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Winter Books: Bookshelf


In the “Isn’t that something?” category, let me share an E-mail message I recently received from a priest friend who lives in Rome. He comments on the availability of the recently indexed writings of Jesuit Fr. Anthony DeMello: “When I was in the vicinity of the Vatican a few days ago, I saw copies of DeMello’s writings in the windows of two bookstores spitting distance from the Holy Office (I still like that name). Brings to mind that old adage that they make the rules here at the Vatican, expect the world to follow them and then conveniently ignore them here at home.”

Forever Your Sister: Reflections on Leaving Convent Life, edited by Benedictine Sr. Janice Wedl and Eileen Maas Nalevanko, (North Star Press, P.O. Box 451, St. Cloud, MN 56302, 141 pages, $12.95, paperback, phone: 1-320-253-1636.), is, I think, a very touching book. I picked it up and read straight through, very much appreciating the insights of the 22 women who share their journeys into, out of and beyond St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., shaped always by Benedictine values.

There is an absence of bitterness and an abundance of tenderness and treasure in these tales, which can be read not just as personal reflections but as an important piece of the social history of life in the United States and the Catholic church in the tumultuous 1960s and ‘70s.

Benedictine Fr. Albert Holtz took a sabbatical year after 30 years in Newark (N.J) Abbey and traveled alone from the Swiss Alps to Brazil to Hungary, coming to enjoy a close friendship with the God of pilgrims and exiles. He met many unheralded saints, including folk dancers in Catalonia, kite-flyers in Normandy and a catechist in rural Bolivia. His collected reflections, A Saint on Every Corner: Glimpses of Holiness Beyond the Monastery (Ave Maria, 167 pages, $8.95, paperback, phone: 1-800-282-1865.), is an interesting read and a fine snapshot of the holiness both of the author and of the creature world.

There are few, I think, who listen to the morning traffic in downtown Newark and hear “murmurs in the distance like the swish of surf on a sandy shore.” Holtz knows order, rhythm and purpose, and is attentive to harmony as a path to God’s reign.

I sent The River: Reflections on the Times of Our Lives, by Donald X. Burt (Liturgical Press, 103 pages, $8.95, paperback, phone: 1-800-858-5450.), to a colleague who is taking some weeks off to endure surgery and mend.

Burt attempts to come to an understanding of some of the moments of human life with reflections that are sometimes personal and sometimes suggested by St. Augustine whose image of human life as a river contributes to the title.

Then I sent off Guiding Children Through Life’s Losses: Prayers, Rituals, and Activities, by Phyllis Vos Wezeman, Jude Dennis Fournier and Kenneth R. Wezeman (Twenty-Third Publications, 67 pages, $9.95 paperback, phone: 1-800-321-0411), to another colleague whose 9-year-old is recuperating in the hospital after a serious bike and car accident. The activities in this guide are designed for teachers and classes, but a boy who is healing while others are playing and studying may well appreciate the prayerful considerations and activities that these authors suggest.

The Pursuit of Happiness -- God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, by Dominican Fr. Servais Pinckaers, translated by Dominican Sr. Mary Thomas Noble (Alba House, 204 pages, $5.95 paperback, phone: 1-800-343-2522), is a fine introduction to the beatitudes as a path leading to the happiness of God. Pinckaers sees morality, as does Augustine, as a search for happiness. The blunt realism of the gospel is not about glowing dreams or imaginary Edens but insists that the believer face the inevitabilities of life: poverty, tears, hunger, thirst. Out of this is shaped the beatitudes, and therein is the essence of the response of Jesus to the human desire for happiness. A very interesting consideration by this moral theology professor from Switzerland’s University of Fribourg.

Those seeking an introductory text for catechumenate or discussion groups, perhaps even high school students, might consider Sacraments Revisited: What Do They Mean Today?, by Fr. Liam Kelly of Derby, England (Paulist, 173 pages, $10.95 paperback, phone: 1-800-836-3161). His reflection questions at the end of each chapter will help personalize the material and the experience of study and celebration.

The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality & Strategies, by Precious Blood Fr. Robert J. Schreiter (Orbis, 136 pages, $16 paperback, phone: 1-800-258-5838), is certainly a text that will encourage thoughtful and scholarly consideration of what he sees as necessary both today and tomorrow: “With both spirituality and strategy, the church must work with all people of good will to bring about the healing and transformation that shattered society’s need.”

Schreiter understands reconciliation in the light of the resurrection, which does not forget the past but transfigures it. Seeking reconciliation in families and communities is evidence that God is with us, and the message of the resurrection is that hope, rooted in the peace of Christ, is possible.

For Men Only: Strategies for Living Catholic, by Mitch Finley (Liguori, 128 pages, $11.95, paperback, phone: 1-800-464-2555), would be a good present for a young dad on the occasion of his daughter’s baptism. Finley has a sensible and inviting approach to living the mysteries.

Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca 500-1100, by Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg (University of Chicago Press, 587 pages, hardbound, phone: 1-800-621-2736), is an impressive study not just of saints and sanctity but also considers larger questions about changing attitudes toward women, various opportunities available to them in the church and society and some of the commonalities of female experience across six critical centuries in history. At work on her impressive project since 1970, this professor of history hopes her book will serve to encourage further questions, debate and additional research in medieval history and society. It certainly should.

Perhaps Jesuit Fr. Philip Sheldrake is already a participant in the dialogue. In Spirituality and History (Orbis, 248 pages, $20, paperback, phone: 1-800-258-5838), he concludes that the equality of all people and their experience before God, without consideration of gender or culture or lifestyle, is fundamental to the gospel and must be the bedrock on which the Christian spiritual tradition rests. “Sadly,” he writes, “this has often been obscured as the result of conditioning by other social values.” His book documents the path to that conclusion.

Clashing Symbols: An Introduction to Faith and Culture, by Jesuit Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher (Paulist, 170 pages, $11.95, paperback, phone: 1-800-836-3161), is about how to reflect on culture from a Christian perspective. Gallagher tries to alert people to the power of culture, which can influence for good or ill, and suggests ways to find a certain serenity of faith within today’s complexities. He aims to provide what he sees as a double theology of nonpanic and liberation, reading situations with spiritual wisdom but without complacency. This is an important book with which I intend to spend more time.

Against the Wind: Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof, by Markus Baum, (Plough Publishing House, Route 381 North, Farmington, PA 15437, 301 pages, $14, paperback, phone: 1-800-521-8011), was written to witness to God’s faithfulness and intervention in human history. It is the story of Eberhard Arnold, a contemporary and dialogue partner of Karl Barth and Martin Buber.

Arnold was a German theologian, speaker, farmer, pastor, father, educator and founder of the Bruderhof, a community of faith. He was a voice of protest in Germany as Hitler rose to power and left sharp warnings for American culture and church. Those who want to know more will find it in this handsome, well-documented volume.

Mysticism and Prophecy: The Dominican Tradition, by Dominican Fr. Richard Woods (Orbis, 168 pages, $14 paperback, phone: 1-800-258-5838), is one of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, which seeks to make the riches of selected Christian traditions available to a contemporary public. This introduction to the Dominican order and its spiritual traditions is readable and interesting and is going straight into the library at the Dominican College at which I teach.

Franciscan Sr. Marie Therese Archambault teaches at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, S.D. I drove by there one summer day on my way to Sitting Bull’s grave, in the shadow of which the small junior college sits. If Archambault can reach from there to God’s face, then her book, in my view, deserves a read. Black Elk: Living in the Sacred Hoop (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 104 pages, $7.95 paperback, phone: 1-800-488-0488) honors the integrity both of the Lakota and Catholic traditions, drawing from each to seek and pray for wisdom to bridge the two ancient traditions that both begin with the great mystery of God.

Black Elk shared his wisdom in hopes that those who heard him would be brought back to the Good Red Road of spiritual understanding. This retreat invites a practice of the Lakota virtues of humility, wisdom, generosity and courage in all relationships both with creatures and the earth. Here is a path to the unity for which Jesus prayed, “that all may be one.”

As is my biannual custom, I have invited graduate students in the Caldwell Pastoral Ministry Institute to take a look at a newly arrived crate of review copies, selecting one to comment on. These students, already immersed in exciting ministries, are an extraordinary bunch. As ministers, they are routinely called on to make judgments, so I asked them to judge some books for NCR readers who also are busy doing well by doing good.

Caldwell Dominican Sr. Patricia O’Donnell serves as a pastoral minister at St. Catherine-St. Margaret Parish in Spring Lake, N.J. She chose Daybreak Within: Living in a Sacred World, by Rich Heffern (Forest of Peace Publishing, 143 pages, $11.95, paperback, phone: 1-800-659-3227), noting that the author suggests that his book “is about the daybreak within that occurs when we let the realization sink in that the divine works within us, within all things, and that our living is truly sacred adventure.”

Quoting sources as diverse as Thomas Berry and Merle Haggard and drawing on experiences from friends’ lives and his own, as well as from movies and books, Heffern proposes a “cosmos-connected” spirituality for the weary for a glimpse of the holy.

Starting from Matthew Fox’s statement that we have lost our sense of the sacred, Heffern offers a spirituality that reconnects humanity with nature. O’Donnell finds him a gifted writer who is able to call up vivid images in lyrical language to show his readers that crucial to their journey to God is accepting the secular and sacred in their lives, seeking justice, caring for and about each other and helping to heal the planet.

Adam Rewa, originally of Cannonsburg, Mich., is the pastoral associate for St. Francis de Sales Parish in Paducah, Ky. He chose Ponderings from the Precipice: Soulwork for a New Millennium, by James Conlon (Forest of Peace Publishing, 143 pages, $11.95, paperback, phone: 1-800-659-3227), and comments as follows: Conlon writes as the third millennium rapidly approaches and Christianity develops a growing sense that our relationship with creation is badly damaged and in need of healing. Those who sense this same alienation and search for ways to mend it will appreciate his book, which ideally should be read a few pages at a time in order to properly savor the suggestions. Many interesting quotes from various mystics and writers are included in the margins, though some may find their placement distracting.

Conlon looks for a “planetary Pentecost” that will bring an outpouring of the Spirit as a guide toward a “Geo-Justice,” that we might “live fully and with a passionate responsibility for the Earth and every species.” Moving toward Geo-Justice, he offers a series of “ponderings,” personal reflections on key questions relating to the health of our relationship to the earth. These are followed by suggestions for “soulwork,” specific actions to increase awareness of the problems facing us and creative ways to deal with them.

Fr. William C. Graham is completing Sacred Adventure: Beginning Theological Study, coming soon from University Press of America. He can be reached at NCRBkshelf@aol.com.

National Catholic Reporter, November 6, 1998