CONVERSING WITH GOD IN SCRIPTURE: A Contemporary Approach to Lectio Divina, 1988-2007, by Stephen J. Binz. The
Word Among Us Press. 150 pp.
Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M.,
editor of Homily Helps for Sundays for St.
Anthony Messenger Press. He studied Scripture
at The Catholic University of America
in Washington, D.C., and the Pontifical
Biblical Institute in Rome.
STEPHEN J. BINZ, a Catholic biblical
scholar, wants to help people meet God
in and through the Bible. He believes
lectio divina, an ancient way of reading
and praying the Bible, is a very
helpful way for people to get personally
involved with God. He
claims that lectio divina is
“revitalizing the lives of
many throughout the
Lectio divina begins with
the Bible. The Bible is God’s
word to us as individuals
and as members of the
Church. It is extremely important
when we wish to
pray to realize God has the
first word. God loves us, the
Bible says, and it is God’s
love that enables us to pray. Just as the
Holy Spirit inspired the sacred text, the
Spirit is at hand to help the Bible reader
assimilate God’s Word and be transformed
into images of Christ. The Spirit
helps us delve into both Old and New
Testaments and find Christ. Christ
speaks to us throughout the Bible.
In Chapters 3 to 8, Benz offers six
steps to follow. He cautions us, however,
not to follow these steps slavishly.
The important thing is to pray, not to
follow some rigid pattern. Often, too,
the stages can overlap. It would be self-defeating
to stick to each stage and
miss out on the Spirit’s promptings.
Here are the titles of each stage with
some brief observations:
1) “Lectio: Reading the Text with a
Listening Ear.” With the Spirit’s help,
we try to grasp the meaning of the text.
A commentary can help us gain
insights into the text.
2) “Meditatio: Reflecting on the
Meaning and Message of the Text.” I
ask what the text means to me as I live
in today’s world. I look at my own
experience and ask what God’s word is
telling me about the mysteries of faith
and how to deal with joy and sorrow,
success and failure, health and sickness,
my relationship with myself, others
and God, my present life and my
3) “Oratio: Praying in Response to
God’s Word.” We have been listening to
God. Now we are to respond
from our heart (our inmost
being). We praise, thank,
repent, beg. In our prayer
we depend on the Holy
Spirit to be our helper.
4) “Contemplatio: Quietly
Resting in God.” “[W]e no
longer think or reason, listen
or speak.” Contemplatio “is
prayer that remains after
words are no longer necessary
or helpful.” It is like a
loved one’s enjoyment of
the embrace of a lover.
Steps Five and Six are operatio (bringing
the gospel to others) and collatio (praying together with others to form
the body of Christ).
Chapter 9 provides examples for lectio
divina (four from the Old Testament,
three from the New). These are valuable
for providing a concrete way to practice
The book ends with questions for
reflection or discussion. Perhaps most
provocative is the final one: “What did
you find most encouraging and motivating
in this study of lectio divina?”
This book can help readers become
closer to God.
You can order CONVERSING WITH GOD IN SCRIPTURE: A Contemporary Approach to Lectio Divina, 1988-2007 from St. Francis Bookshop.
A MENDED AND BROKEN HEART:
The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi, by Wendy Murray. Basic Books. 304
Reviewed by MURRAY BODO, O.F.M.,
author of Francis: The Journey and the
Dream, Clare: A Light in the Garden and Mystics: Ten Who Show Us the
Ways of God (St. Anthony Messenger
Press) and many other books.
THE BACK COVER’S BLURB does a disservice
when it states, “Wendy Murray
slices through the bowdlerized version
of Francis’ life promoted within the
Catholic tradition and reveals instead
a saint who was in every way a real
Actually, many biographies over the
years have contributed to the portrait
of the real Francis, and the so-called
bowdlerized early “biographies” of
Francis were not biographies at all, but
books written to show that St. Francis
was a saint. Granted, things were omitted
from those “biographies” that moderns
consider essential to the writing of
a true biography, but all the same,
cumulatively, we have a rather clear
picture, even in those early works, of
the essence of what made Francis of
Assisi the saint and man he is.
Wendy Murray has written a trustworthy
and well-researched modern
biography. Her sources are impeccable
and she has, as she herself remarks,
written this book with her feet. She
went as a pilgrim to the places connected
with Francis and Clare and conducted
many interviews that are quite
On one topic, though, she seems to
have made an interesting conclusion
that requires a leap of faith on the part
of the reader. With regard to the relationship
between Francis and Clare,
Murray maintains rightly that “there is
general agreement on two points: First,
Clare of Assisi was irrefutably an influence on Francis’ life...and whatever
their relationship had been before their
respective conversions, after their religious
vows, it remained pure.” The
implication is that, before their religious
vows, their relationship may not
have been pure.
This seems like conjecture to me,
especially when Murray states, “Out of
an increasing love for God and [this
writer asserts] in the throes of an unresolved
mutual love for each
other (both at once and
both thoroughly), he acted
first and prepared the way
for Clare to follow, which...
she did a few years later.”
If “an unresolved mutual
love for each other” implies
that their previous love
was not pure and continued
to trouble them, that
is problematic and would
be contested by most scholars
both within and outside
the Catholic tradition. If it implies
that there was a human love between
Francis and Clare, that is less problematic
and still much debated.
Otherwise, I found this a beautifully
written and engaging biography of
both Francis and Clare, containing
helpful notes and maps. She herself
has achieved what she quotes from the
great Franciscan scholar Jacques
Dalarun: “Francis of Assisi is not a man
who can be calmly observed. He is a
man who must be confronted, with
sympathy and commitment.”
Murray’s sympathy and commitment
are abundantly evident in this
interesting contribution to the literature
of Francis and Clare of Assisi.
You can order A MENDED AND BROKEN HEART:
The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi from St.
ENGAGED SPIRITUALITY: Faith Life
in the Heart of the Empire, by Joseph
Nangle, O.F.M. Orbis Books. 170 pp.
Reviewed by JOHN FEISTER, an assistant
editor of this publication, who has been
active in various Church-related community
ministries since the 1970s.
WHEN AN OLDER PRIEST, a brilliant
one and a Franciscan at that—one with rich immersion in the foreign
his experience to pull it all
together, listen. You may
not agree with everything
he says but, even so, there is
much to be harvested.
Nangle worked in Lima,
Peru, for 15 years, organizing
parish communities true
to the vision of the groundbreaking
of Latin American
bishops. Here, a Franciscan
formed in the United States
in the days before Vatican II
generously followed the call
of the poor into a life- and
In recent decades he has
lived in Washington, D.C.,
in the Assisi community,
helping to animate the
work of justice from the
political center of U.S. society. Until
recently, he co-directed the
Franciscan Lay Mission service,
which sends layworkers
into Third World pastoral
ministries around the globe
and helps them readjust
when they return. His book
is a theological reflection informed
by all of those experiences.
Let me preface my look at
Nangle’s challenging message
with a comparison
drawn from my experience as a Scoutmaster
in my sons’ Boy Scout troop in
Ohio. We camped frequently, sometimes
in rugged situations. One of our
leaders talked to the young Scouts
about “reality-based living”—an expression
which referred to your need to
read what’s going on around you and
be sure that you are doing all that is
necessary to remain safe, dry, warm,
Nangle is telling our Church how to
read the “signs of the times,” as Vatican II put it, and to be true to our calling.
How ought we, living in the world
power, or “Empire” nation, as Nangle
puts it, remain true to our deeper calling
of Catholic Christianity? What is
“reality-based living” from a Christian
point of view?
He reaches for the tools that have
enabled his sense of mission to grow
and develop over the years: basic theology,
Franciscanism, living among the
poor, living in community, the guidance
of leading thinkers in liberation
theology Gustavo Gutierrez and Jon
Sobrino. Frankly, his experience turned
his life inside out.
Nangle lived among people who are
very poor, but he ultimately sensed
that his vocation would be to live at the
political center of the United States, in
Washington, D.C., and work for better
U.S. foreign policy and deeper engagement
from Catholics of goodwill from
within this country.
Chapter headings include such rich
themes as the Incarnation, political
reading of the Scriptures, prayer and
contemplation, sin and grace, poverty
and chastity, the Eucharist and creation
spirituality. Chapter 8, on ecology
in the light of the Franciscan movement,
is worth the price of the book.
All of his reflections are infused with
a sense of wisdom and joy, which he
links to solidarity: “Francis felt that
being treated as a poor person, being
mistaken for one, even by a fellow friar,
was ‘perfect joy.’” This, Nangle reflects,
was Francis’ own option for the poor.
For a clear look at the connection
between Franciscan spirituality and the
world today, read this book.
You can order ENGAGED SPIRITUALITY: Faith Life
in the Heart of the Empire from St.
TEN PRAYERS GOD ALWAYS SAYS
YES TO: Divine Answers to Life’s
Most Difficult Problems, by Anthony
DeStefano. Doubleday. 197 pp.
$18.95/hardcover; $11.95/U.S. paperback;
WHEN PRAYERS AREN’T ANSWERED:
How to Accept Life’s Trials With Honesty,
Love and Grace, by John E.
Welshons. New World Library. 272
Reviewed by SISTER JUDITH MESCHER,
O.S.C., a Poor Clare nun for over 25 years
and a member of the Poor Clare Monastery
in Cincinnati, Ohio.
GROWING UP, WE ALL
were so used to asking for
things from our parents and
hoping to get them right
away. We tend to treat God
in the same way and then
wonder why God didn’t give
it to us.
In Ten Prayers God Always
Says Yes To, we are presented
with a different approach
that is refreshing and, simply
put, opens our hearts to
what God really wants for
us. People often call us Poor Clares to
request prayers that they want answered
right now. Of course, when the
prayers aren’t answered, they want to
know what they did wrong or if there
is a special formula to use.
This book helps people to look at
the priorities in their lives and what
they truly are seeking in God. Even the
petitions at the liturgy would be
enhanced if this book were put into
practice. I recommend this book for
readers who want to grow closer to
God and want to know also what God
wants from them.
Anthony DeStefano has written short
chapters dealing with topics of ordinary
life: finding God, getting involved,
generosity, suffering, forgiveness, finding
peace, finding courage, receiving
wisdom, working through bad situations
and finding one’s destiny.
DeStefano writes in a conversational
style, understandable to the average
person looking for answers to prayer. At
one point he quotes from St. John
Vianney, curé of Ars, “When we pray
properly, sorrows disappear like snow
before the sun.”
Now if readers would like to study
prayer and how it affects their life, I recommend
John Welshons’s When Prayers
Aren’t Answered. I find the title misleading,
for the book is less about unanswered
prayers and more about the
acceptance that the subtitle promises.
John Welshons offers people help in
dealing with dramatic life changes and
advice on how to walk through these
changes to become a new person in
God. Prayer is basic to these changes,
but what and how to pray are the essential
parts of this book.
Welshons advances the
idea of looking at prayer as
listening to God and then
doing something about
what is heard. This attitude
of prayer is for 24 hours a
day, every day, not just a
few minutes in the morning
or at liturgy, but acting
as God would in each situation
of our lives.
I find this book valuable
for reflection and also
recommend Welshons’s earlier
book Awakening From Grief as a way
of walking through suffering and pain
to new life. He points out that we are
not alone in these life changes but that
God is ever present to guide our way.
Welshons’s book includes prayer
from many religions, but shows the
similarity of prayer in all reaching
toward God. Prayer is the universal
vehicle that opens the doorway to God,
and so life’s struggles are similar for all
people of prayer.
He includes this insightful quote
from Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “Prayer
means learning to see the world from
God’s point of view.”
You can order TEN PRAYERS GOD ALWAYS SAYS
YES TO: Divine Answers to Life’s
Most Difficult Problems and WHEN PRAYERS AREN’T ANSWERED:
How to Accept Life’s Trials With Honesty,
Love and Grace from St. Francis Bookshop.
THOUGHTS OF A BLIND BEGGAR:
Reflections From a Journey to God, by Gerard Thomas Straub. Orbis
Books. 189 pp. $18.
Reviewed by PATRICIA M. BERLINER,
C.S.J., Ph.D., a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, and a licensed psychologist
in private practice in New York City.
She is the author of Touching Your
Lifethread and Revaluing the Feminine:
A Process of Psychospiritual Change.
IN THE INTRODUCTION, Jonathan
Montaldo of the Merton Institute for
Living calls this book the story of a
man’s journey from rags to
riches. I see it as being that,
plus a journey from self-serving
to soul-searching and,
quite likely, soul-saving.
In the first section of the
book, we follow Gerard
Straub through his enslavement
to worldly status and
fame to the freedom of Franciscan
poverty and humility.
Early in his life, Straub
seemed to be blessed by the
angels—and drawn to the fast
track. After graduation from a Roman
Catholic high school in 1964, he
landed a four-week summer job at CBS
studios in New York City, just in time
to be hired to answer sacks of mail
requesting tickets for the Beatles’
upcoming concert. He was soon offered
an entry-level job with CBS.
As he acknowledges, “It was crazy,
but fortuitous.” Rapidly rising through
the ranks at CBS, he reached executive
level when he was only 21. By the time
he was 35, Straub was very successful
and very unhappy. Then he was rudely
jolted when one of the vice presidents
told him, “Your problem is that you
think you’re an artist. But the thing is
that we don’t want art....We want filler
to keep the commercials from bumping
into each other.”
Instantly, Straub realized what he
had intuitively known, that in television
“economics were more important
than art.” Unable to bring himself to
resign, he was grateful that the cancellation
of his soap opera provided him
with a way out.
Freed, he set out to fulfill his longtime
desire to be a writer, and finish his
novel about St. Francis of Assisi and
Vincent Van Gogh. Thus began the
next leg of his journey—to Rome and
Assisi, to St. Francis and to himself.
Given hospitality at a friary of Irish
Franciscans in Rome, Straub had time to
explore the ancient city. One day, stopping
to rest in an empty church, he felt
overwhelmed by the presence of God.
In that moment, he wrote, “I was transformed
from an atheist into a pilgrim.”
His novel has never been completed,
but his work on the life of St. Francis
and his new life as a disciple-advocate
of Francis and his work was
begun. In living and working
with Franciscans in many of
their missions to the poor,
Straub found that his conceptions,
now recognized as
misconceptions, of poverty
and the poor were shattered.
Wanting to serve the people
of God through the work
of Franciscan humility and
charity, he began to use his
writing and filmmaking gifts
to tell the stories of groups
dedicated to enhancing the lives and
possibilities of the poor.
The journey Straub has been engaged
in is a fascinating invitation to all of us
who, like the author, find ourselves in
a place that once was right for us and
no longer is.
This is a two-part book. In the first
and, unfortunately, shorter section,
Straub’s own story is briefly told and the
stories of those he met mere glimpses.
The second and longer section is a
series of personal reflections which
Straub probably saw as being “the
book.” But for me, this section is less
powerful than the personal stories of
Straub’s journey to Francis and the
Franciscan ministry. Perhaps the mode
in which he is more comfortable presenting
the “flesh and blood” people is
in his 12 films. (For a list of these, see
will have to search them out.
You can order THOUGHTS OF A BLIND BEGGAR:
Reflections From a Journey to God from St. Francis Bookshop.