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Two gentle, friendly, basic books

By Mitch Finley
Liguori Publications, 130 pages, $12.95


By Alice Camille
ACTA Publications, 93 pages, $6.95


Here are two gentle, friendly, basic books. Neither is heavy on sophisticated concepts or intellectual challenges. Each looks at a standard list of spiritual ideas and provides some simple starting points for meditating, not just for Lent and the Easter season, but throughout the year.

Alice Camille is a storyteller and a teacher of preaching and proclamation at the Franciscan School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif. One can hear those gifts in her written voice. Reading Seven Last Words felt like listening to seven homilies, rhythmic, lyrical, comforting, encouraging. Woven in among the words is a feeling of warm exhortation, something that induces a desire to turn toward God -- which is what good preaching does.

With her excellent descriptive skills, she makes each scene come alive, and the reader becomes present to and with Jesus in his passion. On the final page of this little book she writes, “One holy person is worth all the sermons on holiness we might ever hear.” Something about her positive, kindly, direct style makes that statement seem true and makes such personal holiness seem possible.

In The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Mitch Finley displays his ease and experience in writing in this list-based format. He is systematic and orderly and seems happy arranging complex and mysterious material into neat rows and tidy piles. He shows a wonderful sense of humor and shares some deliciously inspiring quotes from various authors, teachers and poets, including Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Mark Van Doren and Thomas Merton.

Being fairly nonlinear myself and always more interested in looking for connections rather than separations and contrasts, I sometimes find lists unsatisfying. And so I confess that even after attentively reading Mitch’s careful explication of each gift of the Spirit, I couldn’t necessarily describe the differences between the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, or between understanding and counsel or fortitude or piety or fear of the Lord. But I certainly enjoyed and appreciated the reminder of the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and I very much liked his insistence that it is the Spirit who makes possible all relationships, including especially our communal life as the Body of Christ.

I did find tedious his repeated emphasis on the Catholic Catechism and a kind of preachiness about the superiority of Catholic teaching. But those very qualities might make this a good text for individuals entering the church or those desiring some basic adult religious education. He generally does a good job of demonstrating how and why certain Catholic positions are gospel-based and Spirit-led.

Both of these books could be used either for individual prayer and reflection or for small-group discussions. The authors are clearly grounded in their faith and eager to share their insights and inspirations with others.

Mary Vineyard lives in the woods in Downeast Maine. Her e-mail address is mkvine@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, April 27, 2001