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Q U I C K S C A N

VOTE CATHOLIC?: Beyond the Political Din
MOMFULNESS: Mothering With Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace
THE MORAL MEASURE OF THE ECONOMY
HE SAID YES: The Story of Father Mychal Judge
THE STORY OF BENEDICT XVI FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
YES! I AM CATHOLIC: How Faith Plays a Role in My Life
CHASING JOY: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World
VIOLET COMES TO STAY
RECOVERING SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS: Catholic Perspectives on American Law
Mary and the Feminine



VOTE CATHOLIC?: Beyond the Political Din, by Bernard F. Evans. Liturgical Press. 112 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by TOM CHOQUETTE, a teacher of religion at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1988 to 2000, he was the director of the Catholic Social Action Office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

CAN YOU REMEMBER in the 1980s when Catholic social teaching (CST) and Catholic social action got together and produced two extraordinary pastoral letters by the U.S. Catholic bishops and numerous spiritual and social initiatives in dioceses and parishes?

In recent years with the priest-abuse scandals in the Church and bitter partisan struggles in government circles, it may have seemed that thoughtful, balanced voices on social questions had gone quiet, allowing more confrontational, more divisive perspectives to take center stage.

A new book by Bernard F. Evans, a worthy exception to this trend, invites Catholics and others who desire to draw upon the resources of faith in making political choices to examine again the merits of a comprehensive, common-ground approach. This approach integrates gospel and Church social-teaching principles with intelligent analysis of the current political climate and specific social issues.

The author affirms the importance of the response of charity, especially in terms of volunteering in local direct-service programs. Equally important, however, is involvement in the political sphere since so much that affects day-to-day living and basic human needs is decided there.

The author argues that this renewed effort of social ministry must begin with an honest appraisal of what people are experiencing, especially the poor and vulnerable, and then move to a thorough assessment of the political climate. This appraisal would seek to find out what people are most concerned about and how these concerns might be turned into a realistic agenda for political action.

The approach favored by Evans integrates an inspiring comprehensive vision framed by the principles of Church social teaching with in-depth understanding of how the political system works.

Three themes serve as the core of Evans’s vision: 1) promoting the common good, 2) responding to the needs of the poor and vulnerable, 3) protecting human life and dignity.

It is the author’s hope that, informed and guided by these three themes, Catholics and others will work together to advance a comprehensive pro-life agenda, which would protect and promote life from conception to natural death.

Building consensus to work on this full range of issues may not be easy because of the divisions and tensions created in recent years. For example, the author cites the promotion in the last general election of a limited list of non-negotiable issues as unhelpful. Alternatively, Evans advocates the promotion of all of the above themes as part of an overall pro-life agenda.

Moreover, this more comprehensive and more pragmatic approach would seem to be in line with what the U.S. bishops in their most recent version of Faithful Citizenship recommend as responsible participation in the national election process.

Other key points emphasized by Evans include: Avoid focusing on a single issue, respect a diversity of perspective, support multiple approaches, stay informed, follow your passion and use your gifts.

The author invites his readers to take up two key tasks:

1) Become an educated voter by paying attention to the needs of the larger community and by weighing political choices guided by the themes of human dignity, the sacredness of life, and empowerment of the marginalized. The moral vision and issue analysis of the U.S. bishops and other Catholic social-justice groups at state, diocesan and parish levels can be very helpful resources to this process of education.

2) Political responsibility includes more than just voting. As citizens we need to stay engaged in year-round governance by staying informed and by participating in political life. We bring to this involvement a moral perspective shaped by an appreciation of and commitment to the common good and human dignity. This engagement will enrich our lives, bringing about both personal transformation and policy changes aimed at helping the most vulnerable in American society.

In Vote Catholic?: Beyond the Political Din, we have a book that can help sort out the issues from a faith perspective.

You can order VOTE CATHOLIC?: Beyond the Political Din from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

MOMFULNESS: Mothering With Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace, by Denise Roy. Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons. 235 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by JULIE S. DONATI, a freelance writer, student and mother of three from Sugar Land, Texas.

FROM THE FIRST LINE of her new book Momfulnness, author Denise Roy had me. “I want to be straight with you. Mothering is not about perfection. It is also not about motherhood as bliss....Momfulness is practiced in the trenches—while carpooling, cooking, working and waiting, crying and celebrating.”

Reflecting on my harried life as a mother of three girls, I immediately connected, and so will many readers. Roy, author of the award-winning My Monastery Is a Minivan, has written this as a spiritual handbook packed with humorous yet insightful anecdotes, exercises and practices to help busy mothers see the spiritual in the craziness of family life.

Denise Roy, a licensed marriage and family therapist, had lofty notions of using her theological degree in ecclesial ministry, but the reality of family life quickly brought her back to earth. She realized, “My spiritual practice was...not going to take place primarily in a church, breaking bread and sharing wine; more often than not, it was going to take place in the kitchen, serving up graham crackers and chocolate milk.”

So what exactly does “momfulness” mean? Mindfulness, a practice usually associated with Buddhism, is simply being aware of the present moment. Christians, however, have also practiced mindfulness, although by a different name. St. Benedict’s first word of his Rule, the guidelines which monastic communities still follow, is to “listen,” to be mindful of God in all activities.

Roy has taken the spiritual practice of “mindfulness” (active awareness of God outside of formal moments of prayer) and ingeniously transposed it to “momfulness,” meaning conscious and attentive mothering. Roy explains that to practice “momfulness” means to cultivate a “mindful, compassionate, mothering presence with ourselves, with our children, and with our world.”

Following an introduction to “momfulness,” Roy divides the practices into compassion, mothering, presence, cultivating and community. Particularly useful are her concrete practices that are easy to employ, such as breathing meditation on centering and dwelling in the present moment. She is comfortable with offering insights and quotes from outside Christian persons and practice which enhance the book.

Each chapter is purposefully short (more a meditation than a dissertation), and the compact (3” by 3”) dimensions of the book allow it to be slipped into a purse and read at opportune moments. Even in small snatches, this small gem of a book offers nuggets of wisdom, often accompanied with a laugh!

At the conclusion, she offers an extensive bibliography of suggested reading to enable the curious to pursue deeper study.

I recommend the reading of this book for all mothers, old and new, who would like to explore the spiritual practice of mothering, and they will find themselves uplifted and rejuvenated! Roy has planned a book discussion guide to use in parish groups and prayer groups—a fitting use.

You can order MOMFULNESS: Mothering With Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE MORAL MEASURE OF THE ECONOMY, by Chuck Collins and Mary Wright. Orbis Books. 212 pp. $18.

Reviewed by CAROL RAINEY, Ph.D., a retired English professor and longtime peace and justice activist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

IN THE SUMMER of 2007, the ups and downs of the stock market made the whole world jittery. Many people were bewildered by what was happening, economics being a matter of complicated numbers many of us do not understand. This marvelous book by Chuck Collins and Mary Wright looks at the modern American economy not in terms of numbers but in terms of moral values, and gives insight into the real dilemmas which ordinary men and women in the United States today are facing in their work and financial lives.

Perhaps the key idea of the Collins/Wright book is that we need to look at work itself in terms of its impact on the worker, the family, the community and the environment. When views of work lack a moral dimension, things begin to go wrong and everyone suffers.

The book has two parts. Part One presents an overview of Catholic teachings on the economy, concentrating particularly on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter Economic Justice for All (1986, updated in 1997). In that letter the bishops stated clearly that economic life should be shaped by moral principles, with particular attention to the poor and vulnerable.

Many stories are given in this opening section about the struggles of ordinary people today to take care of themselves and their families: declining wages, growing personal debts, health-care costs and job insecurities.

Part Two attempts to explain how the present economic and moral crisis in the United States has come about and what can be done about it. This discussion of the root causes of the problems today is the heart of the book.

According to the authors, three things have happened in our society that are responsible for the problems we are having today. First, there has been a power shift in the U.S. democracy (that is, who now has the power to shape and enact laws).

Political power is increasingly in the hands of campaign contributors, lobbyists, corporations and Wall Street leaders, and less in the hands of ordinary voters, small businesses, unions, or social and religious groups.

Second, there has been a shift in the rules that govern the laws of society. Tax policies have shifted so that the federal tax generated comes not from wealth but from wages and consumers. Employers no longer feel a responsibility to the welfare of workers: Jobs can be cut at any time; benefits are disappearing.

Third, and perhaps most important, there has been a shift in moral values in society as a whole. What is now valued is extreme individualism, excessive wealth and materialism, not community and our responsibility to one another and the earth itself.

As dire as the present conditions are, this book is not without hope. Part Two has many inspiring stories of individuals and organizations doing something about the economic inequalities. There are individuals working for a shorter work week (such as other countries have), which would decrease unemployment and give workers more time for themselves, their families and community life. One hundred forty cities now have living-wage laws, which require corporations doing business with those cities to pay a living wage to their employees.

One drawback of the book is that it is a little hard to get into. The opening section, listing the problems of so many people today, is presented without any explanation or analysis. It seems as if the editors wanted some human stories in the beginning to make the more theoretical section less intimidating. But for me this approach had the opposite effect: I wondered where the book was going and almost gave up on it.

The analysis of the economy in Part Two is excellent, but more personal stories would have been useful here, particularly about environmental programs.

Despite these difficulties, the book is well worth reading and thinking about, and would be excellent for parish discussions on the meaning of wealth and poverty today from a Catholic perspective.

You can order THE MORAL MEASURE OF THE ECONOMY from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

HE SAID YES: The Story of Father Mychal Judge, by Kelly Ann Lynch, illustrated by M. Scott Oatman. Paulist Press. 32 pp. $12.95.

THE STORY OF BENEDICT XVI FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, by Claire Jordan Mohan. New Hope Publications. 74 pp. $9.95.

YES! I AM CATHOLIC: How Faith Plays a Role in My Life, by Beth Dotson Brown. Saint Mary’s Press. 192 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian and native Cincinnatian.

ONE OF THE MOST memorable heroes of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, was Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M. As fire department chaplain, he was among the last to enter the disaster site and the first official fatality removed. Kelly Ann Lynch, a lifelong friend of his, bases this children’s picture book on the events that led to this act of supreme love and generosity.

Born in 1933 to poor Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, Emmet (Mychal was his religious name) began helping to support the family with odd jobs by age six. He completed his education in the local Franciscan seminary and, after ordination, was assigned to St. Francis Parish in Manhattan, where he tended a typical inner-city clientele. Always interested in firefighters, he took on their chaplaincy and was running to help them when he was killed. All his life, “He said yes.”

An excellent biography of a contemporary hero for children ages eight to 12, this book should be considered for all school and library collections. The 13 illustrations enhance the readable text and even have hidden images.

Claire Mohan’s Story of Benedict XVI for Young People targets an older audience with advanced but very readable vocabulary and stylized black and white illustrations. When he was born in a small German village in 1927, Joseph Ratzinger had a two-year-old brother and five-year-old sister. Their father was a police officer whose job required frequent transfers but, with devoted parents, Joseph and his siblings had a carefree childhood until the rise of Adolph Hitler. Nazism’s effect on all facets of German society is excellently portrayed; any kind of resistance would have meant death.

Their father’s retirement in 1937 provided an opportunity to escape to a rural village which still maintained a religious school, but the children were forced into Hitler Youth groups, where physical fitness was emphasized. Joseph, while a good student, was shy and not talented at games. At the seminary he had difficulty studying in a large hall with 60 other boys. Soon he and his brother, Georg, also a seminarian, became paramilitary personnel and, finally, were forced to be active participants in the war.

The abiding faith kindled by the deep religiosity of their parents sustained the family through these years of terror and hardship. Ordained in 1951, Joseph was elected pope in 2005.

The author’s imaginative use of detailed description and lively dialogue makes this an easily accessible recounting of family life under a regime of terror unfathomable to citizens of a democracy. This pope’s indomitable spirit of survival recalls the trials that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, underwent in Poland. I would recommend this book for all youth collections.

Thirty-nine practicing Catholics address why they chose and what they like best about their faith in Yes! I Am Catholic. The participants range from their 20s to their 80s and include athletes, college students, homemakers, social workers, clerics, actresses and musicians. The myriad ways in which they personalize their participation in a universal Church are amazing.

Catchy dialogues compare God to a net and the soul to a muscle, describe “lover of God” as a life’s vocation and marvel that the basis of Catholicism is a person who came to make changes. Other essays give insight into the activities that grew out of their faith like living in the moment, getting mad at God, respecting diversity and questioning some Church teachings.

While similar anthologies have been published for adult readers, this work is uniquely designed for a teenage audience from its jazzy paperback format with colored photos, lots of illustrations and multicolored pages, to the short articles and up-front revelations of very personal religious beliefs and practices. I would highly recommend this volume for all teenagers and as an excellent Confirmation gift!

You can order HE SAID YES: The Story of Father Mychal Judge, THE STORY OF BENEDICT XVI FOR YOUNG PEOPLE and YES! I AM CATHOLIC: How Faith Plays a Role in My Life from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

CHASING JOY: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World, by Edward Hays. Ave Maria Press. 192 pp. $12.95.

Reviewed by MARY LYNNE RAPIEN, a writer for Homily Helps and Weekday Homily Helps and a practicing licensed clinical counselor in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the youth columnist for St. Anthony Messenger for 40 years and is a wife, mother of six and grandmother of 20.

IF AN AUTHOR tells you only what you already know and accept, there is no growth. Ed Hays in his book Chasing Joy: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World gives much to ponder long after the last word is read. Throughout, this reviewer kept thinking, “You can’t be serious.” “Get real, Ed.” “Now you’ve really gone too far—‘rejoicing even in hell’?”

The author, however, doesn’t flinch and backs up his interpretations and suggestions with insights, Scripture and borrowings from other traditions.

Based on Paul’s imperatives in Philippians 4:4-6 to “rejoice always, pray constantly and be grateful,” Hays challenges the reader to look at authentic joy and how it is played out in our lives. He sees prayer and gratitude as essentially linked to constant joy.

The author begins by focusing on all the situations in our world, our Church, our country and our personal lives that are joy-robbers. Next, he defines what joy is not—Pollyanna, happy-go-lucky, sanctimonious. Then he launches into the kind of “joy to the full” that Jesus offers.

At the core of joy, for the author, is the belief that God is all-present— even in what is evil—so that he can bring good out of any suffering. “Each adversity holds a seed of some benefit of equal or even greater joy.” So joy comes from faithful trust in a God who is in everything, especially in the core of our being.

Hays sees joy as a desired quality in our human spirit. He gleans that fact from many traditions: American Indian, Jewish, Hindu, Taoist, Islam and Buddhist. He quotes from their masters and shares their touching, teaching stories. Father Hays contends that Christians do not have exclusive rights to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

The author spends some chapters focusing on Jesus’ joy and laughter. Although Scripture never talks of either in connection with Jesus, Father Hays uses examples from Jesus’ life, like children being drawn to him, to deduce that Jesus was a smiling, joyful person. He would contend that Jesus’ intimate union with and trust of his Father produced the kind of joy that he wants for each of us.

For the author, being joyful does not mean being blinded to our sufferings and those of others. It allows for our complaining to God, as friends would.

For those struggling with being joyful in the midst of a broken, painful world, the 40 short chapters in Chasing Joy offer fresh insights, challenging theories, practical suggestions and hope.

You can order CHASING JOY: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

VIOLET COMES TO STAY, story by Melanie Cecka, pictures by Emily Arnold McCully. Penguin Young Readers Group. 36 pp. $15.99.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this magazine and mother of three.

MY KIDS ARE NUTS for animals. We have a dog and two bunnies and, at one time or another, we’ve had gerbils, birds and fish. The one animal they have not, however, managed to convince my husband, Mark, and me to get them is a cat. To make up for that void in their lives, they love delving into anything cat-related—movies, books, etc. So I knew this book would be well-received from the get-go.

The book is based on Jan Karon’s Mitford Years series of books. In that series, Cynthia Coppersmith, one of the main characters, writes and illustrates books about her cat, Violet. Karon “was thrilled to at last discover Cynthia’s warm and compassionate voice in a gifted new writer—Melanie Cecka.”

Illustrator Emily Arnold McCully was then recruited to “bring the characters to life visually,” says Karon. This is the first in a series of picture books based on the work of Cynthia Coppersmith.

The story tells the tale of Violet, a kitten who is struggling to find her place in the world. After stints in a nursery and bakery don’t work out, Violet wonders why she can’t figure out what God has planned for her. Her mother offers reassurance that in time she will discover God’s plan. And eventually she does.

The connection of Violet with the Mitford Series was well publicized on the book. But, honestly, the connection was lost on my kids. All they cared about was that this was a really good story—with nice pictures—about a kitten trying to find the perfect home. And they loved it. For this mom, that’s all that matters.

You can order VIOLET COMES TO STAY from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

RECOVERING SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS: Catholic Perspectives on American Law, edited by Michael A. Scaperlanda and Teresa Stanton Collett. Catholic University of America Press. 402 pp. $39.95.

Reviewed by JACK CLARK ROBINSON, O.F.M., who became a lawyer in 1979, a Franciscan in 1981 and a priest in 1986. He now lives at Old Mission in Santa Barbara, California.

SCAPERLANDA AND COLLETT contend that insights of the Catholic tradition, “rooted in faith and reason, revelation and natural law,” transcend ideological battle lines and offer something more basic and important to the discussion of current legal issues.

Every legal system seeks to answer the basic questions of every legal problem: who human beings really are and how they are to live together. This book proposes that Catholic natural law tradition offers the best approach to these questions, with essays on Catholic legal theory, the human person and the person in community.

These essays, and much of the book, rely heavily on the philosophical thought of Pope John Paul II as the most recent, cogent expression of natural law in the Catholic tradition.

As the editors state in the Introduction, the essays in this book draw only on authoritative and authentic Catholic teaching without reference to dissenters.

After the editors establish a groundwork for Catholic consideration of legal issues, eight essays follow, offering Catholic perspectives on substantive areas of law. The editors avoid “hot-button” issues in favor of classic law-school curriculum topics: contract, tort, property, criminal, family, labor, immigration and international law.

These essays challenge legal theoreticians to apply Catholic and universal ideas to areas of the law traditionally based on English common law in American jurisprudence.

In the Afterword, Russell Shaw points to the need for “believing, practicing Catholics to re-create a viable subculture” in order to reform secular culture. The essays here make an unfortunately uneven, but important, start at promoting Catholic legal thought.

You can order RECOVERING SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS: Catholic Perspectives on American Law from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Mary and the Feminine

In this month of Mary, Jesus’ mother and ours, we can ponder her ability to give solace, provide an example of fidelity and model the perfect feminine.

MOTHER TERESA: In the Shadow of Our Lady: Sharing Mother Teresa’s Mystical Relationship With Mary, by Joseph Langford, M.C. (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 121 pp., $14.95). On the heels of her letters revealing that Mother Teresa experienced a “dark night of the soul” comes this look at her deep relationship with Our Lady. Apparently, when God seemed to withdraw from her, Mary gave her the strength to “do great things for God and the good of people.”

THE WAY OF MARY: Following Her Footsteps Toward God, by Mary Ford-Grabowsky (Paraclete Press, 228 pp., $23.95, higher outside the U.S.). Ford-Grabowsky is a wife, mother and theologian who explores what Mary’s life of fidelity means. These 14 devotions flow from the New Testament’s stories about Mary, from the Annunciation through Pentecost.

TOUCHING YOUR LIFETHREAD AND REVALUING THE FEMININE: A Process of Psychospiritual Change, by Patricia M. Berliner (Cloverdale Books, 178 pp., $16.95). Despite its somewhat academic title, this book presents concrete ways women can gain a more holistic view of themselves, their talents and their lives of care for others. Sister Patricia is a psychologist in private practice.


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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