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Bridging Sunday and Monday

FULL-TIME CHRISTIANS: The Real Challenge From Vatican II, by William Droel. Twenty-Third Publications. 119 pp. $10.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently co-edited, with William Madges, Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).

AS HE ENDED a tour of his church in Chicago, Father John Flynn asked the boys from a nearby Catholic high school: "What is the most important object in this church?" "The exit sign," one boy replied. Thinking the boy was being sarcastic, Flynn retorted: "And why do you suppose the exit sign is so important?" "Because," the student continued, "it shows us the direction in which to take the gospel."

In Full-Time Christians: The Real Challenge From Vatican II, William Droel shares this story to illustrate his main conviction that the Christian vocation is more than just an hour on Sunday. As a founder of the National Center for the Laity in Chicago, an instructor at Moraine Valley Community College and a pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills, Illinois, Droel is in a prime position to advocate the full integration of Christians, as Christians, in the larger society.

The author is concerned about the split between Sunday and Monday, between faith and daily life, something he saw Vatican Council II (1962-1965) attempting to bridge. "The implication," Droel writes, "is not that Christians are terribly immoral on the job or around the community. It is, rather, that Christians are not very concerned that their workaday life is a primary expression of their response to God, that work itself puts holiness into life."

There are several possible reasons, Droel suggests, for this state of affairs and the lack of an authentic lay vocation. The first is that many Christians have achieved a level of success that they don’t want overturned or jeopardized by some universal call to holiness.

Another reason is that, in the wake of Vatican II, too much attention was placed on lay ministry in the Church rather than to the world. This has led many people to believe that "fuller Church involvement means internal ministry" instead of engagement with the world.

Droel says the remedy to this situation is to enlarge our understanding of vocation, one that takes seriously the Incarnation—God becoming enfleshed in history. This needs to be a spirituality that encourages and sustains laypeople, "one in which they, in the company of others, encounter God in the give-and-take of marriages, family life, business, civic endeavors and worldly affairs."

Droel terms this a spirituality of work. It is "not an attempt to spiritualize work or even to carry God into the marketplace. More properly, the spirituality of work helps Christians cooperate with God, who is already lurking about, often masquerading as a supplier, a customer, an employee, an elderly relative or a student and whose glory is embedded, though imperfectly, in office routines, policy guidelines, legislation, art and architecture."

In order for this to be realized and lived, though, reflection or "Sabbath time" is essential.

In the creation of an authentic lay vocation, much is made of the call to social justice. Oftentimes people speak as if change can only come from those "outside" an organization. Yet Droel argues that insiders—the bank executives, union leaders, nurses, accountants, teachers, salespersons, plumbers or homemakers—are best positioned to implement the reform advocated by outsiders.

In striving to become full-time Christians, the mediating and supportive structures of family and neighborhood are not luxuries but necessities. But individualism—as expressed in technology, fast food, wages and hectic schedules—continues to weaken the communal values that family and neighborhood uphold. We need to create and maintain communities of inclusion and participation.

Full-Time Christians is written in a very accessible style. For those who desire to truly live out their lay Christian vocation, it is a good place to start.

You can order FULL-TIME CHRISTIANS: The Real Challenge From Vatican II from St. Francis Bookshop.

FATHER MATHEW’S CRUSADE: Temperance in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Irish America, by John F. Quinn. University of Massachusetts Press. 262 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by AUGUSTINE CURLEY, a Benedictine monk of Newark Abbey in New Jersey. He teaches religion at St. Benedict’s Prep, and is the author of New Jersey Catholicism: An Annotated Bibliography and Augustine’s Critique of Skepticism: A Study of Contra Academicos.

FATHER THEOBALD MATHEW (1790-1856) was a Capuchin friar who almost single-handedly promoted the cause of total abstinence from liquor in mid-19th-century Ireland. John F. Quinn’s engaging biography puts Mathew’s life in the context of the times—the problem of Irish alcoholism, poverty, the famine, Anglo-Irish relations and the Irish in America.

Contrary to popular prejudice, teetotaling is as "Irish" as is drunkenness, and this in no small way is due to the work of Father Mathew. He was recruited in 1838 to lead the Cork Total Abstinence Society, and by the time of his death, five million Irish men, women and children had taken the pledge at Mathew’s hands. During a tour of America, Mathew encouraged abstinence among the Irish immigrants.

But Mathew’s life was not without controversy. His relationship to Daniel O’Connell was rocky. His relationship with Protestants and with the British government was criticized, even while his good works were praised. He alienated a number of bishops, while enjoying the enthusiastic support of others.

Quinn has done a fine job of combining archival collections of newspapers, as well as the secondary literature, to provide a multifaceted portrait of this important figure in 19th-century Ireland and Irish America.

In the course of the book, Quinn provides a number of tidbits that illuminate 19th-century Irish and Irish-American culture. In Ireland, Mathew was an ardent abolitionist, having joined Daniel O’Connell in putting his name to an anti-slavery petition sent to Irish Americans in 1841, which included the statement: "Treat the colored people as your equals, as brethren." But in the United States, abolitionism was more the province of northern Protestants, and so Mathew had to downplay his sentiments during his American tour.

His ecumenical sentiments, which had developed when he was young, caused friction in America, where relationships between Catholics and Protestants were not very cordial at the time.

Quinn also notes that, during his tour of England, Mathew had to make a number of speeches in Irish, since many of the Irish emigrants had not yet learned English. This confirms what I have found in my research about the number of Irish immigrants in 19th-century America who could not read, write or speak English.

Mathew’s crusade had obvious repercussions. Many distillers went broke. A large number emigrated to the United States. Many public houses closed, although a number began selling non-alcoholic beverages. Even Mathew’s younger brother, a distiller, was put out of business, a fact which, Quinn implies, led to an early death after a period of despondency.

A final chapter considers the effect of the temperance movement on the American Church. In 1895, the Knights of Columbus and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul followed the lead of the Knights of Labor in expelling from their membership liquor dealers. Later, in 1902, the Knights of Columbus banned all liquor from their functions. The Ancient Order of Hibernians followed suit in 1904. Quinn then traces the influence of the temperance movement through passage of the 18th Amendment. But then, with the amendment’s repeal, drinking became more acceptable in Catholic circles and these organizations changed their policies. 

You can order FATHER MATHEW’S CRUSADE: Temperance in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Irish America from St. Francis Bookshop.

ETERNITY, MY BELOVED: A Novel, by Jean Sulivan. Translated from the French by Sister Francis Ellen Riordan. Introduction by Joseph Cunneen. River Boat Books. 146 pp. $15.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian
currently serving on the St. Anthony Messenger Press Advisory Board.

WHAT SHOULD PLEASE the Church hierarchy more than a humble priest so dedicated to his flock that he lives in their neighborhood, keeps their working hours and is always available to them? Perhaps a priest with a higher class of clientele than prostitutes, pimps and criminals!

Jean Sulivan is the nom de plume adopted in 1964 by a priest, Joseph Lemarchand, who was released from clerical duty to become a full-time author. In this work he has created a fictional biography of Abbé Jerome Strozzi, a priest in the notorious Pigalle district of Paris during the Nazi occupation. Strozzi’s greatest gift was just listening to the residents, neither judging nor preaching, but helping in any way possible.

He secured the release of three prostitutes from a Nazi commandant; served as an "uncle" for those who had need of a respectable sponsor; arranged for schooling abroad for daughters of prostitutes; visited the destitute sick. He was constantly on call, was often beaten, lived in an apartment provided by the charity of his friends and ate frugally. What kept him going was seeing the face of Christ in each person he met.

Sulivan narrates the tale in first-person prose so probing of the human psyche and crammed with physical detail that frequently this reviewer had to put down the novel to have time to absorb the text. The terse writing leaves many gaps in the narrative, but the plot is completed and personalized by each individual reader.

While the novel is translated from the French, the French milieu and historical setting permeate the work with their unique viewpoint on the German occupation, war rationing, Jewish persecution and the evolving religious movement in Paris encouraging priests to work outside parish structures.

Strozzi had twice revolted against authority and been expelled during his school years, but appeared to accept most all Church dogma while in the seminary. Here’s how Sulivan describes it:

"Nevertheless, when he thinks back on it, Strozzi remembers stumbling over two points: canon law and exegesis. Canon law because one day he came upon an article of the Code that stated, 'No new customs will be introduced in the Church.' How can one reconcile that with the fact that canon law itself, for the most part, is based almost entirely on custom? And in studying the Bible, the Hebrew language amazed him because of the poverty of its vocabulary. How could he translate it, how could he choose one meaning among so many possibilities? But these weren’t burning questions at that time."

Abbé Strozzi had dreamed of being a missionary, perhaps a martyr, but was sent to teach mathematics in a Catholic high school. Assigned to a parish as well, he had trouble manipulating the words to form meaningful sermons and felt that celebrating High Mass..."[w]ith its careful distribution of functions...mirrored a society that was still almost feudal. It thus became a frightening display of the importance of acquired status, the acceptance of artificial divisions, and hence a denial of the reality of Communion...."

He is named superior at the seminary at Fribourg, then arrested by Swiss authorities for forwarding contraband mail (out of naïveté or conviction is unclear) and turned over to French custody. Now, unemployed, he befriends youths on the streets, gets acquainted with their parents, and "...begins his studies all over again; this time without books—it’s a whole different world."

Killed in an automobile accident in 1980, Lemarchand was certainly recognized and appreciated in France where he received the prestigious le Grand Prix Catholique de Literature.

With over 30 works published, only this title and two others have been translated into English. I located the other two at the local public library and found them to be equally intellectually challenging, minutely descriptive and yet universally applicable in their philosophy. Sulivan’s spiritual journal, Morning Light, made the fictional titles seem much more accessible, at least for me!

The obvious audience would be Catholic Francophiles, but mature readers with a religious/philosophical bent might also enjoy Eternity, My Beloved. This unique work would provide a challenging title for book club discussions.

You can order ETERNITY, MY BELOVED: A Novel from St. Francis Bookshop.

JOY IN OUR WEAKNESS: A Gift of Hope From the Book of Revelation, by Marva J. Dawn. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 220 pp. $16.

Reviewed by the REV. DONNA SCHAPER, pastor of Coral Gables Congregational Church in Coral Gables, Florida.

ONCE AGAIN, MARVA DAWN, theologian, author and educator, has broken open the Bible with a perspective that is fresh and unusual. Using much of her own experience with health problems, she reads the Book of Revelation as one who knows pain.

She pushes us to ask the right questions of our suffering. Instead of asking "how long," we should ask, "Who is God in the midst of this?"

She shows over and over how it is not in our competency or capability that God can tabernacle among us. Instead, it is in our weakness. "By participating in the suffering of those who are weak, we learn the sufficiency of God’s grace."

Her analysis of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse is very fine. Remember that in Revelation (Chapter 6) Christ rides out with the other three horses as influences upon history, but in the end, by Chapter 19, he is the only one still riding. Other forces of history are shown to be truly feeble. The rider of the white horse comes again to conquer ultimately and to save. The other three horses are war, economic disasters and epidemics. In Revelation we are reminded that these three forces alone do not control the development of history.

Christ is lord of the cosmos, according to the Book of Revelation, and Dawn has fun showing us how. "I formerly used the word Skillions to describe the uncountable grandiosity of the angelic choir, but then a mathematical friend taught me about googols (1 with 100 zeros behind it) and googolplexes (10 to the googol), numbers which still can’t come close to the generality of heavenly praise! All the creatures of all time and all space resound with a great voice that the Slain Lamb is worthy to receive their adoration."

Dawn has an uncanny ability to move from this sort of victorious praise to very mundane situations. "Before he moved...Tim’s dialysis room was gaily decorated with bright red and blue festoons, ropes of brilliant plastic looping from one corner to the other....[T]he room hardly seemed like a place for serious medical treatment....

"The impressions these bands made on Tim’s visitors, however, changed drastically when they learned that the celebrative festoons were made of the ends of the artificial kidneys used on his dialysis machine. Each red or blue inch-long loop of plastic represented more than eight hours on the machine, so those long, draping cords pictured years of added life, the gift of modern technology, the grace of a machine to cleanse Tim’s blood and stave off death."

One of the other joys of this book is its use of music as metaphor. I think of the way she quotes composer Olivier Messiaen in his "Quatour Pour la Fin du Temps" for violin, cello, clarinet and piano. This work is inspired by Revelation Chapter 10. Written while Messiaen was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1941, this quartet was performed on damaged instruments in the prison camp at Gorlitz in Silesia. The Fifth Movement is very important and includes a broad cello melody: Dawn says it "magnifies with love and reverence the eternity of that powerful and sweet Word."

Pachelbel’s popular "Canon in D" is also understood as a consummate picture of God’s grace. The same eight notes in the bass line repeat over and over without any variation or change, just like the Trinity’s love, says Dawn, while the texture above in the violins, violas and cellos keeps changing intricately.

If there is any problem with the book, it is in the way a reader with a less classical education than Dawn’s would be intimidated by it. But for those of us graced by formal Christian education, this book is a jewel.

You can order JOY IN OUR WEAKNESS: A Gift of Hope From the Book of Revelation from St. Francis Bookshop.

WHEN THE TREES SAY NOTHING: Writings on Nature, by Thomas Merton. Edited by Kathleen Deignan. Drawings by John Giuliani. Sorin Books. 185 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by MITCH FINLEY, author of more than 30 books on Catholic topics, most recently It’s Not the Same Without You: Coming Home to the Catholic Church (Doubleday). Finley delivered a major address at the 1999 meeting of the International Thomas Merton Society, later published as "The Joy of Being Catholic: The Relationship of the Conversion of Thomas Merton to the RCIA," in The Merton Annual, Vol. 13 (Sheffield Academic Press).

THOMAS MERTON (1915-1968) wore many identities: reformed unbeliever, Catholic convert, Trappist monk, poet, social critic, photographer, wit—and now we can add "nature mystic" to the list.  Anyone familiar with Merton’s writings will not be surprised by this, of course, since it was clear as early as Merton’s first few books, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, that he found a loving God in the wind, the trees, the birds and the fields.

When the Trees Say Nothing is a lyrical and substantial collection of many short excerpts from Merton’s books, with enlightening and informative introductory essays by Thomas Berry and the editor. Simple drawings of animals, trees, leaves, mountains, etc., complement the text beautifully and nudge this compact volume into the "gift book" category.

Thomas Berry states succinctly how this book contributes something vital to contemporary religious consciousness: "Today...we find ourselves in a critical moment when the religious traditions need to awaken again to the natural world as the primary manifestation of the divine to human intelligence. The very nature and purpose of the human is to experience this intimate presence that comes to us through natural phenomena."

If this book has a weakness, it lies in the introductory essays. Both overlook that it is precisely because Merton was Catholic that he was able to be so broad-minded; it was his Catholicism which made it possible for him to cultivate a sacramental imagination which could perceive the presence of the sacred in the wind, trees, rain, birds and deer. It was Merton’s Catholic imagination which made it possible for him to appreciate the sensitivity of other religious traditions and philosophies to God’s presence in everything from a storm to a star-filled night sky.

One sample: "To go out to walk silently in this wood—this is a more important and significant means to understanding, at the moment, than a lot of analysis and a lot of reporting on the things 'of the spirit.'"

With regard to the vital intimacy that exists between humans and nature, as in so many other ways, Merton was a prophet and ahead of his time. He understood that to be alienated from the natural world is to be alienated from our deepest self. If we would rediscover and nourish our relationship with our heavenly Father’s creation, this book is an excellent place to begin.

You can order WHEN THE TREES SAY NOTHING: Writings on Nature from St. Francis Bookshop.



Book Briefs

Religious books that present faith stories on a child's level, without talking down to children, are rare. But these are on target.

• THE LOYOLA TREASURY OF SAINTS: From the Time of Jesus to the Present Day, by David Self (Loyola Press, 224 pp., $28.95). How can I dislike a book that puts St. Francis of Assisi on the cover? He is among the 100-plus saints and holy people presented. Self's selection is exquisite, ecumenical, worldwide and timely. The holy people included come from gospel times up to the present: Thérèse of Lisieux, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa of Calcutta and Oscar Romero.

• EVERY DAY BIBLE STORIES, CATHOLIC EDITION: A Bible Story for Every Day of the Year, illustrated by Anna C. Leplar (Our Sunday Visitor, 384 pp., $19.95). The daily entries here follow the order in which the stories appear in the Bible; thus, Jesus is born on July 20. The charming illustrations from an Icelandic artist have the most varied noses I've ever seen.

• BLESS THE BEASTS: Children's Prayers and Poems About Animals, collected by June Cotner, illustrated by Kris Waldherr (SeaStar Books/division of North-South Books, 64 pp., $12.95). Drawing on such well-known writers as Carl Sandburg, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, and new voices as well, this sweet book honors the various ways that dogs and cats, whales and butterflies enhance our lives.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6493, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 7.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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