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Hopeful and Courageous Agenda for Peace


JEAN VANIER: Essential Writings
AND GOD SAID, Tee It Up!: Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Golf
ROME AND CANTERBURY: The Elusive Search for Unity
THE POPES OF AVIGNON: A Century in Exile
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Living Catholic Faith
Peace in the Holy Land

WE CAN HAVE PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND: A Plan That Will Work, by Jimmy Carter. Simon and Schuster. 182 pp. $27.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, a Catholic priest for 33 years, now on special assignment for the Archdiocese of Detroit. A board-certified professional counselor and founder of, he holds a doctor of ministry degree from St. Mary’s Seminary and University, in Baltimore, Maryland, and is a longtime columnist for The Detroit News.

FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER lays out here a path toward ending bloodshed and resolving conflict in the age-old Israeli-Palestinian situation.

In 13 chapters, five appendices and an index, Carter directs a hopeful and courageous agenda for peace at his current successor, President Barack Obama.

Carter’s own religious roots and the reconciling efforts that went into the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt three decades ago buttress his positive tone in We Can Have Peace.

His story line of current and past conflict in the region, earlier peace attempts and various world leaders’ roles for peace in the troubled land passionately and enthusiastically paints a portrait of peace.

The concluding chapter calls for a return to pre-1967 borders in a shared Jerusalem and for Arab refugees to have the right to go back to occupied territories, which would mean an end to settlement expansion.

From the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and from Lebanon to the Sinai, hopes for one state emerge, although Israeli leaders fear that such a plan could lead to the end of Israel. And Palestinians are caught between Fatah and the fundamentalist Hamas ideologues—without an agreed-upon leadership with which to negotiate.

Holy Land is the neutral name that the religiously rooted Carter draws from his Christian tradition to describe the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. I noted with chagrin, however, that Carter makes no proposal for the holy place claimed by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

Despite so many shortcomings in past policies, the author implies that President Obama’s thrust into peace pleas would require him to separate support for Israel from support for Israel’s policies. That is what Carter did to achieve peace between Israel and Egypt.

As global hope swells with Obama’s vision, like Carter’s courageous and studied initiative, the current U.S. administration has an opportunity and a responsibility to bring the warring factions to the table once more.

With his religious sensitivity and awareness of this embattled Holy Land, Carter suggests that American religious leaders can best help the situation by promoting reconciliation among the Jewish, Christian and Muslim children of Abraham. This would transcend political solutions that are still limping along for resolution in this decades-old war.

The spilled blood in the Holy Land still cries out to God—an anguished plea for peace, as Carter wrote in an earlier work. Carter’s much-needed plan is dedicated “to people of faith who still trust that God, with our help, will bring peace to the Holy Land.”

Pilgrims and ambassadors for peace can sit together at tables in the Holy Land with countless interfaith clergy, and leaders of warring factions can converse to heal the divide that the United Nations has failed to mend.

You can order WE CAN HAVE PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND: A Plan That Will Work from St. Francis Bookstore.


JEAN VANIER: Essential Writings, edited by Carolyn Whitney-Brown. 176 pp. Orbis Books, U.S., $16/ Novalis, Canada, $21.95.

Reviewed by BRIAN WELTER, who teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) to adults in Vancouver, British Columbia, and writes for a variety of Catholic publications. He recently received a D.Th. from the University of South Africa with a study on Pope John Paul II.

JEAN VANIER is the Canadian founder of L’Arche, an international grassroots organization that invites people with physical and mental disabilities to live with “assistants” in a family atmosphere. He has spent decades thinking out loud about the spiritual and philosophical journey of this organization and what it means.

This book contains many gems of wisdom that we’ve come to expect from Vanier. When speaking at the funeral of Henri Nouwen, he said: “Sometimes I sensed in Henri the wounded heart of Christ, the anguish of Christ. For God is not a secure God up there telling everybody what to do, but a God in anguish, yearning for love, a God who is not understood, a God on whom people have put labels. Our God is a lover, a wounded lover. This is the mystery of Christ.”

Rather than argumentative theology that tries to convince the reader of something, Vanier’s thinking draws a person in slowly. It challenges our common thinking about people, inviting us to look with eyes of love, as when discussing atheists:

“I can really understand people who proclaim that they do not believe in God because what they are saying is that they do not believe in false gods. They do not believe in a romantic God that just blesses human beings by making them rich. They do not believe in a God who is going to punish them. Some atheists, who refuse to believe in these false gods, have a deep sense of the human heart and a deep sense of human reality.”

Like many good Catholic spiritual thinkers, Vanier in these writings identifies the basic problems with contemporary society as being the mindless pursuit of status, wealth and other material endeavors, at the expense of meaning, deep relationship and community life.

Because his words come from the prophetic life that he has lived, he can offer the world a true alternative to the left-wing/right-wing tug-of-war in which our politicians like to engage. He long ago came to the realization that such politics only lead to more confusion and materialism.

Jean Vanier: Essential Writings begins with a hearty introduction, part biography, part reflection on his teachings, coming to interesting conclusions such as Vanier’s call to “humanize” disability rather than “spiritualize” it. Such organized study and reflection by others on the teachings of Vanier is important so that readers can get some sense of his often-scattered ideas.

Vanier tends to be somewhat disorganized in his thinking, rather than outlining things systematically. Perhaps this reflects his belief that L’Arche itself is not an institution but a journey. His reflections are likewise, and readers can therefore get bogged down in some of his sentiments. After a while, Vanier’s various books, like those of Henri Nouwen, all tend to sound the same.

Yet what Vanier has to say is very important. He should be read slowly and meditatively rather than rapidly, like a history book or a novel. A scattered collection of his writings is the ideal showcase for Vanier as a writer.

You can order JEAN VANIER: Essential Writings from St. Francis Bookstore.


AND GOD SAID, Tee It Up!: Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Golf, by Gary Graf. ACTA Publications. 176 pp. 14.95.

Reviewed by the REV. PAUL DESCH, O.F.M., a preacher and golfer who still enjoys doing both. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

WE HAVE ALL HEARD jokes about God and golf. This book brings God and golf together in a way that is often humorous, but always thought-provoking. As our author explains in his preface, he is writing for those who love the game of golf and, at the same time, are looking for a deeper understanding of their Christian faith.

These two can come together in surprising ways as we walk down the fairway trying to maneuver that little, white, dimpled ball into a cup with a four-inch diameter.

The book’s format is obvious enough—18 chapters, one for each hole on a golf course. As each chapter opens, we are whisked away to some of the most famous golf courses in the world. There we select one hole (corresponding to the number of the chapter), which has challenged the skills of golf pros for decades.

This is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book for a golf lover. Graf paints a tantalizing picture of all the thrills and threats that await us as we play our way from tee to green on storied golf venues from St. Andrews to Pebble Beach.

After finishing each hole, we pause and begin the search for some deeper religious meaning behind it all. At this point, things can become a bit tenuous. For example, the three essential elements in any day on the links—golfer, ball and course—suggest the mysterious unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Trinity. And the four major golf tournaments of the year lead us to reflect on the role of the four evangelists in the Gospels. And as we finesse our way through the sand traps of life, what more “ultimate caddy” can we find than the Holy Spirit?

Once Graf has successfully pitched out of these somewhat tricky transitions, however, he is on much more solid ground. As he admits, he is not a biblical scholar or speculative theologian. But I was impressed with the genuine maturity and lively insights with which he presents our Catholic faith.

Other features in this book will delight the heart of any avid golfer, for example, plenty of golf lore from Walter Hagen’s double eagle to win the U.S. Open to Tiger Woods’s “miracle” putt to capture the Masters.

So it is easy to recommend And God Said, Tee It Up! to any golfer also interested in religion. But for those who view golf through the eyes of Mark Twain as “a good walk spoiled,” look elsewhere for your spiritual inspiration.

Gary Graf is the author of two previous ventures into the field of sports and theology—one on football and the other on baseball. Perhaps we should keep our eyes open for another volume: And God Said, ‘Tennis, Anyone?’

You can order AND GOD SAID, Tee It Up!: Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Golf from St. Francis Bookstore.


ROME AND CANTERBURY: The Elusive Search for Unity, by Mary Reath. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 158 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by TYLER BLUE, who graduated in 2008 from the University of Dayton with journalism and religious studies degrees and is now a graduate student in journalism at Northwestern University. Last summer and fall, he was an intern in the St. Anthony Messenger Press book department.

“I ASK NOT ONLY on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21, NRSV).

The current climate in Christianity should disturb all believers from every denomination in light of Christ’s plea for unity among his followers. But it seems we are content with the way things are, taking the current state of divisions, disagreements and disunity for granted, as the way things always were and always will be.

In reality, each separation is the equivalent of a gaping, open wound on the Body of Christ. For the most part, these wounds not only aren’t addressed, they often aren’t even recognized by members of the body as wounds.

Mary Reath documents the little-known efforts of a small group of individuals working to diagnose and reconcile the murky doctrinal disagreements— not to mention unfortunate historical misperceptions and vile animosity—between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican/Episcopalian Church.

This work, Reath asserts, is vital to the worldwide mission of the Church: “The Church’s redeeming message of love and hope for all is compromised, when it itself is divided.”

And so Reath begins with a brief overview of the turbulent 16th century that led to the great splits in Christendom: first the Protestant Reformation and, a little later, in England when Henry VIII, formerly a staunch defender of Catholicism against the reformers, issued the 1534 Act of Supremacy that made him, and not the pope, head of the Church in England.

The rest of the book focuses on Anglican and Catholic efforts since then to come to terms with exactly what caused this split—in the hopes of a future reunion. Before Vatican II, these efforts were never official and were extremely sparse. But that ecumenical council opened the doors to more fervent ecumenism, culminating in the foundation of the Anglican/ Roman Catholic International Commission in 1970.

This commission has published nine documents on such matters as the Eucharist, salvation, Mary and Church authority. This last issue, the biggest obstacle to reconciliation, receives most of Reath’s attention. Anglicans believe that the Catholic view that infallibility lies in the personhood of the pope (as opposed to the body of bishops only) is tough to find in both the Bible and the early Church.

A practicing Anglican who grew up Catholic, Reath gives a fairly balanced look at both Churches, though Catholics may take issue with her explanation of indulgences (at one point she claims they forgive sins) and her assertion that the doctrine of infallibility started surfacing only in the 13th and 14th centuries.

But the biggest question raised by this book is, “What’s the point?” While there is no doubt that relations among these two bulwark institutions have dramatically improved, do joint statements that more or less say, “We basically believe the same thing, but we have different ways of expressing it,” really affect how individuals of these faiths practice and live their lives? Are we really any closer to a full reunion?

As Reath herself admits, “Reunion could never come solely or even primarily from above; a paper reunion would be meaningless. In the end, without the laity involved, this will never happen.” After reading this book, I can only conclude that we are much closer to a “paper reunion” than a genuine one.

You can order ROME AND CANTERBURY: The Elusive Search for Unity from St. Francis Bookstore.


THE POPES OF AVIGNON: A Century in Exile, by Edwin Mullins. BlueBridge. 256 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by MARK LOMBARD, managing editor of and director of the Catholic Press Leadership Institute. He is a student of history’s great news stories.

IN THE 14TH CENTURY, a quiet, relatively small, insignificant town in southern France grew to become one of the great capitals of the world, the center of Western Christianity and the forerunner of greater papal authority.

In an intricately woven historical tapestry, writer and journalist Edwin Mullins brings together the drama, intrigue and turmoil connected to the reign of seven popes and two antipopes in Avignon. This town grew into one of the wealthiest cities in Europe and a place of greed, nepotism, corruption, abuse of power and unholy alliances.

Although it hasn’t been home to any pope or anti-pope for more than 600 years, Avignon has a labyrinthine fortress and Gothic-spired skyline that still draw 750,000 visitors each year.

Mullins successfully connects the events surrounding the popes to the broader story of Europe’s turbulent history, including the brutal suppression of the Knights Templar and heretical Cathars, the onslaught of the plague, the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War and a Holy Land under the firm control of Islam.

The author of the fascinating Cluny: In Search of God’s Lost Empire (also published by BlueBridge) convincingly argues that the Avignon popes and the events surrounding them became the catalyst for transitioning from medieval to early modern Europe.

It is the story that began in the late 13th century with the mysterious death of one ex-pope (St. Celestine V), the kidnapping of another (Boniface VIII) and the crossing of swords between the papacy and the most autocratic monarch of the time (King Philip IV of France). It seemed necessary to move the capital of Western Christianity to avoid the anarchy that beset Italy. The years in Avignon represent the only time in history the Church has moved its headquarters.

Mullins describes a papacy that became increasingly secularized and “helped create an alliance of wealth and patronage which set the pattern for the glittering papal courts of Rome more than a century later.” Yet his study remains balanced, not degenerating into an attack on the papacy or the Church as a whole.

As both a cause and an effect, the move to southern France placed the papacy under the strong influence of the French kings. And yet it would be a mistake to see the pontiffs as puppets.

Mullins also emphasizes that the popes in exile were not all cut from the same papal cloth, as the College of Cardinals “followed a well-established tradition in Avignon, which was to elect a new pope who was as unlike his predecessor as possible.”

Even the return of the popes to the Eternal City was marked by drama and intrigue. It was the shrewd political acumen of the fifth Avignon pope (Innocent VI) that included bargaining with marauding mercenaries, appointing a soldier-cardinal to subdue feudal warlords in the Italian papal territories and cracking down on the papal budget. These actions paved the way for the papacy to come back to Rome.

For Catholics interested in the Church’s history, The Popes of Avignon illuminates the warp and weave of the papacy in exile and through it a glimpse of a continent moving from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

You can order THE POPES OF AVIGNON: A Century in Exile from St. Francis Bookstore.


CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Living Catholic Faith, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & LeAnn Thieman. Liguori Publications/Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing. 383 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by MITCH FINLEY, author of more than 30 books for Catholic readers, most recently The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between (The Word Among Us Press).

LAUNCHED IN 1993, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series constitutes one of the most successful publishing ventures ever with volumes on many themes. Now the editors have gotten around to a collection of stories aimed at Catholics, which was bound to happen sooner or later.

Packed into the first 356 pages are “101 Stories to Offer Hope, Deepen Faith, and Spread Love,” according to the cover blurb. Each two-and-a-half-page true story is by a different author.

Unless you’re related to, or a friend of, one of the writers who contributed to this book, you’re not likely to recognize their names. I’m in the Catholic writing biz myself, and I found only one name I knew. Don’t let the lack of big names disappoint you, however, because the stories don’t come from the lives of celebrities, not even Catholic celebrities. These are true-life accounts of faith lessons learned, stories about where the rubber meets the road, faith-wise.

These stories were chosen as the best from, I would guess, probably four times as many stories submitted for consideration. Chicken Soup stories are like potato chips; they’re habit-forming.

Titles of stories in this Catholic Chicken Soup book include these: “The Twinkie,” “The Holiday Lottery From Heaven,” “I Spent the Night at a Homeless Shelter,” “Lassoed by the Rosary,” “Sacraments Make Me Hungry,” “Confession Anxiety,” “Are You Catholic?”

Stories nourish faith in ways that theology can’t, and the stories in this Chicken Soup book do it better than most.

You can order CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Living Catholic Faith from St. Francis Bookstore.


Peace in the Holy Land

As the Israel-Palestine question inches higher on President Barack Obama’s agenda, let’s listen to some religious voices on the subject.

FAITHFUL WITNESS: On Reconciliation and Peace in the Holy Land, by Patriarch Michel Sabbah, edited and with an introduction by Drew Christiansen, S.J., and Saliba Sarsar, Ph.D., foreword by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Ph.D., D.D. (New City Press, 212 pp., $24.95). Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem from 1997 to 2008, argues: “This conflict is 100 years old now. Israel has won so many military battles, and so far it has been the sole victor, but with neither peace nor security....Only peace, built on justice and the respect of human rights, could bring security.”

THE LONG JOURNEY: In Search of Justice and Peace in Jerusalem, by James G. Paharik, foreword by R. Scott Appleby (Liturgical Press, 131 pp., $14.95), comes from a sociologist at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and an oblate of Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem. In nine essays, Paharik explores some of the physical spaces and layers of history that reveal the richness and complexity of the city.

A PALESTINIAN CHRISTIAN CRY FOR RECONCILIATION, by Naim Stifan Ateek, with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Orbis Books, 224 pp., $24), comes from a Palestinian Anglican priest and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical center in Jerusalem. For Ateek, the roots of our faiths contain the power to transform the situation.—B.B.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.


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