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Summer Books: Bookshelf


I was fortunate to spend Holy Week in Rome. The memory of the enormous crowds there causes me to offer advice to pilgrims considering the trip in the Holy Year 2000: Think Again! Goodness, what a crush!

Special note to the pope: Please consider opening an entrance to the Sistine Chapel that bypasses the rest of the wonderful Vatican Museum. Clearly, folks are most interested in seeing Michelangelo’s beautifully restored frescoes. But the crush of humanity that extends through the Museum and the labyrinthine passages makes a New York City subway at rush hour seem lonely.

In St. Peter’s, I stood before the Pieta on Holy Saturday in an enormous throng so distant from the holy artwork that I could catch just a glimpse. Behind me was a father with his teenage son. The dad said, “This is Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding him after he was taken down from the cross." The boy, perhaps 14 or 15, asked the dad: “How old was Mary then?” Interesting question, I thought. There was a pause during which I turned around so I could see the dad’s face as he answered, scowling, “It doesn’t make any difference. It is all just a legend anyway.”

How amazing! And for how many reasons! I think, though, that the dad has given me the basis for a Mother’s Day homily. Just a legend indeed!

A Stewardship of the Mysteries, by Frank C. Senn (Paulist, 238 pages, $16.95 paperback), is a collection of lectures, sermons and essays (both academic and popular) focusing on four topics: preaching, eucharistic prayers, Communion and stewardship of the word. It is an ecumenical work that explores current issues in Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches. It will be of particular interest to scholars, pastors and church leaders.

Carnegie Samuel Calian is the president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which gives him a valuable perspective from which he has written Survival or Revival: Ten Keys to Church Vitality (Westminster John Knox Press, 150 pages, $16 paperback). He asks whether churches will survive or come alive in the 21st century, asking what commitments must be initiated and sustained if there is to be congregational vitality in the next century.

He offers 10 keys to making congregations vital, beginning with worship of God alone (more proclamation and fewer announcements!), continuing with biblical literacy, an understanding of history, becoming a welcoming community and more. Those who will be attentive to the call and challenge may find both supports and challenges in this consideration.

Looking for Jesus, by Virginia Stem Owens (Westminster John Knox Press, 261 pages, $18 paperback), explores the person and work of Jesus in the encounters of 23 people who came to Jesus from every level of society during his lifetime. She sets out to emphasize what is unique in each of the stories from Mary Magdalene to Nicodemus and invites readers to measure them against their own lives. She means to illumine the gospel narratives, and her considerations may well provide assistance to those who seek illumination.

The richness of the experience of black Catholicism in the United States is not lost on anyone who has had the privilege of worshiping, even irregularly, with one of those communities. The Emergence of a Black Catholic Community: St. Augustine’s in Washington, by Morris J. MacGregor (Catholic University of America Press, 543 pages, $24.95 paperback), offers a look at one of the nation’s premiere parishes in the capital. The book offers a history of race relations with religious and social insights. Here is a valuable contribution to American and ecclesial history.

For the Love of God: Handbook for the Spirit, edited by Richard Carlson & Benjamin Shield (New World Library [14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949], 199 pages, $12.95 paperback), is a collection of 25 essays that celebrate personal experiences with the divine. Contributors include the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Matthew Fox, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Huston Smith and others. The book is sure to provide moments of peace and the promise of direction both onward and upward.

Individuals, college classes and parish discussion groups that want to understand Islam as a credible faith and wish to consider the theological issues as well as the political, cultural and economic obstacles between Christianity and Islam, will be well served by Muslim-Christian Relations: Past, Present, Future, by Jesuit Fr. Ovey N. Mohammed (Orbis, 144 pages, $16 paperback).

John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue, edited by Byron L. Sherwin and Harold Kasimow (Orbis, 236 pages, $18 paperback), provides an important consideration of recent progress in overcoming two millennia of misunderstanding between world religions.

The martyred archbishop of El Salvador speaks eloquently to those whose sufferings “touch the very heart of God.” The Violence of Love, by Oscar Romero, compiled and translated by Jesuit Fr. James R. Brockman, with a foreword by Henri Nouwen (The Plough Publishing Company, 216 pages, $14 paperback), is a collection of quotations and sermons that bring home Romero’s heroic vision of “the violence of love/ of brotherhood/ the violence that wills to beat weapons/ into sickles for work.”

Most of the church’s canonized saints were not married. Married Saints, by John F. Fink (Alba House, 177 pages, $9.95 paperback), is a collection of brief biographies of those who have found sanctity within marriage, highlighting their great charity and heroic virtue.

In Landscapes of the Soul: A Spirituality of Place (Ave Maria Press, 159 pages, $9.95 paperback), Robert M. Hamma writes, “We all have the capacity to be signs that help others recognize the sacred.” Hamma’s thoughtful reflections can help readers be attentive to a sense of place: where we are and to what we are called.

Cecelia P. Regan is the director of religious education at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Old Bridge, N.J., where she also coordinates the children’s sacramental programs and is a cantor. She and her husband, Maurice, are the parents of Mary and James. When I asked her to look at a few books to see what caught her eye, she chose Changing Pastors: A Resource for Pastoral Transitions, by Jesuit Fr. Thomas P. Sweetser and Benedictine Sr. Mary Benet McKinney (Sheed & Ward, 178 pages, $12.95 paperback,) which she suggests will give dioceses and parishes the opportunity to honor and explore the emotion, fear and ambivalence that comes when a parish changes pastors.

Sweetser and McKinney see the traditional, secret method of clergy assignments (here today, gone tomorrow) give way to a new approach that allows one year for a parish to make a transition under the guidance of the diocese. The authors seek to help parishes assess strengths and needs while granting time to say goodbye and prepare to greet a new pastor. They make it very clear that this model does not allow the parish to choose a new pastor.

This “how to” book offers time lines and practical suggestions for appointing a transition team, organizing parish “town meetings,” and workshops all within the context of faith and guidance by the Spirit. Parishes bound to the old ways of clergy appointments are also offered ways and materials to work through their transitions. Bishops, personnel boards, parish staffs and pastoral councils can profit from this practical and challenging book.

Patricia Stephens is a fourth grade teacher in a Guttenberg, N.J., public school and is also the director of religious education in two parishes. She chose The 7 Secrets of Successful Catholics, by Paul Wilkes (Paulist, 96 pages, $7.95 paperback), and considers it a book written for those who take Catholic life seriously and want to be more successful in living it. He points readers to seven paths, including unselfish behavior, God’s mercy, prayer, good judgment and daily recognizing opportunities for holiness.

Wilkes’ format is perfect for promoting group discussion. His chapters conclude with suggestions for Further Thought and Action, Words to Ponder, Just Imagine, Questions to Ponder and Prayer Reflection.

Stephens pays the author the highest compliment: “I called Paulist and ordered 20 copies for my upcoming adult education class.”

Al Payne is a permanent deacon in the Metuchen, N.J., diocese where he serves in his home parish of Mary Mother of God in Hillsborough. For 30 years, he has been involved in either law enforcement or security. I asked him to take a look at Ministry and the Law: What You Need to Know, by Sr. of Charity of Nazareth Mary Angela Shaughnessy (Paulist, 85 pages, $8.95 paperback).

Payne suggests that those who believe they cannot be charged with a violation of the law while preaching or teaching about Jesus Christ should consult this primer. Shaughnessy explains some case laws and their histories, but also entices the reader to investigate further.

She writes, “sometimes it is difficult to balance legal and gospel issues, but such is the challenge facing Catholic administrators.” Payne concludes that the book is informative and easy to comprehend, even for those not involved in the legal profession.

Fr. William C. Graham’s Sacred Adventure: Beginning Theological Study is coming soon from University Press of America.

National Catholic Reporter, May 7, 1999