
voiced by one cardinal: “God had already chosen
the next pope; the cardinals’
task was to discern
the man who was God’s
Though dismissed by
some, Ratzinger’s tide
would rise during the interregnum—the period of
time between the death of
one pope and the election
of another. As dean of the
College of Cardinals, it was Ratzinger’s
responsibility to supervise the cardinals
in the next conclave. Both the Church
and world saw him center stage, almost
as a pope-in-waiting, as he celebrated
the funeral Mass for his “co-worker in
the truth.” In all of this, his listening
and organizational skills impressed
many, and went a long way to getting
him elected pope. Thus, on the second
day of voting and on the fourth vote,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected
pope, taking the name Benedict XVI.
Weigel provides three words as clues
to just who this new pope is: priest,
professor and peritus (expert adviser at
the Second Vatican Council).
In Benedict, one finds a deeply spiritual
person, committed to Jesus Christ
and the Catholic Church. He is also
someone who, as a former professor, is
concerned about ideas, or as Benedict
himself says, “the truth.” Finally, as a
young theologian advising the archbishop
of Cologne, he attended the
Second Vatican Council and continues
to implement its teachings.
This is not to discount his many
years as prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was his
tenacity and zeal during these years
(1981-2005) in dealing with the high-profile
cases that he supervised which
led to his being caricatured as “God’s
Rottweiler.” Weigel points out that
there is much more to Benedict than
his former office, however.
Benedict faces significant issues
that must be dealt with which will
shape the Catholic Church of the
future. Chief among them are the continued
secularization in Europe, interreligious
dialogue and the demographic
shift in Catholicism to Latin America,
Africa and Asia.
For those who want information on
the latter days of Pope John Paul II, a
sense of how the recent papal conclave
took place and an understanding of
who Pope Benedict XVI is and where he
may take the Catholic Church, God’s
Choice is a good place to start.
You can order GOD'S CHOICE: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church from St.
eucharist with a small 'e', by Miriam
Therese Winter. Orbis Books. 153 pp.
Reviewed by MADGE KARECKI, O.S.C., of
the Poor Clares in Cincinnati, Ohio, who
holds a D.Th. degree in missiology. She was
an associate professor of missiology and
spirituality at the University of South Africa
and adjunct professor of liturgy and
mission at St. John Vianney Seminary,
Pretoria, South Africa, before joining the
MIRIAM THERESE WINTER’S book
makes a plea for living the eucharist in
our daily lives, what she calls eucharistwith a small “e.” Though she says quite
clearly that the book “is not about the
sacrament of the Eucharist
but about a parallel practice
with Christian tradition,”
she spends chapters
three and four examining
the origins of the celebration
of Eucharist with a big
“E.” These two chapters are
foundational for following
the author’s argument
through the rest of the
book, and it is here that the
basic problem I had with
the book first shows itself.
Winter sets up a dichotomy between
the celebration of the Eucharist
(Mass) and discovering Christ’s presence
in the situations of everyday life.
She juxtaposes St. Paul’s account of
the celebration of the Eucharist in 1
Corinthians 11:23-26 with the account
of the early Christian community’s
eucharistic assembly in Acts 2:42-47
and then draws a questionable conclusion.
Winter is of the opinion that, while
Paul’s description is of a ritual meal in
which participants remembered Christ’s
death and resurrection, the celebration
in Acts is described as an ordinary meal
in which the community did not eat
Christ, but ate with Christ as they experienced
him in one another.
This seems to be, at least to this
reviewer, an unnecessary distinction
that fragments what is meant to be the
Church’s very holistic and inclusive
teaching on the meaning of the eucharist.
Winter offers a feminist reading and
interpretation of 15 parables about
meals told by Jesus in the Gospels, 19
stories of meals at which Jesus participated
and three post-resurrection
meals. Here she takes great liberty with
the texts. For instance, in her account
of the wedding feast at Cana she conjectures
that the bride was Mary’s niece.
She seems to have missed the point
of the parable of the wise and foolish
virgins by interpreting it as a story
about sharing, while other Catholic
exegetes contend that the parable is
about being prepared for the Lord’s
coming in glory, hence, its use in the
liturgy near the end of the Church year.
The main message of the book is best
summarized in the last
chapter in which Winter
writes with conviction
about her belief that the
Spirit is calling us to “a radical
reorientation not only
of how we view the world,
but how we behave within
it.” This reorientation is
what Winter believes will
transform our understanding
of the eucharist so that
all our meals become sacramental
meals and we become
eucharist for others.
The 18 chapters are clearly written
and engaging, though unequal in
length. The author succeeds in her aim,
that is, to create an awareness of the
eucharist outside of ritual celebrations.
In the Preface Winter’s disclaimer
that the book is not for scholars because
it has no footnotes or bibliography
needs to be taken seriously. While her
book is interesting, her interpretation
of biblical texts reaches beyond what I
have garnered from biblical scholars, so
readers need to be able to sift fact from
You can order eucharist with a small 'e' from St.
THE JOY OF PRIESTHOOD, by Father
Stephen J. Rossetti. Foreword by
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. Ave
Maria Press. 221 pp. $15.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. He was ordained
to the priesthood in June 1975.
EVEN THOUGH many priests have felt
pretty battered since early 2002 when
the nationwide extent of the clergy
sex-abuse crisis became obvious,
approximately 90 percent of them
report high satisfaction with their call
This reinforces Father Frank McNulty's quote that opens Chapter One: “Priesthood
is a lot better than I thought it
was going to be...and a lot tougher.”
As president and chief executive officer
of Saint Luke Institute in Silver
Spring, Maryland, Father Rossetti, a priest
of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, has
worked there and elsewhere for over 15
years with many priests. Saint Luke Institute
is a residential program for clergy
and religious men and women requiring
including but not limited to
He has often been invited
to speak to diocesan gatherings
of priests. Between
September 2003 and January
2005, he surveyed 1,172
priests from 15 U.S. dioceses.
This volume shares
some of what those surveys
Arranged in 15 topical
chapters, ranging from “Priesthood Is Difficult” to “Priesthood
of Joy,” this valuable book presents
what Father Rossetti has learned
through his unique ministry. Perhaps it
is best to allow him to speak for himself.
• “Young people want a life of meaning
and challenge. Priesthood, when
lived with integrity, is such a life.”
• “Suffering is part of every life: married,
single, and celibate. Questions
arising about our vocation can be an
invitation to move even deeper into
this life and commitment.”
• “Human life is challenging. It
requires self-sacrifice and hard work,
regardless of the vocation to which one
is called. Priesthood is particularly difficult.”
• “One of the many learnings from
the 2002 Church crisis in the United
States is that we [priests] are called to a
life of full integrity and to a level of
holiness that we might not have
• “Ministry, without a foundation
of prayer, easily becomes social work.”
• “While evaluating priests suffering
from personal problems, a common
theme that emerges is a distorted
image of God. They intellectually know
that God is loving and forgiving. Upon
deeper examination, however, it is clear
that they really live as if God were a
harsh and demanding tyrant.”
• “No amount of external signs or
work can substitute for a solid inner
This volume, geared to diocesan
priests, is filled with much wisdom for
them, for priests in religious communities
and for everyone who cares about
the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
I was surprised that the author did
not address the issue of
material and spiritual
poverty more directly. Even
though they do not take a
vow of poverty, diocesan
priests—like all of us—can
be tempted to greed in subtle
Six pages of endnotes
complement the main text. “The countenance of a
happy priest,” Rossetti
writes in the final chapter,
“is our best vocational tool.
It witnesses to the true Christ and
invites others to share in his joy.”
You can order THE JOY OF PRIESTHOOD from St. Francis Bookshop.
A FRANCISCAN VIEW OF CREATION: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World, by Ilia Delio, O.S.F. The Franciscan
Institute. 56 pp. $5.
Reviewed by THOMAS SPEIER, O.F.M.,
who holds graduate degrees in biology and
philosophy of science, and taught those
subjects as an assistant professor at Duns
Scotus College in Detroit.
THOMAS OF CELANO, an early biographer
and contemporary of Francis of
Assisi, wrote: “Even for worms he had
a warm love, since he had read about
the Savior: I am a worm and not a man.
That is why he used to pick them up
from the roads and put them in a safe
place so that they would not be crushed
by the footsteps of passersby....”
A spiritual practice? A theological
teaching? Or just another quaint little
story about Francis of Assisi, the friend
of the birds and the bees? What led
Pope John Paul II to name Francis the
patron saint of ecology in 1980?
In this small book, Delio sets out to
explore these questions about Francis of
Assisi and his early followers. She has
produced a true jewel in what promises
to be a treasure chest: the Franciscan
Heritage Series of publications.
Delio helps us to understand the
theological foundations of such current
Why should I bother recycling those
plastic milk bottles?
Is there anything that will help pro-choice
supporters understand that a
living fetus is to be reverenced and not
discarded in a garbage can?
What can explain the sense of the
sacred I experienced standing among
the forests of redwoods and giant
sequoias in California?
Who cares about spotted owls?
Delio’s concluding chapter (“What Is
Ours to Do?”) applies Franciscan insights
to the real world.
Is this just another “tree-hugger”
book? Or does Delio accomplish her
goal of helping us develop “a new Franciscan
consciousness [that] also means
an awareness of the intrinsic value of
everything that exists...a way of seeing
I emphatically believe that Delio does
achieve her goal. The three chapters that
form the heart of this little book help us
see the intimate link between the material
world of creation and that marvelous
mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation.
Francis of Assisi was not a scholar.
Some say his gift was that of a “vernacular
theologian” or a nature mystic.
Delio shows us that Francis’ famous
“Canticle of the Creatures” was the
result of his lifelong love affair with
the crucified Christ. Francis came to
see all of nature as the “sacramental
expression of God’s generous love.”
Because all of creation is united in
Christ, one who loves Christ as Francis
did has to be united to everything in a
family of love relationships as “sister
Francis was followed by two Franciscan
scholarly theologians who absorbed
his spirit and reflected on his mystical
experiences. St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
writes, “Christ embraces something
of every creature in himself.” In
other words, the fullness of this incarnate
Word embraces the whole of creation. In the next century Blessed John
Duns Scotus develops the Christocentric
teaching that every creature is an outward
expression of the Word of God
through whom all things are made.
I make Delio’s masterful synthesis
of the lives and teachings of these three
lovers of the cosmic Christ sound simple.
But I recall all too well the glazed
looks of my students in medieval
scholastic philosophy as I tried to
explain Bonaventure’s doctrine of
exemplarism! Not to mention Duns
Scotus’s teaching on haecceitas (or “thisness”)!
Delio’s ability to demystify the
teachings of these intellectual giants
leaves me thoroughly humbled.
For anyone with a modicum of
scholastic background (or intellectual
curiosity), the chapters on Duns Scotus
and Bonaventure will be a delight as
the readers finally understand what
these Franciscans were trying to convey.
Others might be amazed that they really
do get the point. But the chapter on
Francis of Assisi will be worth the book
by itself. Now you will appreciate why
he felt such a deep relationship with a
leper and brother wolf—and could hug
both. It was easy for him after embracing
the love of the crucified Christ.
Thank you, Ilia, for this gem!
You can order A FRANCISCAN VIEW OF CREATION: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World from St. Francis Bookshop.