THE PRISONER: An Invitation to Hope, by Paul F. Everett. Paulist Press.
193 pp. $16.95.
Reviewed by ANTHONY BOSNICK, coordinator
of prison ministries for the Paulist
National Catholic Evangelization Association
(Washington, D.C.). He writes a column
on prison spirituality in Let’s Talk!,
a newsletter for prisoners.
BUREAU OF JUSTICE statistics show
that well over 70 percent of U.S. prisoners
return to jail within three years
after their release. In light of this data,
we may wonder if there is any hope
that more of the 2.2 million people in
jail will return to society as contributing
The story of Brother Jim Townsend,
O.F.M.Cap., shows us that there is. His
life story should give hope to all those
who know and work with
prisoners, including family
members, who may have
abandoned any thought
that those caught in a life of
crime can change.
Townsend knew mostly
neglect and rejection as a
youngster. Born in 1927,
the Depression years hit his
family hard, and he suffered
the death of his mother
while he was still a boy.
While the details may
differ, his background is not so very
different from that of many prisoners
today. Raised in an abusive household,
he knew precious little love as a youngster.
He ran into trouble early, ran away
from home and spent time in a reform
school, an orphanage and a juvenile
facility—all by the time he was 14.
These institutions did more punishing
Townsend finally found love and
acceptance as a young man, and his
life seemed to change. He married in
1947 at 20, and his wife, Alice, loved
him and cared for his deep needs. Then
the unthinkable happened. Only six
months after their marriage, Townsend
took a hunting rifle and murdered her
while she was taking a bath. In the
early months of pregnancy, as her body
changed and her desire for a sexual
relationship with her husband lessened,
Townsend feared that Alice too
was abandoning him. In his anxiety, he
snapped and killed her.
Life imprisonment was the sentence,
first in Pennsylvania’s Western Penitentiary
and then 13 years later in Rockview,
in the central part of the state.
The security level at Rockview was
lower than that at Western, and
Townsend’s plan was to work his way
to a prison job where he could drive
unaccompanied in a truck through the
prison gates, never to return.
He did all he could to achieve that
job assignment, including
participating in the prison
religious program. He
attended religious services
and worked his way into a
job cleaning the chapel. All
the while, his heart was
stone-cold against religion.
He just played a game, not
believing all that “hocus
pocus” stuff about bread
and wine. To get in good
with the chaplain, he even
went to confession and
joined the Franciscan Third Order.
But something mysterious began to
happen. The words the chaplain spoke,
the liturgies he attended and his presence
among the holy things of the
chapel such as the Blessed Sacrament
and the Stations of the Cross began to
make an impression—even though he
remained unaware of it.
God, whom Townsend referred to as “Mr. Slick,” never gave up on him. Nor
did the chaplain.
The rest of the story is one of slow
growth and change. After release from
prison for good behavior, Townsend
developed caring relationships with
others, which led to further healing as
he began to trust people and realize
that he wasn’t worthless and unlovable
as he thought of himself. It eventually
led to his vows as a Capuchin
Franciscan brother. Steady and determined
growth in the knowledge of
God’s life and love now sustains
This book shows a way of spirituality
for all readers, especially laypeople,
pointing to how we too may walk in
pilgrimage on the way of holiness. It is
truly an invitation to hope for the
hopeless, especially prisoners, who
believe that there is no changing for
them. Brother Jim shows that there is.
You can order THE PRISONER: An Invitation to Hope from St.
PASCAL'S WAGER: The Man Who Played Dice With God, by James A.
Connor. HarperSanFrancisco. 224 pp.
Reviewed by DAN KROGER, O.F.M., publisher/CEO of St. Anthony Messenger Press.
He earned his Ph.D. in Christian ethics at
the University of Notre Dame. He was a
full professor at De La Salle University in
Manila, Philippines, and has taught at
the Franciscan seminary there.
THIS BIOGRAPHICAL STUDY is an
account of the life, work and spiritual
struggles of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662),
a French mathematician and theologian.
Tracing Pascal’s development
from sickly infant, to child prodigy, to
respected scientist, Connor narrates
how Pascal published a study of conical
sections, adding to the developing
field of projective geometry, when he
was 17. At only 20, Pascal devised a
mechanical calculator so his father
could make tax calculations accurately
Pascal became convinced that progress
comes from scientific research, not from adherence to traditions like
Aristotle’s rule that “nature abhors a
vacuum.” Expanding Evangelista
Torricelli’s work, Pascal constructed
barometers and carefully measured air
pressures at low and high altitudes. He
discovered formulas to calculate the
properties of gases and fluids placed
under pressure, applying these principles
in devising a hydraulic press. Late
in life, Pascal studied questions posed
by a friend who engaged in recreational
gambling. The result: Pascal developed
principles for probability science and
The subtitle of this book—The Man
Who Played Dice with God—hints at
how Connor traced Pascal’s spiritual
pilgrimage. Connor leads readers
through the religious quest of a man
whose search for God matured in his
mid-30s, when Pascal grew dissatisfied
with his life and became convinced of
the limits of reason.
According to Connor, Pascal’s conversion
was influenced by his sister,
Jacqueline. After caring for their father
until his death, Jacqueline entered the
Port-Royal Convent in Paris, contrary
to the wishes of her brother Blaise.
Jacqueline lived under the watchful
eye of the abbess, Mère Angèlique, who
had taken the Port-Royal community
from undisciplined comfort to a life of
strict religious observance.
Mère Angèlique was under the influence
of Jansenism—an exaggerated
Augustinian theology promoted by disciples
of Bishop Cornelis Jansen of
Ypres (1585-1638). Jansen’s spirituality
accentuated the hopeless condition
of humankind without God’s grace, as
Luther and Calvin had done in the
Like the reformers, Jansen felt that
Roman Catholicism strayed from the
Gospels in allowing people to believe
that they could earn salvation. He
blamed “merit theology” for causing
Christians to lose their sense of dependence
upon God, so Jansen promoted
strict forms of mortification and
eschewed human reason.
Connor assesses Jansenism by describing
two tendencies found in Christianity.
Some believers “seek to find God in
all things” and are at peace with reason
and believe that most people are decent.
They “believe that the world is a
wide and good place.” Such folks, says
Connor, “end up orbiting around the
ideas of Thomas Aquinas...and his Christian
reclamation of Aristotle.” On the
other hand, writes Connor,
there are those “who seek to
find God outside human
experiences, who distrust
reason, who think that the
world is a shipwreck and
that people are no damn
good.” These people tend to
“orbit around the ideas of
Clearly, Connor is not
in the Jansenist or Augustinian
camp. He interprets
Pascal’s turn to Jansen’s theology
as “tragic,” claiming that the
philosophical-theological brilliance of
Pascal was wasted on defending the
Port-Royal community against the
French government, the Church hierarchy
and the Jesuits.
Some of Pascal’s “Provincial Letters”
attacked the Jesuits for compromising
with worldly values. Even as he neared
death, Pascal was gathering ideas for a
defense of faith. Published posthumously
as his Pensées, Pascal’s notes
include his “wager argument”
for the existence of
God. He claims that the
odds are in favor of the believer
because he has little
to lose if he bets that God
exists and orders his personal
Connor shows mastery of
the subjects that occupied
Pascal’s short life. Some may
question Connor’s work,
claiming he favors the
Jesuits; after all, Connor was
The strength of Connor’s work arises
from his research into the social context
of the 17th century and its influence
on Pascal. In this reviewer’s
opinion, Pascal’s Wager is a masterpiece.
You can order PASCAL'S WAGER: The Man Who Played Dice With God from St. Francis Bookshop.
MARKING THE HOURS: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570, by
Eamon Duffy. Yale University Press.
201 pp. $35.
Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL P. ORSI,
Ed.D., a research fellow in law and religion
at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor,
EAMON DUFFY is a religious historian
and expert on the English Reformation.
In previous books, The Stripping of
the Altars and The Voices of Morebath, he
examined the effect the
Reformation had on the
liturgy and parish life. In
this book, Marking the
Hours: English People and
Their Prayers 1240-1570,
Duffy looks at the Book
of Hours to determine the
devotional life of the people “high and low, aristocratic
and plebian” before
and after King Henry
His findings are based on the additions,
notations found in a
cross-examination of the
surviving volumes of
prayer books from the
The Book of Hours contained
a standardized selection
of psalms, antiphons,
and pictures, arranged for
recitation and meditation
in honor of Mary for each
of the eight monastic hours of the day.
To these hours were added the Office
for the Dead, the short Hours of the
Cross, the seven Penitential Psalms and
the Litany of the Saints.
By the 15th century, it had expanded
to become a compendium of popular
devotion which often included “prayer
charms” designed to coerce God or a
saint for a specific need, such as conception,
financial success or prayer
against an enemy. These semi-magical
formulas were expunged from post-Reformation editions. Such prayers
were also condemned by the Catholic
Counter-Reformation at the Council
of Trent (1545-63).
Duffy says that, after the Act of
Supremacy (1534), references to the
pope were replaced with the bishop.
Also, the name of Thomas Becket
(1118-70), the great defender of the
rights of the Church, was removed.
Duffy, however, contends that often
the changes found in the Book of Hours
were the result of prudence on the part
of the individual book’s owner and not
necessarily indicative of the interiority
of the new Tudor religion.
Duffy states, “If the owner of a Book
of Hours became a Protestant, he or
she was more likely to stop using the
book altogether than to leave clues in
its pages as to the movement of their
Duffy looks at some prayer books
designed to replace the Book of Hours,
among them The Royal Primer which
was officially imposed in 1545, and “the very Protestant Edwardine Royal
Primer” (1551), which resembled a
slimmer Book of Common Prayer.
Duffy’s examination of these texts
reveals that they were adapted for the Catholic Queen Mary (1553-58) by simply
crossing out the name of King
Edward VI (1537-53) and adding the
notation “you may say the prayers for
the Queene [sic].”
“The accommodations found in these
books and the continued use of the
Book of Hours is indicative,” says Duffy,
“that the prayer life of the laity lagged
behind shifts in royal religious policy.
“We need to remind ourselves,”
Duffy says, “that the prayers of these
books were not merely used privately.
Major sections of them were regularly
recited collectively as part of public
worship of the whole community, or
some of its constituent sub-groupings,
such as the gilds [sic].”
In an especially interesting chapter,
Duffy provides an insight into the private
prayer of St. Thomas More (1478-1535) as he awaited execution in the
Tower of London. By examining More’s
jottings in the margins of his personal
Book of Hours, Duffy shows that More
was by no stretch of the imagination a
religious individualist but rather someone
who longed for the parish community.
He also finds More’s piety to be
He says, “More’s devotional instinct
moves toward the human conditions in
general, and to the universal disciplines
of the spiritual life.” This is especially
noticeable in his prayer of intercession
for his enemies: “Make us saved souls
in heaven together where we may ever
live and love together with the [sic for
thee] and thy blessed saintes [sic]."
Here, Duffy gives us a picture of religious
practice and belief, as well as
social customs of medieval and early
Yale University has enhanced this
volume with excellent photographs of
some of the museum editions of the
Book referred to in the text. Marking the
Hours is a keepsake.
You can order MARKING THE HOURS: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570 from St.
GIFTS OF THE DESERT: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality, by
Kyriacos C. Markides. Doubleday. 370
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a
teacher and writer at St. Xavier High
School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He edited (with
Bill Madges) Vatican II: Forty Personal
Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).
IN 1054 the Christian Church became
divided into East and West, Orthodox
and Catholic. This has continued,
despite efforts at reunion, for close to a
thousand years. Some have described
this break as breathing with only one
lung. It is only when the two traditions
are joined, distinct but unified, that
Christianity can breathe fully again.
In his book Gifts of the Desert, Kyriacos
Markides, a professor of
sociology at the University
of Maine, gives a taste especially
to Western Christians
of what it would be like to
breathe again with the lost
lung of Orthodoxy.
Central to the spirituality
of Orthodoxy is the
theme of pilgrimage. If
nothing else, this book is
that. Markides is always on
the move—a desert monastery
in Arizona, the island
of Cyprus, shrines on the Aegean
islands, a chapel in England and,
finally, Mt. Athos in Greece—attempting
to come to a deeper understanding
of Orthodox life and spirituality.
Markides’s guide and mentor on this
journey is Father Maximos, a onetime
monk on Mt. Athos who is now a
bishop in Cyprus.
Through a series of conversations,
Father Maximos distills the essence of
Orthodoxy. For example, when speaking
of grace, he says: “When it comes
to the grace of God we have a license to
be greedy and avaricious. It’s the only
form of greediness that is music to the
ears of God. Believe me, such good
greediness has no limit or point of satiation.
That’s when moderation is truly
not a virtue but a vice.”
Another figure Markides uses to provide
insight into Orthodoxy is Bishop
Kallistos Ware. As an Anglican who
converted to Orthodoxy, Ware sees himself
as an interpreter of the East to the
West. In his conversation with Markides,
Ware relates that what attracted him
most to the Orthodox faith was
its liturgy—experiencing heaven on
earth—and its living tradition.
Father Maximos and Bishop Ware
also touch upon other topics, including
salvation, interpretation of Scripture,
the role of Orthodoxy in the West, the
need for Orthodoxy to repent of historical
sins, and the sacraments.
Though deeply appreciative of the
gifts of Orthodoxy, Markides is not blind
to its weaknesses. At one point, he shares
the experience of his wife explaining
that “the issue of the non-inclusiveness
toward women has remained a lingering
shadow in her relationship to the religious
tradition within which
she was born. This is the case
with most modern women
today, who can no longer
accept the traditional roles
imposed on them by an antiquated,
The substance of Orthodoxy
for Markides is
disclosed in a three-step
process: purification, illumination
and God realization.
What feeds this process
is metanoia—a deep desire to live according
to the will of God, which brings
forth conversion. Markides finishes by
saying: “These ‘gifts of the desert’ have
remained in our secularized civilization,
the survival of which may depend
on how quickly we make these gifts
part of our everyday reality.”
Gifts of the Desert is a worthwhile
read on two levels. First, it exposed my
parochial understanding to another
living tradition—Orthodoxy. Second,
Markides allowed me to see numerous
similarities between Orthodoxy and
It’s a nice, non-academic introduction
to the Orthodox tradition and
You can order GIFTS OF THE DESERT: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality from St. Francis Bookshop.