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MILESTONES: Memoirs 1927-1977
LET GOD'S LIGHT SHINE FORTH: The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI
WHERE IS GOD? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope
POCKET COMPANION TO NARNIA: A Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis
CATHOLIC Q & A: Answers to the Most Common Questions About Catholicism

THE RISE OF BENEDICT XVI, by John L. Allen, Jr. Doubleday. 249 pp. $19.95.
WE HAVE A POPE! BENEDICT XVI, by Matthew E. Bunson. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 238 pp. $14.95.
HOLY FATHER, POPE BENEDICT XVI, Greg Tobin. Sterling Publishing Co. 170 pp. $14.95.
MILESTONES: Memoirs 1927-1977, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Ignatius Press. 156 pp. $12.95.
LET GOD'S LIGHT SHINE FORTH: The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, Edited by Robert Moynihan. Doubleday. 215 pp. $17.95.
PILGRIM FELLOWSHIP OF FAITH, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Ignatius Press. 381 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, author, columnist and editor emeritus of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

PUBLISHERS HAVE RELEASED, or reissued, a superabundance of books by and about Pope Benedict XVI. These six books are only a few of them.

John Allen is recognized as the finest Rome correspondent today. His The Rise of Benedict XVI is the best of the books about how and why Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI and how he will lead the Church.

Allen was guided primarily by conversations with eight cardinals representing five nationalities from three continents, none of whom, however, violated his oath of secrecy about what happened during the conclave.

He begins with the last days of Pope John Paul II and his funeral. He says that the cardinals were stunned by the gigantic crowds that lined up for hours to see the body. They became convinced that they had to elect the most qualified and best-prepared man to continue John Paul’s work.

As dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger presided at the funeral and gave the homily, chaired the cardinals’ meetings during the week before the conclave, and gave another homily at the Mass just prior to the conclave. Although Allen is convinced that Ratzinger thought of that final homily as his valedictory, it turned out to be a campaign speech.

Allen says that, during their meetings, the cardinals were impressed with the way Ratzinger listened. He made sure that every cardinal spoke, calling each of them by name and in that cardinal’s language. They knew from past experiences that Ratzinger is a good listener.

No other cardinal had the support that Ratzinger had during the conclave, Allen says. That support grew with each ballot until he was elected on the fourth ballot, probably with about 100 of the 115 votes.

As good as Allen’s book is about what happened before and during the conclave, perhaps his best chapter is “Battling a ‘Dictatorship of Relativism.’” It tells how Benedict might approach what he describes as “the gravest problem of our time.”

In the chapter “Changing the Culture of the Church,” Allen says that Benedict will probably be a better administrator than John Paul was. He will probably reform the Curia, appointing fewer bureaucrats and more experts, and perhaps eliminating some departments. He will also pay more attention to the appointment of bishops, getting “the best and the brightest” theologians instead of Church bureaucrats.

In We Have a Pope!, Matthew Bunson chronicles the death of John Paul II, describes events between the reigns of the two popes, then details the issues the cardinals discussed before the conclave, reports on the election of Benedict XVI, gives a biography of the new pope and speculates on what may happen next.

The chapter on the issues facing the new pope is particularly good, discussing in detail seven key concerns: the decline of faith, particularly in Europe; challenges facing the Church in the Third World; interreligious dialogue and ecumenism; Church governance and controversial topics; liturgical renewal; the ecclesial movements; and the challenge of youth.

Bunson’s book includes a 16-page color photo insert, one appendix with a list of the popes and another listing the books by Pope Benedict available in English.

In Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, Greg Tobin begins with a superficial history of the papacy, followed by a short summary of the conclave and then the new pope’s biography.

In his final chapter, his best, he predicts what Pope Benedict will do regarding some of the issues in the Church and society: morality, secularization, ecumenism, war and terrorism, relations with the Church in the United States, priestly celibacy, the role of women and collegiality.

Tobin is not as thorough as Allen or Bunson, but does include an appendix with the chronology of the popes.

All of these books about Pope Benedict include his biography, but none is as good as Milestones, the pope’s own memoirs from his birth in 1927 to his appointment as archbishop of Munich-Freising in 1977.

The future pope details his childhood in Bavaria, his schooling, his forced military service, his desertion from the military and his imprisonment by the American forces. He tells about his seminary days, his ordination, his year spent as a parish priest, his years as a theologian in various German universities, his contributions to the Second Vatican Council and his post-Council disagreements with other theologians.

His story after being named an archbishop is picked up in the books by Allen, Bunson and Tobin.

Let God’s Light Shine Forth contains some of Pope Benedict’s spiritual writings. It was edited by Robert Moynihan, founder and editor of Inside the Vatican, who interviewed Ratzinger more than 20 times. Moynihan wrote a 75-page introduction and then introductory pieces before each chapter.

The spiritual writings are all short, usually only one or two paragraphs. Moynihan then ends with the pope’s first words, first message and first homily as pope. The writings cover such diverse topics as God, Jesus, the sacraments, social justice, modernity, ecumenism, prayer and death. They are excerpted from some of Cardinal Ratzinger’s 50-plus books, homilies, interviews and radio talks.

Moynihan’s introduction includes a brief biography and some of Ratzinger’s controversies while prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, such as his disagreements with Latin American liberation theologians, his disciplining of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle and his failure to heal the Lefebvrist schism.

Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith is a compilation of some of Ratzinger’s works by the Association of the Former Students of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. (Imagine having your own association!) The listing of Ratzinger’s works requires 80 pages.

Originally published in 2002, this is perhaps the best book for those interested in Pope Benedict’s theological writings culled from his books, lectures, interviews and letters.



NOEL, by Tony Johnston. Art by Cheng-Khee Chee. Lerner Publishing Group. 28 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this publication, and her seven-year-old daughter, Madison.

WE LIVE in a small town where the local church bells play various songs to mark the passing of each hour. So this story about how people react to the local church bells ringing struck a chord with my daughter and me.

The book’s lyrical poem tells the tale of a bell ringing “in an icicle-pointed steeple” and the many ways that the townspeople react. The images created by the poem are breathtaking. The accompanying watercolor illustrations on every page make them even more so. Maddie said she could picture the snow falling after reading passages such as the following: “The brass song blasts the frozen sky, shakes the gathered snowflakes down, perfect wheels of frozen lace. In a hymn of silence every place they fall.”

The book’s illustrations are provided by Cheng-Khee Chee, whose work has been widely exhibited. I was worried that Maddie wouldn’t like the pictures since they were more abstract than most children’s books, but she thought they were beautiful because they left just enough up to her imagination to fill in what wasn’t clear in the picture.

Overall, both of us agreed that the catchy poem and beautiful illustrations made this book one worth checking out.

You can order NOEL from St. Francis Bookshop.


WHERE IS GOD? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope, by Jon Sobrino. Orbis Books. 156 pp. $22.

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

BORN WHITE, Catholic, American and a man, I’ve been able to insulate myself from much of the suffering and injustice that takes place in the world. Yet it’s this very reality that Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian from El Salvador, wants the reader to encounter and identify with in his book, Where Is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope.

Originally, the context for his reflections came from a series of major earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001. This was soon expanded after the World Trade Center bombings on September 11, 2001, the subsequent U.S. response in Afghanistan and, later still, the war in Iraq.

The goal of the book, Sobrino writes, “is to slowing down the dehumanization that is overtaking our world, and encourage a humanizing hope and praxis.” The primary question for the book is not “Who is God?” but rather “Who are we human beings?”

Sobrino begins with the unsettling claim that America is an empire which exerts its will politically, culturally, economically and militarily throughout the world, causing much suffering.

Furthermore, it does this by fundamentally imposing “the primacy of the individual and of success as superior ways of being human, and the selfish and irresponsible enjoyment of life as an indisputable value.” This Pax Americana, Sobrino reminds us, should in no way be confused with Pax Christi, however.

Remembering the year 2001, most Americans will focus on 9/11. Sobrino calls our attention to the human suffering that went on in the Congo, Mozambique and Central America. He asks us to go beyond 9/11 and other American conflicts and see “the barbarity of terrorism and human suffering in the context of the greater barbarity and suffering that permeate our world.”

Sobrino argues that in the face of suffering the greatest danger is turning away from it. Whether it’s an earthquake, terrorist attack or war, one of the first temptations in the face of tragedy is to ignore it.

The better response is to allow ourselves to open up, to be affected by it. Tragically, those who most bear the burdens of natural disasters, terror and war are the poor. Sobrino describes them as a “crucified people.” In them, though, one notices a “primordial saintliness.” In the midst of great pain and privation, one witnesses acts of defending and struggling for life. Even in very trying times, goodness emerges.

In the end, suffering for Sobrino is not about where God is, but how God is present. “The answer of Christian faith,” Sobrino says. “is that, in tragedies, God is on the cross, giving hope....The countless victims in this world understand that very well. Against appearances, they see that life—their life—is possible. Neither earthquakes nor barbarity can take away their love of life and their hope that life is possible.”

With its unsettling demand that we need to enlarge our world, Where Is God? is a valuable and necessary book (not for beginners, though). It makes clear that, in the face of suffering and poverty, the poor have priority. Its call to solidarity with the poor places the possibility for personal and institutional conversion before us.

You can order WHERE IS GOD? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE C.S. LEWIS CHRONICLES, by Colin Duriez. BlueBridge Publications. 298 pp. $14.95.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA AND PHILOSOPHY, edited by Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls. Open Court Publishing Company. 291 pp. $17.95.

C.S. LEWIS & NARNIA FOR DUMMIES , by Richard Wagner. Wiley Publishing, Inc. 364 pp. $19.99.

POCKET COMPANION TO NARNIA: A Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis, by Paul F. Ford. HarperSan-Francisco. 368 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON, an assistant editor of this publication. He first opened the wardrobe to Narnia when he was nine years old.

ALTHOUGH THEY WERE close friends and literary peers, a sort of professional chasm developed between the Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien and the Anglican C.S. Lewis. Perhaps it was because Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, went from being a work of fiction to a work of art. In scale, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia couldn’t quite match it.

But that doesn’t mean Lewis’s works haven’t been studied and beloved for the last 55 years.

With the hoopla surrounding The Lord of the Rings all but quieted since the release of the third and final film and with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe hitting theaters this month, it’s Lewis’s turn to take center stage (see C.S. Lewis and Narnia: Faith Beyond the Wardrobe). Four very different books on the subject of Narnia and its creator shine a light on his life, beliefs and literary inventions.

The C.S. Lewis Chronicles, by Colin Duriez, is more than a biography. It’s a meticulously researched examination—not only of the author’s life but also of the times that shaped and motivated him.

Duriez presents an exhaustive report on Lewis’s birth in Ireland, his family, his associates and his evolution as a writer and modern thinker. He probes the great author’s life, listing events both significant and innocuous. In the end, it’s as if we are peeking into Lewis’s day-calendar: a richly detailed expedition through his multilayered life. Some savored bits are Narnia’s geographical similarities to Ireland, a list of Lewis’s radio broadcasts and a section devoted to his wit and wisdom. The C.S. Lewis Chronicles belongs in the back pocket of any enthusiast.

If The C.S. Lewis Chronicles is a feast for the left-brained reader, then The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy should thrill those who crave something less concrete. The book is edited by Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls, and written by a host of different philosophers. They address themes, virtues, characters and events in Narnia and find correlations to our own world.

For example, in Wardrobe, the Lucy character must convince her three siblings—Peter, Susan and Edmund—of Narnia’s existence after she discovers it through a wardrobe. None of them believes her. Surely a world with chatty animals, an evil witch and a Christlike lion named Aslan is a product of Lucy’s overreaching imagination.

The author for this particular section, Thomas D. Senor, examines Lucy’s predicament from several angles, tackling themes of trust and great leaps of faith. Should Peter, Susan and Edmund believe her? What are the consequences? How would we react to such a whimsical tale?

Lewis’s magical world and the joys and ordeals that his characters endure can be applied to our own struggles in these modern times. Heroism, altruism, work, vocation, goodness and “immoralism” are deconstructed with enviable flair.

C.S. Lewis & Narnia for Dummies—crass title aside—is a charming reference manual for those who might not know the landscape of Lewis’s world—the real one or the imaginary one.

Author Richard Wagner doesn’t pander to unacquainted readers, instead guiding them through the Christian symbolism and religious undercurrents of Lewis’s stories. There are obvious comparisons that Wagner illustrates: Aslan is the Christ figure; Edmund is Judas. But Wagner finds other noteworthy comparisons.

“The self-absorbed Eustace at the start of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader probably reminds you a bit of yourself. Alternatively, the simple, steadfast faith of Trufflehunter in Prince Caspian is a reminder of the kind of child-like faith that Jesus Christ calls his followers to do in Matthew 19:14.”

And, finally, Paul L. Ford’s Pocket Companion to Narnia: A Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis is a remarkable reference book that deconstructs and defines characters, their actions, the places they go and their inner struggles. Ford’s handy little manual, remarkably thorough with charming illustrations throughout, deserves a place alongside Lewis’s Chronicles.

Faith and magic are alive in what C.S. Lewis left behind. These four books—weighty as they sometimes are—prove that his literary contributions to the heart, mind and soul have long outlived him.


CATHOLIC Q & A: Answers to the Most Common Questions About Catholicism, by John J. Dietzen. Crossroad Publishing Company. 532 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. Since January 2000, he has written its “Ask a Franciscan” column.

MORE THAN 30 years ago, Father John Dietzen, ordained in 1954 for the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, began a column in his diocesan newspaper, responding to questions from readers. The column was syndicated by Catholic News Service in 1975.

Since July 1981 these Q&A’s have been grouped thematically, revised and published as books. The present volume is the 15th edition. In 1992, the Catholic Press Association gave The New Question Box: Catholic Life for the Nineties its first-place award in the category “popular presentation of the Catholic faith.”

Father Dietzen has served as diocesan official, editor, teacher, lecturer, retreat master, participant in ecumenical dialogues and pastor. He retired in 1998, but continues to write his always thought-provoking column.

In separate chapters Father Dietzen answers questions about the Bible (34 entries), Church (32), the Mass (31), Holy Communion (23), Baptism and Confirmation (18), Marriage and Family Living (34), Divorce, Annulment, Remarriage (16), Right and Wrong (32), Penance and Anointing of the Sick (25), Ecumenism (25), Prayer and Devotions (22), Saints (21), Death and Burial (17) and Etcetera (41).

The Table of Contents notes the entries in each chapter, and the 10-page Index provides another means to locate particular topics.

Though his correspondents tend to ask different questions now (less on marriage and more on Scripture), Father Dietzen writes: “Teachings tend to be lifeless and ineffective until one can understand and relate to them personally, and envision how these realities will positively affect friendship with Jesus Christ, which so many Catholics and other Christians increasingly desire. They know that no friendship, with God or anyone else, grows without patience, sincere pursuit of greater understanding and knowledge, prayer, genuine care for the other, and continual reflection.”

The purpose of his column and this book, he says, “is to assist and support readers in this pursuit, and to recognize how Catholic life, in all its living expressions of worship, faith and service, can enhance that kind of intimacy with God.”

Several years ago I sat next to Father Dietzen at lunch during a Catholic Press Association convention. I found him to be knowledgeable, gracious and very inquisitive. Readers of this volume should have a similar experience.


Book Briefs

To prepare for Christmas, we have much to do to ready ourselves, our children and our grandchildren for Jesus’ coming.

WAITING IN JOYFUL HOPE: Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas, 2005-2006, by Katherine L. Howard, O.S.B. (Liturgical Press, 107 pp., $2), helps readers reflect on biblical readings from Advent to the Baptism of the Lord.

GETTING READY FOR CHRISTMAS: A Daily Advent Prayer & Activity Book for the Family, written by Yolanda Browne and illustrated by Patrick Girouard (Concordia Publishing House, 32 pp., $6.99, U.S./$8.99, Canada), is a lovely resource for families with children ages four to eight. Included is an Advent calendar.

THE SHEPHERD’S CHRISTMAS STORY, by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Dominic Catalano (Concordia Publishing House, 32 pp., $12.99, U.S./$16.99, Canada), presents the Christmas story from the perspective of a humble shepherd, astounded that God would announce his coming to him. The art is “soft mixed media.”

OPEN HEARTS IN BETHLEHEM: A Christmas Musical Drama, by Kenneth E. Bailey (Westminster John Knox Press, 40 pp., $34.95). This package contains an audio CD and 13 copies of the booklet, which has the script for 13 speaking parts, music for five folk songs and one hymn, and exegetical notes from a Presbyterian Scripture scholar.

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 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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