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MOTHER ANGELICA: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles
IN THE HEART OF THE TEMPLE: My Spiritual Vision for Today's World
AMAZING CHURCH: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change
THE VATICAN'S WOMEN: Female Influence at the Holy See

MOTHER ANGELICA: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, by Raymond Arroyo. Doubleday. 400 pp. $23.95. (Audiobook [#A7750] of 10 discs read by the author, St. Anthony Messenger Press, $36.95.)

Reviewed by COLLEEN WINSTON, O.S.B., whose communication experience includes writing, photography and seven years as communications director of the Covington, Kentucky, diocese. In that capacity she met Mother Angelica years ago.

A SUPERBLY WRITTEN, broadly researched biography of a fascinating, audacious, stubborn and deeply religious woman, Mother Angelica describes a woman both challenging and amazing. In her childhood, Rita Rizzo learned the power of prayer; saving souls became her passion.

Later this passion, combined with her storytelling ability, led her into radio ministry. From this beginning, a media empire gradually emerged: a publishing entity, radio station, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and a shortwave network. Mother Angelica’s goal was to reach as many people as she could with what she saw as God’s truth and, as her audience expanded, she became internationally recognized and influential.

Because of this, Mother Angelica deserves to have her story told, and Raymond Arroyo is a good person to do it. His dual position as insider and professional reporter has produced a biography that will cause many readers to be both astonished at her accomplishments and dumbfounded at her methodology.

Some people may experience tension during this read. Mother Angelica’s approach to the institutional Church, to her life as a contemplative religious and to normative business practices is challenging, to say the least.

The driving force in her life is fidelity to what she sees as God’s mission for her; she often looks for people who agree with her and ignores those who disagree, despite their authority or expertise. Her interpretation of God’s message supersedes any other perspective. For example, she refused to do financial planning on her multimillion-dollar projects because she thought it put a limit on God’s generosity.

This may astonish readers as much as it did her advisers, but that incredulity has to coexist with the success of the ministry empire that emerged from her eccentric approach.

Almost every aspect of Mother Angelica’s life is filled with the unexpected; it’s a fascinating story with, as the author comments, some things “difficult to explain.” Arroyo documents many events, which makes the astonishing more believable, and he writes with a minimum of judgment about the nature of Mother Angelica’s decisions.

At her insistence, however, he does show her human weaknesses during many struggles and conflicts. Her genuine gifts of spiritual focus, strength of will and creativity are shown, as well as times when they escalate into narrow-mindedness, stubbornness and intolerance.

To say Mother Angelica’s Catholicism is orthodox is almost an understatement, and this is the source of many conflicts, including ones where she judged some bishops and cardinals were not being true to authentic Church teaching. Arroyo details some of these. Because Mother Angelica’s strong opinions were multiplied exponentially by the power of the media outlets she controlled, collisions of thought with Church leaders were often out in the open, exacerbating the situation.

For people who appreciate the programming on EWTN and Mother Angelica’s perspective on the Church, she has become an icon. They see her life and work as modern miracles, signs of God’s approval of her ministry. The power of her media voice has helped to reenergize some forms of popular devotion. With Vatican II’s renewed focus on the official liturgy of the Church, some religious practices, though not banned, had fallen into disuse, and a segment of the Catholic population keenly felt their absence. Programming on EWTN has helped fill this void.

Arroyo has given us the story of a fiery, talented woman whose passion for what she sees as God’s will has propelled her to both heights of achievement and depths of conflict. No matter what a person’s theology, Mother Angelica’s story can fascinate, for she has accomplished remarkable things.

You can order MOTHER ANGELICA: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles from St. Francis Bookshop.


IN THE HEART OF THE TEMPLE: My Spiritual Vision for Today's World, by Joan Chittister. BlueBridge. 158 pp. $14.95.

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).

DON’T EQUATE the finger pointing to the moon with the moon: It’s an easy enough principle to state but very difficult to put into practice. This is the struggle at the heart of the spiritual life that Joan Chittister, one of the great spiritual writers of our time, invites us to confront in this book, In the Heart of the Temple.

Chittister herself has not been immune from this challenge. She admits, with respect to her initial experience of Benedictine monasticism, that “it was the trappings of the temple, not really the heart of it, that captivated me. The candles soothed the soul. The chant calmed my spirit. The stained-glass windows and familiar shrines and unending rounds of ritual steadied my sense of spiritual direction. What more could there possibly be to the spiritual life than fidelity to the tradition, regularity in its forms, orderliness in its practices?”

Having lived this tension herself, Chittister is able to share the profound spiritual truth that has resulted from it: The heart of the temple lies beyond it. In going into ourselves, we are led out into the world. There can be no contemplation without action.

Collecting in one place some of Chittister’s most engaging writings over the past few years, In the Heart of the Temple communicates unsettling truths centered around 16 themes central to the spiritual life.

Whatever the issue—work, stewardship, prophecy, ministry, equality, tradition, conversion—Chittister is not afraid to ask questions. The ones guiding her throughout this work are: “Where are we now? Where can we go? What is God’s will in all of this?”

Grounded and shaped by the Catholic tradition, Chittister is not afraid to challenge it. As one soon discovers, she is not a woman of the status quo, but rather an iconoclast, one who questions established beliefs and practices. Taught by the institution, she is able to see beyond it. This is done not to spite the tradition but to remain ever faithful to it. She wants a Church not of functionaries but disciples. Chittister refers to it as her “ministry of irritation.”

This ministry may lead to unexpected places. According to Chittister, “The Christian life requires a commitment to the life of the Christ who consorted with sinners, cured lepers, raised women from the dead, contested with the officials, and challenged the state. It is a life of prophetic presence and selfless service in a world whose soul has gone dry.”

As Benedictine monks before her sought to bring order to an empire in ruins, so too does Chittister seek to bring vision to a world on the brink of moral and societal collapse. In the Heart of the Temple only convinces me further that Joan Chittister is a voice that must be heard.

You can order IN THE HEART OF THE TEMPLE: My Spiritual Vision for Today's World from St. Francis Bookshop.


AMAZING CHURCH: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change, by Gregory Baum. Orbis Books. 144 pp. $19.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, former member of the Movement for a Better World, which was a group of priests, religious brothers and sisters and laypeople based in Rome who promoted Church renewal from the 1960s through the 1980s throughout the United States and other countries.

GREGORY BAUM’S NAME doesn’t usually garner much recognition. While the names Congar, Küng, Murray, Rahner and Schillebeeckx are usually recognized by well-read Catholics as periti (experts) at Vatican II, Baum seems to have flown under the radar screen.

For almost 40 years he has been a professor of theology and religious studies in Toronto and Montreal, as well as a prodigious author and editor. He is the founding editor of The Ecumenist: A Journal of Theology, Culture and Society.

Since the emphasis in the Roman Catholic Church is on fidelity to its sacred traditions, Baum suggests that, if we stand back a bit and look at the evolution of the magisterium’s official teaching and positions in the last 50 years, we might be amazed at what has taken place. Thus, the title: Amazing Church.

The first chapter looks at the change of attitude of the Church to human rights and religious liberty. What prompted this change was the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948. This event affirmed a universal ethical principle that had not been recognized before by most religious and philosophical traditions.

To recognize the equal dignity of all human beings was a breakthrough, first for the world and then for the Church. Pope John XXIII regarded this a major “sign of the times” that entailed a rereading of Scripture and tradition in search of the answers that would affirm human rights. This is furthered at the Council and by the three popes who followed John. This development is key for Baum’s whole work.

Next, the author shows that the Church’s official teaching has come to recognize God’s redemptive presence in the whole of human history. Traditionally, the separation between the natural and the supernatural orders was emphasized. Salvation and holiness belonged to the higher order of grace, while social questions and other worldly concerns belonged to the lower order of nature. The human condition now involves a living witness to the divine grace working not only through the Church but also throughout all of human history.

Chapter Three summarizes changes in the perspective on society which led to making an option for the poor and connecting social justice with spirituality. Here Baum highlights how the preferential option for the poor, the priority of labor over capital and the ecology movement have had significant theological and spiritual implications for Catholics today.

This has also led to a deeper understanding of sin and the moral ambiguity of life in today’s world. Further, it has brought to light the ideological distortions of the gospel in the Church’s preaching during its long history.

The “culture of peace” that fosters dialogue among civilizations while embracing the pluralism of cultures and religions is the topic of Chapter Four. Dialogue creates a new ethical horizon that enables us to have a greater appreciation of what we can learn from other cultures and traditions while recognizing that all cultures are in need of redemption from the values that are harmful to others.

Religious pluralism is further examined in Chapter Five as we move from an age where the number of religions was a historical defect that had to be overcome to one in which we recognize this pluralism as part of God’s gracious design. Baum indicates that soldiers and citizens found common principles and ideals during World War II.

He gives the example of a meeting in Switzerland in 1946 when Protestants and Catholics were rethinking their religious attitudes toward Jews after the Holocaust. The anti-Jewish rhetoric of Protestant and Catholic Churches was replaced by a positive reformulation of the Christian relationship to the Jewish community. This also had an impact on how the Roman Church talked about and interacted with the other religious traditions of our day.

The final chapter deals with some of the further questions raised by this evolution, as well as mentioning some other topics that have not as yet gone through a corresponding development.

Since the author indicates that the book focuses on the Church’s capacity to react in new ways to the challenges of history, it is a welcome contribution to the dialogue on the state of the Church in the 21st century.

The book does not take on major controversies (like divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, contraception and married clergy) which divide North American Catholics. It does not ignore them but enables the reader to see how change has come in other fundamental areas.

This book should be accessible for any reader of this magazine. It is best suited for someone who wants an overview of the state of the Church in the last 50-plus years. It should remind us that we can be faithful and yet change. It prompted me to think how creative the tension between the events of our day and the ministry of Jesus can be for all of us.

You can order AMAZING CHURCH: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE VATICAN'S WOMEN: Female Influence at the Holy See, by Paul Hofmann. St. Martin’s Griffin. 207 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by NANCY CELASCHI, O.S.F., former staff member of L’Osservatore Romano’s weekly edition in English.

WHEN ONE of the members of the 19th-century Oxford Movement made his profession of faith in the “Roman” Church, someone asked if he had plans to visit Rome. His terse reply was, “Absolutely not. When I go on an ocean voyage, I have no need to visit the engine room.”

If the Church is the bark of Peter, the Vatican is definitely its engine room, and those who work there are the ship’s crew.

The death of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor have once again drawn the world’s attention to the Vatican, but few reports deal with the crew of the ship that is the Vatican.

In The Vatican’s Women, Paul Hofmann, former New York Times Rome bureau chief, provides an interesting and informative look inside the daily life of the Vatican workforce.

The women of history whom Hofmann treats at length were very high-profile: Lucretia Borgia, Matilda of Canossa, Caroline of Cyprus, Christine of Sweden and Pius XII’s housekeeper, Mother Pasqualina (a.k.a. “The Popessa”). He also devotes a chapter to the legend of “Pope Joan,” and another to the story of Professor Margherita Guarducci and the identification of the tomb of St. Peter. Throughout the book he frequently returns to mention these women in a less-than-favorable light.

Other chapters are dedicated to the women who shop in the Vatican’s supermarket or pharmacy, not all of them Vatican employees or family members of employees. Most of them seem like caricatures of Roman fishmongers and washerwomen.

In a more serious vein, he reports on conversations with laywomen and sisters who work within the Vatican. Since Vatican employees do not usually speak on the record to outsiders, their identities are concealed, and the author does not even give enough hints for an insider to discover them. Some of these women express frustration at their lack of opportunity for advancement, or their being kept from decision-making positions in the cleric-dominated world in which they work.

There are also some innuendos of relationships and situations that might be somewhat scandalous to those who tend to think of the Vatican and everyone in it as perfect and infallible. That was never this writer’s experience.

Hofmann gives us an interesting view of life in the Vatican, and this alone makes the book a good read. He has knowledge of the Vatican, its geography and even its “idiosyncrasies.” Unfortunately, however, his view is still that of an outsider.

You can order THE VATICAN'S WOMEN: Female Influence at the Holy See from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

Irish eyes must be smiling to see the number of books about St. Patrick, the Irish and Irish Americans being published nowadays.

ST. PATRICK OF IRELAND: A Biography, by Philip Freeman (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 216 pp., $13, U.S./$19, Canada). A classics professor from Iowa (and now visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School) brings the historic St. Patrick and his times vividly to life, shorn of the legends that surround him. Freeman provides translations of two of Patrick’s surviving letters, which convey his beliefs and spiritual convictions.

DISCOVERING SAINT PATRICK, by Thomas O’Loughlin (Paulist Press, 254 pp., $18.95), is another effort to find “the real St. Patrick.” This popular history examines some of our cultural preconceptions to explain why we’re still interested in this fifth-century saint who was brought to Ireland as a slave and later became a charismatic missionary to the Irish. O’Loughlin, a professor at the University of Wales, has included an excellent bibliography and also retranslated Patrick’s letters, as well as Old Gaelic writings about him.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY: A Love Story, by P.D. St. Claire (Virtual, 235 pp., $15.95), is a homespun novel about an Irish American family in the Washington, D.C., area. The story starts with an estrangement between mother and daughter, and includes a bittersweet miracle.

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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