By WILLIAM C. GRAHAM
"So, where are you from?"
"Oh, I used to live there. Too many people. Why do you live in Berkeley?"
"My husband's in graduate school."
"What's he studying?"
"Never heard of it."
With this outstanding snippet of dialogue culled from an Internet chat room conversation, Phyllis A. Tickle introduces her God-Talk in America (Crossroad, 258 pages, $24.95 hardback). A religion editor for Publishers Weekly, she characterizes her writing as a folk dance for "professional religionists," those who "are paid to watch from the sidelines," as well as for her "fellow Americans who are dancing in their own spaces on the floor and would like for a few minutes to see the whole pattern of which they are a part."
She sees a change under way in religion, theology and spirituality, with religion being created in streets and kitchens rather than in seminaries or cathedrals. She concludes that "faith in America today and the god-talk that is its most audible expression are still a constellation of millions of shining parts, each an integer in its own right and each the luminous guardian of its own light."
From Cincinnati's justice-promoting Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk comes Bringing Forth Justice: Basics for Just Christians (Paulist, 73 pages, $5.95 paperback). Pilarczyk writes that we need to understand the relationship between justice and charity, and to have some idea how each is called to pursue justice: "We need to be clear about these matters because justice is too important to be played by ear."
Classes, study groups, and thoughtful individuals will appreciate this fine little book. Look for the discussion or reflection questions at the end of the 11 chapters, as well as "Appendix 1: Just a Few Readings."
Rome and the New Republic: Conflict and Community in Philadelphia Catholicism Between the Revolution and the Civil War, by Dale B. Light (University of Notre Dame Press, 448 pages, $48.95 hardback), considers a series of confrontations between Catholic bishops and dissenters, both lay and clerical, that troubled Catholicism in Philadelphia for over 50 years.
Light, who teaches at Penn State, suggests that the Philadelphia conflicts can best be understood as a competition among several models of church organization. He finds the complexity of Catholic thought further complicated by the intrusion of secular ideologies, ethnic antagonisms, class interests, and personal and political rivalries. This scholarly look at the developing Catholic church in Philadelphia is interesting, well written, impressively documented, and an important contribution to American Catholic history.
David L. Schindler gives the thesis of his Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Eerdmans, 322 pages, $37.50 hardback): "the trinitarian communio, present in the sacramental communio that is the essence of the church, reveals the meaning of all being in its full integrity, and thereby reveals as well the inner logic and dynamic of the Christian presence in the world."
Schindler criticizes John Courtney Murray "regarding political order," Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak and George Weigel "regarding economic order," and Theodore Hesburgh "regarding the academy." The "burden of the book, in its critical thrust," according to Schindler, is that "the dominant Catholic engagement with Anglo-American liberalism typified in the work of Murray and his contemporary disciples has not situated itself deeply enough within the horizon of the [Second Vatican] Council's 'new' communio vision."
Scholarly disciples of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the communio ecclesiologists may delight in this study. Others may find the prose turgid and stance provocative.
I have never before encountered anyone who did "not think John Donne got it quite right when he said that no man is an island." But G. Michael McCrossin, in Broken Arrows: Growing Faith in a Changing World (Sheed & Ward, 172 pages, $10.95 paperback), asserts that "we are all islands, quanta of energy in the sea of creation." We can, he believes, "transcend our limits and connect with one another. It is our birth right, if we are open to it, to walk on water."
McCrossin spent 13 years as a Jesuit, later completing both a doctorate in theology and a law degree. He reports that his book began as therapeutic exercise to help himself understand "where I had come from, where I was and, perhaps, where I was going." Finding himself "adrift in an uncharted ocean," he sorts out his thoughts, and offers them after it "occurred to me that others might find some resonance with their own situation in these pages."
I found his confessions quite interesting for a different reason. I sometimes wonder what the priests who left in the 1960s have been up to in the years since, and here is a door I was pleased to have opened.
Even readers who can't get enough of this intrigue might consider the following subtitle more than they want to know: The Inside Story: Journey of a Former Jesuit Priest and Talk Show Host towards Self-Discovery, by Neil McKenty (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec: Shoreline Press, 160 pages, paperback). Lots of therapy stories in this description of a "journey about toxic religion, sex and celibacy, drinking and depression." McKenty believes that his tale may help others "on their own journey to wholeness." Perhaps.
The Fifth Week, the second edition, by Jesuit Fr. William J. O'Malley (Jesuit Way, an imprint of Loyola Press, 218 pages, $5.95 paperback), could be a fine tool for those seeking to promote vocations to the vowed life. O'Malley offers what he hopes is "an honest picture of what being a Jesuit means, as far as I have seen and experienced it." He considers both Ignatius and present Jesuits in the breezy style that has made him popular with legions of readers.
Interpreting the Bible: A Simple Introduction, by Vincentian Fr. James A. Fischer (Paulist, 113 pages, $8.95 paperback), bills itself as "an investigation of the hidden reasons why we draw conclusions about biblical texts." It seems to be a fine and scholarly introduction for those who may know why but wish to know how.
Readers might then move on to God on Trial: The Book of Job and Human Suffering, by Bill Thomason (Liturgical Press, 101 pages, $9.95 paperback). Here is a fine little book that can dissuade folks who think that attributing "the patience of Job" to someone is a compliment. The angry, despairing but hopeful Job who never gives up his faith in God is freshly encountered here.
Jesus Christ, Word of the Father: The Savior of the World, prepared by the Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, translated from the Italian by Adrian Walker (Crossroad, 154 pages, $12.95 paperback), is a study aid for adult catechesis and religious education that could be far more valuable in preparing to celebrate the coming millennium than even reservations at a hotel overlooking Times Square.
Sharing Faith Across the Hemisphere, by Josephite Sr. Mary M. McGlone for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Church in Latin America (Orbis, 302 pages, $20 paperback), was written to tell the story of the relationship of the U.S. church with the church in Latin America and the impact of that relationship on the church in the United States.
A number of people from dioceses, universities, religious communities and various organizations gathered information and clarified questions. McGlone was invited to write the inter-American church history. It is a resource that general readers as well as scholars may find helpful.
In the foreword to his Justice in the Church: Gender and Participation (Catholic University of America Press, 234 pages, $19.95 paperback), Dominican Fr. Benedict M. Ashley acknowledges that his conclusions about the role of women in the church may seem sexist to some of his sisters in St. Dominic, to whom he would have dedicated the book "if he had been sure they would have been honored by it." (Instead, it is dedicated to the Knights of Columbus.)
Ashley expresses confidence that the women of the Christian community will show what Christ calls them to be in the church. He concludes that there might be some sort of "genuinely sacramental ordination" in which case women "might be ordained to some specific appropriate liturgical offices in the church, such as distributors of the Eucharist, lectors, or leaders of song, without being deacons in the ordinary sense." Women ought to be, he asserts, "consulted on all important matters of church policy," and "their prophetic role in the church should be highlighted."
Ashley writes that justice does not confuse personal equality with "the necessarily hierarchical inequality of gifts, offices and kinds of status." He sees "this inequality of function and status" as "in service of personal equality."
I'm thinking that his caution about the dedication was justified.
Mary Catherine Hilkert was not timid about including the Order of Preachers, sisters and brothers of Dominic, in the dedication to her book Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination (Continuum, 252 pages, $29.95 hardback). Her treatment of the preacher's art is at once scholarly and uplifting.
Misfit: Haunting the Human -- Unveiling the Divine (Orbis, 187 pages, $13 paperback) is Maryknoll Fr. Larry Lewis' autobiographical tale of God breaking through into the arid human heart. Lewis taught English to Chinese students in the interior of China a year before the Tiananmen Square massacre. He is a fine writer and tells of moving discoveries.
I sent off another couple books to my well-read friend Tom Klonoski, late of Manhattan and now of suburban Miami. He reports that he originally approached The Beginning and the End of "Religion" (Cambridge University, 284 pages, $54.95 hardback, $18.95 paper), by Nicholas Lash, the Norris Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, with no small amount of trepidation. The first part of the book is the compilation of Lash's Teape Lectures, and the stated purpose of these lectures is to reflect upon the Upanishads in the Anglican church.
The book includes a series of excellent reflections on the underpinnings of the metaphysics of faith. Lash uses the writings of his own grandparents, who were prominent in the raj of the 19th and early 20th century, as the basis for these musings.
Lash later discusses topics of interest from St. Anselm to Michael Buckley. One noteworthy chapter is on the suicide of an apocalyptic cult in Switzerland a few years ago, which gives some interesting insight into recent events on the West Coast. All in all, Klonoski found this a fine book by a deep, though entertaining, thinker.
Klonoski considered the following a perfect title for a book dedicated to a Jesuit and a major historian of atheism: Finding God in All Things: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Buckley, S.J., edited by Michael J. Himes and Stephen J. Pope (Crossroad, 371 pages, $29.95 paperback). The editors, professors of theology at Boston College, bring together essays by noted theologians on topics that are central to Buckley's research and writing in a book occasioned by his 65th birthday.
The breadth of the articles is expansive. Those who know Buckley only from his famous At the Origins of Modern Atheism will be amazed by the scope of his other studies. The essays range from scientific theology, as in Ernan McMullin's "Evolutionary Contingency and Cosmic Purpose," to Lisa Sowle Cahill's "Catholic Universities." The ubiquitous Nicholas Lash provides a fine essay on who we are as Christians.
The book ends with a fraternal letter from Jesuit Fr. Leo J. O'Donovan recounting Buckley's life, chronologically and spiritually. This book ranges over a large expanse of theology, dedicated to a man who found God in all things.
Thomas Pearson is the director of education for the Minnesota Catholic Conference and quite a serious reader. I sent him The Gospel According to Us: On the Relationship Between Jesus and Christianity, by Duncan Holcomb (Cross Cultural Publications, 136 pages, $14.95 paperback), and invited comment.
According to Pearson, Holcomb suggests that by reexamining the gospels as literature, modern readers can gain a deeper appreciation of their message. He makes stirring use of personal anecdotes intertwined with humor and scholarship in issuing an invitation to discover anew the awe of the gospel message.
Holcomb considers difficulties in encountering the gospel teachings. He points to the reactions of the contemporaries of Jesus to his teachings. Finally, he compares current values to those he finds in the gospels. The book is a challenge to reflect on personal values as they compare to the gospel message. Holcomb points out "that every day his words are preached and lived in ways to which we've been completely oblivious."
Fr. William C. Graham is an associate professor of religious studies at Caldwell College, in Caldwell, N.J., where he directs the Pastoral Ministry Institute.
National Catholic Reporter, May 23, 1997