e-mail us

Spring Books



In my favorite Christmas letter of the last millennium, my friend Ann told the tale of grandson Peter in nursery school, already practicing to be a priest. He has taught the other children, meeting in the basement of a Presbyterian church, no less, how to make the Sign of the Cross, and also says Mass: “Eat this bread, drink this cup and brush your teeth.” And let the church say Amen! Here are some books that those who will see to this young man’s education may find helpful:

Sacraments: A NEW understanding for a NEW Generation (Twenty-Third Publications, 189 pages, $24.95 paperback), by Ray R. Noll, will be welcomed by those seeking an introductory study guide for classrooms, parish groups, private study. Noll, who teaches at the University of San Francisco, considers history and pastoral practice in exploring the meaning of the individual sacraments and sacramental life for the developing church.

Particularly helpful is the CD-ROM included with the text containing articles or chapters by other theologians that highlight the issues involved in the study of the sacramental life. I found the book and the disc helpful and interesting.

Authority in the Church (Liturgical Press, 143 pages, $14.95, paperback), by Jesuit Fr. David J. Stagaman, begins with a helpful overview of recent scholarship on church authority. He claims that the historical development of church authority provides crucial clues for a theological understanding of that authority and asks: What is the source of authority when found in any community? And, how did authority in the Roman church come to be as it is? Those who really want to meditate on struggles and authority and the church’s identity will find here a scholarly but readable treatment of the issues at hand.

Invitation to the Apocrypha, by Jesuit Fr. Daniel J. Harrington (William. B. Eerdmans, 222 pages, $16 paperback), is a guide to these important but often neglected books of the Old Testament. The author, a professor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, focuses on the problem of suffering as he guides readers through the background, content and message of these books, which date roughly from the fourth to first centuries before Christ. The text will be helpful for its intended audiences of introductory college and seminary classes as well as readers and discussion groups who want to delve into these ancient Jewish texts of the Bible.

Juries: Conscience of the Community, by Mara Taub (Chardon Press, P.O. Box 11607, Berkeley CA 94712, 177 pages, $17 paperback), is a collection of readings for students and prospective jurors. After her own experience as a juror, Taub recognized that for verdicts to be moral and responsible, “they had to be put in a context and their consequences considered seriously.” Those who will serve on juries and who wish to be well prepared may profit from some hours with this collection of essays.

In Dancing in the Margins: Meditations for People Who Struggle with Their Churches (Crossroad, 159 pages, $14.95 paperback), Kathy Coffey seems quick to identify both heroes and villains. She may, however, prompt some hopefulness in those who, as in one of the final meditations, identify with Mary’s bewilderment at the empty tomb before meeting the risen Christ: “We who weep seek him, too; tenderly he touches eyes blinded by tears.”

The impending Lenten season may be even more profitably encountered with the help of Fr. Joseph J. Juknialis of Milwaukee. He has written A Whirlwind of Ash: Daily Lenten Reflections and Psalm Prayers (Twenty-Third Publications, 120 pages, $9.95 paperback). Preachers may be glad to have these daily helps based on the scriptures assigned for Mass, Sunday and daily. So also will those who wish better to recognize “what it is that God has already done in you” to be moved then “to allow God to do even more.”

And, for use at home and with families, A Time to Grow: Daily Gospel Reflections and Prayers, by Mary Carol Kendzia (Twenty-Third Publications, 48 pages, paperback). These brief reflections, also based on the daily scriptures, include a family prayer and a faith response, activities that will be particularly helpful to families with young children. In fact, this one will go off to young Peter who was mentioned above).

I invited some of Caldwell College’s graduate students in pastoral ministry to select a book from the box of review copies and offer their comments. Their reports and reviews follow.

Terrie Stolte is a certified public accountant employed at McGraw-Hill Companies in Manhattan. A religious education instructor for the past 10 years, she and her family are members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Skillman, N.J. She looked at Grace at the Table, Ending Hunger in God’s World by David Beckmann and Arthur Simon (Paulist, 219 pages, $10.95 paperback).

Beckmann is the current president and Simon the founder of Bread for the World, the nation’s pre-eminent citizens’ group lobbying for an end to hunger. Their aim is to heighten citizens’ awareness that poverty is increasing. The book provides statistics on world hunger as well as unsettling facts about the efforts of major industrial countries to eliminate world hunger. The authors believe, according to Stolte, that the world superpowers need help in recognizing and addressing world hunger and poverty.

Their studies support the fact that world violence, wars and conflict can be easily traced back to people’s need for food. Beckmann and Simon advocate education of those living in poverty as a sure way to empower people to take care of themselves and to work to change oppressive governments that rule over the majority of poor people.

The authors believe that separation of church and state is fine, but must not segregate faith from life. They plead for the more advanced countries to come to the aid of disadvantaged countries before it is too late.

The book is written in a question-and-answer format that affords the reader the option to track down the specific information he or she is seeking. The organization’s address is provided to enable the reader to become more involved. Stolte concludes that this is a recommended read.

Laurice Bonannella and her family live in Budd Lake, N.J., and are members of St. Jude Parish where Laurice is the director of religious education. She looked at Stories of Awe & Abundance, by Franciscan Sr. Jose Hobday (Continuum, 122 pages, $9.95 paperback).

The stories in this book were first published in Praying magazine, edited by Art Winter. The remarkable short stories of Hobday’s experiences are based both on the spiritual values she learned from her mother who was raised in the Native American tradition and of her own later experiences and encounters as she traveled the world to bring her stories to others.

Hobday thinks that American Christians have much to learn from the Native American tradition, including making prayer more creation-centered, having a greater sense of the dead, learning to love and respect silence and cherish solitude, and placing a greater emphasis on celebration. She also speaks of a need for the love of the land in our country in order to stop the destruction of its beauty.

The reader, Bonannella observes, is drawn into finding God in the ordinary things. Hobday sees God present in the many people she meets, ordinary people doing everyday things: an elderly woman with cancer, a supermarket worker, a truck driver, cowboys, policeman, and especially the poor and downtrodden people of Ecuador.

Her simple message told with heartfelt love and compassion can move the reader to a more profound sense of God’s presence.

Jeanne Skrobot teaches science at Red Bank Catholic High School in New Jersey. She looked at One Anothering -- Volume 1: Biblical Building Blocks for Small Groups and One Anothering -- Volume 2: Building Spiritual Community in Small Groups, by Richard C. Meyer (Innisfree Press, Inc., 137 and 156 pages, both $12.95 paperbacks).

Skrobot notes that Meyer, a Presbyterian pastor, writes to improve small-group life in the church. His focus is group dynamics, including listening skills, confidentiality and prayer.

Those beginning small-group work will find Meyer particularly helpful. The first volume can be used by newcomers and more experienced groups, while the second volume targets groups that are well established. Both volumes are intended for use by group participants and also serve as facilitator manuals. His writing style is engaging, concludes Skrobot, and the work is filled with helpful quotes from many sources, personal stories and even a collection of comic strips from the Peanuts series by Charles M. Schulz.

Linda Corona, a full-time public librarian, is an active parishioner of St. Philomena’s Parish in Livingston, N.J., where she is a member of the team that prepares candidates to join the church. She also teaches sixth grade in the religious education program. She looked at The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser (Doubleday, 257 pages, $21.95 hardbound). According to Rolheiser, the essential aspects or “nonnegotiables” in the search are community worship, the call to social action, the central belief in the Incarnation and a grateful heart.

Rolheiser emphasizes that spirituality is, in a way, a sense of balance, and Corona concludes that Rolheiser is successful in promoting that balance and in bringing to life the authentic meaning of the Incarnation. Corona found herself reading parts more than once, finding the book an inviting, prayerful resource for anyone interested in developing an authentic spiritual life.

Fr. William C. Graham’s Sacred Adventure: Beginning Theological Study (University Press of America, 213 pages, $24.95 paperback), includes a chapter by Jesuit Fr. Avery Dulles titled, “The Basic Teaching of Vatican II.” Graham receives e-mail at NCRBkshelf@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2000