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At Home in This World—and Beyond

Q U I C K S C A N

SECULARITY AND THE GOSPEL: Being Missionaries to Our Children
LIVING VATICAN II: The 21st Council for the 21st Century
GOOD NIGHT GOD, LOVE OLIVIA
GOD BETWEEN THE COVERS: Finding Faith Through Reading
SAINTS BEHAVING BADLY: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints
FORTY DAYS TO A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD: The Practice of Centering Prayer
For Father's Day


SECULARITY AND THE GOSPEL: Being Missionaries to Our Children, edited by Ronald Rolheiser. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 237 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by PATRICIA M. BERLINER, C.S.J., Ph.D. She is a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, and a psychologist in private practice. She writes and presents workshops developed from a holistic, psychospiritual perspective.

DO SECULARITY and the gospel have any chance of coming together to create a world of peace for our children? How can we keep our universe from imploding because of our choices, our actions, our isolations, separations and fears?

In this volume, Father Ronald Rolheiser and other contributors from the worlds of theology/spirituality/ pastoral ministry and the social sciences discuss the need for religion and secularity to complement one another, so that each brings its best and surrenders its shortcomings.

Just before the end of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens asked the Church to address the urgent needs of the entire world, not just the issues facing the Roman Catholic Church. From this plea emerged the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, a mandate calling the Church to make its home in this world, as well as in the world “beyond.” And still today we struggle to understand what this commission means and how to fulfill it.

In the first and major section of this work, Father Ronald Rolheiser summarizes four symposia sponsored between 2002 and 2004 by his religious congregation of missionaries, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. At the end of these symposia, six contributors to this work met to share key insights that emerged in this process.

According to the documents of Vatican II, the secular world is no longer to be seen as the enemy of the Church, but as the place where God’s people dwell, struggle and search for meaning. Vatican II acknowledged that the Church itself had made mistakes and that, perhaps, there were good reasons why people did not turn to the Church for meaning.

Father Rolheiser begins with the paradox that, while the churches seem to be emptier, there is a spiritual resurgence happening in the Western hemisphere (albeit not necessarily in the Roman Catholic Church). Although he states that “secularity is more friend than enemy,” it sometimes seems that the members of the symposia found it a challenge to accept the idea that “secular” and “spiritual” are complementarities.

We used to speak of the Church and its representatives as being “in the world but not of it.” One of the book’s contributors, Walter Brueggermann, calls for the institutional Church to develop a new imagination, to “make the secular world fall in love with God again.” Recognition that the Church has the same need to love and be healed is a doorway between the secular and spiritual worlds through which both may be transformed.

To be a voice worth hearing, the Church must “re-found” itself. Contributor Rev. Ronald Young reminds us that God is “breaking in” upon us, calling us all to “strengthen the common good and to change what is harmful for the better.”

Similarly, Gilles Routhier says that, comfortable or not, we need to move the Church out of its own private realm and into the secular domain, where most of life is lived.

It is from our “homeland,” writes Robert Brown, that we need to have the courage to preach the resurrection of the Christ who, though killed by violence, speaks words of peace and compassion.

These are indeed challenges. But in reading this work, I was struck that “secular” sometimes seemed synonymous with “materialistic” and that some sections about the Church’s relationship to the “secular world” seemed condescending. I was also struck by how few practical examples there were of things that worked, and I was glad that Sister Mary Jo Leddy generously shared her experiences.

Although the book alludes to the fact that the Church has often been a cause of pain and failed its people, I wondered why there was not more discussion of the “sinfulness,” selfishness and injustice perpetrated upon its own members by our current Church structure, policies and practices. Perhaps that will be considered in another symposium.

You can order SECULARITY AND THE GOSPEL: Being Missionaries to Our Children from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

LIVING VATICAN II: The 21st Council for the 21st Century, by Gerald O’Collins. Paulist Press. 243 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a teacher and writer at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently edited (with Bill Madges) Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).

“THE COUNCIL is over; the Council has just begun.” These words were spoken some 40 years ago by Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, who was then the archbishop of Baltimore. They also apply well to the book, Living Vatican II, by Father Gerald O’Collins, S.J.

Though the Council officially ended on December 8, 1965, the Church is still receiving and living the Council’s teachings. Thus, a central question for O’Collins is: “To what extent and in what ways has the Catholic Church harnessed the power of the Second Vatican Council?”

In answering this, the Australian O’Collins begins by offering the reader an autobiographical sketch. Ordained in 1962, he has one foot in the triumphalist Catholicism of Pius XII and the other in the aggiornamento (renewal) Catholicism epitomized by John XXIII. O’Collins connects most with the Council’s emphasis on Scripture, desire for Christian unity, and fostering of dialogue with non-Christians.

O’Collins’s role as a professor of theology at the Gregorian University in Rome cannot be underestimated. For over 30 years, he has prepared countless priests and laypersons for public ministry in the Church shaped and guided by the teachings of Vatican II.

Institutions in Rome have also played a role in implementing the Council’s reform. O’Collins is not naïve enough to believe that they—Curia, Pontifical Biblical Commission, International Theological Commission, Synod of Bishops and the like—all have facilitated this process. Some, in fact, have played the role of “gatekeeper,” selectively interpreting the Council and its teachings.

Throughout the book, one of O’Collins’s main concerns is creative fidelity. He describes this as “a fidelity that does not decline into rigidity and a creativity that does not lose its roots in the mainstream tradition.” To show how this takes place, he examines what happened in the fourth century with the Cappadocian Fathers who responded to the teachings of the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). Suffice to say, as history confirms, the reception of a Church council’s teachings takes time.

For O’Collins, the achievement of Vatican II is multiple: active liturgies, improved relations with non-Catholics and non-Christians, renewal of the priesthood, engagement with the world, and the call to holiness for all persons.

As the Church continues to live the Council, with some encouraging us to go even further with the reforms of Vatican II while others say it’s time to reconsider current Church practices, O’Collins is guided by four questions: “Does this way of receiving the Council involve our being led by the Holy Spirit and by Christ? Does it help us to worship better? Is it being illuminated and supported by prayerful reflection on the Scriptures? Does it lead us to a more generous service of the needy?”

As far as we have come as a Church, O’Collins still sees areas that need to be addressed: the gap between the rich and poor, the role of women and inculturation of the faith. He laments that in some places, especially the West, a feeling of polarization and distrust pervades not only the world, but also the Church. Love, he says, cannot flourish in a climate of fear and greed.

Though one may be tempted to pass over the last part of the book, given its title, “Appendixes: Some Postconciliar Texts,” it is an important feature. Here O’Collins provides four writings from 1975 to 2002 which give a sense of “the way in which the teaching and decisions of Vatican II have been interpreted, implemented and frustrated.”

Living Vatican II will serve well those looking for an introduction to the Second Vatican Council (and the state of present-day Catholicism). He combines both information about the Council and its intersection with his own life in an engaging and interesting fashion.

You can order LIVING VATICAN II: The 21st Council for the 21st Century from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

GOOD NIGHT GOD, LOVE OLIVIA, by Beth Ann Mammola-Koravos. Illustrated by Helena Bebirian. Lifevest Publishing. 25 pp. $10.95.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this publication, and her eight-year-old daughter, MADDIE.

NOW THAT my daughter Maddie is reading, it seems as though I can’t bring new books into the house fast enough. So she was more than happy to help review Good Night God, Love Olivia. In fact, she read it to me.

The book was inspired by nighttime prayers of author Beth Ann Mammola-Koravos’s own daughter, Olivia. In the book, Olivia explains to her mother that, even though she has already said her nighttime prayers, she forgot to say “good night” to God and thank him for all the wonderful things in her life. She also wants to ask God things such as, “if He could see the blue sky, the puffy white clouds and feel the warm sun.”

The author does a nice job of presenting the story in a way that reminds us that children have their own unique way of talking to God. Artist Helena Bebirian provides beautiful watercolor illustrations for the book.

As a second-grader at a Catholic school, Maddie was interested in and familiar with this book’s subject matter. It made for a nice bedtime read for her.

There were, however, a few things that we both stumbled over in the book. For instance, at times the book’s text would run across two pages and then it would be complete on one. Maddie became confused as to where to go next when reading.

We both also noticed that, while most of the story was accompanied with nice illustrations, there were no drawings on the final four pages. This lapse left us both feeling a bit let down. Other than those minor issues, however, this book is a nice nighttime read for both parent and child.

You can order Good Night God, Love Olivia from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

GOD BETWEEN THE COVERS: Finding Faith Through Reading , by Marcia Ford. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 222 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by ANN TASSONE, an intern at St. Anthony Messenger last summer. Ann graduated in May from Xavier University in Cincinnati with a double major in English and communication arts.

THIS HELPFUL GUIDE to finding God through literature is appropriately written by a professional book reviewer. Marcia Ford recounts her own faith journey toward Christ and the books that helped her along the way.

In eight chapters, Ford introduces us to more than 100 authors and provides descriptions of their important books for spiritual growth. She details her own story of losing faith in Christ and finding it again between the covers of the books she describes.

She writes, “It was during my final year of college that I conceded victory to God. He just wouldn’t go away....I became immersed...in the books of myriad Christian writers. I wanted to know everything I could about the Bible and Jesus and Christianity.”

This book walks through literature that has been called “powerful, influential and life-changing.” The chosen books are outlined according to how they have reintroduced Ford to Christ, and how her faith has grown as a result of reading.

Ford discusses her favorite authors, such as C. S. Lewis and Robert Frost, and the way in which their writing has the power to “carry an infinite ring in its sound. In those sounds, I hear God.” She writes of the many times when she read a book in order to pass a college class, and then reread the book as an adult, suddenly seeing God all over it.

Ford introduces a wide array of genres, ranging from well-known books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, to little-known authors and books. She explores fiction, nonfiction and poetry, searching for and discovering God in every work. This book’s selections include 20th- and 21st-century writers.

In addition, Ford discusses the people in her life who led her to Christ and recommended these particular books.

The book ends with Ford’s proclamation of faith.

She admits that, through reading, she learned that no research or theory would ever shake her faith in Christ because her faith and trust are not based on provable fact. It was a milestone when she realized that her personal experience with God carried more weight than all the facts about God. And through reading, her faith was encouraged and enhanced.

This book serves as a beacon of light for those who may feel lost in their faith. By reading the books profiled, Marcia Ford has returned to Christ. The spiritual journey can be a hard road to travel, but with these books as companions it is evident that we will never walk alone.

You can order GOD BETWEEN THE COVERS: Finding Faith Through Reading from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

SAINTS BEHAVING BADLY: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Doubleday. 191 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, author and columnist. Four of his books are about saints.

THIS BOOK OFFERS evidence that it’s never too late to reform our lives. It’s about men and women who were sinners but who changed their lives and became saints—28 of them. Even these unsavory characters could become saints—it gives one hope.

There are, as you would expect, stories about well-known saints who spent less than exemplary lives in their youth, including Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Thomas Becket. But there are also stories of lesser-known saints, who really were great sinners—like St. Mary of Egypt who once seduced all the men on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After her conversion she became a hermit in Egypt for 47 years.

Even mass murderers have become saints. Craughwell writes about the bloodbath St. Olga unleashed on her husband’s assassins, the murders committed by the gang leader St. Moses the Ethiopian, and the ruthlessness of St. Vladimir, including his rape of his sister-in-law.

Another promiscuous woman in this book was St. Pelagia, “whose reputation as a great lady of the stage and as a woman of notoriously easy virtue extended throughout Asia Minor.” St. John Chrysostom said of her, “Nothing was more vile than she was, when she was on the stage.”

Blessed Giles of Portugal was the devil worshipper in the subtitle. The con man was St. Camillus de Lellis, a cardsharp. St. John of God was another former gambler and drunkard who was once committed to an asylum.

Craughwell has written about saints for this magazine. He also writes a monthly column about patron saints for Catholic diocesan newspapers. He writes wittily, but without titillation.

Craughwell’s personal favorite among these 28 was St. Thomas Becket, who went from being a worldly, ruthless king’s man to a man of God and a defender of the rights of the Church. He was murdered in his cathedral in Canterbury.

I’ve long been fascinated by the story of St. Callixtus (or Callistus). He was a slave who embezzled money from his employer’s bank, then a brawler who was captured and sent to the island of Sardinia to work in the mines. Then he had the good luck to be freed when the mistress of Emperor Commodus asked that the Christians on Sardinia be freed. Back in Rome, he ingratiated himself to a priest named Zephyrinus who became pope. When Pope Zephyrinus died in 217, lo and behold, Callixtus was elected pope. In 222 an anti-Christian mob murdered him. He is revered as a martyr.

There is also a chapter about St. Hippolytus, who became the first antipope after Callixtus was elected pope.

One of the things I appreciated about the book is that it does not include Mary Magdalene. Craughwell correctly explains why: “Mary Magdalene was not a notorious sinner. Nowhere in the four gospels does it ever say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or in any other way sexually promiscuous.” He explains how she got confused with Mary of Bethany and the penitent sinner.

As Craughwell writes, “The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world.” He further says that a conversion experience is not magic, but only the first step in a lifetime of striving to avoid the old sins and grow in virtue. If these saints could do it, so can we.

You can order SAINTS BEHAVING BADLY: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

FORTY DAYS TO A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD: The Practice of Centering Prayer, by J. David Muyskens. 141 pp. Upper Room Books. $13.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., longtime religion writer for The Detroit News and author of seven books. Securing Serenity in Troubling Times (Xulon Press) is his latest.

ARE YOU TRYING to do it all yourself? That question prompted J. David Muyskens to write this book. Muyskens is a spiritual director, retired pastor in the Reformed Church in America and graduate of the Spiritual Guidance Program of Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. As coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of West Michigan, for 15 years, he has presented an introductory workshop on Centering Prayer.

Where the relationship exists in any given moment with God and others is key to this practical, 40-chapter book. Its three-page descriptions explore such topics as the gift of prayer, contemplation and the present moment.

With others, Trappist monk Thomas Keating pioneered in describing and promoting “Centering Prayer.” Keating wrote this about Muyskens’s book: “A thorough and friendly introduction to Centering Prayer especially for lovers of Scripture. The quotations from Protestant Divines are especially confirming of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.” It works for anyone.

God seeks a relationship with creatures in a mutual dialogue that is experientially based, Muyskens concludes. Centering Prayer moves beyond the confines of rational dialogue and is embedded in the gospel and tradition. Jesus spent countless hours in union with his Abba (Father).

Muyskens lists qualities for fruitful praying: openness, listening and focused time. He recommends that a person find a regular space for encountering God and engage in Centering Prayer two times daily, for about 20 minutes each time.

In my own practice of Centering Prayer, I find that I need at least 15 minutes or more of each 20-minute segment to release what I like to call “the toxicity of living”—the criticisms, rejections, put-downs and judgments I make about relationships. The remaining few minutes are imbued with the power, awesomeness and beauty of God as I soak and surrender in divine love.

The challenge in Centering Prayer practice is to become still: “Be still and know that I am God,” as Psalm 46 reads. In reader-friendly stories and language, Pastor Muyskens teaches how to grow a relationship with God daily. A reorientation of the day is crafted with one’s heart steered toward “the one who is the Center of all.”

This simple yet powerful way of praying is outlined for individuals’ and study groups’ use. Exercises in praying Lectio Divina (literally, the “Divine Lessons,” sacred Scriptures) are provided for 40 days.

You can order FORTY DAYS TO A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD: The Practice of Centering Prayer from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

For Father's Day

Fathering takes a moment and it takes a lifetime. These books offer some wisdom on how to do it better.

STRONG FATHERS, STRONG DAUGHTERS: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, by Meg Meeker, M.D. (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 267 pp., $24.95, U.S./$29.95, Canada), is a pediatrician’s insistence that the father-daughter bond is essential. Addressed directly to fathers, it advises them to remember that they are the most important men in their daughters’ lives. Fathers can teach daughters how to fight. And because a father’s “character is invisibly overlaid onto your daughter’s image of God,” fathers teach who God is.

TO BE A FATHER: 200 Promises That Will Transform You, Your Marriage, and Your Family, by Stephen Gabriel (Spence Publishing Company, 115 pp., $12.95), is a father’s simple list of the commitments he should make to his wife, his children (both boys and girls) and himself. Gabriel is the father of eight, an economist and a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago.

A CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE ON THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE, by Father Joseph M. Champlin (Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 108 pp., $7.95), is a Catholic priest’s look at a key issue for fathers (and others): keeping life in balance—family and work, civic and spiritual. It identifies points of agreement and difference between the Catholic tradition and the vision Rick Warren presents in his well-known book.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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