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Welcome mat ready for your rap on fave book

Don’t read this if you have already sent us an account of your favorite book of the past year as suggested here last week. In case you missed it: We would be delighted if you told us about the book that most infuriated, sanctified or amused you, preferably a recent book. Minimum one word will do, but not more than 300.

Tell us the title and author, and if possible the publisher and price. Alas, we can’t possibly pay you the handsome remuneration you will so richly deserve, but it will be a grand service to your fellow readers, to the book’s author, the publisher, the book. In short, the world will be a better place if you do it right now. Deadline is Oct. 1, but you know how time flies. Send to “Best Book” at the usual NCR address (115 East Armour Boulevard, Kansas City, MO 64111) or by E-mail to opinion@natcath.org.

Joan Gauker “has been carrying on a lonely battle for years,” writes a friend. No surprise, since she is managing editor of Graterfriends, a monthly newsletter for prisoners, their families and others associated with them. Prisoners have never been popular, and, at least in these United States, never less popular than now. So any kind of ministry to them is going out on a limb.

“Joan writes some beautiful material and is an expert when it comes to knowing the prison system,” writes the friend, Augustinian Fr. Richard Appicci, who has been doing volunteer work in prisons for five years.

Although a thorn in the side of the prison system, Gauker is highly respected by prison authorities. She pulls no punches: “When we aren’t fighting and killing another nation’s people, we fight and kill our own. There’s something in our blood -- we must draw blood to feel strong.”

But she is a gifted writer and never better than when coaxing people to be their better selves:

A recent movie, “The Horse Whisperer,” is about a horse trainer’s unique approach to “breaking” wild horses. He strokes, is kind, gentles them, whispers to them. ... We Americans aren’t very good at gentling, seeing, listening, hearing, forgiving. We see but don’t perceive. We hear but don’t listen. We no longer see, hear or care about the violence all around us, constantly attacking our senses. So, we cannot possibly see, hear or care about violence done beyond our voice or ears or senses to those in prison. ... We find our churches have battle fatigue from constantly being enveloped in noise, distracted. We’re at the point we no longer process and respond to what is happening around us, because no one whispers just to us, no one gentles us -- everyone is too distracted or busy. ...

Evelyn Underhill was told by her spiritual guide to spend two afternoons a week in the ghetto. “If properly entered into and persevered with, it will discipline, mortify, deepen and quiet you. It will, as it were, distribute your blood -- some of your blood -- away from your brain, where too much is lodged at present.” Away from the brain -- away from brilliance, logic, genius -- to our feelings, to touch our potential for sadness.

Of course, we cannot be in endless exposure to pain and suffering. That, too, can desensitize and harden us to others’ hurt. So, we also need solitude. Solitude permits us to retreat from the press and struggle in order to let our fragmented selves become collected and compassionate again. The human spirit is a natural caregiver. But when madness is all around, it becomes brave to do what is normal -- care for each other. We need quiet time to remember our human spirit’s callings to care; to remember God created mercy for those who need it, and peace for those who have none. And we need the voice of the church to challenge and excite our spirit.

Oscar Romero wrote in The Violence of Love: “A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under one’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of society in which it is being proclaimed -- what gospel is that?”

Now here’s the rub. Gauker and the newspaper’s board need money to keep going. To get a copy of Graterfriends, fax (610) 272-4707 or phone (610) 272-4773. You’ll be glad you did.

If you are one of those who noticed that our Sept. 4 issue was dated 1997 on the front page, take a bow.

We have tried to think of good excuses as to why this happened. Most creative was the suggestion that it was an April Fools’ joke that wasn’t ready for publication until now.

We won’t do it again.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, September 18, 1998