GUITARS AND ADOBES: and the
Uncollected Stories of Fray Angélico
Chávez, edited and introduced by
Ellen McCracken. Museum of New
Mexico Press. 295 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by MURRAY BODO, O.F.M., a
Franciscan priest who grew up in New
Mexico and continues to write about his
youth in the Southwest in Wounded
Angels, a book of poetry. His latest book
is Brother Juniper: God's Holy Fool.
FRAY ANGÉLICO CHÁVEZ (1910-1996)
is one of New Mexico's foremost writers
and the first native New Mexican to
be ordained a Franciscan priest. At the
age of 14, he traveled from northern
New Mexico to Ohio to begin his studies
for the priesthood. During those 13
years of preparation, his imagination
returned to his beloved New Mexico
again and again in the stories that are
collected here for the first time.
At the heart of this book is a little-known
novel, Guitars and Adobes, that
the young friar serialized in
St. Anthony Messenger in
eight installments from
1931 to 1932 when he was
still in temporary vows.
Also contained in this volume
are previously uncollected
stories first published
in St. Anthony Messenger and
The Sodalist. Though written
early in Fray Angélico's
career (the novel was written
when he was 20), the
writing already shimmers
with his charming story-telling talent,
wit and love of language.
The present book, in combination
with Ellen McCracken's previous two
books, Fray Angélico Chávez: Poet, Priest,
and Artist and The Life and Writing of
Fray Angélico Chávez: A New Mexico
Renaissance Man, completes an in-depth
triptych of one of New Mexico's greatest
humanists and men of letters whose
bronze statue in downtown Santa Fe
attests to his eminence in modern New
In this short review I shall limit
myself to the novel. It is written as a
Hispano alternative to Willa Cather's
great novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop,
based on Jean-Baptiste Lamy,
the first archbishop of Santa Fe.
Chávez's novel begins with Lamy's
death in 1888 and ends with the death
of an ordinary Hispana in 1929.
The heart of the novel is a love story
between Consuelo, the daughter of a
widow with proud and important Hispanic
lineage, and an industrious adobe
maker, Rosendo Rael. The two eventually
elope and marry, settling down in
Mora, where Fray Angélico grew up.
They have one daughter, born shortly
before an epidemic of smallpox breaks
out in Mora. The whole family is
infected when Rosendo nurses some
of the sick.
Lest I give away too much of the
plot, let me just say that the novel then
switches to 1929, about 30
years later, and focuses on
the house of Consuelo and
Rosendo's daughter, which
is bought by an artist who
belongs to a group of writers
and artists that Chávez
belonged to as a young man.
The novel ends, in Fray
Angélico's words, with a
mystery "as intangible and
uninterpretable as the one
that holds the Old Santa Fe
with the New in spite of the
years, a tie of race, faith, and traditions,
of love and romance, of guitars
and adobes." The mysterious guitar of
the title and in the novel's recurring
motif is a symbol of death—anyone
who plays it dies, including Consuelo's
father and Archbishop Lamy. The
adobe is a symbol of life.
As McCracken points out, one troubling
note in the novel is the young
author's anti-Semitism. The guitar is
inscribed with Hebrew letters that
encode a Spanish saying, "La muerte
canto—tócame y mueres" ("I sing death—play me and you die").
The attitudes Fray Angélico reveals,
both in the mysterious origin of the
guitar and in his historical asides, are
those he grew up with in Mora and
those he may have imbibed in the pre-Holocaust Germanic milieu of a Catholic
seminary in the 1920s and '30s.
The older and wiser Fray Angélico published
My Penitente Land in 1974, which
contains better informed writing on
Jews and the Jewish biblical tradition.
As a native of New Mexico and a
writer inspired by Fray Angélico when
I was a seminarian at St. Francis Seminary,
the same Cincinnati seminary
the young Manuel Chávez attended 30
years before, I was amazed by how well
he wrote for one so young.
I delighted in the twists and turns of
the novel, and I enjoyed the stories,
even those written for young female
readers of The Sodalist, a publication
of The Sodalities of the Blessed Virgin.
(As one would suspect, the stories from
The Sodalist impart advice for young
girls, but with humor and witty wordplay;
and, of course, the female characters
are usually wiser and smarter
than the men. Interestingly, Fray
Angélico adopts female pen names for
four of these stories, including "Ann Jellicoe"!)
Anyone interested in the work and
life of Fray Angélico Chávez and/or in
New Mexico and its culture, past and
present, will find much wisdom here
imparted through interesting fictional
characters, some of whom are totally
imagined and others based on historical
personages like Don Diego de Vargas,
Archbishop Lamy and Doña Tules.
The timing of the book is impeccable:
2010 is the 400th anniversary of
the founding of Fray Angélico's beloved
You can order GUITARS AND ADOBES: and the
Uncollected Stories of Fray Angélico
Chávez from St. Francis Bookstore.
COMPASSIONATE FIRE: The Letters
of Thomas Merton and Catherine de
Hueck Doherty, edited by Robert A.
Wild. Ave Maria. 110 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. He interviewed
Catherine de Hueck Doherty for our
November 1976 issue.
THOMAS MERTON (1915-1968) was
teaching English at St. Bonaventure
College (University since 1950) in
southwestern New York when he met
Catherine de Hueck (1896-1985). She
spoke there twice in 1941. They never
met again, but neither could have predicted
the deep spiritual friendship that
developed through their letters over
the next 27 years.
In the summer of 1941, Merton
worked in Harlem at Friendship House,
which de Hueck had established
three years earlier. Merton's first letter
(October 6, 1941) was written after
Catherine's fall visit to St. Bonaventure.
Two months later he joined the
Trappists at Gethsemani, Kentucky, and
asked her to "write sometime." Indeed,
she did and he wrote back!
This volume is edited by Father
Robert Wild, a member of Madonna
House Apostolate in Combermere,
Ontario. It was established in 1947 by
Catherine, who had married journalist
Eddie Doherty four years earlier.
Compassionate Fire presents 16 letters
by Merton (at least two more were
written) and 17 letters by Doherty (at
least one more was written). Wild, a
collaborator of Doherty's for many
years and now postulator of her cause
for canonization, provides introductions
for several letters.
Merton's letters to Catherine appeared
in William Shannon's 1985 volume,
The Hidden Ground of Love: The
Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious
Experience and Social Concerns. Doherty's
letters are published here for the first
In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton
penned several very positive passages
about Catherine, formerly a Russian
baroness. In 1941 he left her his Cuban
Journal, which was published in 1959 as
The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton,
with the royalties assigned to Madonna
In the fall of 1941, Catherine wrote
that sainthood is fundamentally "doing
everyday things extremely
well." She anticipated by 24
years Vatican II's chapter
"The Universal Call to Holiness"
on the Church). Both Merton
and Doherty did everyday
things extremely well.
Two passages hint at the
richness of this correspondence.
people drawn to monasteries
and Madonna House,
Merton wrote: "The basic
trouble is perhaps that they are still
very immature in the spiritual life,
because they are centered on a 'self'
for which they want to attain the best
of ends: they want to possess 'contemplation'
and 'God.' What they really
need is solid and simple direction...the
kind of really basic sort of training that
the Desert Fathers and the early monasteries
gave: to shut up and stop all their
speculation and get down to living a
simple laborious life in which they forget
Catherine once wrote:
"Strange as it might seem,
my agony of spirit is connected
with the world as a
whole. It appears to me as if
the human Church was
asleep and Christ is vainly
trying to wake it up. Or to
put it another way, the
masses of the laity have
clothed their souls in asbestos
suits so that the fire of
the Holy Ghost may not impenetrate us
nor set us on fire" (May 26, 1961).
Wild's volume includes the text of
Catherine's talk at Madonna House
after learning of Merton's death and
her telegram the next day to Abbot
Flavian, Merton's abbot.
This book presents four pages of black and white photos, including one
that Merton took of Catherine. The
Afterword about Catherine's influence
on Merton precedes three pages of
notes about people and events cited in
these letters and a two-page bibliography.
In his 1941 journal, Merton wrote,
"The Baroness is a saint." Seventeen
years later she wrote to him: "And you
may not be a saint now. But who can
tell, perhaps you or even I will someday
be a saint. With God's mercy, all things
are possible! I surely will pray."
These letters justify Wild's observation,
"Only great souls can affect great
You can order COMPASSIONATE FIRE: The Letters
of Thomas Merton and Catherine de
Hueck Doherty from St.
THE WINE OF CERTITUDE: A Literary
Biography of Ronald Knox, by
David Rooney. Ignatius Press. 427
Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a
retired public librarian with a master's
degree from the University of Illinois Graduate
School of Library and Information
THE EDITORS at Ignatius Press believe
that there is currently a revival of interest
in the myriad writings of Ronald
Knox and have issued a scholarly yet
readable compendium of his works.
David Rooney, an Irish-Catholic
author, had been a longtime reviewer
of books on English and American
Church history when an unsolicited
copy of Knox's A Retreat for Lay People appeared on his desk. When not moonlighting
as a reviewer, Rooney is an
associate professor of engineering at
Hofstra University, and his scientific
mind-set found the English scholar's
logical approach to apologetics mesmerizing.
Although Knox died in 1957, Rooney
states: "Knox stands out as a consummate
writer who can carry a reader
through a philosophical or theological
argument, a recounting of a saint's
life, a serious analysis of a literary figure's
contributions, a hilarious mystery
novel, all without sounding stuffy
Rooney devotes only one chapter to
recounting the life of Ronald Knox, a
convert from Anglicanism who became
a major figure in the Catholic revival in
England in the first half of
the 20th century. He takes
for granted that the reader
will get further biographical
information from other
sources, and cites the best
of these in footnotes.
The absence of a detailed
bibliography seemed a definite
failing until I recognized
the wealth of
detail included in footnotes
throughout the book.
Unique to this work is the
attention given to people who influenced
Knox by their writings or in personal
encounters, again explained with
highly detailed footnotes for further
There is no attempt to categorize
Knox's theology. The aim is to present
a retrospective of 50 years of writing
and entice the reader with samples of
material. Indeed, almost one quarter
of this book consists of the writings of
Knox! For so prolific a writer of over 75
books alone, this represents only one
percent of his total output, and Rooney
assures us that the other 99 percent is
The chapters are arranged by types of
writing and range from consideration
of early satirical works to science fiction,
mysteries, acrostics and even
sequels to the novels of others. In addition
to publishing his sermons and
retreat notes, Knox excelled in apologetics,
producing a book from a debate
in letter form on the assertion that the
Catholic Church is the true Church.
Other media he utilized included newspapers
and radio broadcasts.
Even Rooney admits that the genius
of Ronald Knox can become wearying,
but one wonders how frustrated
Knox must have been by the mind-numbing
clerical assignments given
Knox's crowning achievement was,
of course, the translation of the Bible.
Given the blessing of the English hierarchy
in November of 1938, he opted
for a literary rather than a literal translation
and excelled in making Old Testament
prophets and the letters of St.
Paul more readily accessible.
Here is his modus operandi: "The transition
from one sentence
to the next must be made
logically clear, even at the
cost of introducing words
which are not there, but are
implicit in the context....You must cast your sentences
into a form which
will preserve not only the
meaning but the rhetoric of
the original, or the flying
wrack of imagery will pass
Interestingly, soon after
he settled at the Acton estate at Aldenham
to begin the translation, war broke
out. The evacuation of children to the
British countryside brought 15 Assumption
nuns, some lay teachers and 50
schoolgirls to Aldenham. He served as
their chaplain for the duration of the
conflict. Some of the sermons addressed
to them became his books The Mass in
Slow Motion and The Creed in Slow
Motion. Knox remained a dutiful priest
from ordination to death.
Perhaps most well-known after his
Bible translation is the work Enthusiasm,
a 600-page tome about enthusiastic
religious movements. Having worked
on this encyclopedic book for over 30
years, Knox probably never felt the
Catholic Church imperiled by such
movements but wished to present the
dangers they personified. Perhaps it is
just as well that he did not live to see
such movements adopted by some
Catholics in the 1970s!
Then again, in talking about the Communion of Saints, Knox said: "The
Church in heaven is All Saints. The
Church in Purgatory is All Souls. The
Church on earth is all sorts."
I would highly recommend this literary
biography for educated readers,
but even those may need to keep a dictionary
at hand. Perhaps the best attack
is to peruse a section at a time that
catches one's fancy, read the footnotes
and select a work cited there for further
Libraries in Catholic colleges and
seminaries will wish to purchase this
book, as will most inclusive religious
You can order THE WINE OF CERTITUDE: A Literary
Biography of Ronald Knox from St.
DON'T TRUST THE ABBOT: Musings
From the Monastery, by Abbot
Jerome Kodell. Liturgical Press. 94
AROUND THE MONASTIC TABLE:
Growing in Mutual Service and Love, by Aquinata Böckmann. Liturgical
Press. 296 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by SISTER ANNA MARIE
COVELY, O.S.C., of the Cincinnati Poor
Clare Monastery. She has held many roles
in her community, including abbess and
THE FIRST of these books, with the
whimsical title of Don't Trust the Abbot,
is a collection of articles originally
printed in Subiaco Abbey's newsletter,
The Abbey Message. They are divided
into sections on Trust and Faith, Christian
Life and Prayer.
The author has an easy-to-read style
that would appeal to general readership.
In the title essay, he has some
interesting thoughts on legitimate
authority and obedience, even when
the person making the rules may not be
someone we admire. What he wrote
resonated with my Franciscan approach
One of the articles that I found most
interesting was titled "Sabbath." He
sees Sabbath as "an act of faith in the
loving providence of God. I can lay
down my tools and cease my constant
striving for one day a week and the
world will not fall apart....While we
need a Sabbath day, we need the Sabbath
in every day, a time when we trust
enough to put the world on automatic
pilot (God) and rest. This at its best we
In our overly busy world, there is
such a passion for control that Sabbath
may seem like a threat or a luxury, but
it is really one of God's unsung gifts.
Another interesting essay
was titled "The Family of
Jesus." Abbot Jerome writes
of pilgrimages to the shrine
of the Black Christ in Esquipulas,
Guatemalan families who
have saved for some time to
be able to make this pilgrimage
usually plan on
staying at the shrine for several
days. They establish
their family spot on the
floor of the basilica and set
up candles, food and clothing that will
be needed during their stay.
While they attend the liturgical and
devotional celebrations, they are very
casual about going in and out of the
basilica to eat and relax. People from
the United States are often disconcerted
to see them dozing or visiting with
friends, playing with their children:
"They act as if they were at home."
And that is exactly the point: They recognize
that they are at home in their
The second book, Around the Monastic
Table, is a more scholarly work, presenting
a form of lectio on Chapters
31-42 of the Rule of Benedict. The author
challenges us to take this slow reading
of the Rule and allow it to change our
modern approach to meals and all that
surrounds our eating together at a common
table. In our society, so often
meals are something you do "on the
run" rather than an expression of
shared fellowship. In the monastic setting,
meals are celebrated together and
have their own ritual which flows from
the eucharistic celebration.
Each chapter begins by bringing the
section of the Benedictine Rule into a
contemporary context. For example,
when looking at Chapter 31, "Qualifications
of the Monastery Cellarer," we
are asked to look at it from the contemporary
viewpoint of the need for
"people who care for distribution of
public goods, not pushing the marginalized
into deeper poverty."
Throughout the book, connections
are made between the respect that must
be given to all material things such as
garden tools ("They treated the tools
carefully like things consecrated to
God"). They are to be treated
with the same respect as
the vessels for the altar.
Throughout the text, the
Rule of Benedict is contrasted
with the Rule of the Master or Regula Magistri, a
sixth-century collection of
precepts which probably
served as a basis for Benedict's
writing. In contrasting
the two Rules, the
special vision of Benedict
stands out. A greater compassion
and kindness is seen in the
Rule of Benedict.
There are also some interesting sidebars
which give historical background
for the various Rules on topics such as bathing in ancient times and the eating
of meat. In all, while it is not a book to
be read lightly, it contains much information
on monastic customs and ways.
You can order DON'T TRUST THE ABBOT: Musings
From the Monastery and AROUND THE MONASTIC TABLE:
Growing in Mutual Service and Love from St. Francis Bookstore.
COSTLY GRACE: A Mystery, by James
Allaire. iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com). 264 pp. $26.95, hardcover;
$16.95, paperback; $6, e-book.
Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book
review editor of this publication.
THE TITLE FOR THIS comes from a
term used by Lutheran theologian
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It refers to what it
cost Jesus to earn grace for us and what
it demands of us: "resolute choices,
motivated by self-sacrificing love," as
one of the book's characters puts it.
This is not a theological book, however,
but a very timely mystery, one
where clergy sex abuse may be a motive
for murder. The protagonist is Brian
Kane, a creative writing teacher at Newman
College in western Iowa, who
stumbles into the murder of his mentor,
Father Michael McCoy.
This teacher, with his
girlfriend, Maria Valencia,
a librarian at the college,
decides to do a little sleuthing.
Was the priest an abuser?
Working for the diocese
to cover up the abuses of
Or was the sale of his land
to a resort development corporation
the reason why
someone took a rock to his
head? Or had he been offed by an environmentalist
who had protested the
sale of McCoy's valuable land along the
Mississippi River? Or had he just
annoyed one of his neighbors?
At first, Kane is a suspect, then taken
into the confidence of the local sheriff
(in actuality, rather unlikely). But
Kane has the summer vacation to
spend delving into Michael McCoy's
life and death, then finding out about
his family and his work.
Along the way, Kane antagonizes
two Church bureaucrats who are determined
to stop him from finding out the
truth. One might say that
their reactions are extreme,
but with what has come out
about clergy sexual abuse
and the measures the
Church has taken to stifle
the scandal, they may be
more on target than anyone
would like to admit.
This is a first novel from
a retired psychologist who
lives with his wife in Winona,
Minnesota. As such,
it's amateurishly written in places. The
love scenes are also awkward.
But the main mystery works and
carries the reader along. Give it a try.
I predict more mysteries from the intrepid
duo of Brian Kane and Maria
You can order COSTLY GRACE: A Mystery from St. Francis Bookstore.