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One of my favorite former students called last week to announce that he and his beloved have decided to wed. “I’ll have to pull The Catholic Wedding Book off the shelf,” he said, “and we’ll get ourselves ready both for wedding and for marriage.” I wrote that book in 1988 with Molly K. Stein. I told the groom how pleased I was that he had not deep-sixed the book, and he replied, “I missed the deadline for selling it back in the bookstore.”

Any number of young brides, planning wedding bashes that will cost thousands of dollars, tell me that they borrowed a copy of The Catholic Wedding Book to keep costs down. Well, $8.95 is $8.95, I guess.

Just as I completed the above paragraph, a student stopped into my office to report that he had found in someone’s discard pile a book required for a class this semester and had saved the $23.95 cost of the text. The book is Common Good, Uncommon Questions: A Primer in Moral Theology, which I edited with Benedictine Fr. Timothy Backous. In the trash.

So, readers, buy some books. Be kind to authors. Start with a few of them listed below.

The Breaking of the Bread: The Development of the Eucharist According to Acts (Liturgy Training Publications, 249 pages, $12 paperback) is the latest from Blessed Sacrament Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere. His Dining in the Kingdom of God considered the origins of the Eucharist in Luke’s Gospel, and this volume traces Luke’s further development of the practice and theology of the Eucharist. As interestingly presented as his fans would expect.

The Conversion Experience: A Reflective Process for RCIA Participants and Others, by Jesuit Fr. Donald L. Gelpi (Paulist, 230 pages, $14.95 paperback), is as the subtitle promises. This text is not a scholarly study but suggestions for pastoral catechesis among adults who are coming to Catholicism or Catholics who wish to deepen a commitment.

These spiritual exercises, like the Ignatian exercises, propose points for personal prayer and reflection. In addition, Gelpi’s exercises supplement private meditation with shared prayer and group dynamics, attempting to engage heart, mind, conscience, institutional commitments and faith.

Those with Spanish-speaking congregants whose family or associates have left the church for a fundamentalist sect may want some copies of Catolicos y Fundamentalistas, a Spanish translation and adaptation of Catholics and Fundamentalists, by Capuchin Fr. Martin Pable (ACTA [Assisting Christians to Act] Publications, 126 pages, $5.95 paperback). Inquirers may also find this book helpful.

In Gold in your Memories: Sacred Moments, Glimpses of God (Ave Maria Press, 165 pages, $11.95 paperback), Benedictine Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr quotes Emily Dickinson: “Such good things can happen to people who learn to remember.” She has clearly learned how and why to remember and advises readers that in gathering memories, they will recall moments of feeling gloriously alive, renewed, full of hope and fulfilled. Even memories of times when one was not treated with honor and respect ensure that the soul not get crowded out of one’s day.

Wiederkehr’s method and advice are sound. But the beauty of her expression and the sensitivity of her insights and memories are the real delight in this book. For example, she remembers “a morning in Galveston when the sun pushed through the stars with such reverence that I could barely tell when the night ended and the day began.”

With the eyes and soul of a poet, Wiederkehr will help the attentive reader to do as she herself has learned: to be “present not only in body but with my whole heart and soul.”

Edwina Gateley invites readers to cultivate a mystical consciousness and be ever aware of God’s presence in A Mystical Heart: 52 Weeks in the Presence of God (Crossroad, 117 pages, $9.95 paperback). Her poems, illustrations and suggested activities (“Close your eyes./Breathe deeply/and imagine yourself/soaked in God”) may provoke readers to enter God’s embrace.

English writer G.K. Chesterton came to Catholicism in 1922. According to David W. Fagerberg in The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism, Chesterton’s journey was essentially Catholic at every point because he found in Catholicism the perfection of the truth, beauty and goodness to which he had been led by his own exploration of the world.

To explain why he was a Catholic, Chesterton found “ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” He saw the church as a house with a hundred gates, and no two people enter at exactly the same angle. Those who sometimes think the doors and gates are too narrow as this millennium winds down are sure to be cheered by this thoughtfully written, well-researched study.

I picked up Finding God’s Will For You, by St. Francis de Sales (Sophia Institute Press [Box 5284, Manchester, NH 03108], 147 pages, $11.95 paperback), expecting to flip through it, but began on page one and read straight through. Francis, who lived from 1567 to 1622 and was the bishop of Geneva, is both doctor of the church and patron saint of writers.

This text is an excerpt from books 8 and 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God, translated by John K. Ryan. It is filled with scriptural references and stories of the saints and is an apt guide for the current age and current seekers. Writes he, “Holiness is perfectly possible in every state and condition of secular life.”

The Sophia Institute Press has also resurrected The Inner Life of Jesus: Pattern of All Holiness, by Romano Guardini (Sophia, 134 pages, $11.95 paperback). This book was originally published in 1957. The current edition uses the 1959 translation by Henry Regnery.

Guardini was born in Italy but was educated in Germany where his father served as an Italian consul. He taught in Berlin until expelled by the Nazis in 1939 and then in Tübingen and Munich until 1963. This volume will lead the reader back to Jesus and the gospels with renewed insight and enthusiasm.

Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith, by Michael Yaconelli (NavPress Publishing Group [PO 35001, Colorado Springs, Co 80935] 151 pages, $17 hardbound), is an invitation to be ruined by Jesus. By ruined Yaconelli means a holy disruption where Jesus turns a life upside down in order to make it right side up. The author, pastor to a small church in rural California where some 30 people worship each Sunday, sees unwritten rules and assumptions about the church, resulting in pews full of weak, anemic Christians whose curiosity has been stifled and who suffer from withering faith.

His book is not one of principles and rules for living a happy Christian life but the notes of an observer who reports that he can barely keep up with what he sees. He offers “glimpses from someone who is still stumbling around, not yet on God’s trail.” He hopes readers will find Jesus unexpectedly hiding in the reading of his book as he “found him in the writing of it.” Indeed, they may.

Sacred Texts and Authority, edited by Rabbi Jacob Neusner (The Pilgrim Press, 163 pages, $15.95 paperback), the first book of five in The Pilgrim Library of World Religions, spells out how five world religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- address certain topics.

This volume concerns the sacred authoritative literature of each religion and the way the authority of a sacred text is interpreted and lived. The distinctive demands and visions of religion are apparent in their scriptures. These thoughtful considerations are certain to be helpful to students of world religions.

Michael Francis Pennock’s This is Our Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults (Ave Maria Press, 358 pages, $11.95 paperback) has been in print almost 10 years and has now been updated to correspond with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This text, with its citation of appropriate paragraphs in the Catechism as well as suggested scripture readings, is sure to continue being helpful to those in the RCIA as well as those who walk with them and to other seekers as well. Remembering the monk Boso who said to St. Anselm, “It appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe,” I mailed my copy off to a high school principal who told me recently that he has been a lifelong Catholic but feels uneducated in his faith. Pennock will help.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Writings Selected with an Introduction by Robert Coles (Orbis, 127 pages, $13 paperback), is one in the new Modern Spiritual Masters Series.

Coles introduces the German Lutheran theologian and pastor who opposed Hitler and was executed after being imprisoned in various concentration camps. This book will be welcomed by those who seek better to understand resistance and discipleship.

Deceiving the Devil: Atonement, Abuse and Ransom, by Darby Kathleen Ray (The Pilgrim Press, 165 pages, $15.95 paperback), sees Christianity as possessing a highly problematic doctrine of atonement, offspring of the Anselmian and Abelardian models. She sees the doctrine and the models, based on assumptions about God and the nature of sin and salvation, actually create and sustain what can be recognized as evil.

Ray sees the Christian church as painstakingly slow to recognize and denounce as evil sexual and domestic violence. She focuses on the doctrine of atonement and says that talk about the redemptive significance of the life and death of Christ actually do more harm than good “because they contribute to an ‘erotics of domination’ that can work to justify violence against women and children.”

Her charge seems astonishing, but she examines feminist concerns and liberation theologies in an attempt to construct a third alternative. Perhaps her study will help Christian people learn better to struggle against evil with passion and tenacity, free from violence, cruelty and hatred.

Sister of Mercy Mary Paulinas Oakes worked for 12 years as author and editor on Angels of Mercy: A Primary Source by Sister Ignatius Summer (Cathedral Foundation Press [PO 777, Baltimore 21203] 112 pages, $16 paperback). Oakes grew up in Vicksburg, Miss., in the 1930s, and her grade school had been a hospital for Civil War wounded. Author Summer was the first principal of that school. The volume’s editor later served there as principal herself.

The biography of the wealthy Baltimore socialite who became Sr. Ignatius, as well as her journal, is an interesting piece of U.S. and Catholic history.

The Bible Companion: A Handbook for Beginners, by Sulpician Fr. Ronald D. Witherup (Crossroad, 249 pages, $9.95 paperback), is the perfect guide for those who find themselves either paralyzed or intimidated when considering reading the Bible. With a general orientation to sections and introductions and overviews of individual books, as well as answers to historical questions (“How did the Bible come to be?”) and practical considerations (“Which Bible should I choose?”), this book is sure to be a welcome helper.

Those who consider the coming new millennium an invitation to reread the last book of the Bible may wish to see the wonderfully illustrated, special millennium edition of Apocalypse 2000: The Book of Revelation, edited by John Miller, with an introduction by Andrei Codrescu (Seastone, $17.95 hardbound).

And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation, by Fr. Robert Barron (Crossroad, 231 pages, $19.95 paperback), is about coming to vision through Christ and about the transformative power that flows from Jesus, the enfleshment of God.

Barron knows the sources, interprets them richly, writes with clarity and teaches masterfully.

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, February 5, 1999