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OPUS DEI: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church
PRAYER IS A PLACE: America's Religious Landscape Observed
ADAM'S RETURN: The Five Promises of Male Initiation

CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS IN NAZI GERMANY, by Robert A. Krieg. Continuum. 234 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by BRENNAN HILL, Ph.D., professor of theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of Eight Spiritual Heroes: Their Search for God, published by St. Anthony Messenger Press.

A COMMON IMPRESSION is that German Catholics, especially bishops and theologians, did little to resist Hitler and the Nazi movement before and during World War II. This well-researched and highly interesting book demonstrates otherwise.

As a matter of fact, the Catholic hierarchy opposed the Nazi Party in its early days, and once the party came into power, nearly 25 percent of the German hierarchy were openly critical of Hitler and his government. The bishops from at least seven dioceses bravely spoke out against the abuses of National Socialism and some of them paid a heavy price for their opposition.

Bishop Sproll’s life was threatened and he was banished from his diocese of Rottenburg. Bishop Clemens August von Galen (beatified in October 2005) had to witness 29 of his Münster priests and his own brother imprisoned, and then he himself was marked for execution. Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich had his office trashed and his life threatened by storm troopers.

The author has also carefully researched theologians who opposed Hitler. Individuals such as Engelbert Krebs, Hans Reinhold, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Joseph Schmidin, Max Metzer, Jesuits Rupert Mayer and Alfred Delp, as well as the majority of Catholic theologians at the universities of Bonn and Münster, openly opposed Hitler and his brutality.

They too felt vicious retaliation from the Nazis. Storm troopers would commonly disrupt their classrooms and attack their homes. Romano Guardini and Krebs were dismissed from their positions; Schmidin was murdered in a concentration camp; Metzer and Delp were executed.

There were, of course, some Catholic theologians who supported Hitler and these too are discussed in detail. Others, like Karl Rahner, S.J., when their departments were shut down, withdrew and continued their research quietly out of the line of fire. About this, Rahner comments with regret: “At that time, we priests already had enough to do in order to protect our own skins. But we should have done much more to protect also the skins of other people, of non-Christians, than we in fact did.”

While there were individual heroic bishops, the hierarchy as a body does not merit applause. Although they opposed the Nazi Party early on, once Hitler gained power, the bishops’ conference failed to protest the horrendous abuse of human rights or the persecution of the Jews.

Krieg insightfully proposes some reasons for such silence. He maintains that the prevailing theology of Church was mostly responsible. Many of the bishops and theologians accepted the post-Reformation ecclesiology which viewed the Church as a “perfect society,” an autonomous and otherworldly institution. Here the Church assumed a fortress-like position and focused on preserving its spiritual mission to its people. Matters of social justice were not part of this mission.

A desire to preserve the institution motivated the Vatican to make a concordat with Hitler. This agreement prevented the bishops as a group from criticizing the Führer’s atrocities, even when Catholic protesters were imprisoned and killed. In addition, training in blind obedience to absolute authority had predisposed many German Catholics to follow the commands of the Reich.

The author contrasts this view of the Church with one which stresses a mission to the world, a concern for social justice, religious freedom and respect for other religions and active involvement by the laity. This is the ecclesiology which ultimately came to prevail in the Second Vatican Council. It was apparently held by many of those bishops and theologians who chose to oppose the Nazi regime.

This is a valuable and insightful study of how different theologies of Church can affect the response of its leaders and theologians to modern crises. We might assume that nontheological factors such as fear, cowardice, denial, courage and compassion were also behind the decisions of the bishops and theologians during the Nazi era and are operative today. We are, after all, a human Church.

You can order CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS IN NAZI GERMANY from St. Francis Bookshop.


OPUS DEI: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church, by John L. Allen, Jr. Doubleday. 416 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher of religion at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

JOHN ALLEN ADDS yet another book to a growing list of works that mark him as a journalist with access to the innermost corridors of power and influence in the Roman Catholic Church.

It seems that he has taken full advantage of living in Rome to present the big picture of the Church. Allen’s written essays, as well as his commentaries on radio and television, regarding the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI have created a visibility seldom achieved by any lay columnist.

Opus Dei (“the work of God”) is an international association of Catholics who seek personal Christian perfection. They strive to implement Christian ideals first in their jobs and then in society as a whole. Founded in Spain by St. (Father) Josemaría Escrivá in 1928, Opus Dei has become a center of controversy and suspicion both within and outside the Church in the 80 countries where its 84,000 members work.

The subtitle of the book claims that this is “an objective look behind the myths and reality of the most controversial force in the Catholic Church.” This seems as thorough a research undertaking as one could hope for. Allen got access to individuals from many backgrounds and many nations.

Escrivá is a polarizing figure whose name and work can still ignite passionate debate even after canonization. Born in Spain in 1902, he had a series of mystical insights over the course of several years that led to his vision of the universal call to holiness that is Opus Dei. Simply put, he experienced God’s call to redeem the world by sanctifying your work, yourself in your work and others through your work.

The call to join is a vocation, although it is neither a religious order nor a change in anyone’s status upon initiation. Members agree to live in the spirit of the group and support its apostolic deeds while receiving spiritual formation. Members can either live in Opus Dei communities or not.

Allen manages to place most of the controversies, particularly the connection to General Francisco Franco, in a broader context. Escrivá was neither pro-Franco nor anti-Franco, but was primarily concerned with the stability of Spanish society after the civil war.

Allen does not try to explain away or justify any of the founder’s human flaws, but sets them in a fuller, more nuanced context by presenting supporters and critics alike. This approach also works well for the author when he presents his analysis of the most common public concerns about Opus Dei.

Controversies such as the secrecy over membership, the role of women, the use of power, the accumulation of wealth, the means of recruiting, demands for obedience and the emphasis on physical mortification are all addressed in a balanced and fair way.

Reading this book forced me to change some of my preconceptions about Escrivá and Opus Dei. At the same time it gave me further evidence that Opus Dei promotes a different worldview than I have about the role and responsibility of the laity in the Church today.

In an era when the Church in Europe is showing a dramatic decline in attendance at Mass and reception of the sacraments, as well as a tendency to ignore the Christian roots of the countries of the European Union, a group like Opus Dei must strike the hierarchy as a refreshing change: laypeople more committed to serving the Church rather than less; laypeople who see their ordinary family and working lives as their vocation to serve God. It’s no wonder that there existed a special affinity between John Paul II and Opus Dei. Yet some bishops are worried about Opus Dei’s reach and have restricted the group’s activities in their dioceses.

Allen writes in his conclusion that, every time a new form of life comes along in the Church, it struggles for acceptance. This book helped me realize that Opus Dei was another Church story that was poorly served by the success of The Da Vinci Code.

You can order OPUS DEI: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookshop.


PRAYER IS A PLACE: America's Religious Landscape Observed, by Phyllis Tickle. Doubleday. 342 pp. $23.95.

Reviewed by REBECCA DOEL, summer intern for St. Anthony Messenger Press books and a junior journalism major at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York.

THIS NEWEST BOOK among more than two dozen by Episcopalian Phyllis Tickle has a somewhat deceptive title. Expecting an exploration of various religious monuments and shrines in the United States, I instead embarked on a delightful journey through the evolution of religious books and book publishing from 1992 to 2004, scattered with stories from Tickle’s own spiritual evolution.

Although the title is borrowed from a lesson learned at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993, the accounts of the many chapters are loosely gathered into the places where they occurred. The 70-year-old Tickle takes readers on a trip from Lucy, Tennessee, to New York City, Santa Rosa, California, and Chicago, ending up back at “The Farm in Lucy.”

In between the places, the reader finds heartwarming tales from Tickle’s life, interwoven with heavier topics like 9/11, gnosticism and the changing beliefs and values among various generations.

Throughout Prayer Is a Place, Tickle introduces the reader to her dearest friends, among them Daisy Maryles, a kind Jewish woman and co-worker of Tickle’s at Publishers Weekly; Eric Major, a headstrong Roman Catholic Englishman and now former Doubleday editor who refers to Protestants as “Proddies”; and Sam, a doctor who doubles as Tickle’s loving husband. Tickle also describes her meetings with notables Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

As the founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, Tickle spent most of the ’90s observing trends in religion for a living. She enthusiastically poured her life into her job until a fateful encounter with tick fever, which changed her life. Her new routine of taking medication to steady her heart led to a regular observance of the Divine Hours—and perhaps to something else even greater: writing a three-volume breviary called The Divine Hours.

Tickle writes, “I’d always said—and believed—that the seven little Tickles were what I had come to do. I have since changed that self-perception. The Divine Hours are what I came to do.”

Tickle writes with elegance, as in her illustration of an experience observing men hosing down dirty buildings at Ground Zero: “[M]y attention was drawn away from watching the hoses above me and back to the people around me. Some of them, as they perceived what was happening above us, began to edge quietly forward and lean, one after another, ever so gently, into the ashy mist, receiving it like a baptism upon outstretched hands and upturned faces—‘It is good to be here.’”

Tickle moves through life with an optimism all too scarce today. It is that optimism, along with her real-life cast of characters, that makes Prayer Is a Place an enchanting, worthwhile read.

You can order PRAYER IS A PLACE: America’s Religious Landscape Observed from St. Francis Bookshop.


ADAM’S RETURN: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, by Richard Rohr, O.F.M. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 205 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit on special assignment. A psychotherapist and pastor, he has written Securing Serenity in Troubling Times: Living a Day at a Time (Xulon Press).

CULTURES ARE NO LONGER properly initiating youngsters, Franciscan Father Richard Rohr believes.

In 14 chapters, Center for Action and Contemplation founder Richard Rohr pulls the reader beyond the superficiality of our time. Rohr wants men and mentors to go into the deep within to emerge as enlightened leaders.

Preaching beyond the grab and grip of power, position and possession, the author puts his recipe for a new order into five promises of male initiation: Life’s hard; You’re not important; Not in control; Life’s not about you; and You’re going to die. Tough talk for a “soft” and superficial society!

When left untaught, these initiating and suffering mysteries of life will leave one projecting his or her untransformed pain onto others and the world. Rohr addresses the “male game within,” as he dubs it, confessing that he lives in a world of privilege that so many are denied.

Getting inside men requires each one to take hold of the pain, ache and suffering that Rohr calls “living in the liminal space” where one can do nothing but stay in the suffering, endure it and be transported by God.

I want to fix my heartache, understand what the tsunami means, escape my loneliness and addictive ways. It won’t change a thing, Rohr concludes. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert staying in liminal space. Requiring time and mentors, this process of initiation works for men of today as well.

Rohr knows from experience that, if a young man is not introduced to the five promises (or pains) of life, he won’t know how to handle loss, ache, alienation and rejection. Then abuse of power sets in. Raging with guns or bullying others becomes his destructive mode of operation. Mentors can mend the male soul, Rohr assures us.

This change of which Rohr speaks will require fathers and sons to stare into the soul of a son’s suffering and loneliness if males are to be equipped with the inner resolve to confront life’s predicaments.

You can order ADAM’S RETURN: The Five Promises of Male Initiation from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

Prayer is one of the three traditional Lenten practices, along with fasting and almsgiving. With Lent beginning March 1, consider these new books on prayer, which might focus you in fresh directions.

TIME FOR GOD: A Guide to Prayer, by Jacques Philippe (Pauline Books & Media, 125 pp., $10.95). Father Philippe, who preaches retreats in France and abroad, suggests ways to make—and keep—room for prayer in our busy lives. There are two appendixes: Father Francis Liebermann’s simple method of meditation and Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection’s letter on living in the presence of God.

SEEKING THE HIDDEN GOD, by Jane Kopas (Orbis Books, 183 pp., $18), takes the elusiveness of God as its starting point and contends that the mystery of God demands relationship, not analysis. Among the paradoxes that describe God, she recognizes “challenging companion,” “compassionate adversary” and “fertile emptiness.” Relating to such a God calls for radical faith, new skills of contemplation and self-knowledge, and a capacity for wonder.

“THIS IS MY BODY”: Eucharistic Reflections Inspired by Adoro Te Devote and Ave Verum, by Raniero Cantalamessa (Pauline Books & Media, 154 pp., $16.95), is the last series of meditations Pope John Paul II’s preacher to the papal household of 25 years presented him. The Capuchin Franciscan pulls a message for today from these two ancient hymns about the Eucharist.

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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