THE MIGHTY AND THE ALMIGHTY: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, by Madeleine Albright.
HarperCollins. 339 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a librarian
and writer who lives in Boston.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT is a clear
writer, a thoughtful policy analyst and
an experienced diplomat. In The Mighty
and the Almighty, she brings this constellation
of skills to the task
of delineating the complex
topic of religion and foreign
policy: “...so many
practitioners of foreign policy—including me—have
sought to separate religion
from world politics, to liberate
logic from beliefs that
transcend logic....But religious
motivations do not
disappear simply because
they are not mentioned;
more often they lie dormant
only to rise up again at the least
Dr. Albright cites numerous lessons
from her experience as the U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations and her
tenure as the first female secretary of
state (1997 to 2001). “When I was in
government, I thought of myself neither
as strictly a realist nor as strictly an
idealist, but as a hybrid of the two. I saw
government as a practical enterprise
that had to operate in a messy and
dangerous world, although the realist
approach struck me as cold-blooded. I
did not understand how we could possibly
steer a steady course without
moral principles to guide us.”
This ideology informs her discussion
of some of the most critical issues facing
the United States, including terrorism
and the war in Iraq, perceptions
of Islam, human rights and genocide,
and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Her assessment of the Bush administration
is blunt: “I think the U.S. government
has thoroughly botched its
response to international terror, damaged
America’s reputation, and substituted
slogans for strategy in promoting
Religion, Dr. Albright suggests, “is
becoming entwined with U.S. foreign
policy in a new way.” Until fairly recently,
the “ideological right and left”
had been on “opposite poles on almost
every international issue,” but recent
years have seen a historic
bipartisanship on issues of
religious liberty, ways to
respond to genocide, and
efforts to reduce global
In a short but intriguing
section, Dr. Albright
discusses, but quickly dismisses,
pacifism and nonviolence.
She quotes from a
letter she received from
Duke theologian Stanley
Hauerwas after a 2004 address
at Yale Divinity School. “To
Hauerwas, pacifism is a fundamental
part of being Christian. He suggests
that Americans who fight or support
military action have no rightful claim
to be Christians at all. I understand his
logic, but do not accept it. No story is
more uplifting than Christ’s example in
dying while forgiving at the same time.
But the whole point of the doctrine of
‘just war’ is that military actions are
sometimes necessary for moral reasons.”
It is evident that Dr. Albright has
thought deeply about the just-war theory,
particularly in light of the Rwandan
genocide and the Kosovo war.
Some of the finest writing in this book
concerns the dilemma of a war waged
to “defend the vulnerable other.” She
quotes former president of the Czech
Republic Vaclav Havel, with something
akin to gratitude, who characterized
Kosovo as a war that “places human
rights above the rights of states” fought
“out of concern for the fate of others.
It is fighting because no decent person
can stand by and watch the systematic
government-directed murder of
Dr. Albright is particularly alert to
the danger of fundamentalism, which
she sees not only in radical Islam, but
also in President Bush’s rhetoric, which
“has come close to justifying the U.S.
policy in explicitly religious terms....”
Religious fundamentalism is a stance
Dr. Albright can identify and analyze,
but it is foreign to her own experience
and beliefs. She alludes to her family’s
religious history—she was raised as a
Catholic only to learn, during her tenure
as secretary of state, that her family
was Jewish and that three of her
four grandparents died in the Holocaust.
Now she refers to herself as a “a
hopeful Christian but also an inadequate
one, with doubts.”
This imbalance—strategic intelligence
that overshadows a pedestrian
understanding of religion—weakens a
book of good intentions. It is particularly
unfortunate that, aside from the
just war, she gives scant attention to the
contributions of Catholic thought. In
a world that is mired in fundamentalism,
Catholicism offers an ecclesiology,
as defined by St. Augustine in his
debate with Pelagius, that places charity
above purity. It is a model of Church
that can help to moderate the human
arrogance and fear that motivate fundamentalism.
You can order THE MIGHTY AND THE ALMIGHTY: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs from St.
THE TREASURE OF GUADALUPE, edited by Virgilio Elizondo, Allan
Figueroa Deck and Timothy Matovina.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
134 pp. $14.95.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a
teacher and writer at St. Xavier High
School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently edited (with Bill Madges) The Many
Marks of the Church (Twenty-Third Publications).
FOR A NUMBER of reasons, the figure
of Mary has not played a prominent
role in my spiritual journey. Whether
praying the Rosary, hearing someone
speak about her or reading of her in
some book, I always regarded Mary as
above and beyond the concerns of this
world. Recently, however, I have encountered
a Mary who speaks to lived
concerns in an increasingly diverse
church and world—Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In The Treasure of Guadalupe, 16 contributors
(including Pope John Paul II
and Virgilio Elizondo) explore the gift
that is Our Lady of Guadalupe. At first
glance, though, the word “gift” is somewhat
As the book explains, the Spanish
conquest of Mexico was complete by
1521. The native Aztec culture lay in
ruin. A subjugated people were now
introduced to a new religion—Christianity.
This was done through a foreign
people, in a strange language and,
sometimes, under the cruelest of conditions.
In 1531, however, Our Lady of
Guadalupe, dressed as an Aztec princess
and speaking the native tongue,
appeared to Juan Diego and asked this
simple peasant to build her a church.
As many of the contributors note,
Our Lady of Guadalupe did ask that a
temple be built on the site of their
encounter—Tepeyac, a former Aztec
religious shrine. In addition to a physical
building, many interpret this as a
charge to build a community, a place of
dignity, where all God’s creation is
respected. This, of course, remains to be
This brings up the inescapable link
between Our Lady of Guadalupe and
justice. As much as we’ve tried to
domesticate Mary, her message is
received and communicated by “the
threatened, the despised, the seemingly
insignificant ones.” Juan Diego is no
exception. Though he thought himself
“a nobody, I am a small rope, a
tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf...,” Our
Lady of Guadalupe called Juan Diego in
and through his vulnerability to bring
about the spiritual and material transformation
of the Americas.
Another theme of the book is that of
inculturation. In Our Lady of Guadalupe
we discover that God “visits” us in our own language,
dress, culture and,
indeed, in our very own person.
As we experience in the
person of Jesus—God made
flesh—“the story of Our Lady
of Guadalupe is one of care
and concern for the marginalized
and forgotten of this
world.” This is why her story
and image continue to connect
For a world that appears
to be embedded in a self-destructive
cycle, Our Lady of Guadalupe can be
the bridge that leads to “mutual hospitality”
rather than competition and
conflict. As she brought two worlds
gripped in death and destruction
together centuries ago, so too can she
serve as a mediator and healer today.
The Treasure of Guadalupe serves as a
nice introduction to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Like all treasures, the contributors
help us unlock the meaning in her and
her evangelizer Juan Diego.
Aided by black-and-white
artwork of Our Lady of
Guadalupe, the book is a
deeply spiritual read which
shows that Mary is not a
relic of the past, but a
resource for the present and
future. In a world, then as
now, which continues to
be plagued by greed and
genocide, Our Lady of
Guadalupe challenges us to
recognize our God-given
dignity and free ourselves from the
fears and prejudices that lurk in the
shadows of our hearts.
You can order THE TREASURE OF GUADALUPE from St.
CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC: A Novel, by Sarah Darer
Littman. Dutton Children’s Books (Penguin Young Readers Group). 193
pp. $15.99, hardcover; $5.99, paperback.
Reviewed by MARJORIE FLATHERS, who
has over 25 years experience writing for
children and adults. Her works have
appeared in numerous publications, including St. Anthony Messenger.
SARAH DARER LITTMAN’S first novel,
Confessions of a Closet Catholic, is the
story of a young New York-area Jewish
girl (“almost 12”) who believes that
being a Catholic will make her life
easier—and better. This,
however, is not a serious
story of a troubled preteen.
Littman keeps a light touch
throughout and humor plays
a part in almost all the scenes.
The main character, Justine,
is confused because of
differing religious practices
among the members of her
family. Her beloved grandmother,
Bubbe, is a strictly
kosher Jew who survived a
concentration camp. Her
other grandparents are also Jews, but
tend to think dietary rules and other
directives are “superstitious nonsense.”
Her parents’ practice of Judaism falls
somewhere in between.
Trying to make some sense out of
all this, she wants to find a religion
that will answer her many questions.
After considering the requirements
of Buddhism, Hinduism and a number
of Protestant denominations, Justine
decides that the beliefs of her best friend,
Mary Alice, and her close-knit Catholic
family are what she is looking for.
Her journey toward Catholicism includes
confessing her sins to her teddy
bear, “Father Ted,” and conducting
communion ceremonies with grape
juice and matzo, all in her bedroom
closet, hence the title.
Catholic readers will, no doubt,
notice a few errors about current Catholic
practices, mainly when Justine
attends Mass. The author has the congregation
sitting after the Sign of Peace
and, later, kneeling in a row to receive
Communion. But these and other (even
more minor) inaccuracies are only a
small part of the story.
Justine’s plan begins to
crumble when Bubbe has a
stroke and, ultimately, dies,
and this is where the book
comes into its own. She is
sure God is angry with her
for pretending to be a Catholic
and has punished Bubbe
instead. Young girls will relate
to her overwhelming
guilt and her confusion in
trying to figure out how
and if God fits into her life.
As Justine works her way toward
understanding her own spirituality,
there are a number of lighthearted yet
touching scenes. Especially poignant
is her effort to try to confess to a real
priest. This segment rings true as the
young priest tries to help her, while
doing his best not to show amusement
at what he knows is a very
serious moment for her.
Just as convincing is the
scene when Justine goes to a
synagogue and talks to an
understanding rabbi who
helps her make some sense
out of her struggle. He suggests
she offer a short prayer
before doing something as
simple as eating a piece of
chocolate and adds that God
gave us these mitzvahs, or
observances, “to bridge the
two facets of our soul, the material and
the spiritual.” He then advises her to
keep learning to “figure out what’s the
right way for you.”
Young readers will find it hard to put
the book down. The action and dialogue
keep the plot moving, and they
will want to discover how Justine handles
all her dilemmas. The last chapter
brings the book to a satisfying close.
This is a sensitive and believable portrait
of someone struggling with conflict,
and Littman’s subtext is that
people of different faiths need to focus
on what they have in common instead
of what separates them.
Confessions of a Closet Catholic has
the distinction of winning the 2006
Sydney Taylor Book Award from the
Association of Jewish Libraries and
being named by Catholic Online as
one of the “Ten Best Books Suitable for
Christmas Gift-giving.” It is, indeed,
an ideal gift for a young person, and
parents may enjoy this lively and
meaningful read, too.
You can order CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC: A Novel from St. Francis Bookshop.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF VATICAN II, by Giuseppe Alberigo. Foreword by
John W. O’Malley, S.J. Orbis Books.
141 pp. $20.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. His high school
years coincided with Vatican II.
“NO ONE IS better qualified to comment
on Vatican II than Giuseppe
Alberigo,” writes Father John W. O’Malley,
S.J., a Church historian, in this
book’s Foreword. Alberigo directs the
Institute for the Study of Religion in
Bologna, Italy, and coordinated
the recent five-volume
History of Vatican II (Orbis Books, 1995-2006),
the most complete account
of the Council.
A few months after Vatican
II was announced,
Alberigo published a book
on the Italian bishops at the
Council of Trent. He soon
worked closely with Giuseppe
Dossetti, a theologian
assisting Cardinal Giacomo
Lercaro of Bologna, who was eventually
one of the Council’s four moderators.
Alberigo had studied under Hubert
Jedin, an eminent Church historian,
and in the 1960s attended several sessions
of Europe’s Catholic Conference for Ecumenical Questions.
In separate chapters, Alberigo describes
the Council’s preparation, each
of its four sessions and its overall
achievement. He describes this volume’s
audience as “people who were
not yet born when Vatican II was
taking place, but who look upon a
Catholicism and, indeed, a Christian
movement as a whole, that has been
deeply changed by the Second Vatican
According to Alberigo, Pope John
XXIII “wanted a council that would
mark the end of an era; a council, that
is, that would usher the Church out of
the post-Tridentine era, and to a certain
extent out of the centuries-old Constantinian
phase, and into a new phase
of witness and proclamation.”
The Pastoral Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World, approved
on December 7, 1965, was the only
document composed entirely during
the Council. Alberigo writes that every
post-Vatican II controversy in the
Church has been related to issues that
this document did or did not address.
The present volume includes four
pages of notes, three pages of key dates
and an Index of people connected to
Where you stand inevitably influences
what you see. Although Alberigo
praises the more global sense of Church
and increased sense of episcopal collegiality
that emerged from Vatican II, in
places this text sounds as though bishops
from the Americas, Africa and Asia
mostly sat on the sidelines and listened
as European bishops debated the major
issues of the day. Of the 115 names in
this volume’s Index, by my count only
11 people were born outside Europe.
Readers seeking an engaging overview
of Vatican II will find it here.
You can order A BRIEF HISTORY OF VATICAN II from St. Francis Bookshop.