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MAKING PARISHES THAT SAY, ‘WELCOME!’

Q U I C K S C A N

THE CATHOLIC PARISH: Hope for a Changing World
DISTURBING THE PEACE: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas
HABITS OF DEVOTION: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America
AND GOD SAID, “PLAY BALL!”: Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Baseball
BOOK BRIEFS


THE CATHOLIC PARISH: Hope for a Changing World, by Robert J. Hater. Paulist Press. 248 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by JEFFREY SCHEELER, O.F.M., former pastor of St. Monica-St. George Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, and provincial vicar for the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist.

“TODAY’S PARISHES ARE at a crossroad,” writes Robert Hater. How do parishes, which are the most common way the majority of people experience “Church,” respond to the challenges of modern life and culture and become “excellent parishes” that offer hope in a fast-paced and changing world?

The Catholic Parish is a theologically grounded, highly organized, yet very readable response to that question. Father Hater presents complex issues in an understandable way.

He has suggestions for the many facets of parish life, including liturgy, finances, catechetics, outreach, sports, management, etc. In fact, each chapter ends with numerous practical suggestions that parishes could try to enliven and enrich their parish life.

Hater maintains that pastoral ministry must respond to people’s real needs, and he grounds all parish ministry in the ministry of evangelization. He often, quite rightly, highlights the need for Catholic parishes to be centers of hospitality, where people feel wanted and welcomed, and points out how our Protestant brothers and sisters often do this so much better than Catholics do. Many Protestant churches are filled with ex-Catholics who have felt more welcomed there.

Hater also reminds readers of the reality that many in today’s society are “seekers,” those who are looking for answers among the shifting sands of contemporary society. The fast pace of our society creates people who are excited about the “new,” but its superficiality also leaves them searching for deeper meaning. Catholic liturgy generally presumes a committed congregation, while many in the Church might not feel so committed. Many fundamentalist mega-churches presume that members are seekers and respond accordingly. Hater acknowledges that the fundamentals of our liturgy cannot change, but we do need to be aware of who is in fact in the congregation if we want to reach them.

I also appreciated his insight that liturgy needs a balance of both structure and spontaneity. Today, he says, many liturgies are very structured. If this is overdone, it can lead to a rigid formalism which misses the transcendent dimension.

Readers of this book will also become more aware of recent Church and USCCB documents, as well as significant recent publications about parish life, because Hater consistently backs up his point with quotations from these works. Hater also tries to ground his points with stories or comments by priests or pastoral ministers, but sometimes these came off as a bit stilted to this reader.

I found the last three chapters to be the most helpful personally. In these Hater reminds us that a parish’s unique vision takes shape in a given culture, which exercises a pervasive influence on parishes. A parish must “manage its vision, by articulating its fundamental orientation, style and mission.” In addition to attending to a mission statement, “a parish must establish a concrete plan to implement the mission.” He ends with questions built around the 18 common traits of Excellent Catholic Parishes, by Paul Wilkes (Paulist Press).

This book might serve as a good overview for new parishioners or to the newly initiated. Members of parish committees might find that it gives them a bigger picture of the many dimensions of parish life and ministry. It might prove useful for a parish team to read and discuss together.

You can order THE CATHOLIC PARISH: Hope for a Changing World from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

DISTURBING THE PEACE: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas, by James Hodge and Linda Cooper. Orbis Books. 244 pp. $20.

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

IN HIS NOW-FAMOUS letter from the Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., contrasted the experience of the early Church with the one that existed in his day. He lamented that, far from being agents of change (thermostats) like the first Christians, too many accepted and acted according to the social norms of the day (thermometers). This image of what the Church and disciples of Jesus are called to be was never far from my mind as I read Disturbing the Peace, by James Hodge and Linda Cooper.

Even for a thermostat like Father Roy Bourgeois, however, the change in temperature was gradual. Born in the bayous of Louisiana, Bourgeois joined the Navy after college. He felt it was his patriotic duty in 1965 to volunteer for Vietnam. It was there that Bourgeois discovered not the glory of battle but the brutality of war through contact with an orphanage outside Saigon. His attempts to ease the sufferings of the children there also reawakened thoughts of the priesthood.

Fresh from his tour of duty, Bourgeois joined the Maryknoll Order in the fall of 1966. This first-year seminarian’s hawkish views were challenged when he found out that a noted peace activist, Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, was to speak to his class. He protested and was given permission to not attend Berrigan’s talk. By the time of his ordination in May of 1972, though, Bourgeois had become a social-justice advocate himself.

Maryknoll sent Bourgeois to La Paz, Bolivia. (In language school one of the first persons he would meet was Ita Ford, a Maryknoll sister who would eventually suffer martyrdom for her justice work in El Salvador.) During his stay, Bourgeois helped establish small Christian communities, literacy training programs, a health clinic and a trade school.

As requested by the local bishop, he also began his “subversive” activity ministering to university students, factory workers and labor-union leaders. It made him a marked man. After almost being killed by government officials, Bourgeois had to leave Bolivia in 1977.

Over the next few years, Bourgeois involved himself in a host of activities to raise awareness about the suffering going on in Latin America.

After the deaths of fellow Maryknoll women religious and Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, Bourgeois’s attention turned to El Salvador. His link with Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, and the School of the Americas began in 1983 when he found that 525 Salvadoran soldiers were being sent there for training. Shortly thereafter, he started his indefatigable fight to close the school.

Over time, Bourgeois and others would discover that throughout Latin America what connected countless cases of human-rights abuse, torture and murder was that many of the people charged with carrying out these acts were trained at the School of the Americas. In fact, the school was known in Latin America as the “School of the Assassins.”

Through our nation’s training of Latin American soldiers at the School of the Americas, we have not been innocent bystanders in this oppression but active participants. As much as we may not want to hear it, Bourgeois tells the real story about this school.

You can order DISTURBING THE PEACE: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

HABITS OF DEVOTION: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America, edited by James M. O’Toole. Cornell University Press. 289 pp. $39.95, hardcover; $19.95, paperback.

Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a librarian and writer who lives in Boston.

PART OF THE Cushwa Center Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth-Century America, Habits of Devotion offers a vivid and nuanced portrait of the recent religious history of American Catholics. Essays on public and private prayer, Marian devotions, Confession and the Eucharist explore the changes that led to and occurred after Vatican II.

The authors, all respected academics, have produced uniformly well-written scholarly essays accessible to the lay reader, and the skillful editing of James O’Toole has given us a book free of thematic or factual repetition.

Popular writing about Catholic devotional spirituality can suffer from sentimentality, superficiality or polemics. Habits of Devotion is a good antidote to that affliction. It provides solid factual information about religious practices and explores the theological, social and political context within which devotions developed and changed.

In a strong opening essay, “The Catholic Community at Prayer, 1926-1976,” Joseph Chinnici, O.F.M., rejects the recent tradition that “describes the 1960s in terms of a time before and a time after the Second Vatican Council. To some extent, such a periodization, emphasizing as it does ‘revolutionary change,’ has left the community with an unusable past....In the contemporary context, such a view has been fueled by the politico-ecclesial polarizations still present in the community between ‘restorationists’ and ‘progressives.’ The present work seeks to examine the changing patterns of prayer and practice from a longer perspective.”

The substance and style of religious practices were shaped by many factors, which could include theology, institutional and pastoral needs that ranged from maintaining a Catholic identity in Protestant America or responding to secularism and atheistic Communism, to maintaining boundaries between clergy and an increasingly educated, affluent and professionally successful Catholic laity.

Paula Kane’s essay on Marian devotions from 1940 to the present illustrates how complex these developments and interpretations are. Marian devotions strengthened the distinctiveness of Catholic identity and functioned as a “boundary against the other Christian churches.” During the Cold War the Virgin Mary was enlisted both to fight against Communism (“the woman the Reds fear most”) and to foster a “submissive model” of feminine spirituality: “surrender to God’s will, self-sacrifice, spiritual victimhood....”

Kane analyzes the polarization of Marian imagery in the post-Vatican II period when efforts “to reclaim Mary as a progressive symbol” have met with only partial success. A growing conservative Mariology has developed strong apocalyptic overtones.

O’Toole’s “In the Court of Conscience: American Catholics and Confession, 1900-1975” offers an excellent understanding of the theology and practice of this sacrament that was “central to Catholic practice” for 150 years: “This was a moral universe in which even the most ordinary believers had dozens of opportunities every day to sever their connection with God, perhaps completely. Confession offered the chance to undo that damage and set things right again.”

O’Toole explores why this “important marker of denominational identity” would disappear almost completely in the 1970s and suggests one reason was the changed self-image and increased sense of autonomy (“gone was an automatic deference to priestly authority...”) lay Catholics experienced after Vatican II.

In “Let Us Go to the Altar,” Margaret McGuinness narrates the arc of change in the theology and practice of the Mass, as seen through changes in eucharistic etiquette, the severity of the fast, extraliturgical devotions (Benediction, Forty Hours, and Nocturnal and Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament) and the frequency with which the faithful received Communion. It was a remarkable century of change from Pope Pius X’s 1905 proclamation on the desirability of frequent Communion to the adoption of Communion in the hand in the early 1970s.

A recurring theme in these essays is the relationship between continuity and change, “the long period of gestation, for the presence in the soil of the Church’s experience of many different elements that suddenly came together and became outwardly manifest in their connectedness.”

The great contribution of Habits of Devotion is that it restores the lived tradition of American Catholicism to a community that needs to regain the use of its past. It would be folly to ignore such a respectful and timely gift.

You can order HABITS OF DEVOTION: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

AND GOD SAID, “PLAY BALL!”: Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Baseball, by Gary Graf. Photographs by Jack Zehrt. Liguori/Triumph. 180 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by P.J. MURPHY, an avid sports fan who lives in Dublin, Ohio. In addition to graduating from the College of Mount St. Joseph with a degree in English, he recently completed his M.A. in journalism and communications at The Ohio State University.

BASEBALL AND THE BIBLE? What could a game filled with million-dollar contracts and steroid-abuse allegations possibly have in common with the Bible? In And God Said, “Play Ball!” Gary Graf shows that they have a lot in common through life lessons they both teach and the great sense of hope they both evoke.

For many American Catholics, faith and baseball are staples of their lives. Most can vividly describe the church they grew up in, as well as the ballpark of their favorite local team. By showing parallels between Catholicism and baseball, Graf enables us to earn a deeper appreciation for each.

This appreciation comes from the seemingly effortless flow from Bible stories paired with the stories of some of baseball’s greatest players. At first glance, the Bible story of Joseph, son of Jacob, might seem to have little in common with the baseball career of Joe DiMaggio, but it turns out both had their highs and lows.

While some of the parallels were written with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, he does do a good job at gleaning the greater good in these observations. It might seem funny to compare God illuminating the cosmos with Franklin Delano Roosevelt turning on the lights for the first Major League Baseball night game in 1935 but, as one reads on, the comparison Graf is really trying to make becomes more apparent. God gave us illumination (or understanding) and it is there for us to discover.

Even though baseball players such as Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer were given amazing talent to pitch a baseball, they did not develop their Hall of Fame careers until they saw the light of certain nuances of pitching or gained an understanding of their talents. The amusing comparisons, although seemingly far-flung, draw you into each chapter (or inning, as Graf calls them).

The deeper meaning Graf is getting at will keep you reading. The author also touches on the social significance of both Catholicism and baseball opening up to diverse backgrounds. Christ preached to gentiles and Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

While these acts of inclusion were initially met with trepidation, they were watershed moments for Catholicism and baseball respectively, bringing them acceptance and acclaim. The facts that Catholics make up roughly a fifth of the world’s population and that baseball is now an Olympic sport only support Graf’s observation.

Graf offers the disclaimer that he is not a biblical scholar, which only enhances the book’s appeal. The conversational tone the author takes in laying out his thoughts and observations will help anyone from a high school student in a religion class to a seasoned theologian relate to what he is trying to say.

Graf’s knowledge of baseball history is also impressive. While he writes about familiar names such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Pete Rose and Barry Bonds, he also reaches back to the tale of Abner Doubleday.

Christ’s message instills hope in every Catholic; every baseball fan sprouts new hope as the World Series winds up in October—at least until spring training starts. This book will keep your baseball hopes alive through the winter and encourage your faith.

You can order AND GOD SAID, “PLAY BALL!”: Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Baseball from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

 

Book Briefs

Franciscans are prolific writers. Apropos of St. Francis’ feast day (October 4), let’s consider some new books by Franciscan authors.

¦ CAN RELIGIOUS LIFE BE PROPHETIC?, by Michael H. Crosby, O.F.M.Cap. (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 189 pp., $17.95), uses Scripture and tradition to renew our spiritual lives, invigorate our communities and revitalize the Church as a whole—exactly what St. Francis had wanted to do when he answered the Lord’s call to “rebuild my Church.” Crosby proposes male and female models for doing this, based on the examples of Francis and Clare.

¦ LIVING LIKE FRANCIS TODAY, by Marci Blum, O.S.F. (Good Ground Press, 59 pp., $4.95), is intended for faith-sharing groups. Its six sessions explore Franciscan themes—living simply, humbly, prayerfully, lovingly, with care for creation and in peace. Blum is director of the Dubuque Family Life and Adult Faith Office. The outgrowth of a doctoral study, this booklet has deceptive simplicity and real depth.

¦THE FRANCISCAN INTELLECTUAL TRADITION: Tracing Its Origins and Identifying Its Central Components, by Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M. (Franciscan Institute/Saint Bonaventure University, 71 pp., $5), is the first volume in the Franciscan Heritage Series. The themes here, like the humility of the Incarnation or the love of the Passion, can be expressed in preaching, pastoral practice, evangelization and community formation with friars, sisters and laity.


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 7.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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