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AN ITALIAN WOMAN'S HEROIC PRO-LIFE CHOICE


BLESSED GIANNA BERETTA MOLLA: A Woman’s Life, 1922-1962, Giuliana Pelucchi. Pauline Books and Media. 144 pp. $14.95.

LOVE LETTERS TO MY HUSBAND, by Gianna Beretta Molla. Pauline Books and Media. 160 pp. $11.95.

Reviewed by MARIA KEMPER, a theology and literature undergraduate at Franciscan University who is discerning a vocation of marriage.

WHEN THE ROLL CALL of heaven is sounded in litanies of the saints, frazzled mothers of toddlers could feel excluded. Mothering isn’t conducive to meditation, unless it’s on how toothpaste can stick on the back of a four-year-old’s neck and how to remove chili stains from the kitchen ceiling.

Yet the life of Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla reminds us that sanctity is reached not only by hours of contemplative prayer but also through a lifetime of little works: answering to “Mommy, I’m thirsty,” drying tears and settling squabbles.

In Gianna’s words, “One earns Paradise with one’s daily task.” Her story inspires, encourages and challenges us to a lifetime of loving service. Gianna chose to serve suffering humanity as a doctor, specializing in pediatrics. She met Pietro Molla at age 32 and, shortly after, they married.

While she was pregnant with their fourth child, doctors found a cyst that, if left untreated, would kill both her and her baby. The only procedure that did not involve direct abortion offered a slim hope of survival for both mother and child.

As a doctor, Gianna knew the risks involved. Yet she said to her husband, “If you must choose between me and the baby, no hesitation: choose—and I demand it—the baby, save him!” This was not an act of suicidal self-sacrifice. She loved life, and loved it so much she wanted her child to experience it. Her child lived. Gianna did not.

This biography recounts her early life, her struggles and fears growing up and the challenges of being a doctor and a mother. An especially welcome feature is the black and white pictures of Gianna and her family.

To gain a fuller appreciation of her character, the book Love Letters to My Husband is a nice companion volume.

Pietro Molla saved each of the 73 letters his wife had written to him during their engagement and marriage. He was often away on business, and handwritten letters were her means of keeping in contact. As their relationship matured over the years, one can see the deepening of their love.

She opened her heart to him in these short letters, encouraging him through her little words and simple expressions of love. This book invites the reader into the heart of a saint.

Some biographies, in an effort to be inspirational, gloss over the hardships and failings of a particular life. Gianna was rather frail and not a brilliant scholar. Her life was not filled with miracles and signs, but in a very ordinary, inconspicuous way she performed her daily duties with great love.

Those dating, mothers and anyone involved in pro-life work will find Gianna an example of uncompromising ideals.

Blessed Gianna’s example is a strong support for the happiness and grace possible in marriage. Through her words, the freshness of first love and the beauty of commitment come alive.

You can order BLESSED GIANNA BERETTA MOLLA: A Woman’s Life, 1922-1962 and LOVE LETTERS TO MY HUSBAND from St. Francis Bookshop.

GOODBYE, GOOD MEN: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church, by Michael Rose. Regnery Publishing. 276 pp. $27.95.

Reviewed by FATHER THOMAS BUFFER, professor of theology, dean of men and director of pastoral formation at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio.

SOMEONE COULD DO the Church in America a great service by writing a carefully researched and objective book about how American seminaries went mad toward the end of the 1960s. But Goodbye, Good Men is not it. Michael Rose’s book is about seminaries gone mad, but it is not carefully researched or objective.

Rose asserts that the present priest shortage in America is artificial. Good candidates are weeded out by vocation directors, who don’t want orthodox and pious candidates. Those who slip through their net are persecuted and driven out by heterodox and immoral seminary personnel.

To support his thesis, Rose strings together horror stories related by a random sampling of priests, seminarians and former seminarians.

I was a seminarian from 1986 to 1991, and my own experience makes me ready to believe that many of the things Rose recounts really happened. Rose is right to expose the pernicious influence of a gay subculture within some seminaries. It is true that priests and religious who dissent from Church teaching have harassed good seminarians or even kept them out of the seminary in some places. Someone needs to report the scandal of seminary personnel who ridicule seminarians for devotion to the Eucharist.

But it would be better if someone did this carefully and systematically, and this is where Rose fails. Instead of surveying a representative group of seminarians, he relies on the testimony of the unhappy, whose stories come from different times and places.

He never explains how he chose his sources. Consequently, the book cannot answer the questions: How serious are these problems today? How widespread? Are seminaries better or worse than 10 years ago? Are these problems found in some dioceses or seminaries, and not in others?

Rose presents himself as “a professional investigative journalist,” but he fails to observe two basic rules of journalism: 1) always try to get both sides of a story; 2) check facts.

Rose relies heavily on anonymous sources, which makes the book less valuable and its author less credible. He frequently withholds or changes the name of the accuser, while printing the real name of the accused. One example: On pages 60-61, Rose reproduces an unsigned note posted on a seminary bulletin board, criticizing and mocking the seminary rector, whose name Rose prints. Rose never contacted the rector in question for his side of the story.

This is not good investigative journalism. It is just plain mean, and it makes me wonder: Would Rose want as his parish priest a man who, as a seminarian, posted anonymous accusations on public bulletin boards? What would St. John Vianney or Pope John Paul II say about such a seminarian?

There is also the commonsense rule: Never assume. Rose assumes, for example, that a diocese using such “gimmicks” as a traveling team of basketball-playing priests to encourage vocations is neglecting “authentic vocations outreach that demands fidelity to the Church’s teaching.” How in the world does he know that? There is nothing in Catholic tradition that links basketball playing to infidelity. Yes, Rose’s assumption is somewhat funny, but also very sad.

It is sad that an author who likes to quote official Church documents seems unaware of paragraphs 2477-2479 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which warn against unjustly harming another’s reputation through rash judgment, detraction or calumny.

Having allegedly uncovered a vast left-wing conspiracy to exclude orthodox candidates from the priesthood, Rose assumes that anyone who makes charges against vocations or seminary personnel is telling the truth.

Rose wants to see more good priests, but he may be discouraging men from considering the priesthood by depicting a training system in which no authority figures can be trusted, except those in the seminaries he endorses.  It is too bad that Rose did not take time to visit American seminaries. He might have found that some of the schools he criticizes have changed, and became the sort of place he would like.

You can order GOODBYE, GOOD MEN: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookshop.

PASSIONATE UNCERTAINTY: Inside the American Jesuits, by Peter McDonough & Eugene Bianchi. University of California Press. 390 pp. $29.95.

Reviewed by MARK WILKINS, a teacher at St. Xavier High School, a Jesuit college-preparatory school in Cincinnati, Ohio.

THIS BOOK ATTEMPTS to provide a critical analysis of one of Catholicism’s largest and most provocative religious orders—the Society of Jesus.

Founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1540, the Society of Jesus remains the largest single Roman Catholic religious order, even though it has lost nearly half its members since the late ’60s. Jesuits also have experienced a tumultuous upheaval in their ministries and their local communities.

The 400 current and former Jesuits interviewed speak very candidly about their reasons for joining the Society, as well as the reasons for staying or leaving. Other topics cover sexual development and orientation, spiritual crises and other religious traditions, as well as celibacy, the ordination of women, the rationale of priesthood, the challenges of community life and the divinity of Jesus.

Two of the most challenging chapters were those that discussed the revitalization of their schools and the organizational dilemmas the Jesuits face. I think that the authors are fair in their assessment, but perhaps place too much emphasis on this. Not once do they mention that “indifference” (not apathy but a sense that an apostolate can be left in place) is a hallmark of Ignatian spirituality.

The Chicago province has begun planning for the future when there might not be any Jesuits available to work in their five high schools. They have several laymen on their province leadership team and started the conversation about whether the high schools will be Jesuit or independent.

I do not hear the Jesuits moaning and groaning about this as a loss of corporate identity, but they see this as a sign that the times are changing. There are other ministries and other needs. Education was not the first choice of Ignatius, either.

Peter McDonough, a political science professor at Arizona State University, and Eugene Bianchi, professor emeritus at Emory University, have jointly produced a very challenging work. They claim that the Jesuits have been changed from a fairly unified organization into a smaller, looser group with disparate goals. They claim that the Order has changed into an amalgam of subcultures shaped around social mission, sexual identity and an eclectic spirituality.

According to them, the story of the Jesuits reflects the crisis of clerical authority and the deep ambivalence surrounding American Catholicism’s encounter with the demands and priorities of the modern world.

At the end, McDonough and Bianchi explain how they got their interviews. But I just don’t see how their conclusions grow out of this balanced sampling. I think that they find patterns where they want to see patterns.

I have graduated from three Jesuit schools, was a Jesuit candidate for two years and have taught at a Jesuit high school for 26 years. I am not a disinterested observer from afar.

I believe that the authors have too narrowly defined what work, vows or community should mean for any one person in the community. I know what it means to commit to marriage and to the ministry of teaching. One commitment influences and enhances the other. One challenges and strains the other. That tension goes hand in hand; they are neither mutually exclusive nor incompatible.

The topics around the issues of sexuality and celibacy are challenging. But I have no more sense of a “lavender” rather than a “black” robe identity in various houses in the three provinces with which I am most familiar.

Granted men who are homosexual may feel more comfortable living together, but so might men who are committed to inner-city projects or the high school apostolates.

The authors also don’t take into account that what Ignatius and the first companions promoted in the 16th century as their guiding spirituality was often controversial. The fact that the Society of Jesus is taking a new look at its charism and future  direction is, to me, a healthy sign of a congregation that wants to stay loyal to its principles and foundations rather than just going with the flow of the times.

I will recommend this book to my Jesuit friends and colleagues. I will also recommend it to other teachers at our school. It might help us to become more familiar with what lies ahead in the not-so-distant future.

You can order PASSIONATE UNCERTAINTY: Inside the American Jesuits from St. Francis Bookshop.

SAINTS FOR EVERY OCCASION: 101 of Heaven’s Most Powerful Patrons, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Stampley. 414 pp. $19.95.

THE BIRTHDAY BOOK OF SAINTS: Your Powerful Personal Patrons for Every Blessed Day of the Year, by Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers. Villard. 397 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of St. Anthony Messenger. He revised the fourth edition of Saint of the Day (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

THERE IS NO end to books about saints because they demonstrate the incredible variety of people in whom God’s grace can grow and bear rich fruit.

In Saints for Every Occasion: 101 of Heaven’s Most Powerful Patrons, Thomas Craughwell writes, “The English mystic Dame Julian of Norwich (c.1342-1423) once described one of her favorite saints as ‘a kind neighbor.’ Heaven is full of such ‘kind neighbors,’ who are able, even eager, to help us in our various needs. My wish for all who read this book is that you may make the acquaintance of a few of these ‘neighbors’ now—and one day deepen the friendship in heaven.”

After choosing 101 saints (actually 97, plus four blesseds), Craughwell groups them into 10 categories: home, students, Christian life, workplace, to play with, social action, good health, to keep you safe, for children and for various needs. The shortest list is saints for students (5) and the longest list is saints for the workplace (20).

Some selections are fairly traditional: Gerard Majella for expectant mothers, Jerome for those seeking to understand the Bible, Christopher for safe travel. Other saint connections are more innovative: Alphonsus Liguori for making the best use of time, Joan of Arc for those hurt by the Church, Christina the Astonishing for psychiatrists, Our Lady of Guadalupe to end abortion, Aloysius Gonzaga for AIDS sufferers, William of Rochester for adopted children.

Each of the 10 sections begins with an illustration by Arden von Haeger, followed by a short overview of the saints presented there. About half of the saints in this volume are not in the Church’s worldwide liturgical calendar.

This book lists the Roman calendar of saints, plus the feast day of saints included here but not on that calendar.

In The Birthday Book of Saints: Your Powerful Personal Patrons for Every Blessed Day of the Year, Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers, who previously collaborated on Saints Preserve Us!: Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need, now present several saints for each day of the year. These start with the saints in the Roman calendar, and include others such as “Eustace and Barbara, whose commemorations were unfortunately suppressed in 1969, by the Vatican, in a fit of ill-advised ‘modernization.’”

Although a few entries are a single sentence, most are about half a page.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal (July 4), for example, is introduced as “matriarch of a dysfunctional royal family.” More traditional lives of the saints simply described her as a peacemaker.

Each entry lists the places and groups of people for whom this saint is considered a patron, as well as his or her symbol in art. There are 187 illustrations, ranging from woodcuts by the late Adé Bethune and drawings of saints to photos from movies about saints. Paul Scofield as St. Thomas More and Richard Burton as Thomas à Becket are credible, but John Wayne as St. Longinus (the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side) is a stretch.

Kelly and Rogers write mostly about canonized saints but have included four blesseds, two venerables (MattTalbot and Pierre Toussaint), plus Dorothy Day, whom they describe as a “modern-day saint who was no saint.”

Kelly and Rogers made a couple of mistakes: Damien of Molokai is already a blessed and James the Lesser was an apostle but not the bishop of Jerusalem. A couple of items that might look incorrect (such as St. Hilary of Poitiers as a “happily married French bishop” and Blessed Mary Mackillop as an “excommunicated nun”) are quite true.

Unfortunately, there is no list of all entries. Written for those not easily scandalized, this book can teach everyone about the many paths to holiness.

You can order SAINTS FOR EVERY OCCASION: 101 of Heaven’s Most Powerful Patrons and THE BIRTHDAY BOOK OF SAINTS: Your Powerful Personal Patrons for Every Blessed Day of the Year from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Book Briefs

To cover more books, we’re adding a column-within-a-column of short reviews. They will focus on a different topic each month.

On January 1, as usual, World Day of Peace will be celebrated. But we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of September 11, 2001, and struggling to make sense of it all and be at peace with God. Check out the following:

The Cross at Ground Zero, by Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R. (Our Sunday Visitor, 143 pp. $7.95.). Father Groeschel, a frequent guest on EWTN, tries to answer the question where God was on 9/11. He reassures us that the steel cross found amidst the ruins of the World Trade Center is a reminder of Jesus, who did not come to take away all pain, but to sanctify all suffering.

When the World Makes Me Scared, by Steve and Sue Givens (Liguori, 24 pp., $1) offers parents ways to help their children rely on their faith to confront fears they may have when bad things happen in their lives. The size, price and tone of this booklet are just right for parents—and kids—seeking ways to cope in these uncertain times.

Searching for God at Ground Zero, by James Martin, S.J. (Sheed & Ward, 103 pp., $12.95). This associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America shares his journal of working with the firefighters, police officers and rescue workers laboring in the ruins. Expecting discouragement and despair, he encounters charity, hope and grace.

Beauty for Ashes: Spiritual Reflections on the Attack on America, edited by John Farina (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 292 pp., $15.95). Farina, a visiting fellow at Woodstock Theological Center, collected the stories and comments of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others struggling to come to grips with 9/11.

The Transformation of Suffering: Reflections on September 11 & the Wedding Feast at Cana in Galilee, by Thomas Keating (Lantern Books, 56 pp., $10 U.S., $14.95 Canada). The founder of the Centering Prayer movement puts September 11 in the context of the last century’s growing violence and disregard for innocent life, and juxtaposes it with Jesus in the ordinariness of life, at the marriage feast.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, 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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