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Minnesota’s governor-elect, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, former professional wrestler, suburban mayor, volunteer conditioner for a high school football team and talk-show host, has made a splash even on the East Coast. Might be the feather boa he has been known to wear. Quizzed about him by college students in New Jersey, I expressed amazement that he had trounced Hubert H. Humphrey III.

“Who?” they asked.

“Son of ... ” and so on, I explained.

Not one student in the room had heard of the former vice president and one-time presidential candidate. However, every one of them knew Jesse the Body.

That’s enough to make a guy read some more books and to think that others might do the same. And so:

Catholic Social Teaching and Movements, by Marvin L. Krier Mich (Twenty-Third, 475 pages, $29.95 paperback), recognizes that the rich tradition of the social teachings of the church is a well-kept secret. He violates that secret in a very effective manner. He looks to encyclicals and pastoral letters as well as the movements that expressed the teachings, telling the story from above and below.

This book is certain to be useful to college students and seminarians but will also be prized by those who are attentive to social justice ministry.

Those concerned with the many issues surrounding considerations of global population may look to the contributions of John C. Schwarz in Global Population from a Catholic Perspective (Twenty-Third, 256 pages, $19.95 paperback). While the church’s stand has been seen as largely negative with prohibitions on artificial contraception, sterilization and abortion, Schwarz intends to look at both positive and negative aspects of ecclesial positions. He is bold in speaking his own views in a way that is sure to diminish both impact and credibility: “And even if the church (magisterium) did possess all the truth, she still should ... ” The italics are his own.

Those who seek to understand the development of moral theology can look to Moral Choices: The Moral Theology of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, by Redemptorist Fr. Theodule Rey-Mermet (Ligouri, 180 pages, $14.95 paperback), which chronicles the contributions to the evolution of moral theology over 300 years ago by St. Alphonsus, who was noted as a champion of responsible freedom, of love over legalism and conscience over force.

Cistercian Fr. Richard Gwyn, living in a monastery off the coast of Wales, has written The Psalms in Haiku: Meditative Songs of Praise (Seastone, an imprint of Ulysses Press [PO 3440, Berkeley, CA 94703], 346 pages, $14 paperback). Gwyn does not see his haiku psalms as a learned work but instead offers a simple and stark approach to the ancient prayers that may be of meditative help: “The Lord is my Shepherd,/there is nothing I shall want,/grazing in His fields” (Psalms 23:1-2). “Be gracious to me for your true love’s sake, O God/Blot out my misdeeds” (Psalms 51:1).

I like this little volume a lot. No doubt it will provoke a flurry of poetic and inspired prayer in those lucky enough to find it. Those who object to masculine references to God will need to look elsewhere, however.

Small Christian Communities: Imagining Future Church, edited by Holy Cross Fr. Robert S. Pelton (University of Notre Dame Press, 132 pages, paperback), is a collection of essays that presents the findings of a 1996 theological consultation held at the University of Notre Dame that included theologians, pastoral leaders and lay members of small communities from five continents.

These insights about contemporary Christian life are a positive view of how small communities might serve as leaven for the Christian future.

Pedagogy of the Heart (Continuum, 141 pages, $11.95 paperback), by Paulo Friere, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a collection of some of the last writings gathered in a volume titled Under This Mango Tree in the original Portuguese. The late Brazilian educator here considers the world of politics and values with, as the preface suggests, rationality rationally clamoring for the right to its emotional roots, thus returning to the shade of the mango tree as a complete human being. Early Friere fans will appreciate this volume of reflections, reminiscences and meditations that includes notes by his widow.

Of Passion and Folly: A Scriptural Foundation for Peace, by Notre Dame Sr. Patricia McCarthy (Liturgical Press, 128 pages, $11.95 paperback), was written not to propose theories but “to raise questions and to encourage participation in living out the process of answering them.” The questions include, Why is peace simultaneously desirable and unimportant? Can we seek peace while avoiding the means of peace? Is peace an option or tenet of faith?

Those who will search the words and will of Jesus for the answers may find a helpful guide here.

As communities of religious women continue their rapid evolution and as new models look to history for guidance, Brides in the Desert: The Spirituality of the Beguines, by Saskia Murk-Jansen (Orbis, 136 pages, $13 paperback), may be an important resource. The Beguines, a lay women’s movement, began in the 13th century. They were committed to poverty, chastity and obedience but not as members of a recognized order. Gathered in urban communities, Beguines lived from their own work rather than charity, and their spirituality was clearly in and of, not apart from, the world. Many were well educated and from wealthy families, and they left texts for consideration in later ages.

Beginning with an informative look at the origins and development of the movement, Murk-Jansen looks to Beatrijs of Nazareth, Hadewijch, Mechtild of Magdeburg and Marguerite Porete. She notes that the voices of these women and the spirituality they forged out of their circumstances have rested unheard for centuries. Here is a timely and interesting resurrection.

Scholars and students of medieval history will be glad to have Pastors and the Care of Souls in Medieval England, edited by John Shinners and Holy Cross Fr. William J. Dohar (University of Notre Dame Press, 330 pages, paperback). They bring together documents, many not available before in English, which illuminate the lives of a group long ignored by scholars.

It is clear that this substantial effort ought to accomplish what the editors hope: a historical awareness sharpened by highlighting the wider social and religious milieus in which the medieval pastor worked, leading to a richer appreciation of Christianity’s role in molding medieval culture.

The Butterfly Healing: A Life Between East and West, by Julia Ching (Orbis, 220 pages, $16 paperback), is the story of sickness and recovery from physical and spiritual perspectives. The author, a professor of east Asian philosophy and religion, explores both East and West in considering medical, philosophical and spiritual responses to living and dying.

Ching is very fond of italics, but that distraction aside, her considerations of the butterfly as a model of fragility and strength may prompt hopefulness in those who look for new life.

Seekers may also appreciate Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, by Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat (Touchstone, from Simon & Schuster, 608 pages, $15 paperback). This compendium of over 650 snippets includes stories, poems and reflections from Frederick Buechner, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler, Denise Levertov, Lawrence Kushner and Henri Nouwen with a foreword by Thomas Moore.

Bishops and their staffs and those who take pastoral planning seriously will want a look at Bridges: Towards the Inter-Parish Regional Community ... Deaneries, Clusters, Plural Parishes, by noted planner Fr. Robert G. Howes (Liturgical Press, 110 pages, $9.95 paperback).

A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land, second edition, by Jesuit Fr. John J. Kilgallen (Jesuit Way, an imprint of Loyola Press, 298 pages, $14.95 paperback), is a fine tour guide for pilgrims and armchair travelers. Kilgallen sets the scene and explores the meaning of the stories of those who looked to Jesus to change their circumstances but encountered one who preferred to change their hearts.

Extraordinary Lives: Thirty-Four Priests Tell Their Stories, by Fr. Francis P. Friedl and Rex Reynolds (Ave Maria, 270 pages, $12.95 paperback), includes the stories of a cross section of happy religious and diocesan priests and bishops and what they think of the vocations they share. I’ve sent my copy off to a newly ordained young man with the expressed hope that it will quicken him in hopefulness for many years of happy service.

Hell, Healing and Resistance: Veterans Speak, by Daniel Hallock (Plough [Farmington, PA 15437], 434 pages, $25 hardbound), is dedicated to the conscience of a nation and includes a preface by Philip Berrigan. Hallock, himself a veteran, conducted over 40 interviews and collected about a hundred written accounts in an attempt to understand the military and the human cost of war. These stories are intended to ensure that an appreciation of the horrors of war not be lost.

Living a Gentle, Passionate Life, by Robert J. Wicks (Paulist, 137 pages, $14.95 hardbound), is a nicely written book of stories and ideas for those who would “find the new life that is already there before us, if only we take the next step.”

Ana F. Sauthoff lives in Princeton, N.J., is a wife, a mother, high school teacher and a candidate for an MA in Pastoral Ministry in the Caldwell pastoral Ministry Institute at Caldwell College. I gave her a copy of Praying With Women of the Bible, by Sister for a Christian Community Bridget Mary Meehan (Ligouri, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback) and invited comment.

Sauthoff reports that she was expecting to read a prayer book based on real women as role-models and prayer partners. The introduction claims that the aim of the book is to invite people, women in particular, to learn and to pray and “to catch the living spirit of amazing witness.” Meehan deals with 20 women from the time of the Patriarchs to the early Christian era. Each chapter contains background information, a reflection, thought-provoking questions for discussion and prayer experience. End-notes provide sources for each chapter. The style is conversational, and the author is a good story teller.

Unfortunately, according to Sauthoff, instead of being a prayer book, the book presents the author’s agenda on the ordination of women and might better have been titled How to Empower Women to Reclaim Their Rightful Place in the Church. Sauthoff did not find clarity of purpose but felt surreptitiously manipulated and recruited for a cause. She reports disappointment in what seemed to her careless use of biblical references, with alternative references to an Inclusive New Testament and heavy reliance on Gnostic and apocryphal New Testament material. All of these difficulties, in Sauthoff’s judgment, obscure a very valid message concerning justice and equality.

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

National Catholic Reporter, January 8, 1999