Inspirational, thought-provoking, challenging books
NCR readers are readers -- no doubt of that. Some weeks back, Editor Michael Farrell invited readers to name their favorite books of the past year and that they did. Many favorite titles and the reasons to read them appeared in the Winter Books supplement, published in the Nov. 6 issue. And here come the rest.
A good book I recently read is The Children by David Halberstam, Random House New York, 1998. Someone should review it.
Margaret M. OBrien
My best book is for people of all ages and races: In Gods Name by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Jewish Lights Publishing. It is done in the format of a childs book, but definitely with adult thinking. This book is endorsed by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish religious leaders. Give yourself a treat. The story and pictures are beautiful and inspiring. Good for gift giving. It is $16.95 and well worth it! Bet you cant read it only one time!
Best by far is Richard McBriens Lives of the Popes, Harper. More than mere biographies, it is a papal and political overview of the past two millennia. Balanced and informative it is fair to all 262 pontiffs, the inept as well as the ept.
Fr. Harold J. Pavelis
The bishops of England and Wales in 1995 said that in the church there are people who feel hurt or angry or excluded. A recent statement from the National Conference of Priests in England said, People no longer expect simple, authoritative decisions from a church leadership which does not appear to take their understanding into account. In the United States, 16 million Catholics feel separated from the church. One tenth of the parishes are closed; most seminaries are closed or nearly empty. Many good Catholics are frustrated, angry, confused, sometimes bitter, alienated or just feeling marginal and hurt.
Thus, I urgently commend Fr. Henry Fehrens Good News for Alienated Catholics, Resource Publications. With 50 years of pastoral experience behind him, Fehren, a Roman Catholic priest still with the church, is in touch with people -- as Jesus was. His writing is honest, straight from the shoulder, sensitive yet vigorous, easy to read (sometimes humorous), yet thoroughly researched and based on the gospels. He is outspoken, with no taste for religious slop or pious garbage. Its no wonder that the Catholic Press Association in one of the numerous awards given to him says, God, is he good! His writing constantly touches the head and the heart. Concrete detail, contemporary in theology and prayerful in spirit. Just what we need today!
My nomination for best book of recent history is Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverhead Books/The Berkley Publishing Group, 1996. I think this book was mistitled. It sounds like one of the cutesy self-help books that fill bookstore shelves. Rather it is a collection of very thoughtful reflections by a woman (granddaughter of a rabbi) who began her career as a pediatric physician and now counsels cancer patients. Her insights into the human person, into what constitutes healing are right on target and profoundly religious, although she rarely uses religious language. I have found her material helpful to those in ministry. She easily connects with our hope to be of service to others.
Joseph F. Hacker III and Frances E. Hacker
Images: Sights and Insights by Mary K. Himens of the Sisters of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Golden Apple Press, was recently read by both of us. It is an excellent book and we recommend it highly and want to share our experience of it with you. Images describes a journey that each of us can make in the depth of our souls. From Beginnings to Swinging at Ninety, we feel ourselves moved to great depth and we can say yes. The greatness of our creator and the wonders that surround us are brought together through verse and photographs by Carolyn Treadway. This combination feeds not only the soul, but also the spirit. There are many truths to be shared in the text; laughter and tears, but always Gods love comes through. A truly fine addition to any spiritual library.
By far my favorite book of 1998 is Madeleine Delbrel: A Life Beyond Boundaries by Charles F. Mann, New World Press, 1998. This fascinating portrait of Madeleine Delbrels life (1904-1964) details her growth from precocious child to bohemian adolescent to confirmed atheist to vibrant Catholic convert and founder of a small Christian community of professional women in a communist-run suburb of Paris. A dynamic, unconventional Frenchwoman, Madeleine was a staunch advocate of the Christian-Marxist dialogue, the Worker Priest movement, the cause of world peace, the rights of political prisoners and the dignity of the poor and all minorities. She approached all people, including communist people, as people not as stereotypes. With her quick wit and wonderful sense of humor, she brought much joy and laughter to those around her. Much like Dorothy Day, Madeleine centered her spirituality on justice and kindness. She saw the world as the meeting place of God, and proved that a contemplative life can be lived within the heart of action. In many ways, this spiritual pioneer lived the spirit of Vatican II long before it was convened. It took tremendous courage for a woman in the 1930s to 60s to confront the injustices of a male-dominated French church and society. Ironically, although Madeleine had her problems with the institutional church, her cause for beatification is now in process at the Vatican. This extraordinary human being helped rejuvenate my faith by helping me rediscover the essentials of Christianity. What an inspiration for our times! As Trappist Fr. Basil Pennington asserts in the foreword, Madeleine Delbrel is truly an exciting person whom I am very happy to have met, at least through the engaging pages of this excellent biography. I feel enriched by the acquaintance -- and challenged to be more of a Christian myself. I totally agree!
Nancy J. McGunagle
It is wartime. Karl, a 21-year-old Nazi S.S. soldier (a boy with a good Catholic background), has been horribly wounded and is dying. His collaboration in unspeakable war crimes against the Jews is preying on his conscience and he asks for a Jew (any Jew) to be brought to him; he wishes to seek forgiveness so that he might die in peace. Simon Wiesenthal, a concentration camp prisoner, is brought to Karls bedside to service his need. That day Simon is faced with a choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth. In a postwar visit to Karls mother, Simon is faced with a similar dilemma -- to preserve her pristine memory of Catholic Karl or ... The response he chooses in both cases -- silence -- haunts him to this day. The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal, Schocken Books, 1998, contains not only the story of this true episode in Simon Wiesenthals life, but also hurls out the question: Did he do the right thing? In the second half of the book, 53 men and women -- theologians, political and moral leaders -- respond. In this 20th anniversary edition, marking its first publication in 1978, we are presented with 32 new responses, 10 responses retained from the previous edition and several, translated from a 1981 German edition, appear in English for the first time. Each response is as unique as the life experience of the author and starts the question spinning toward us. How would we have responded?
Holocaust survivor Andre Steins comments seem timely for those of us who are survivors of other atrocities. While awarding victory to Simons moral stance for refusing to play the macabre game of outright forgiveness, Stein takes Simon to task for his silence with the mother, feeling it was his responsibility toward past and future victims to have told the truth. Bravo, Andre!
For me, two powerful, transforming, even changing the landscape books in this past year have been Diarmuid OMurchus Quantum Theology, Crossroad, 1997, and Elizabeth Johnsons She Who Is, Crossroad, 1997. OMurchu demonstrates that the findings of science and quantum physics invite us to a reconceptualization of all of theology.
As a psychotherapist who has listened to people 30 hours a week for 30 years, I have among my criteria for a well-conceived book its willingness to deal with the problem of evil realistically (as Creation Theology and Matthew Fox do not). I want a book to look at the dark side of life, what Jung calls the Shadow. All of us have an amazing capacity to sabotage ourselves outside of our awareness and to hide from our own darkness. Most religious thinking and practice reinforces this exterior righteousness and pervasive denial. OMurchu and Johnson face it squarely.
This is not just the problem of sin, but the problem of evil -- still neglected in seminaries -- that we are now seeing enacted once more on our national scene, how really smart people can do dumb, dumb things that can have quantum effect.
But it is not polite to talk about evil in human affairs (oops, no pun intended), although we can talk about everything else. Johnsons She Who Is simply has to be read by every person of faith in this our male-dominated society and hierarchical church. Take, for example, the 11 men in Rome who decided the fate of inclusive language (NCR, Sept. 25). Like the senators who judged Anita Hill, male clerics still dont get it.
My copy of Johnsons book is very marked and I have many favorite quotes, such as, One of the best gifts for the critical mind and for a living tradition is the gift of a new question; or Christians have not yet grasped the alienation of our world and our society [and, her writing suggests, our church] from the dynamic of the Holy Spirit; and The fundamental capacity to be bearers of the image of God [and, I would add, of priestliness] is a gift not restricted by gender.
Understanding and embracing the feminine aspect of this mystery we call God is necessary for our survival, both as a species and as a community. OMurchu is more conceptual and scientific; Johnson is more historical and shocking. Either can change your landscape. Read only at the risk of losing your comfort zones. One more, for those who are simply willing to be invited to pray in a new way: Prayers to She Who Is by William Cleary, Crossroad, 1995, is also quite powerful. Bill Cleary has a wonderful series of booklets on prayer, all gifted and worth reviewing, and they make great gifts. This one might be a nice holiday gift for the devout person in your personal network who may be stuck on traditional views of this mystery.
I have read many books over the years that have enhanced my spirituality but the one that has lifted my spirit and my hopes for our future most recently is Sacred Eyes by L. Robert Keck, Synergy Associates Inc. This book speaks to our entry into the 21st century and the advancement of our spiritual maturity that is ongoing as we approach that millennium.
As a species, we are growing out of our adolescent stage and approaching our adult maturity, one that gives us an awareness of our connectedness with all there is and that consciousness will be the seeds for our future development. Sacred Eyes is solidly researched and presented in very readable form. I highly recommend this book to all those whose ears and hearts are open.
The Conspiracy of Compassion by Joseph Nassal, Forest of Peace Publishing, is a vital, challenging message. Rest Stops for the Soul: A Guide for Traveling the Trail of Transformation by Joseph Nassal, Forest of Peace Publishing: You wont be left behind at the rest stops of life if you read this book! Faith Walkers by Joseph Nassal, Paulist Press: a revolutionary Way of the Cross -- inspirational.
Mary Ann Gregoire
My favorite book in 1998 was Blessed Grieving by Joan Guntzelman, Saint Marys Press. The books deals with how to grieve our losses -- all types -- aging, death of a loved one, job, companion animal. I found it extremely comforting.
We came to earth from the divine energy source as evolving God beings, only to return to the source when we are ready. We live at our present level of awareness, and there are many authors who are expanding our levels of awareness. The world today is in great need of a revolution in consciousness. I feel it happening already with every book I read. The one that moved me the most was The Awakening of Intelligence by J. Krishnamurti, HarperCollins. Its about moving from fear and ignorance into the light of awareness and freedom. I have read most of his books and am now reading books by Teilhard de Chardin. Both are men of great wisdom. Where are the men of wisdom today? I would like to meet and make friends with one. I feel there is a massive movement of consciousness endlessly moving, changing, growing, expanding, be it ever so slowly. This is the law of the universe: Rhythmic, balanced, interchange consciousness is the only reality. All else is illusion. I have learned to go with the flow through the waves and circles of life, embracing all. Love is all there is, is all there is to know, and so it is.
Guardian of Your Soul: A Class in Acceptance by Fr. Lawrence M. Ventline, Jeremiah Press, 1997: For a relatively small book, the 112 pages are powerful and thought-provoking. The author has skillfully taken the notes and teachings of Fr. Edward D. Popielarz, a former substance abuser and original developer of A Class in Acceptance, along with his own thoughts and penned them into an easily understood format. Fr. Ventline references this book while conducting his classes in acceptance and spirituality. The author, a certified substance abuse counselor, is a master at luring the substance abuser to use this book as a tool in the process of conquering any addiction, whether it is drug, alcohol, food, sex or other type of addiction. The author teaches that to solve most problems one must know it, claim it, then tame it. For those readers searching for a more spiritual life, it becomes an excellent primer and guide. It encourages the reader to ponder topics such as loneliness, fear, anger, empathy, loving and accepting fellow human beings, and freedom to trust in God while surrendering to his wisdom. The writings steer the reader to let go of the confusion that encompasses everyday life, remain still enough to allow ourselves to become more open and focused on God, accepting Gods gifts and power, and living life as God had intended.
The primary theme of acceptance dominates the book. It is a strong theme, seductive and healing at the same time. For some readers the concept may be difficult at first to understand, let alone accept. However, the book is one that a reader can pick up at any time and meditate on a particular topic. This book affords an excellent avenue for the reader to strive toward inner peace. Fr. Ventlines newly released book (August 1998) titled Soul Stuff is the companion workbook to Guardian of Your Soul.
John F. McGough
Practicing Catholic: A Search for Liveable Catholicism by Penelope J. Ryan, Henry Holt Co., is solid gold! I suggest that you run to your bookstore as soon as possible. Im sure it will soon join the books of Jesuit Fr. Anthony de Mello and be removed from bookstores to safeguard the faithful.
Thoughts Matter by Mary Margaret Funk, Continuum Publishing Company. Have you ever been listening to a person or a good homily, and out of the clear other thoughts enter your mind? Have you ever wondered Why am I thinking about what I am thinking about, when there are so many things to think about? Do we control our thoughts or do our thoughts control us? Thoughts matter and have a powerful influence in our lives. Mary Margaret Funk explains the early desert fathers, their monastic life and their wonderful procedure to control their thoughts and meditate, and its significance in our daily lives today. This is among the best books I have ever read.
It gave me deeper insight into myself, and a better understanding of the world in which I live. The spiritual growth that resulted has caused me to rethink the meaning of many words I thought I knew, like love, prayer, success, happiness, freedom and others. If you desire a better understanding of your habits, compulsions, addictions and why you think and feel the way you do about life, food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia, soul, vainglory and pride, read Thoughts Matter. It will cause you to use your imagination, think critically and create a new you. Worth reading and rereading.
Mary Lou Timmerman
The book I enjoyed most this year was Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World by Alan Weisman, Chelsea Green Publishing Company. For me, it was a fascinating adventure in creativity.
Br. Patrick Hart
How wonderful to discover a book whose format is worthy of its contents. Such is Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel by Gregory Wolfe, which the University of Notre Dame Press brought out this past year in simultaneous cloth and paperback editions. This elegant volume portrays the engaging life story of one of Americas finest contemporary liturgical artists. The influences of Marcel Breuer and Le Corbusier, as well as Marc Chagall and Joan Miró, are evident throughout. Sacred Passion is a tribute to the collaboration of William Schickel, Wolfe and the University of Notre Dame Press. It deserves a wide audience and should find a place of honor on the library shelves of religious houses and colleges everywhere, as well as the personal libraries of all who are interested in contemporary art, both religious and secular.
James E. OLeary
All Saints by Robert Ellsberg, Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998. My best friend gave me this book for my birthday. It is now the one essential book I will take to a desert island. Here in one volume are 365 fascinating biographies, one for each day of the year. The research that went into this book is astonishing. I look forward to morning so I can open it. Part of its appeal is that not all of its saints are Catholics or even Christian. This book can change your life. Buy it now, read it every day and you wont be able to part with it. You will just have to buy more copies for everyone you love.
Benedictine Sr. Ann Notch
Against an Infinite Horizon by Ronald Rolheiser is a book that has captivated my attention lately. The author claims that we need to see our lives against an infinite horizon. We are fired into life with a madness that leaves us restless and will not give us peace outside of a great love. In the insufficiency of all that is attainable, we come to realize that all symphonies remain unfinished. Our lives are always in a period of waiting, waiting for something to happen that will change things so our real lives might begin. With personal references, the author gives us the understanding of being blessed into life. We receive, give thanks, break bread and share, with the Eucharist as our daily substance. The unconditional love of God gives us hope and assurance of being embraced by God.
And yet Rolheiser asks: Do we ever really take the joy of God seriously? Do we ever take seriously how wide the embrace of God is?
Quoting Henri Nouwen on the subject of mourning, Rolheiser says we are called to mourn. On this side of eternity there is no such thing as pure joy, so we need to accept and mourn this fact. The closing chapter stresses the importance of prayer. We ask for the gift of prayer and remember to pray for an end of war, for victims of war, for a new order, and for courage and guidance. The authors personal reflections give credence to our attempts at seeing the finger of God in our everyday lives.
The best book I read this year is Tomorrows Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium, by Fr. Michael Morwood of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, published by Twenty-Third Publications. This small book gives persuasive suggestions for integrating our scientific world-view with our religious world-view. At the present time there are seemingly irreconcilable dichotomies between the two. For example, backed by our scientific world-view, we teach our children that our world is on the order of four billion years old with a continuing succession of life forms from microscopic amoeba to human beings.
Our religious world-view still clings to Greek dualism, the belief in original sin, and many other doctrines contrary to modern insights about God, Jesus Christ and the relationship between human beings and their creator. This book challenges Christians and other religious groups to form a new paradigm for the 21st century and beyond. A number of philosophers, theologians and other thinking people are already discussing such a paradigm shift. This courageous book is a great gift!
Perhaps there is no better way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Second Vatican Councils first Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy than by reading The Unread Vision: The Liturgical Movement in the United States of America: 1926-1955 by Jesuit Fr. Keith F. Pecklers. Reading this study not only will increase our appreciation of all that led to historic reform, but also how this very reform hindered a much more radical vision once promised, an inseparability of the way in which we celebrate the Eucharist and enact our commitment to social justice. We now need to reread the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in light of the councils final Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
Doris P. Lambert
Discover a wonderful new outlook on your lifes journey to eternity by investigating in The River: Reflections on the Times of Our Lives by Augustinian Fr. Donald X. Burt, Liturgical Press. Burt once more shares his deep knowledge of the writings of St. Augustine in his analogy of human life from conception to death as a river. And, once more, Burts marvelous sense of humor along with modern translations of Augustines thought make this a superb book and a gift for the Christmas season that will enrich someones spiritual life.
The book that most edified me this year was Searching for Everado by Jennifer K. Harbury, Warren Books. The book documents extreme degrees of evil human behavior by government authorities and great courage and goodness manifested in the noble human spirit of innocent citizens oppressed, tortured and killed by military police in Guatemala. Searching for Everado is also a magnificent, true love story. All proceeds from this book support the efforts of the Everado Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in the memory of Commandante Everado. The foundation is devoted to the promotion of human rights, rural health and education and the preservation of Mayan culture in Guatemala.
I am assuming that NCR wanted to know about our favorite spirited book of the year. My vote goes to Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit by Clark H. Pinnock, Intervarsity Press. Pinnock is an evangelical Protestant -- but ecumenical. He quotes on a number of occasions from Catholic writings, especially the catechism. Chapter 7 (the last chapter) is worth the price of the book.
St. Joseph Sr. Agnes E. Murphy
The dust jacket of Richard Rohrs The Good News According to Luke, Crossroad, calls this book a commentary. The subtitle expresses the contents more accurately: Spiritual Reflections, and that it is. In the past Id heard Rohr the fiery charismatic preacher -- so enthusiastic, so driven. In these chapters (originally talks) I hear a mature, experienced man who has gained so much wisdom from his many years of teaching, living in community, evangelizing in many countries. Rohr comments on selected passages in Luke, chapter by chapter, making delightful comments, insightful comparisons and contrasts from Lucan days to our days. Ive read the entire book, but I keep picking it up again and again and reading at random -- and my faith is strengthened!
I was helped by Daniel: Under the Siege of the Divine, by Daniel Berrigan, Plough Publishing. This book provides a strong support for those of us who practice civil disobedience. It can also help others understand why we do these actions, which seem so useless. It puts the principalities in proper perspective to those who see with the eyes of faith. Speak truth to power and put your fate in Gods hands. I love it sincerely.
St. Joseph Sr. Christine Meyer
For those directing or working with the catechumenate, those wanting to give team members a book that will help in planning and motivation, RCIA Spirituality: Formation for the Catechumenate Team by Barbara Hixon, Resource Publications, will be helpful. It gives the spirituality, focus and scriptural references for each of the catechumenate periods. It is challenging and has made me look at the way we do our participation and planning.
The Lady, Her Lover, and Her God by T.D. Jakes, Putnam, is the best how to book I have ever read. Speaking ever so simply, Bishop Jakes plucks out the simplest, most essential love in my heart, shows it to me, and says Lady, youve got it -- now just give it! I love that man!
A book both meaningful and disturbing is Critical Mass: Voices for a Nuclear-Free Future, published by Open Media and the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Westfield, N.J. Its a series of essays by activists, scientists, scholars and spokespersons for victims. After recalling the Hiroshima event and the efforts to Ban the Bomb, it proceeds to uncover some of the deception cloaking our ongoing infatuation with matters nuclear. It is the final section that sets this book apart from all other related matters I have read. For some years I have looked upon the bomb as the idol of the ages. To embrace the bomb is an act of highest harlotry. There is a section in this book titled Poison Fire, Sacred Earth. It covers nuclear desecrations in the Americas, places in Asia and the South Pacific Islands as well as Australia. It tells us, for example, that the Incas already knew about uranium ... in Quechau the name for this rock means salt of death or the killing salt.
Christian Br. Finbar McMullen
Violence Unveiled by Gil Bailie, Crossroad, examines the role of violence in the formation of cultures. A founding violent event was given a mythic meaning, which then took on a sacred aura and produced peace. When the myths broke down, violence escalated. The author examines this escalation from the Nazis to Bosnia, Rwanda, El Salvador, and the events surrounding the Rodney King incident. The only thing capable of rescuing us from the apocalyptic violence to come is the message of the cross. Philosophy has been a total failure in dealing with the problems of humanity. In all this, the plight of the victim has come to the foreground, a process that was begun with the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of the evangelists and St. Paul. There are many connections in this book that I dont understand, but I am left with the desire to read anew the Bible, and am confirmed in my long-standing observation that Rome is so wedded to Greek philosophy that it has been awarded the ambience of revelation. The Roman curia is focused on ideas for an understanding of reality, rather than looking where the rubber hits the road. This book gives me new understanding of the Fall. This bent for violence is so universal that it seems to be a part of humanitys anthropological development, and it is only the message of the Cross that will save the world from itself. Evangelization takes on a new urgency, not to gain more Christians but to spread the saving message of Jesus as he hung from the cross.
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, Penguin Books, is the first in the Mitford Series. This book is a vacation from big words and hard study. Mitford is a fictional account of the what it might be like to live in a small town where everyone knows and cares about everyone else. I live in a small town and while reading Mitford I often wondered if the author had spent a few days here. Jan Karon writes about relationships, especially those of Father Tim, the Episcopal priest of Lords Chapel, and his parishioners. The characters come alive and you feel as if you could walk down Main Street and shake Father Tims hand. Watch out for his dog Barnabas! You could even fall in love with a boy named Dooley. You will meet ordinary people who become extraordinary because of the love they show one another. This is a wonderful story about everyday spirituality. Karon inspires us to live out those gospel values we hear preached every Sunday morning. One is encouraged to follow Jesus and live a life of faith seven days a week. There is even romance in the air in Mitford. Dont miss this delightful book, which inspires and refreshes the soul. Mitford is truly a small town you wont want to leave.
Morgan Llywelyns penchant for writing the historical novel has never been better illustrated than in her current 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion. It focuses on the events and persons involved and leading up to that tragic event in Irish history. She centers her story on fictional 15-year-old Ned Halloran who (with his parents) is heading from Ireland to America for the wedding of his sister in New York. The time is 1910, the ship the Titanic. Ned survives, his parents do not. After returning to Ireland and completing his education, he and a fellow journalist become involved in Irish politics. Next he meets the ill-fated entourage of Irish poets and writers who are planning the rising: Joseph Plunkett, James Connally, Thomas MacDonagh, P.H. Pearse and others. The appeal of the novel to me was the skillful integration of authentic history with fictional episodes, bringing the reader backstage, as it were, to see firsthand the wheeling and dealing, the setbacks and hopes involved in the planning of the rebellion that climaxed tragically for everyone involved. At the end I felt I had read a modern Greek tragedy that is, of course, still being played out 82 years later.
I recommend Vatican II in Plain English, a three-book set, by Bill Huebsch. Huebsch is one of my favorite authors. I have read each of the three books four times. With each reading, I have experienced new inspiration, new revelations and a renewed enthusiasm for the spirit of Vatican II. Must reading for everyone who has doubts about the future of the church.
National Catholic Reporter, November 13, 1998