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From time to time, I like to repeat how books are selected for review in this column. Editorial forces in Kansas City, in a secret conclave, decide which books will arrive at my door courtesy of UPS. After the white puff of smoke is spotted rising above the offices there, a box of 31 or 57 or how-many-ever books arrives at my door. From them, I usually choose 20 for comment.

I am drawn to books on and about the church’s liturgical life. And prayer. And about parishes, including how-to manuals. So also for sacraments. And history, particularly about the church in the United States. I’m always on the lookout for helpful resources both for parish and classroom. I tend to favor books that target a Catholic audience.

If I cannot clearly understand the first sentence or paragraph of a book, I tend to put it aside. I sometimes read the conclusion first, or open up to a chapter that sounds intriguing. I tend to save space for books that ought to have attention called to them (even if these might appeal only to a small audience).

More books are published annually than could ever have attention here. If someone has a better plan for how to choose the monthly 20, I’m all ears: Talk to me at NCRBkshelf@aol.com

On to this month’s books.

Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, edited by Glen Stassen (Pilgrim Press, 209 pages, $14.95 paperback), is a new and novel approach. Rather than debating whether or not to wage war, the contributors instead spell out options that come before the last resort. This one is sure to be a hit on the peace studies curriculum.

The Compassionate Community: Strategies that Work for the Third Millennium, by Medical Mission Sr. Catherine M. Harmer (Orbis, 205 pages, $14 paperback), identifies problems (endemic poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, inadequate health care) and analyzes failed strategies that continue to be proposed as workable. She then suggests alternative approaches, also in use, that involve entire communities. Here is a valuable book that also should be added to the peace and justice curriculum.

Peace-seekers might also consider The Moral Bond of Community: Justice and Discourse in Christian Morality, by Bernard V. Brady (Georgetown University Press, 174 pages, $16.95 paperback). Understanding that ethical discourse is the process of giving reasons for actions, Brady presents the four different forms of moral discourse — narrative, prophetic, ethical and policy — inviting the reader to consider how different forms may be appropriate in different situations.

Johann Christoph Arnold has a simple aim in Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations Along the Way (Plough Publishing House, 248 pages, $20 hardbound): to offer “stepping stones along the way and enough hope to keep you seeking peace.” Arnold draws on Christian faith and the wisdom of other traditions to offer hope and direction to those who look within and around in pursuit of peace.

Poverty, Celibacy, and Obedience: A Radical Option for Life, by Sacred Heart Missionary Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu (Crossroads Publishing, 135 pages, $13.95 paperback), is a book about the traditional monastic vows (O’Murchu considers celibacy synonymous with chastity). He aligns the vows with the notion of nonviolence, which he sees as a radical option for life. He writes for those called to the vowed life and lay people who identify with those values.

Leon J. Podles sees something creating a barrier between Western Christianity and men, and he sets out to discover that something. In The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Spence Publishing [501 Elm St.; Dallas 75202], 288 pages, $29.95 hardbound), he sees modern churches as “women’s clubs with a few male officers.”

While the work is well-documented, the observations and conclusions may strike some readers as facile or provocative. However, the issue of what some see as the Europeanization of the American church with its decline in male participation is surely an issue, and this volume will certainly invite that important discussion.

More I Could Not Ask: Finding Christ in the Margins (A Priest’s Story), by Fr. James Peterson (Crossroad, 181 pages, $12.95 paperback), is the reflections of a man who has lived the priesthood reverently for 50 years. Good reading.

A Caregiver’s Companion: Ministering to Older Adults, by Fr. J. Daniel Dymski (Ave Maria Press, 189 pages, $8.95 paperback), is a lovely and useful book. Drawing on the author’s 38 years of pastoral experience, the book offers guidance and training to pastoral caregivers who serve the homebound and those in extended care facilities.

Caring Ministry: A Contemplative Approach to Pastoral Care, by Sarah A. Butler (Continuum, 160 pages, $18.95 paperback), is another helpful volume. Butler offers helpful hints and sensible instruction and theological reflections on creating a sacred, safe space in which the caregiver listens to another who encounters the mystery of suffering.

The Tao of Jesus: An Experiment in Inter-Traditional Understanding, by Augustinian Fr. Joseph A. Loya, Wan-Li Ho, and Taoist priest Chang-Shin Jih (Paulist, 185 pages, $14.95 paperback), recognizes the profound differences between Christianity and Taoism but sees parallels between the words of Jesus and Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Sayings from both traditions about nonviolence, perfection and virtue are examined in this book.

As a child, I always thought prayer books were great. I still remember the old St. Andrew Missal I carried in the first Communion procession and used religiously at daily Mass. I think today’s children will be equally glad to have Jesus, Teach Me To Pray: My First Communion Prayerbook, by Alison Berger with illustrations by Holly Bewlay (Twenty-Third Publications, 124 pages, $9.95 hardbound). Prayers before Mass, the prayerful explanation of the Eucharist, and all the traditional prayers little ones ought to know and love are right there. Good book!

Someone asked me at church last week where she might learn more about the practice of reciting novenas. I wasn’t quite sure what to tell her. Now I have found and am eager to pass along to my interlocutor Novena: The Power of Prayer, by Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua (Penguin Studio, 156 pages, $24.95 hardbound).

The authors set out to answer questions about the devotions: Why is everything in nines, why certain saints for particular favors, why so many prayers to Mary? This is a good resource and a lovely book.

Did you ever notice that the first preface for Lent says, “Each year you give us this joyful season”? Joy is not always the first virtue that occurs to folks as a description of the holy season. Fr. Edward Hays knows that and celebrates it in A Lenten Hobo Honeymoon: Daily Reflections for the Journey of Lent (Forest of Peace Publishing, 143 pages, $12.95 paperback). I did not know that hobo is a contraction for “homeward bound” Civil War veterans who were working their way back to loved ones. Lent reminds Christians that we, too, are homeward bound, and that we will not rest until we see God face to face.

In the new preface to his book, film director John Farrow is remembered by his daughter Mia as “a devout Catholic, and a womanizer of legendary proportions.” He learned of Fr. Damien, the leper, and wrote about him in 1937. Damien the Leper: A Life of Magnificent Courage, Devotion and Spirit (Image Books, 272 pages, $12 paperback) has now been reissued for a new generation. In fact, it has been reprinted over 100 times and in more than 20 languages.

This book celebrates a true Christian hero and ought to be appreciated by a new audience. I’ve sent my copy off to a priest friend in Hawaii where Damien served.

Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Westminster John Knox, 287 pages, paperback) by Jesuit Fr. Jerome Neyrey, on the theology faculty at Notre Dame, is intended for serious students and is not light reading. So I passed a copy on to Christian Br. Mark McVann at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., himself no lightweight when it comes to scriptural considerations.

Neyrey’s interest is first and foremost cultural anthropology, and the approach is framed clearly and thoroughly in those terms. Neyrey is not interested in the theological significance of fulfillment quotations from the Old Testament, for example, a theme that occupies commentators a great deal where Matthew is concerned. Rather, the focus is on honor/shame as the primary axis of the world in which Jesus lived and in which Matthew’s readers read about and understand life, death and resurrection.

McVann concluded that “there can be little doubt that this work will serve as a standard for any and all works that attempt to understand Jesus and Matthew in their cultural context and is recommended for readers who have an interest in Mediterranean antiquity and the cultural and social worlds that are so markedly different from our own. It’s hard to imagine there is a better guide to this world than Fr. Neyrey.”

Fr. William C. Graham is preparing the manuscript of Sacred Adventure: Beginning Theological Study, coming soon from University Press of America.

National Catholic Reporter, April 9, 1999