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THE GIFT OF CHANGE: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life
REAL PEOPLE, REAL PRESENCE: Ordinary Catholics on the Extraordinary Power of the Eucharist
PRAYING IN THE CELLAR: A Guide to Facing Your Fears and Finding God

THE REFORMATION FOR ARMCHAIR THEOLOGIANS, by Glenn S. Sunshine. Illustrations by Ron Hill. Westminster John Knox Press. 247 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. His independent study project as a college senior involved studying the development of Martin Luther’s thought between the posting of his 95 Theses (1517) and the Diet of Worms, which outlawed him (1520).

IN RECENT YEARS Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations are offering more opportunities to study Church history, of getting beyond old stereotypes.

This volume began as a series of newsletter articles for First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and was later expanded into an adult education course at First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Additional research and consultation resulted in this present volume.

Sunshine, an associate professor of history at Central Connecticut University, has produced a very readable account of European Christianity between 1500 (the eve of the Reformation) and 1648 (the Peace of Westphalia’s decision that government leaders would determine the official religion locally). Ron Hill’s 41 drawings reinforce and complement the text nicely.

After a chapter titled “On the Eve of the Reformation,” the author traces the work of Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox and others, without neglecting developments within the Roman Catholic Church. An 11-page Index should help anyone who gets lost regarding a person’s name or a technical term. A two-page Bibliography suggests sources for future study. Several discussion questions end each chapter.

Sunshine tells a complicated story in very understandable language. I was surprised, however, that the section on the Augsburg Confession (1530) did not mention that in 1999 the Roman Catholic Church and many parts of the Lutheran Church agreed on a “Joint Declaration” on justification, the Reformation’s most disputed issue.

At times the author’s tongue-in-cheek approach is too simple. For example, William of Ockham’s nominalist philosophy was not widely held by Franciscans, though Ockham belonged to that order. Catholic authorities did not have to pressure Erasmus to write more positively about human freedom than Martin Luther did. Were Jesuits really involved in plots to assassinate Elizabeth I of England? Was Elizabeth indeed “tricked” into signing the death sentence of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots? Did French kings “celebrate” Mass on their coronation day?

Sunshine’s text avoids caricatures of the Catholic Church. Most Protestants and Catholics could learn a good deal from this book.

You can order THE REFORMATION FOR ARMCHAIR THEOLOGIANS from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE GIFT OF CHANGE: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life, by Marianne Williamson. Harper San Francisco. 251 pp. $21.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and a licensed psychotherapist. His newest book is Securing Serenity in Troubling Times: Living One Day at a Time (Xulon Press).

POPULAR AUTHOR, TEACHER and former pastor Marianne Williamson sees a wounded world that needs a little light to walk by. Extraordinary difficulties are faced in this post-9/11 world and, in Williamson’s view, things are “spinning out of control.”

This is Williamson’s ninth book; others include her best-selling A Return to Love (Perennial Library), which was reflections on the Foundation of Inner Peace’s “A Course in Miracles.” Here, her usual theme of “love is the answer” is replaced by “change is a gift,” so that someone can really discover her or his essence.

Embracing personal responsibility is a central idea in the book, both for one’s own personal disasters and for more collective issues. Williamson calls the dilemma a “collective depression” that many prefer to suppress. Yet, she writes, only by dealing with our role in healing the world can we overcome the anxiety.

Like a thick fog, anxiety hovers over the earth, the author writes, and, consequently, many people feel exhausted. Revisiting her reflections on the principles that guided “A Course in Miracles,” Williamson suggests 10 changes “to actualize the greatness of God that lives within all of us.” Great performances in the drama of living will not occur, she concludes, until one takes the path of spiritual maturity.

Her 10 changes include changing from negative thinking to positive love; from anxiety to atonement; from focus on guilt to focus on innocence; from living in the past and future to living in the present; from asking God to change the world to praying that God will change individuals one person at a time.

“If you can rise above the fear in your life and live the love within you,” Williamson says, “and if I can rise above my fear and live the love in me—if that drama is reenacted enough times by enough of the world’s people then we can pierce the darkness and tip the world in the direction of light.”

Call it an inside job to change for happiness. Call it Vatican II’s challenge for transformation of the world beginning with self. She advises folks to make the most of mistakes by letting God “turn our scars into beauty marks.”

You can order THE GIFT OF CHANGE: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life from St. Francis Bookshop.


ABOUT GRACE, by Anthony Doerr. Scribner. 402 pp. $25, hardcover; $15, paperback.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian and former member of the St. Anthony Messenger Press Advisory Board.

ANTHONY DOERR FOLLOWS up on his highly lauded short-story collection entitled The Shell Collectors with a dazzling first novel, interweaving the basically unchanging laws of physical science with the largely uncharted realm of human psychology.

David Winkler, the protagonist, spends his boyhood in Anchorage, Alaska, obsessed with the phenomena created by the extremes of weather experienced there. He and his mother share a particular interest in the intricate design of a snowflake. At age nine he dreams about a man being killed in a bus accident and witnesses the event with everything he had foreseen.

He dreams of meeting his future wife at a supermarket, where he will retrieve a magazine she will drop. This, too, takes place, and he begins to stalk the already married woman and persuade her to have an affair. When she announces her pregnancy, they flee together to Cleveland, Ohio, and settle in a small home by the Chagrin River to await the birth of their child, Grace.

Six months later, David dreams that the river will flood and that, while attempting to rescue the child, his wife will be torn from his arms and swept away in the deluge. Convinced that this dream will also come true, he flees to a remote Caribbean island, adapts to the radical change in surroundings and attempts to forget his beloved wife and daughter.

He becomes very close to Naaliyah, the five-year-old daughter of the Orellana family who take him in, and an obvious surrogate for Grace. When the girl runs away, he becomes obsessed with discovering the fate of his own family and begins the difficult journey back to his earlier life and loves.

Some delicious comic relief is offered by the very different personalities and lifestyles of the nine possible Grace Winklers whom he visits. Patient acceptance of his search by at least eight of the nine may be a personification of the grace in the title, as could the kindness received from the Orellana family, the truck driver in Idaho and even his wife’s first husband. The grace hardest to come by is forgiving himself.

Let me warn the reader that this is not an easily readable work. While the prose is gripping in its impact, it is also dense with its manipulation of facts, sights, feelings and thoughts. The highly detailed descriptions of David’s work as a hydrologist, then a weather forecaster, then a wilderness survivor, combined with Naaliyah’s studies of insects overwintering in the Yukon, are given excruciatingly detailed attention. While an intricate part of the plot, this amount of detail seriously slows the reading.

The multitude of minute knowledge the author exhibits can be exasperating or enthralling. Perhaps the following quote will help you decide which adjective would apply to you:

“Studying ice crystals as a graduate student, he eventually found the basic design (equilateral, equiangular hexagons) so icily repeated, so unerringly conforming, that he couldn’t help but shudder: Beneath the splendor—the filigreed blossoms, the microscopic stars—was a ghastly inevitability; crystals could not escape their embedded blueprints any more than humans could. Everything hewed to a rigidity of pattern, the certainty of death.”

Young adult and adult readers with a background in biology—or who at least have the patience to absorb scientific details while following a suspenseful plot line—will find this novel an enjoyable read.

You can order About Grace from St. Francis Bookshop.


REAL PEOPLE, REAL PRESENCE: Ordinary Catholics on the Extraordinary Power of the Eucharist, presented by Cardinal William H. Keeler. Foreword by Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. The Word Among Us Press. 176 pp. $10.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor of this publication.

IF YOU LIKED our October cover story, “What the Eucharist Means to Me: Our Readers Respond,” you’ll love this book. Cardinal William H. Keeler invited the people in his Baltimore Archdiocese to write stories that witness to the power of the Eucharist in their lives.

The testimonies are deeply moving. Ranging from First Communion to Communion for the sick and dying, from extraordinary ministers of the sacrament to participants in eucharistic adoration, these stories attest to the felt presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They speak of God helping them through particularly difficult times of life or healing them—physically or emotionally—through their reception of the Eucharist.

The contributions are pure faith. The one that touched me the most was Rebecca Drink’s story of her autistic son’s Communions when he realized he was with “my best friend” and was quiet, his face glowing with joy, perhaps seeing angels and the communion of saints gathered around the altar.

A few of the stories come from converts who stress that they became Catholic because of the Eucharist. They don’t take the gift of the Eucharist for granted, as sometimes we lifelong Catholics do. These stories come from ordinary parishioners, not Church professionals, although I do recognize one name, Maureen Sullivan, as the author of an excellent book on Vatican II.

Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote on the Eucharist from Pope John Paul II or a saint, and ends with reflection questions suitable for individual or group use. The book also includes the complete text of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine, for the Year of the Eucharist.

Even though that Church celebration concluded last October, the Eucharist is always available to us. Cardinal Keeler is still inviting Catholics to share their personal witness stories and includes guidelines in this book on how to do that.

The cardinal will donate the royalties from the sale of this book to Catholic education and the restoration of the historic Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. His book has been endorsed by all the U.S. cardinals and many U.S. bishops, as well as familiar lay authors like Bert Ghezzi and Sister Ann Shields.

Cardinal Keeler says of his book, “Taken together, the stories in Real People, Real Presence compose a song of Love to the Lord, striking a variety of chords and resonating from deep within.” This is glorious music, indeed.

You can order REAL PEOPLE, REAL PRESENCE: Ordinary Catholics on the Extraordinary Power of the Eucharist from St. Francis Bookshop.


PRAYING IN THE CELLAR: A Guide to Facing Your Fears and Finding God, by Anthony Delisi, O.C.S.O. Paraclete Press. 160 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by MARION AMBERG, a freelance writer for this publication and dozens more.

DON’T READ THIS title on an empty stomach! Father Anthony Delisi opens his inspiring book with tales of his Sicilian mother’s cooking and his family’s cellar stocked with jars of tomato sauce. The aromas just seem to waft off the pages. I found myself scanning the book like a menu, not only because I was getting hungry but also because this octogenarian Trappist monk is an expert storyteller.

I laughed and cried—sometimes both in the same paragraph—at Father Delisi’s naked honesty in facing his private fears.

Taking to heart Jesus’ instructions for prayer, “Go to your inner room” (or storeroom, as an older Greek version has it), “close the door and pray to your Father in secret,” Father Delisi descends the steps into the storeroom— or cellar—of his youth.

There among the jars of homemade tomato sauce and preserves, decades-old memories and fears begin to bubble up.

Father Delisi tells of his grandfather Babi getting kidnapped by the Mafia and how his older brothers slept at night with a gun in a drawer between their beds. For fear he would get kidnapped, young Luigi (Father Delisi’s baptismal name) was warned to keep his distance from strangers. Delisi eventually had to face that ingrained fear of strangers when he became retreat master of the guesthouse at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia.

While I didn’t keep a journal as Father Delisi suggested, his transparency helped to bubble up some of my own fears. I, too, ventured into a cellar—the church cellar where a school nun banished Frankie and me to practice our tubas in hopes that we would improve. (We didn’t.) I also found myself staring at a childhood fear that seemed to grow up with me—the fear of rejection, an unwelcome fear for a freelance writer.

A part of Paraclete Press’s “A Voice From the Monastery” series, this book is divided into four chapters, each originally published as a booklet. While each chapter deals with a different stage of spiritual light and darkness, I wasn’t always able to make the distinction. Was Mama Delisi’s spaghetti to blame? Did Father Delisi get hungry, I wondered, while writing these words at 4:30 a.m., as part of his morning vigil?

As a good selling point to his first trade book (I hope Father Delisi writes more), the final chapter includes testimonies of people who have found healing in their unique cellar encounters with God. Rounding out the book are an Afterword, an introduction to contemplative prayer and a series of questions to ponder with each chapter.

This book is a good read for everyone, regardless of whether one wants to expose fears to God for healing. Father Delisi, founder of the Lay Cistercian movement, has a masterful wit and even offers tidbits on growing tomatoes. His adventures in Africa—did you know banana is an African word?—add to the book’s spirit, as does his telling of Sicilian Catholic traditions. Sicilians eat neither pasta nor bread on December 13—the feast day of St. Lucy, who was martyred in a flour mill.

This book lives up to the promise of its title. Just make sure you descend into your cellar on a full stomach—preferably after a plate of spaghetti and garlic bread.

You can order PRAYING IN THE CELLAR: A Guide to Facing Your Fears and Finding God from St. Francis Bookshop.


FURRY LOGIC PARENTHOOD, by Jane Seabrook. Ten Speed Press. 72 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this publication and mother of three children: a six-year-old daughter, a three-year-old son and a four-month-old daughter. She writes the “Faith-filled Family” column for this magazine.

IN A FOLLOW-UP to her book Furry Logic, author-illustrator Jane Seabrook has created this latest book focusing on the theme of parenting. Each page features one of Seabrook’s exquisite wildlife paintings along with a quote on parenting, such as, “I used to have a number of theories on raising children. Now I have a number of children and no theories.”

Many of the quotes were ones I had heard before, but the illustrations gave them a new perspective. For instance, the above quote accompanies a picture of a mother warthog with her babies climbing all over her.

According to the book summary, Seabrook’s paintings “uncannily capture the highs and lows, loves and fears that we all feel as parents.” I concur.

Seabrook is a freelance designer and illustrator from Auckland, New Zealand. In recent years, she has focused her paintings on wildlife. The warm, naturalistic illustrations in this book emphasize how animals and humans nurture their young.

Since I got this book for review, I have picked it up a number of times to browse through and have shared many of the quotes with friends. This book makes a perfect gift to give yourself, for a baby shower, to celebrate a birth or any other parenting occasion.

You can order Furry Logic Parenthood from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

Studying history sometimes shines light into times, places and events we’d rather not remember. These three books deal with the struggles of early Catholic immigrants to the United States.

ROMAN: Unparalleled Outrage, by John William McMullen (Author- House, 389 pp., $30.45, hardcover; $19.95, paperback), is a fascinating work of historical fiction set in Evansville and Vincennes, Indiana. It embroiders on the true story of a missionary priest, Father Roman Weinzoepfel, O.S.B., who in 1842 was accused of assault and rape and nearly lynched, a classic example of anti-Catholicism in early America.

THE DARK DECADE, 1829-1839: Anti-Catholic Persecutions in Hawai’i, by Emmett Cahill (Mutual Publishing of Honolulu,, 124 pp., $12.95), is the history of two Catholic priests who arrived in Honolulu in 1927. They met resistance to their evangelizing efforts from the Hawaiian royalty who were already Protestants and the influential Rev. Hiram Bingham. New Catholic converts were beaten for practicing their faith.

THE ST. LOUIS GERMAN CATHOLICS, by William Barnaby Faherty, S.J. (Reedy Press, 127 pp., $19.95), is a well-written and well-illustrated history of the German Catholics who were welcomed to St. Louis and shaped much of the city’s culture. Father Faherty has written more than 40 books about St. Louis history; one of his novels, A Wall for San Sebastian, was made into an MGM movie.

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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