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Personal Perspective on the Death Penalty

Choosing Mercy: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty, by Antoinette Bosco. Orbis Books. 239 pp. $17.

You can order Choosing Mercy: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty from St. Francis Bookshop.

Shaken Faith: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty, by Antoinette Bosco. Twenty-Third Publications. 135 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., associate editor of St. Anthony Messenger. He also works with, an online outreach to inactive Catholics.

THE SUBTITLE of this first book establishes Antoinette Bosco's tragic credentials to speak on this subject. In 1993 her son John and his wife, Nancy, were murdered in their Montana home. They were shot by Joseph Shadow Clark, the son of the couple who had previously owned that house. He will be in prison for 40 years without eligibility for parole.

This volume shows how Bosco's personal experiences have led her "to become ever more convinced that the death penalty is wrong, that mercy is the way of Christians." She identifies capital punishment as possibly "the most wrenching moral dilemma of our time."

As of June 2000, over 3,600 people were on Death Row in the 38 U.S. states using capital punishment. Since 1976, 675 criminals have been executed in this country. Since 1972, 87 people on Death Row have been released.

Though readers might expect the mother of murder victims to support the death penalty, Bosco writes: "The pain of losing a loved one by the horrible act of murder is not lessened by the horrible murder of another, not even when it is cloaked as 'justice' and state-sanctioned. It is only a delusion to believe that one's pain is ended by making someone else feel pain."

Journalist, newspaper editor, columnist, Bosco was supported by her adult children in opposing the death penalty for Joseph Shadow Clark.

Her decision to forgive him came from the realization that "if you don't forgive, you give the one who hurt you even more control over you. If I didn't forgive Shadow Clark, I would be emotionally handcuffed to him, bound to him in a destructive way."

After Bosco joined Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation [see article on p. 34], she met many other people with losses similar to hers. Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered by an off-duty police officer and an accomplice, had previously rejected the death penalty.

Renny says, "For me to change my beliefs because my father was murdered would only give over more power to the killers, for they would take not just my father's life but also my values. The same is true for society. If we let those who murder turn us to murder, it gives more power to those who do evil. We become what we say we abhor...."

Bosco expands beyond the death penalty to survey the U.S. prison system, which now incarcerates two million people, a fourfold increase since 1978. Private companies run 163 for-profit prisons in 26 states.

Bosco notes that polls show that approximately two thirds of Americans support the death penalty. Regarding the deterrence argument, Amnesty International notes that, according to F.B.I. statistics, the death rate in states using the death penalty is twice that of states which do not.

Bosco concludes Choosing Mercy with seven pages of sources used in the book, a list of recommended readings and two pages of addresses of U.S. groups seeking to abolish the death penalty.

This is an important book, but not an easy one to read.

In Shaken Faith, Bosco revises a previous booklet for Resurrection Press and uses some material from her column (since 1975) for Catholic News Service.

Her book The Pummeled Heart: Finding Peace through Pain had prompted many people hurting from tremendous loss to contact her. Bosco writes, "Strangely, it has been my pain that has opened up so many insights about God."

Later she observes, "One thing I have learned is that you cannot be faint of heart on the faith journey. You have to be passionate; the lukewarm never make it."

Bosco tells her story and those of many people who have contacted her and reflects on highly publicized stories such as the false sexual abuse accusation against the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

This book plumbs the intersection of faith, grace and human freedom (used very destructively by some and constructively by others).

You can order Shaken Faith: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty from St. Francis Bookshop.

LIVING PEACE: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action, by John Dear. Doubleday. 226 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS, O.C.S.O., a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.

"BLESSED are the peacemakers, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Page after page of the Jesuit writer and peace activist John Dear's Living Peace brought these words of Jesus to my heart. I often put the book down, closed my eyes and prayed—prayed for the peace about which he writes and for which he lives. The book is an invitation to live peace.

The finding of peace can be overwhelming for many of us—our lives are busy; there are treaties for that sort of thing; it is too massive a problem; a what-will-be-will-be attitude. These are only a fraction of the excuses we use to keep at bay the need for living peacefully—for living as Jesus commanded us to live.

Peacemaking seems to be reserved for the powerful of this world, for those who wield influence. The beauty of this book lies in the author's embrace of a humble, loving and lifelong path that each person can walk. He is aware that individuals may walk differently—each of us has different gifts to realize the peace that is within us—but we are called to walk together.

The subtitle of the book is A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action. The book is divided into three sections: "The Depths of Peace: The Inner Journey," "The Heights of Peace: The Public Journey" and "The Horizons of Peace." These depths, heights and horizons are filled with men and women who have both inspired Dear and walked with him. He has learned from them, read with them, walked with them, sat in jails with them, prayed and rejoiced with them.

Through it all he has grown in his conviction that there is every reason to hope for and live the peace that Jesus promises. The peace of the Lord is real. From Dear's experience, peace is nothing other than Jesus. Knowing his presence is knowing peace. Prayer is, then, at the heart of it all.

John Dear's book is a warm and inviting testimony of a man who has prayed to know and live peace—and how the reality of peace is the very person of Jesus. We are called to live his peace. The last words of the book are "Nothing can be more beautiful than living peace." The experience of reading this book has been for me a sharing in that beauty.

Dear has found peace in the hearts of many people. He has delighted in its presence as he has found it in the lives of the poor and the not-so-poor, the high and low places of life.

Dear shares a time when he was riding in his car and a tire blew. He was a good distance from help and, after he struggled to repair the tire, it was not too long before another tire blew and he was then without a spare—but not without a prayer.

Whereas I could see myself cursing the car, the manufacturer, the road and my destination, Dear sat down and prayed. He did not pray for a better tire or a nearby gas station. He knows the importance of being at peace in the small frustrations as well as the more ominous challenges in life. He does a fine job of connecting the two—the seemingly mundane with the glories of the universal.

In that little story of the blown tire he touches upon the wisdom he has taken to heart in his many years of living peace. It can be lived anywhere.

The wisdom is a learning to be at peace where we are and to follow where the Lord may beckon. Peace is a living and loving Mystery. Some may be called to write. Others may be called to befriend a stranger. Others may be called to be more focused in their search.

This book is a call to the reader to know that peace is no further away than a prayer to the Lord that he might come. And from that presence there are gathered two, and then three, and then more. Hopefully, many will feel a call to read this book and to take it to heart.

You can order LIVING PEACE: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action from St. Francis Bookshop.

LIVES OF THE SAINTS: From Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa, by Richard P. McBrien. HarperSanFrancisco. 646 pp. $34.

Reviewed by JUDY BALL, managing editor of Every Day Catholic, a newsletter published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, and part of the staff for American

THE WEIGHT of a book is hardly its most important feature, though 2.67 pounds does hint at the breadth of its content. And truly, Father Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints: From Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa is worth its weight in gold.

As the title implies, the book includes more than officially canonized saints (and blesseds), many of them canonized and beatified by Pope John Paul II. So we not only learn about holy women and men who have long been on the Western Church's calendar—people like Catherine of Siena and Thomas Aquinas—but also read about St. Fiacre, a hermit celebrated in his native Ireland and in France, particularly by the cab drivers in Paris. (Their vehicles are called "fiacres." The first cab for hire was reportedly located near the Hotel Saint-Fiacre.) We get a full accounting of those who are on the road to canonization like Blessed Juan Diego and Blessed Pope Innocent V, as well as Mother Teresa, whose canonization many of us may witness in our lifetime.

But Father McBrien moves on—and out—from there, offering biographical sketches of exemplary Christians whose path to sainthood may not have been so smooth: Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel who, with laywoman Jean Donovan, were martyred in El Salvador in 1980; Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement; Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Also held up to the light are holy persons held in high esteem by other Christian Churches, including Greek and Russian Orthodox, Anglican and Episcopal and some Lutheran. Non-Christians are highlighted as well, including Abraham Heschel and Mohandas Gandhi.

One can only admire the scholarship and workmanship behind the more than 600 entries. Father McBrien, the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, seems to excel at such sweeping tasks. Recall the titles of his other recent books: Catholicism, The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, The Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs From St. Peter to John Paul II.

Father McBrien's Lives is the work of a scholar. The writing is clear. The biographical information is solid. And the message the author sends is evident: The holy women and men in these pages tell us something about the meaning of human existence. At whatever time in history they lived, they speak to us who seek to live the gospel boldly in the third millennium.

But that's not all. It's the "extras" that make the book even more noteworthy, including a time line integrating the saints with major events in world and Church history; saintly firsts (first Scottish saint, first pope to be canonized); various saints' emblems in art and iconography. Also noteworthy are introductory essays on the nature of sainthood, the canonization process, saints and spirituality. If you want to know the patron saints of particular places, you'll find that, too: Armenia, St. Bartholomew; Mexico, St. Joseph; El Salvador, Our Lady of Peace.

My personal favorite is a glossary of terms that helps readers who may be able to pronounce the words Albigensians and Jansenists but can't recall which heretics held what false belief. The glossary will assist readers who stumble over the major outcomes of the Council of Trent vs. the Council of Chalcedon.

Father McBrien's Lives of The Saints: From Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa would make a wonderful gift. It is already a gift from the author.

You can order this book from St. Francis Bookshop.

SNOW FALLING ON SNOW: Themes From the Spiritual Landscape of Robert J. Wicks, by Robert J. Wicks. Paulist Press. 119 pp. $11.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, who teaches at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a B.A. in theology from Xavier University (Ohio) and an M.A. in religious studies from Villanova University (Pennsylvania). His articles and book reviews have appeared in St. Anthony Messenger, Momentum, Catholic Update, Youth Update and Religion Teacher's Journal.

IN THE PROLOGUE to his book Snow Falling on Snow, Robert Wicks, best-selling author and professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola College (Maryland), describes an encounter during a retreat with a missionary priest. The incident is important for this book and for life in general. During some free time, the priest approached Wicks and said: "As I was reading your latest book I faced a dilemma. I wanted to read it faster in order to see what you were going to say next. But I was afraid if I did that, I would miss much of what you had to say to me. Let me tell you: You are easy to read, but you sure pack a lot into a little book!"

Therein lies the tension of both this book and modern life. As Wicks suggests, we feel too busy and overwhelmed by life today. Wanting to get ahead and maximize time, we hurry along missing what is right in front of us. I need to let the reader know from the beginning that this book is not meant to be read but rather prayed with.

The title for it comes from a Zen image and suggests a spirituality of gentleness. The author hopes the book is "read slowly and quietly," offering the reader the possibility that it "will soften your soul and open you more and more to receive the love and enlightenment of God until your whole spiritual landscape has been altered into something even more beautiful than it is now."

Wicks suggests that this could be done personally, either in the early morning before going to work or later in the evening before going to bed; or in the company of others, as a means of reflection for a retreat or faith-sharing group.

Wicks's "goal is to provide themes to seed the soul with ideas, hopes and questions that would encourage a life of greater peace, hope and love." The bulk of the material for the book is drawn from five of his best-selling works. They include: Touching the Holy, Seeds of Sensitivity, Living Simply in an Anxious World, After 50 and Living a Gentle, Passionate Life.

From these books the four spiritual and psychological anchors of his work are drawn: experiencing the Lord, availability, clarity and ordinariness. These are the themes that Wicks wishes the reader to remember and pray over.

The thing that I was most struck by in the book was his response to the question, "How is your prayer life?" He sees no difference between this question and "How is your life?" Though we often are tempted to compartmentalize our lives, especially our spiritual lives, Wicks reminds us that in the end the questions are one and the same.

As he has sought to do over the years and in this compilation of his work, Snow Falling on Snow successfully integrates psychology and religion, asking us all the while what is truly important in our lives. The book itself is a nice mixture of poetry and prose. It would serve well as a prompt for those wishing to deepen their spiritual lives or as a nice introduction to his work as a whole.

You can order SNOW FALLING ON SNOW: Themes From the Spiritual Landscape of Robert J. Wicks from St. Francis Bookshop.



Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop at or 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45210, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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