DANTE TO DEAD MAN WALKING: One Reader’s
Journey Through the Christian Classics,, by Raymond A.
Schroth, S.J. Loyola Press. 242 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian who currently
serves on the advisory board of St. Anthony Messenger Press.
FATHER RAYMOND SCHROTH, careful professor that he is, opens his work
with a definition of terms: Spiritual classics “speak to the human spirit, to
that divine gift by which we transcend the limitations imposed by our self-absorption,
our narrow-mindedness and our moral cowardice.”
He continues by explaining that approaching a book fully open to
the human experience it provides, as well as the influence of God’s grace, “can
transform us in much the same way that a friend, a teacher or a coach can help
us become something we have not been before.”
Do not be frightened by the above description, since the essays about
the 50 titles Father Schroth selected provide enjoyable reading, along with
provocative treatment of moral issues. While Father Schroth was aided in his
selections by faculty members at colleges and universities in which he served
as professor or academic dean, he provides very personalized introductions to
each title. Some are his own travel experiences or personal encounters with
the authors, but many connect history or current events to the text.
Titles such as The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Inferno,
The Imitation of Christ, The Idea of a University and The Seven
Storey Mountain are included in similar compilations, but would one expect
the Book of Job, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Walden, Kristin
Lavransdatter, The Family of Man, The Autobiography of Malcolm
X or even Dead Man Walking in such august company?
The author freely admits to not relishing some of the titles. For
instance, he continues to resist reading The Imitation of Christ but
realizes the ways in which it was on target in the 15th century and could well
apply to our current age, and declares Silence, by Shusaku Endo, one
of the most depressing novels everalthough he’s read it three times!
Schroth weighs Newman’s concept of the liberal arts as studied not
for what you will do with them but for what they will make of you, and opts
for the stronger statement that sound formation of the mind will last a lifetime.
Schroth frequently enlivens his commentaries with germane quotes. For instance, in discussing James Joyce,
Edna O’Brien says: “Do writers have to be such monsters in order to create?
I believe that they do. It is a paradox that, while wrestling with language
to capture the human condition, they become more callous and cut off from the
very human traits they so glisteningly depict. There can be no outer responsibility,
no interruptions, only the ongoing inner drone, rhythmic, insistent, struggling
to make a living moment of both beauty and austerity.”
Cynthia Ozick’s critique of the Book of Job: “[T]he poet, through
the whirlwind’s answer, stills Job. But can the poet still the Job who lives
in us? God’s majesty is eternal, manifest in cell and star; yet Job’s questions
toil on, manifest in death camp and hatred, in tyranny and anthrax, in bomb
and bloodshed. Why do the wicked thrive? Why do the innocent suffer?”
Father Schroth compares Thomas Merton to Henry David Thoreau, and
states that in their solitude they seem to personify so much of what Americans
fear. But Merton’s asceticism and hard-won peace of soul also represent what
we most need.
Edward Steichen, the renowned photojournalist, produced The Family
of Man to prove that “the art of photography is a dynamic process of giving
form to ideas and explaining man to man.” The Fate of the Earth, by Jonathan
Schell, is characterized as the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the antinuclear
While the essays average only five pages in length, they are so well-thought-out
that each provides a succinct characterization of the work discussed as to the
author, historical setting, plot, theme, characters and moral relevance.
This is an excellent guide to Christian literature and, with its
nine pages of selected sources, would aid interested, intelligent adults in
broadening their familiarity with these classics. Professionals who were not
exposed to the liberal arts and book discussion-group members of all ages would
also find it a most readable guidebook.
You can order DANTE TO DEAD MAN WALKING: One Reader’s
Journey Through the Christian Classics from St.
THE SEEKER’S GUIDE TO MARY, by María
Ruiz Scaperlanda. Loyola Press. 248 pp. $11.95.
Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, managing editor of
St. Anthony Messenger.
I SHOULD BEGIN by admitting I was asked to write an endorsement
for this book by Loyola Press’s marketing coordinator. And
I did it because I am a friend and professional colleague
of the author. María Ruiz Scaperlanda and I met over 12 years
ago through the Catholic Press Association (CPA); we’ve even
traveled together on fact-finding trips organized by the CPA,
one of which was a trip to Israel that included Nazareth,
mentioned in these pages. And she’s written articles for St.
But I think, even without that personal relationship, I would like
this book. It is a balanced, bold and brave take on a subject I care about and
have written on myself: Mary.
Scaperlanda bears Mary’s name (officially, her first name is María
de Lourdes, and her mother’s is María de Jesús). The book is dedicated to her mother,
“who taught me to recognize Mary as my mother in heaven.” Born in Cuba, Scaperlanda
spent some elementary years in Puerto Rico and has lived in Texas and Oklahoma. Her husband,
Michael, is a law professor, and she has done award-winning reporting for Catholic
newspapers and magazines, while raising their “awesome foursome,” children Christopher,
Anamaría, Rebekah and Michelle.
Scaperlanda brings all this family and professional experience to
The Seeker’s Guide to Mary. This is a notable entry in the Loyola Press
series, which presents current, solid Catholic thinking on a variety of topics.
(Some other topics in the series are saints, Christian marriage, the rosary
and Jesus in the Gospels.)
“It was to Mary I cried for comfort when I was a new kid in a strange
school....It just seemed natural to talk to Mary, a mother, when it appeared that no one else could possibly
understand how I felt. Years later, when I became a mother myself, I instinctively
turned to Mary with my fears, hopes and dreams for my own children.”
Scaperlanda’s words about the Mary of the Pietà, the grieving
mother at the foot of the cross who did not understand God’s plan, touched me
deeply because I read them on the very day another editor on our staff lost
her adult son to cystic fibrosis, and I understood Mary’s pain anew.
The book ranges through scriptural references to Mary and reflections
on Mary as Jesus’ first disciple, through the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching
on Mary and the teachings of other Christian traditions, to reporting on famous
Marian apparitions and discussing Marian prayers and popular devotions. It ends
with Mary as the patron of our country (among others) and the place of Mary
in today’s Church, as evidenced by placing the major text about her within Vatican
II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
The book is balanced in its thorough research into current theology;
it is bold in daring to tackle controversial issues like Medjugorge, which Scaperlanda
presents as a good example of the Church’s careful investigation process for
apparitions; it is brave in letting personal experiences like meeting the mother
of an Oklahoma City victim and the mother of a convicted murderer on Texas’s
Death Row lead her to an evolving understanding of Mary.
My own criticism of the book is that it is brief, perhaps
too brief. Whole books have been written on chapter topics; the treatment
of Marian prayers, for example, seems extremely sketchy. But the whole “Seeker”
series is intended only to provide accessible introductions to complex Catholic
The book includes a reader’s guide that presents
discussion questions for use with adult study groups, high school faith-formation
groups and individuals.
Those uses are well and good, but I believe this is a book for any
Catholic struggling to respond to God’s call, to live with fear, confusion and
anxiety, to stay on our faith journey. This is our lifelong challenge and pilgrimage;
Mary has shown us the way. Scaperlanda’s book is a good introduction to Mary,
her (and our) guide, friend and mother.
You can order THE SEEKER’S GUIDE TO MARY from St.
WHY GOD WON’T GO AWAY: Brain Science and
the Biology of Belief, by Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene
DAquili, M.D., Ph.D., and Vince Rause. Ballantine Books.
172 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., Ph.D.,
a Catholic priest and licensed psychotherapist in Michigan.
A longtime religion columnist for The Detroit News,
his latest book is A Pearl a Day: Wise Sayings for Living
Well, edited notes of his boyhood pastor, the late Father
Edward D. Popielarz (Jeremiah Press).
WE’RE WIRED for spirituality. The growing field of science (specifically,
neurobiology), religion and their relationship is dubbed neurotheology. For
Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, Drs. Andrew Newberg of the University
of Pennsylvania and the late Eugene D’Aquili, with Vince Rause, gathered brain-imaging
data from Franciscan nuns in prayer and meditating Tibetan Buddhists.
This nine-chapter text is another among numerous books published
in the last decade by the American Psychological Association (APA). A remarkable
assessment of how the brain responds when God is experienced, Why God Won’t
Go Away has academicians and pastors enthused about the renewed and serious
dialogue between psychiatry, spirituality and science.
Caught up in a lot of scientific lingo, charts and unfamiliar terms,
the writers of this book search for the neurological underpinnings of meditation’s
mystical encounters and how the brain responds to such an experience of the
holy. The authors explain the place of rite in inspiring practitioners of the
faith—and also unbelievers.
These authors were acclaimed for their earlier work, The Mystical
Mind. But secular humanists scoff at this one, suggesting that mystical
experience is subjective and a trick the brain plays on one, rather than any
real experience. They don’t want to see religious experience explained, but
Not so quick. What we may be dealing with here is what one mind said
centuries ago—that we’re spiritual beings with a physical existence, not the
other way around. And the emerging body of literature, surprisingly published
by the APA, is testifying to its validity in an age when more and more baby
boomers, for example, long for deeper spiritual offerings than what secularism
At a Spirituality on Tap session at St. Dennis Church, Royal Oak,
Michigan, I used a nine-minute meditation that had the participants exuberantly
telling how relaxed, “stilled” and recreated they felt following the guided
encounter. It is clear in these sessions that something changes. And I think
these authors of Why God Won’t Go Away help to explain that phenomenon.
With entries on myth and metaphor, along with near-death experiences,
religious ecstasy and sexual orgasm, ritual and brain machinery, Why God
Won’t Go Away concludes “that the mind’s machinery of transcendence may
in fact be a window through which we can glimpse the ultimate realness of something
that is truly divine.”
You can order WHY GOD WON’T GO AWAY: Brain Science and
the Biology of Belief from St.
PSYCHOLOGY AND AMERICAN CATHOLICISM: From
Confession to Therapy?, by C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. Crossroad.
232 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, who teaches at St. Xavier High School
in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a B.A. in theology from Xavier University (Ohio)
and an M.A. in religious studies from Villanova University (Pennsylvania).
SPEAKING TO THE CHURCH’S supposed conflict between reason and faith,
the third-century Christian apologist Tertullian rhetorically asked: “What has
Athens to do with Rome?” Today a new spin easily could be put to that now classic
question: “What has psychology to do with religion?” In other words, what do
Carl Jung and Jesus, Sigmund Freud and St. Francis, Abraham Maslow and Moses
have in common?
As Father C. Kevin Gillespie, assistant professor of pastoral counseling
at Loyola College in Maryland, explores in Psychology and American Catholicism:
From Confession to Therapy?, they have more to do with each other than we
Catholicism had long been open to the insights of a psychology understood
as “the study of the soul” that was Thomistic and philosophical in nature. As
psychology began to move more in experimental and behavioral directions during
the 19th century, however, the Church became fearful and suspicious of it. This
shift prompted the quip: “First psychology lost its soul and then it lost its
One of the more interesting stories in the relationship between psychology and Catholicism that
Gillespie relates took place on March 9, 1947, in New York City at St. Patrick’s
Cathedral. It was there that Msgr. (later Bishop) Fulton J. Sheen, American
Catholicism’s chief apologist, took to the pulpit and attacked psychoanalysis.
His chief target was “Freudianism” which, in his view, was based on four foundations:
“materialism, hedonism, infantilism and eroticism.”
Gillespie sees Sheen’s response as indicative of many within the
Church who viewed psychoanalysis as usurping the spiritual prerogatives of the
Christian tradition, especially as manifested in the sacraments. This sentiment
was perhaps best captured by the famous British apologist, G. K. Chesterton,
when he said: “Psychoanalysis is confession without absolution.”
One of the first to build bridges between Catholicism and psychology
was Father Edward Pace, who in 1905 established The Catholic University of America’s
psychology department. There he was succeeded by Father Thomas Verner Moore
whose greatest influence was on future generations. His former students became
leaders in the field of psychology and established departments at many other
Gillespie praises the bridge-builders who “inspired others to see
psychology as a conduit for one to enter the contemporary confluence of Catholicism
and culture where the perennial questions of faith and reason meet and where
one learns how grace continues to build on nature.”
Over time it was increasingly argued that, though they need not be
psychologists, priests who deal with pastoral situations would be well served
by familiarizing themselves with general psychological principles. Two places
where this was done with success were at the St. John’s Summer Institute (Collegeville,
Minnesota) and the Menninger Clinic (Topeka, Kansas).
Further testifying to psychology’s and Catholicism’s increasingly cordial relationship was a reference
in one of Vatican II’s major documents, The Pastoral Constitution on the
Church (Gaudium et Spes). In it the Council Fathers stated that “[a]ppropriate
use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings
of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology. Thus the faithful
can be brought to live the faith in a more thorough and mature way.”
This desire soon found expression in the renewal of religious life
and priestly formation that followed the Council.
Lay Catholics entered the picture after the publication in 1968 of
Humanae Vitae, the Church’s encyclical on marriage which reaffirmed
the ban on artificial contraception. They were struggling to remain faithful
to the Church.
Perhaps a new question is being raised now. Rather than Tertullian’s
dismissive inquiry, we’re asking ourselves a harder, more complex question:
“Where do we go from here?” How does Catholicism continue to appreciate psychology’s
insights without becoming too accommodating to it?
Psychology and American Catholicism is a book well worth reading. Also,
for those interested in American Catholic history this book
provides a new chapter. Finally, for those who struggle to
balance their faith in the midst of the wider culture—persons
who are caught in the gap between “confession and therapy”—this
book provides an opportunity to ask and grapple with that
You can order PSYCHOLOGY AND AMERICAN CATHOLICISM: From
Confession to Therapy? from St.
JEWISH SPIRITUALITY: A Brief Introduction for Christians, by Rabbi
Lawrence Kushner. Jewish Lights Publishing. 103 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, in his 26th year of teaching in the
Religious Education Department at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
WHEN MY YOUNGEST SISTER made friends with a college classmate who
was Jewish, a real ecumenical movement began in my life. Through her I learned
about things like kosher, Shabbat and other traditions that are part and parcel
of Jewish life. When my sister began dating (and then married) her friend’s
brother, the reality of observing Jewish traditions and customs was another
There was something missing, however, for me. I had read novels by
Bernard Malamud and Chaim Potok, as well as works by Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber
and Abraham Heschel. I had an idea of what it meant to be Jewish, but I realize
now that it was almost strictly an intellectual understanding. And it was fairly
Numerous books have been written recently about understanding the
rituals and practices of other religions. Jewish Lights Publishing, in fact,
has published one of the most notable titles, How to Be a Perfect Stranger,
which is geared to helping people feel at ease and to facilitate participation
when attending the religious ceremonies of other religions and traditions. This
book, however, is not about the “what” of Judaism as much as the “why.”
As the author notes in the Introduction, Christians might fall into
the trap of thinking that Judaism is simply an earlier form of Christianity
but without acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah. Kushner says this view
distorts Jewish teaching.
In this book the author explores some of the key aspects of the Jewish
spiritual imagination that are meant to challenge Christian readers to see themselves
and their world through another lens.
One of the first points that Kushner makes is that spirituality for
most implies a split between the material world and the world of the spirit.
To be a spiritual searcher seems to invite the seeker to exit this everyday,
physical world in order to attain some higher, spiritual or holy domain.
Classical Hebrew lacks such a distinction. For Jewish spirituality,
there is only one world that is simultaneously material and spiritual. In the
chapters on Creation, Kushner points out that Jewish spirituality invites us
to open our eyes and pay attention to the wonders of the everyday. He notes
that when we do so attentively we find God’s presence everywhere. Because God
is hidden in everything, all things are connected to one another.
In the following section he begins to sketch that the Torah is then
the blueprint for creation. In one Midrash text the Torah represents the overall
plan that God had in mind when he created.
Through a play on the Hebrew word for orchard, he writes that
the Torah, as the sourcebook for Judaism, conceals wonderful and delicious surprises.
More than that, it teaches us everything one needs to know and to do.
Another way to know about God is to do what we believe God wants
us to do. Kushner indicates that some actions simply cannot be understood (or
even heard) until they are performed or done. His intriguing distinction between
legislation and commandments makes the latter a call addressed to us personally.
Each commandment (mitzvot) challenges us to find the broken
in the world and repair it. Through this we might come to recognize the awesome
power that God has put into our hands. As we give ourselves more and more completely
to the sacred deed, we begin to lose ourselves and realize that we are present
within the divine. All is God!
Kushner notes that talking about God can lead to confusion and contradiction.
An insight of Jewish spirituality is that this is due to the fact that we are
part of what we are talking about. We cannot be totally objective. But the ways
of God are beyond full human understanding. From the Book of Job, Jewish spirituality
draws the lesson that God is present in everything, even things humans do not
understand or like.
In this regard prayer then is understood as already existing within us. By giving prayer a voice we come closer
to God. Sabbath observances then become a way to refuse to live in the past
or the future where tasks might be unfinished and, therefore, a distraction.
The final chapter is one of the most intriguing and the most thought-provoking. Kushner attempts to bridge the
gap between Judaism and Christianity by linking believing in Jesus Christ with the Jewish theme of teshuva (repentance or returning
home). The author says that accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is more than
doing teshuva and doing teshuva is doing more than accepting Jesus.
He concludes in an Afterword with some of the teachings that might
confound our attempts to understand Jewish spirituality. Key among these are
understanding the Torah as teaching and how to interpret it, a lack of dogma
and lack of emphasis on the afterlife.
This book made wonderful reading and left me wanting more. It is a slim volume,
but rich in lessons.
You can order JEWISH SPIRITUALITY: A Brief Introduction
for Christians from St.
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