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Fallen Away or Pushed From the Church?

Q U I C K S C A N

LETTERS TO EXODUS CHRISTIANS: Comfort and Hope for Those Who Have Trouble Going to Church
A PILGRIM IN A PILGRIM CHURCH: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop
LIVING TOGETHER: Myths, Risks & Answers
WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER ANGELS: Faith, Mental Illness, and the Journey to Wholeness
ST. THOMAS MORE: Model for Modern Catholics
English Views on Lent



LETTERS TO EXODUS CHRISTIANS: Comfort and Hope for Those Who Have Trouble Going to Church, by Edward Hays. Ave Maria Press. 144 pp. $11.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, who teaches religion at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

WE MIGHT NOT LIKE to admit it, but only about one third of baptized Catholics in the United States attend Sunday Mass. Add to this a recent study that found that one out of every 10 U.S. adults is an ex-Catholic.

In the past it's been easy to blame and describe them as "lapsed" or "fallen away." In Letters to Exodus Christians: Comfort and Hope for Those Who Have Trouble Going to Church, however, Father Edward Hays, longtime pastor and spiritual writer, sympathizes with these people and validates their experiences.

For Hays, "these Exodus Christians are not simply percentage numbers or faceless people. They are good friends of mine, former students, converts, family members and past parishioners."

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, Hays argues that, in many cases, far from falling away, Exodus Christians were pushed away. The reasons are numerous: divorced and remarried Catholics who lack annulments, gays and lesbians who refuse to see their sexual orientation as a disorder, women who feel excluded from full participation in the life of the Church, and victims of the sexual-abuse crisis.

Hays adds another reason, which he believes is most important—boredom. He writes: "I propose that the vast majority of those who have stopped going to church regularly have not done so because they are lax or indifferent, but simply because they've been bored out of it. They have been bored away, finding worship uninspiring and, most of all, empty of nourishment."

Following the example of St. Paul, Hays speaks to these wandering and departed Catholics in a series of letters. Some of them are ones he has written, while others emerged from conversations or exchanges he has had over the years. In total they provide comfort and support, encouragement and strength to those struggling to live out their faith.

The first group of letters is written to individual Exodus Christians. For varied reasons, the persons addressed here have found themselves on the margins of parish life and the institutional Church. Some have joined other faith traditions, while others no longer practice their faith. Hays still wants them to see themselves as members of the Body of Christ and the Pilgrim People of God.

The next section contains letters addressed to Christian churches (or specific cities like San Francisco or Denver). Throughout the book, whether it pertains to an individual or a larger faith community, Hays counsels, "Don't let anyone or any institution, regardless of how holy it claims to be, steal your joy and delight in being alive! Become exorcists, and with laughter and good humor expel the demons of hostility, negativity, resentment and sadness."

There is also a section that responds to those questioning their faithful attendance. Contrary to what you might expect, given the title of the book, Hays advises these people "to remain as committed as you can to the Church. While likely you will never see the harvest of your efforts, this possibility shouldn't diminish your commitment."

This is followed by letters to the anointed members of the priesthood of the baptized. Here, recognizing the situations that many people find themselves in today, Hays offers rituals and prayers to those who wish to mark important spiritual events in their lives, when ordained clergy aren't available.

Hays finishes by writing apostolic exodus letters to his brother priests who often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of trying "to be a faithful disciple of Christ, striving to live his gospel teachings while also being a loyal minister of your Church, obedient to her many regulations."

Rather than bemoan the current situation of Exodus Christians, Hays sees something of God in all of it. The Hebrews journeyed in the desert for 40 years to get from Egypt to the Promised Land. Likewise, the wanderings of Exodus Christians are taking them and the Church in new directions and places.

My one concern is that the Exodus Christians for whom this book is most meant may not buy it. It is up to us, then, to bring this book to their attention, perhaps purchase it for them, as it will prove a valuable and reassuring guide on their faith journey.

You can order LETTERS TO EXODUS CHRISTIANS: Comfort and Hope for Those Who Have Trouble Going to Church from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

A PILGRIM IN A PILGRIM CHURCH: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop, by Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 429 pp. $35.

Reviewed by NORM LANGENBRUNNER, who was ordained in 1970 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He retired as a parish priest last July and now preaches parish missions for St. Anthony Messenger Press's Padua Project.

REMBERT WEAKLAND is an extraordinary man. This Benedictine monk and graduate of Juilliard School of Music became the abbot primate of the Benedictine Order and later the archbishop of Milwaukee (1977-2002).

As a seminarian he was in St. Peter's Square in 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption. As vice president of the Union of Superior Generals (of religious orders), he had frequent access to Pope Paul VI to promote the reforms of Vatican II. As abbot primate he happened to be in Thailand when Thomas Merton, a Trappist, was found dead on the floor of his room; it was Weakland who was summoned to anoint him.

In 1964 Weakland was appointed by Pope Paul VI to be a consultor to the Commission for Liturgical Reform. In 1981 he was named chair of the United States bishops' committee on capitalism, which was charged to assess the American economic system in the light of social justice and which produced a pastoral letter on the U.S. economy.

In 2002 he was accused of a homosexual encounter that had happened 20 years earlier. After his public apology, he immediately resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee. Now 82, he lives in retirement.

Some critics have pilloried Weakland for revealing the faults and flaws of Church leaders and their politics. His displeasure with the Curia's efforts to block Vatican II reforms, with the Vatican's misunderstanding of the Church in the United States and with papal undermining of the authority of bishops' conferences is a constant thread in this book, which reviews the past 50 years in the life of the Church and the United States.

His praise for dedicated Church men and women (lay as well as clerical), his sympathetic description of Pope Paul's often misunderstood efforts to please opposing factions in the Church and his support for Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (whom he calls "every bishop's friend") ought to be acknowledged as much as Weakland's criticisms of the Church.

Historians who seek a comprehensive analysis of the past 50 years of Church history will consult Weakland's memoirs. He had, as he describes it, "a front seat in that history." He experienced through his worldwide visitation of Benedictine monasteries the impact of Vatican II on monastic life.

In his efforts to renew the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Weakland endured the tension between conservative and progressive Catholics. He suffered the mixed messages and occasional reprimands of cardinals, Curia and fellow bishops. At the risk of cliché, he was a man of his times.

His criticism of some high-ranking Church leaders and his support of women's roles in the Church will be cause enough for some Catholics to reject him and this book out-of-hand. Those who think Church leadership is deserving of criticism and who promote the role of women will embrace the man and his memoir.

Weakland's romantic infatuation with a male friend and his public apology for it casts a shadow on the litany of his accomplishments. It was his letter breaking off the relationship which came back nearly 20 years later to haunt him and bring him public disgrace. The productive years before and after the affair, however, can too easily be overlooked.

Anyone who hates the sin and loves the sinner will find in the memoir of George Samuel Weakland (his monastic name is Rembert) the portrait of a truly compassionate Church leader.

You can order A PILGRIM IN A PILGRIM CHURCH: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

LIVING TOGETHER: Myths, Risks & Answers, by Mike and Harriet McManus. Howard Books. 202 pp. $19.99.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE VENTLINE, D. Min., on special assignment for the Archdiocese of Detroit. A Catholic priest for 33 years, he founded www.interfaithwork.com, and is founding director of Cura Animarum, inspired by St. Gregory the Great.

MARRIAGE IN OUR COUNTRY is in trouble. The declining number of people getting married proves it. The United States of America has the highest divorce rate among developed nations. Yet it seems that same-gender couples want in on marriage.

Pope John Paul I, the honeymoon pope of only 33 days, used the birdcage as a metaphor for troubled marriage: "Those in are dying to get out; those out want to get in!" Personal unhappiness, self-centeredness and narcissistic personality disorder running rampant around here may provide some clues to marital strife.

This book directly addresses the issue of cohabitation. Living together—whether or not marriage follows—usually winds up in failed relationships, according to authors Mike and Harriet McManus. Cohabiters cite mistrust of marriage, lack of positive role-modeling by parents and families of origin, minimal commitment by males, rising cultural acceptance of divorce and cohabitation as a lifestyle with financial benefits. It all comes down to money, it seems.

Marriagesavers.org, set up by the McManuses, has been around for decades. It aims to restore and strengthen matrimony. Over 226 cities or towns have signed on to a community marriage covenant, thanks to these authors.

This very important work dispels popular myths about cohabiting or trial marriage, as they want to call it. Scripturally forbidden and historically ineffective, living together without the seal of the covenant seems as fruitless as couples playing house. Couples married decades will tell you how satisfying their lasting work at relating with each other has been for them in the desolate and consoling moments of legitimate marriage.

Some ways the Church can counter cohabiting are by using premarital inventories, providing mentoring couples (especially for young marrieds), highlighting matrimony and anniversary couples, teaching effective conflict-resolution and communication skills, and explaining the Church prohibition on unmarried couples living together. More and more young persons are taking the pure love pledge, vowing to remain celibate until they are married. Stronger formational tracks from early childhood will make the difference.

A quick read, this book can do a world of good for youth who are watching Mom and Dad's fidelity and how they respond to instances of cohabitation. As the family goes, so goes society, for sure.

You can order LIVING TOGETHER: Myths, Risks & Answers from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER ANGELS: Faith, Mental Illness, and the Journey to Wholeness, by Nancy Kehoe. Jossey-Bass (Wiley imprint). 176 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a freelance writer who lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

A PIONEER in addressing the spiritual needs of mentally ill persons, Nancy Kehoe is both a nun (a Religious of the Sacred Heart) and a psychologist (a clinical instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical School).

Wrestling With Our Inner Angels explores the complex relationship between spirituality and mental illness, explains the development of the Spiritual Beliefs and Values groups she began in 1981, and introduces us to some of the remarkable men and women she has met through that work.

Kehoe validates the authenticity of group members' creativity, compassion and spiritual desires.

For one man, Bud, she was "God's businesswoman" and "he was anxious about being mad at my Boss." Far from criticizing him, she admired the fierce integrity of his anger. "The man reminded me of the Prophet Jeremiah, who felt it would have been better not to have been born. Examining his fate and those of his closest companions, with an expression of intense desperation, Bud asked, 'What kind of God would give someone a life like this?'"

Wrestling With Our Inner Angels introduces us to the rich inner lives of people most of us see only through the lens of stereotype and fear, but it is much more than a series of compelling narratives. The book's uniqueness and strength lie in the fact that Kehoe narrates her spiritual autobiography in tandem with that of mentally ill persons.

In doing so, she illustrates the universal yearning for God, the desire to grow in wholeness and holiness, and the different but common ways that people approach the central work of the spiritual life: how to seek, understand and accept the will of God.

Kehoe experienced a call to religious life when she was a freshman in college. "I was kneeling alone in the chapel," she writes, "when I heard a Voice that told me to go to Kenwood, the house of formation for the Religious of the Sacred Heart....Appalled, with tears streaming down my face, I remember saying, 'Not my will, but Thine be done.' My whole young life, my parents had taught me that our purpose here on earth is to do God's will. But this was too much. I never wanted to be a nun. I wanted to be a nurse, to get married and raise a family. I sat there sobbing, but felt I had no choice. Because the Voice was so clear and the message so specific, I never doubted that somehow it was the Voice of God."

That experience gave Kehoe an exquisite sympathy for the religious difficulties of mentally ill persons who suffer from auditory hallucinations or religious delusions. "Unlike many mental health professionals, I didn't assume that all voices are part and parcel of their disease. I began to wonder how we discern which voices are constructive and which are destructive? Are some the Voice of God? Are they all symptoms of illness? What do the voices prompt us to do or to believe?"

Perhaps the most moving passage of this beautiful book occurs when Kehoe narrates a conversation with a client in whom she had confided about the Voice. "Russell fixed his kind eyes on me and said with Buddhist clarity, 'Nancy, maybe that was deepest part of you.' Startled, I said nothing at the time. But his words kept echoing in me. At first I told myself, No way—that was God, not me. I continued to reflect on what he said and knew, deep down, that it was time to rethink my Voice. In some ways I've spent most of my religious life fleeing the Hound of Heaven—and myself."

The freedom that Russell bestows on her in that delicate exchange can serve as a metaphor for the healing Nancy Kehoe has given to, and received from, mentally ill persons. Wrestling With Our Inner Angels is an amplification of that gift, and thus it becomes a compelling protest of our exclusion of mentally ill persons from our religious communities and our lives.

You can order WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER ANGELS: Faith, Mental Illness, and the Journey to Wholeness from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

ST. THOMAS MORE: Model for Modern Catholics, by John F. Fink. St. Pauls. 176 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by DONALD J. McGRATH, a retired English teacher at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

VISIT ANY public library or a library of a Catholic college or university and you are apt to find numerous biographies of Thomas More, most of which will contain more proper names, dates and footnotes than you would care to remember, much less read. St. Thomas More: Model for Modern Catholics, by John F. Fink, is refreshingly distinct.

In the foreword Fink clarifies that this biography is intended not as a scholarly work but as a popular one. He even calls Thomas More a "unique guy." There are no footnotes, but Fink does reveal his sources and provides an extensive bibliography.

Navigating this book is like paddling a canoe on tranquil water. The vocabulary is relatively simple. Fink's style is clear and crisp.

Unlike many biographies in which the subject's life is presented in chronological order, this book is more or less divided into three sections according to More's roles in life: the early years; his roles as husband, father, lawyer, author, lord chancellor and defender of Catholicism; finally, his retirement, imprisonment, conviction and execution in 1535.

Fink states some of the well-known Thomas More facts, such as wearing a hair shirt under his outer garments, being the patron of lawyers and politicians, and writing the famous book Utopia (literally "Nowhere").

Of course, the entire friction between More and Henry VIII is treated thoroughly. Fink, however, also tries to convey the style and integrity of the man. For instance, he explains that if Thomas felt that he could not win a case for his client, he would inform the client of that fact and advise him to secure a different lawyer.

When a fire destroyed all of More's barns, he wrote to his wife, "Let us heartily thank God as well for adversity as for prosperity, and perhaps we have more cause to thank him for our loss than our gain, for his wisdom sees better what is good for us than we do ourselves."

In a letter to his daughter Meg, More wrote, "It is not a sin to have riches, but to love riches."

Thomas More was the first Englishman to recognize the importance of the education of women. Even his friend Erasmus reversed his opposition to the education of women when he met Thomas's daughters.

Fink focuses on some unusual facts of More's life. Among his many civic duties, Thomas was made commissioner of the sewers, thus responsible for their maintenance. At home, he sustained a menagerie of pets including a fox, rabbits, a monkey and several breeds of birds.

More could be very opinionated. He made fun of lazy friars and greedy ecclesiastics, as well as lawyers and scholastic theologians. More was a fan of St. Augustine. He disliked the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, especially his Summa Theologica. (Remembering some of my required college philosophy and theology courses, I could identify with that.)

Thomas More wrote that he liked an emphasis on love rather than on knowledge. At one time there was a friar who was preaching that anyone who recited the Rosary every day was assured salvation. Thomas replied that it seemed unlikely to him that anyone could purchase heaven at so little cost.

Of special value is the epilogue. Here Fink writes succinctly of what happened after Thomas More's death. He includes some thought-provoking comments about More by such authors as Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, John Donne and Jonathan Swift.

At their canonization in 1935, Pope Pius XI stated that More and John Fisher are two figures who deserve our admiration and imitation. Blood and death are only one kind of martyrdom. There are other martyrdoms that one experiences in following the ways of God in the fulfillment of everyday duties. That is precisely the theme of this book, and John Fink does a first-rate task of developing it.

If you are searching for an inspirational biography that is not ponderous, then John Fink's story of Thomas More is the one for you.

You can order ST. THOMAS MORE: Model for Modern Catholics from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

English Views on Lent

These books, which all have English connections, can help us get below
the surface of Lent and walk to Calvary with Jesus.

CHRISTIANS AT THE CROSS: Finding Hope in the Passion,
Death, and Resurrection of Jesus
, by N.T. Wright (The Word Among
Us Press, 79 pp., $10.95). Biblical scholar N.T. Wright, who has taught
at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford universities, is the bishop of Durham
in the Church of England. These sermons and meditations were delivered
from Palm Sunday to Easter 2007 in the Welsh mining town of
Easington Colliery. This gritty town (depicted in the 2000 movie Billy
Elliot
) has struggled since the coal mines closed. Wright's theme is "that
when we bring our griefs and sorrows within the story of God's own
grief and sorrow, and allow them to be held there, God is able to bring
healing to us and new possibilities to our lives."

STATIONS OF THE CROSS, paintings by Chris Gollon, stories by Sara Maitland (Continuum, 128 pp., $19.95), is a unique collaboration
between a novelist and the artist commissioned to create stations
of the cross for a church on Bethnal Green in London's East End.

APPROACHING EASTER: Lenten Reflections, by Jane Williams
(Pauline Books & Media, 128 pp., $15.95), sees Lent as a way to
focus on the fact that God loves us. Theologian Williams is married
to Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury. The book
includes 36 classical art masterpieces.

--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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