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Unafraid to Speak Truth to Power

Q U I C K S C A N

THE PRACTICAL PROPHET: Pastoral Writings
WHEN WOMEN BUILD THE KINGDOM: Who We Are, What We Do, and How We Relate
GOD'S TROUBLEMAKERS: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World
HOSANNAS OF AN ORDINARY LIFE
ROSA MYSTICA: Poems From the Rosary and Other Poems
MAN AND WOMAN HE CREATED THEM: A Theology of the Body
Keeping the Marriage Vows


THE PRACTICAL PROPHET: Pastoral Writings, by Bishop Ken Untener. Introduced by Elizabeth Picken, C.S.J., Jeffrey Donner and Walter L. Farrell, S.J. Foreword by the Most Rev. Joseph L. Imesch. Paulist Press. 278 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a priest and psychotherapist of the Archdiocese of Detroit for three decades. Father Ventline is a longtime religion writer for The Detroit News and The Michigan Catholic, and recipient of the 1996 Detroit Human Rights Unsung Hero Award. Securing Serenity in Troubling Times, the latest of his seven books, is available from lawrenceventline@comcast.net or www.careofthesoul.org.

“FRESH AIR” and “faithful to Vatican II” were my immediate reactions to reading this collection of the late Kenneth Untener’s writings. This bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, died of leukemia in 2004. Like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who said she “wanted to spend her heaven doing good on earth,” this theologian continues to grace believers with his nationally popular “Little Books” for daily Advent and Lenten inspiration.

No wonder his global perspective is so wide—his 400-page dissertation in 1969 at Rome’s Gregorian University dealt with “The Church-World Relationship According to the Writings of Yves Congar, O.P.” Moderating his research was Jesuit Rene Latourelle.

He grew up on Detroit’s Belle Isle. Living in a family of four sisters and four brothers kept the ever-smiling Ken humble. In fact, following a term as rector of St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan, at his episcopal ordination he introduced himself in the packed Civic Arena of Saginaw by saying, “Hi! I’m Ken, and I will be your waiter for a long time.”

In fact, he was. From 1980 until his death, he remained bishop of Saginaw, which is in mid-Michigan and Michigan’s thumb.

Unafraid to speak truth to power, he was always the gentleman, having learned a collegial style from the late Cardinal John Dearden when he was his chief aide. During those years, Cardinal Dearden was the architect of the 1976 Call to Action speak-up sessions and home-study groups on Church, World and Kingdom topics. Salt and pepper are passed together, like truth and love, Untener repeated.

A compilation of his writings, this tome has six parts which range from “Vision and Creative Imagination,” through “Liturgy and the Word,” “Ministry of Mercy,” “Consistent Ethic of Life” and “Ministry of the Prophet,” to “The Wider Church.” It includes some of his few but thoughtful, timely and theological interventions before brother bishops at national conference meetings.

Inviting his Church back to its roots, like the prophets of the Old Testament, Bishop Untener wonders about “two levels” operating among hierarchy and “magisterial role with gnostic overtones, as though we have a source of knowledge that others do not have.” “Does not the Church, until the eschaton [end time], always need to know more than it knows? These are questions I can only suggest for further discussion,” the teacher-bishop concludes.

Bemoaning centralized authority today, at the end of his writings in this book, Untener reminds readers of an early history of the Church “when there was only a small number of dioceses, no canon law, no Curia, and very few external structures connecting the Diocese of Rome to the other dioceses. There was internal unity but much external diversity.

“Each bishop exercised full responsibility for his own diocese, while remaining in communion with the college of bishops, particularly through communion with the bishop of Rome. Almost all the things that today require a dispensation from or clearance from Rome were handled by the local bishop with his priests and ministers.”

In 1984, for example, an article in America magazine by Untener concludes that “having experienced the peak of centralization, recent generations of Catholics quite understandably think of the Church as a large corporation with headquarters in Rome and ‘branch offices’ around the world.” Untener relates an incident while the crucial chapter on collegiality in Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) regarding the pope’s role was being written. The pope had suggested that the theological commission insert the phrase “The pope is answerable to God alone.” But they responded rightly that this would be an oversimplification.

Interventions and reflective thought like this fill this refreshing and encompassing view of Church and world. Here was a gentle voice willing to speak out when so many simply choose to say nothing about fruitful living today. The unafraid Untener chose “feed my sheep” as his motto, and lived it.

You can order THE PRACTICAL PROPHET: Pastoral Writings from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

WHEN WOMEN BUILD THE KINGDOM: Who We Are, What We Do, and How We Relate, by Leslie Williams. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 206 pp. $17.95.

GOD'S TROUBLEMAKERS: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World, by Katharine Rhodes Henderson. Continuum Books. 247 pp. $24.95.

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, psycho-spiritual perspective.

THE FIRST IMAGE that came to mind when I finished reading these two books was that of the yin/yang circle, which has two flowing segments, one black and one white. These segments seem separate and opposed but, at the center, they touch. The center, which is neither, somehow contains both. These are yin/yang books, representing the “right” and “left” of 21st-century women’s spirituality.

Leslie Williams, who holds a doctorate in English and American literature, lives with her family in Texas, where they have founded the Building the Kingdom ministries, which include a retreat center and a restaurant called St. Martha’s Hideaway.

Williams starts with the idea that life is “not about being comfortable, but about being faithful....The purpose of our time here isn’t about happiness and comfort. It’s coincidentally about love, obedience, and helping others, but primarily it’s about our relationship with God. Beginning now. Never ending.”

Interpreting Scripture “from a woman’s point of view” and depending on the Holy Spirit, Williams has built a theology, psychology and spirituality of a “Household God,” who, she posits, invites us to build the Kingdom.

To call Dr. Williams’s God a “Household God” is not to denigrate the real power of God, but to note her emphasis on God’s intervention in the personal lives of the women whose stories she tells.

Although she has set out to relate how “the unique perspective, gifts, and attitudes that women bring to their preaching, teaching and praying” shape their contribution to the building of the Kingdom, some of her examples of God’s attentive presence to us were, to me, almost embarrassing to read. For example, one woman, almost at the point of desperation looking for a prom dress for her daughter, finally found one and recognized that “God loves us so much!”

Dr. Williams does venture a little more closely to the center of the yin/yang image when she cites the story of the Good Samaritan: “Neighbors are all those we meet in the course of our daily lives. The Bible says that mercy is the key to neighborliness—mercy to the lovable as well as the unlovable.”

This connection at the center brings us to the work of Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, a Presbyterian minister and vice president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. Henderson is also the founder of Face to Face/Faith to Faith, a multi-faith youth program educating leaders for the United States and conflict areas around the world. Henderson asked whether, in our complex world, individuals could still make a difference. How might adding justice to mercy enhance “God’s Household,” by which she means the whole world?

Henderson interviewed 21 women who, in simply living out their personal spirituality, became “God’s Troublemakers.” As such, they have brought about significant changes in the public realm.

Although they all critique mainstream religion, none has given up on it. Rather, drawn by a call to practice “resistance faith,” a stance they would not have envisioned or chosen, “each has allowed herself to feel the gap between the world as it is and a vision of how it could be, and has devoted herself to making up the difference.”

One of the women, who had been attacked for being a Jew, years later formed Seeking Common Ground, a program where Jewish and Palestinian teenagers could build a community together.

Another, a Roman Catholic nun (Sister Helen Prejean), who in her prison ministry walked with prisoners to death row, became an advocate against the death penalty. A director of a day-care center, aghast at what she saw when she visited a local shelter, first went out and bought peanut butter and jelly, and then formed a program to benefit shelter families.

In God’s Household, God stands with us at the bottom, from which are spun the intricate webs of interconnection and patterns of personal and social change. From the 21 women she interviewed, Henderson learned that “the dark mass of matter they sought to transform was themselves.”

While Williams’s work is based in a traditionalist view of women’s relationship to God, others and the world, and Henderson’s evolved from a seemingly opposite political and philosophical stance, each is empowered by compassion.

We have come full circle and back to the center, where we see the convergence and inseparability of yin and yang. From whichever point we start, people of faith, rooted and grounded in God, touch one another. And, by that touch, we and our world change.

While we are not likely equally comfortable in each of the halves of the yin and yang, if we learn anything, whether from the right, the left or the center, let it be that the Household God and God’s Household are, at root, one and the same. God privileges us by inviting us to share in the task of transforming the world.

You can order WHEN WOMEN BUILD THE KINGDOM: Who We Are, What We Do, and How We Relate and GOD'S TROUBLEMAKERS: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

HOSANNAS OF AN ORDINARY LIFE, by Joris John Heise. AuthorHouse. 35 pp. $10.75.

ROSA MYSTICA: Poems From the Rosary and Other Poems, by Mary Agnes Dalrymple. MaryAnka Press. 61 pp. $10.

Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON, an assistant editor of this publication. He is also its poetry editor.

SOMETIMES THE MOST PROFOUND moments in life are the most inconspicuous: gathering leaves in the yard on a November day, watching the evening news, eating a bowl of Cheerios. These seemingly bland occasions—according to poet Joris John Heise—are the stuff of poetry. He might just be right.

Heise explores, celebrates and, in some instances, mourns these moments in Hosannas of an Ordinary Life—33 poems that tackle everything from the war in Iraq to crossword puzzles to the time he shot his brother in the rear with a BB gun.

His poetry explores the intricacies of the human senses. In “Views: Best of the Northwest,” he writes: “Pictures, like a poet, only point. It is to see that we blind people are called to, to see dreams and visions, more than eye can see.” Like any good poet, Heise seeks to go beyond that which our senses can detect.

Some poems that ring especially true: “Julie Did Not Tell Us” revels in the purity of a child’s exuberance; “Pillsbury Frozen Biscuits?” illustrates how an item found in your grocer’s freezer can be a sustainer of life; “All Us Couples” plumbs the hurt—and healing—we impart on our partners.

Heise’s work should ultimately be praised for its simple beauty and deft observation of life and living, as well as its twinge of pathos, yet some individual poems border on the narrative style a bit too much. Even so, Hosannas of an Ordinary Life offers whole stanzas of wisdom, insight and themes worth deep reflection.

Rosa Mystica: Poems From the Rosary and Other Poems, by Mary Agnes Dalrymple, is a collection of poetry that is, as stated on the back of the book, “arranged according to the grid of the Rosary.” But as a whole collection, it’s much more.

Separated into two parts, both sections celebrate the stories, people and moments of the Bible that are central to the Catholic faith: The birth of Jesus, his Baptism, the scourging at the pillar and his torturous walk with the cross are poeticized with a charming, preternatural flair.

For example, in Dalrymple’s poem “The Kingdom of God,” she writes: “God came through an answered question. The Angel said, ‘Will you?’ And Mary said, ‘Yes.’ She opened her heart to God. The way honeysuckle accepts the bee, and river receives the rain.” Most of these poems echo this kind of subtlety. Her less-is-more approach is executed beautifully here. What a pleasure it is to pore over her poetry!

Though certainly biblical in nature, Dalrymple’s poetry is hardly a Sunday school lesson. Her poems are expressions of deep love. Minimalist in style, Rosa Mystica: Poems From the Rosary and Other Poems provides a bounty of deep faith and meditation to feast upon. Bon appétit!

You can order HOSANNAS OF AN ORDINARY LIFE and ROSA MYSTICA: Poems From the Rosary and Other Poems from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

MAN AND WOMAN HE CREATED THEM: A Theology of the Body, by John Paul II. Translated and introduced by Michael M. Waldstein. Foreword by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. Preface by Christopher West. Pauline Books & Media. 735 pp. $29.95.

Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M., who studied Scripture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He edits Sunday Homily Helps for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

NOT AN EASY BOOK, Man and Woman He Created Them is a new translation of Pope John Paul II’s pivotal book that contains his thinking about love and marriage, including contraception.

It begins with a short Foreword by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a short Preface by Christopher West and a lengthy (128 pages) Introduction by Michael Waldstein.

The Introduction provides background for John Paul II’s lengthy text (533 pages). The Introduction describes the complicated process involved in the composition and final editing of The Theology of the Body. This was a pre-papal (1970s) book on sexuality and marriage, which was developed later into his catecheses. There is text comparison between the Polish originals and later Italian versions.

This book also traces the influence of various thinkers on John Paul’s thought. According to Waldstein, The Theology of the Body is “a catechesis proposed by the Bishop of Rome for the universal Church on the center of Christian faith, the ‘great mystery’ of love (Ephesians 5).” John Paul provides reflections, analyses and meditations. His main source is Scripture, with a helping hand from St. John of the Cross. To get the most out of the Introduction, readers should know a good bit of philosophy, theology, biblical exegesis, anthropology and psychology.

After plowing through Waldstein’s difficult Introduction, we might think John Paul’s teaching points would be simpler, but they are not. He uses all the aforementioned ways of thinking, and his analysis of biblical texts involves tight-knit exegesis. His main text is Ephesians 5:21-33. Also very important is Genesis 2:24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (which is quoted in Ephesians 5:31, as well as in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7).

There is constant repetition and weaving together of texts. Sometimes one text bolsters or clarifies another. At other times, it is easy to get lost in the welter of citations together with all the analyses and reflections. Sometimes, the repetitions become tedious. At other times, they gradually clarify John Paul’s statements. The one helpful thing is that he frequently begins a catechesis with a summary of previous material.

A very positive feature of Man and Woman He Created Them is the almost 50-page Index of Words and Phrases. There is also a Scripture Index of six pages. These, plus a 12-page Bibliography, make the work invaluable for those who can handle the material.

There are people who criticize John Paul II’s work for not keeping in touch with modern times. They think he is too rigid in his opposition to artificial contraception. In fact, they may be astounded to find out that John Paul II condemns those who use infertile periods to evade procreation without just reasons (see #125,3, p. 637). Critics will point out that the pope’s catecheses are not infallible statements and do not even have the authority of encyclicals or other papal documents.

This reviewer, however, thinks John Paul makes a strong case for his position. There may be reasons to argue about one or the other interpretation of Scripture. But I think he presents a beautiful vision of what love is all about. His description of married love presents an ideal that will appeal to many. The Gospels can make tough demands. They are not only documents of joy. They are also documents that highlight the cross and resurrection.

A book like Christopher West’s Good News About Sex & Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching (Servant Books/St. Anthony Messenger Press, $11.95, audiobook, $37.95) presents the main points of Man and Woman He Created Them and other works of John Paul II in a simpler form. There are people who have been inspired by West’s book and have come to appreciate John Paul’s work because of West’s efforts.

Anyone who sees the sad state of many marriages today will be grateful for the positive presentation of married love that Pope John Paul II provides.

You can order MAN AND WOMAN HE CREATED THEM: A Theology of the Body from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Keeping the Marriage Vows

With many couples marrying in May or June, it’s a good time to look at lighthearted and serious new books on marriage.

THE MR. & MRS. HAPPY HANDBOOK: Everything I Know About Love and Marriage, by Steve Doocy, with corrections by Mrs. Doocy (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 245 pp., $23.95, U.S./$31, Canada), comes from the exuberant host of Fox News Channel’s morning program Fox & Friends. The dippy title hides a down-to-earth look at love, marriage and parenting. “A successful marriage is all about rounding out the edges,” he says. Doocy is a lector at his own church, and his wife, Kathy, is a CCD teacher. They present at pre-Cana classes.

101 QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ON CATHOLIC MARRIED LIFE, by Catherine Johnston, Daniel Kendall, S.J., and Rebecca Nappi (Paulist Press, 114 pp., $12.95), comes from two married women and a priest. Part of Paulist Press’s popular “101 Questions & Answers” series, it’s respectful, realistic and honest about marriage today. It covers all the topics in Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter.

I PROMISE: How 5 Commitments Determine the Destiny of Your Marriage, by Dr. Gary Smalley (Integrity Publishers, 224 pp., $22.99), comes from a Christian marriage expert. A radio host and author of 40 books on marriage, Dr. Smalley believes the bedrock of marriage is security: Communication skills go only so far if your spouse does not believe he/she is safe when opening up.


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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