PENTECOST IN ASIA: A New Way of Being Church, by Thomas C. Fox.
Orbis Books. 238 pp. $25.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a writer and teacher at St.
Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently co-edited, with William
Madges, Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).
SPEAKING IN MANILA in 1995, Pope John Paul II expressed one
of his greatest desires: "Just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted
on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa,
we can pray that in the third Christian millennium a great harvest of faith
will be reaped in this vast and vital continent."
In Pentecost in Asia, Thomas Fox, publisher and former editor
of National Catholic Reporter, goes a long way in showing what this "great
harvest of faith" might look like. It may not be quite the fruit that the pope
had in mind.
This "Asian Odyssey" is deeply personal for Fox. As an idealistic
19-year-old college student, he went to Japan in June 1963 and taught English
to Chinese refugees. After graduating from Stanford University in 1966, he returned
as a civilian to work with war refugees in Vietnam and met his Vietnamese wife,
To Kim Hoa. Though they eventually returned to the States, his interest in Asia
has never left him.
The 1998 World Synod of Bishops for Asia revealed a new way of being
Church, one that has some in the Vatican worried. That vision starts by admitting
the great poverty and hunger besetting the Asian continent.
Given that Catholicism in Asia is a minority tradition, it’s also
dialogical by necessity. Fox writes that Asian Catholics "seek rich spirituality,
carved from a belief that the Holy Spirit graces Asia, acting through good people
and religions everywhere."
Countering the Western demand for categories and answers, Asian
Catholics are open to "fuzziness."
Perhaps most contentiously, the Asian vision sees evangelization
as a means "to discover and embrace" rather than an opportunity "to confront
Drawing from both the documents and spirit of the Second Vatican Council,
the Church in Asia takes seriously the charge of inculturation:
"a deep and mutually enriching encounter between the Gospel
and a people with its particular culture and tradition." The
European ecclesial umbrella that Asian Catholics have lived
under for generations is being washed away.
Giving direction and shape to this emerging Asian Church has been
the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, established in 1970. Coinciding
with Pope Paul VI’s visit to Manila and inspired by his encyclical On the
Progress of Peoples, the bishops of Asia met for the first time and began
to create a common vision for the Asian Church. Following the lead of Latin
American bishops, sustained by the insights of liberation theology, the Asian
bishops committed themselves to become "a Church of the poor."
In 1974, meeting in Taiwan, the bishops of Asia gave further indication
as to the shape the Church there would take. It became known as the "triple
dialogue." Using the local Church at the center, dialogue with local cultures,
local religions and local peoples was seen as essential.
With this vision came one central question: How can one be faithfully
Christian and authentically Asian? History is full of false starts and missed
Recent signals from Rome have been mixed as well. In 1989, the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith warned against some Buddhist practices. Vatican
officials likewise have questioned the Asian bishops’ mission theology, accusing
them of having opened the door to religious relativism. Jesus, the Vatican says,
must be proclaimed as the one and unique savior of the world. (It must be noted,
however, that in some Asian countries public proclamation of Jesus can result
in a death sentence.)
The Asian Synod revealed ongoing tensions in the areas of mission,
Christology and ecclesiology. Throughout it, however, the Asian Church has held
fast to the words of Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, the papally appointed secretary
for the Asian Synod: "The Catholic faith will not be intelligible or attractive
to the peoples of Asia if it continues to be a carbon copy of the Catholic Church
in the West."
Written for a general audience in a clear and engaging style, Pentecost
in Asia does more than give the reader an introduction to the Asian Catholic
Church. It gives a picture of what the Church, led by the Spirit, is truly becoming.
You can order PENTECOST IN ASIA: A New Way of Being Church
THE RELUCTANT SAINT: The Life of Francis of Assisi, by Donald Spoto. Viking Compass. 257 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication.
He holds master’s degrees in theology (University of Dayton) and Franciscan
Studies (St. Bonaventure University).
NO SAINT has been the subject of more biographies than Francis
of Assisi. In this volume Donald Spoto draws most on scholarship published since
1990 to produce "a new life of Francis for the general reader who is not a specialist."
Spoto, the author of The Hidden Jesus, is also the biographer
of Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams and Ingrid Bergman.
His text here is the basis for Faith and Values TV’s production that will air
on Palm Sunday (April 13) on the Hallmark Channel at 7 p.m. (Eastern time).
Utilizing his doctorate in theology (Fordham University), Spoto
unapologetically presents Francis as "a medieval Italian, a man with a specific
understanding of reality that was in important ways different from, and even
opposed to, our own."
Any biography of Francis "must accept with absolute gravity the
fact that he believed in a personal and loving God." Spoto describes Francis
as "one of the most obviously human and necessary among saints." He had "a strong
sense of self—and an even stronger sense of God."
Spoto lays out Francis’ world with all its vigor and blind spots.
"The particulars of time and place always matter; more to the point, faith in
God means that God continues to disclose Himself in the particulars of our time,
our life, our circumstances."
Spoto describes the upwardly mobile Francis, a seeker of knightly
fame and leader of Assisi’s young men—until God showed him another way. "Conversion,"
writes Spoto, "is, then, a response to God, Who invites us to a state of complete
freedom, away from everything that is hostile to His goodness and mercy."
The Achilles’ heel of this biography is that Spoto presents Francis
as never truly reconciled to founding a religious community and dealing with
the consequences of that decision.
Although Francis needed few structures for himself, his followers
certainly needed more to avoid being a nuisance to the Church. Thus, this reviewer
cannot believe Spoto’s contention that Francis’ Rule of 1223 was "obviously
written by someone other than Francis...." Several hands were clearly at work
there, but the spirit and phrasing of Francis permeate each section.
This volume contains several factual errors: Bernard of Quintavalle was a
noble (not a merchant), Honorius III was elected in a conclave
(not appointed pope by two Perugian cardinals) and popes inspired
other campaigns to regain the Holy Land after the Fifth Crusade.
The 26 pages of endnotes identify many of Spoto’s sources but present
several key assertions without evidence.
This biography is not the last word on Francis of Assisi, but it
gets most of his life exactly right.
You can order THE RELUCTANT SAINT: The Life of Francis of Assisi from St. Francis Bookshop.
UNLOCKING THE TREASURES OF THE BIBLE: A Practical Guide, by James
Philipps. Twenty-Third Publications. 139 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M., editor of Sunday
Homily Helps and theological and scriptural consultant to St. Anthony Messenger
JAMES PHILIPPS writes for people who have some familiarity
with the Bible, but want help in interpreting it.
The author offers four keys to unlock the meaning of the Bible.
These are described in the first four chapters: 1) The Bible Is a Library; 2)
Inspiration; 3) Reading Contextually; 4) Oral Tradition.
The rest of the book uses these keys to interpret both the Old and
New Testaments. The author offers some concrete examples and tackles some of
the more difficult passages.
For instance, there are inconsistencies in the Bible’s description
of the Exodus. In Exodus 14, did God clog the wheels of the Egyptian chariots
(v. 25), or drown them in the Red Sea (v. 28)? The author reminds us that oral
tradition tends to vary details as it moves from one person to another and
from one generation to another. At the heart of the Exodus story, however, is
Israel’s faith that God was active and freeing his people from their oppressors.
The key of inspiration reminds us that God inspired humans
to hand on these stories and put them in writing, God did not dictate these
stories, but human authors were assisted by God in handing down their stories
of faith. The human authors remained limited by many factors in expressing themselves,
but God saw to it that saving truth was transmitted.
Other books of the Bible provide a larger context for understanding
the Exodus account. For instance, Psalm 77, Isaiah 63, Nehemiah 9 and Wisdom
19 provide further descriptions and variations of details, but all agree on
the basic faith conviction.
Thus, too, we appreciate that the Bible is a library of books.
It contains prose and poetry, history and epic, prophecy and wisdom.
The author has a helpful treatment of Genesis. He examines the stories
of the creation and the fall.
After each chapter are "Questions for Thought and Discussion." A
Bible study group might find these stimulating.
Though I found this book to provide a helpful approach to understanding
the Bible, I have a few negative criticisms as well. At times there are inaccurate
statements, misspellings and hard-to-understand sentences. For example, "Once
we come to see Adam and Eve as personifying an essential conflict within our
human nature, the story’s power intensifies."
An Epilogue makes some helpful suggestions about Bible translations,
commentaries, dictionaries, magazines and other resources.
There may be a fifth important key for future development. The Pontifical
Biblical Commission in a 1993 document speaks of actualization and inculturation.
In the context of our community and culture and with the help of our Tradition,
we can discover what God is telling us regarding current issues, such as the
preferential option for the poor, liberation theology, the situation of women,
the rights of the human person, the protection of human life, the preservation
of nature or the longing for world peace.
Overall, I think this book can be very helpful for its intended
You can order UNLOCKING THE TREASURES OF THE BIBLE: A Practical Guide from St.
THE HOW-TO BOOK OF THE MASS: Everything You Need to Know But No
One Ever Taught You, by Michael Dubruiel. Our Sunday Visitor. 223 pp. $12.95.
WHAT YOU WILL SEE INSIDE A CATHOLIC CHURCH, by the Reverend
Michael Keane. Photographs by Aaron Pepis. Skylight Paths Publishing. 31 pp.
$17.95. Full-color photos throughout. (Also in Spanish as LO QUE SE PUEDE VER
DENTRO: De Una Iglesia Catholica. $16.95.)
Reviewed by MARIA KEMPER, a theology and literature undergraduate
at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. She was an editorial intern
with St. Anthony Messenger during the summer of 2002.
FOR RECENT CONVERTS to Catholicism, or those never deeply schooled
in their faith, participating in a Mass may be akin to stepping into an intricate
waltz, feeling as though you have two left feet. What are these people doing,
and why are they doing it that way?
The How-to Book of the Mass is a step-by-step guidebook for
those either too familiar, or not familiar enough, with the parts of the Mass.
More than a set of guidelines for knowing when to sit, stand and kneel, it also
provides suggestions for praying through the distraction of fussy children in
the next pew, or getting the most out of an uninspiring homily.
From the first step through the door to the final blessing and dismissal,
it explains what is going on, the significance of the words said or the gesture
performed, and, when appropriate, the history and tradition behind it.
Yet this is not a heavy, ponderous tome of archaic rituals. Written
in a reverent and straightforward manner, it is for anyone interested in growing
in knowledge of this most central aspect of Catholic worship.
For younger Catholics ages four through 10, Father Michael Keane
has prepared a beautiful book that would be an ideal introduction to the Mass.
What You Will See Inside a Catholic Church is full of photographs of
common Catholic objects from the tabernacle, to the processional cross, to holy
chrism. The text explains each item and its use, as well as its significance
in Catholic life.
The photographs are suitable for a child who needs to stop squirming
during Mass. When the church is empty sometime, look through the photographs
with a four-year-old and then walk around the church. Touching the actual processional
cross or the baptismal font can be a great introduction into the sacramental
life of the Church.
For parents or godparents conscious of their role of raising children
in the faith, this book makes a great gift in the years leading to First Communion.
You can order HE HOW-TO BOOK OF THE MASS: Everything You Need to Know But No
One Ever Taught You and WHAT YOU WILL SEE INSIDE A CATHOLIC CHURCH
from St. Francis
WINTER: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, by edited by Gary Schmidt
and Susan M. Felch. Skylight Paths Publishing. 262 pp. $21.95.
Reviewed by Emily McCormack, author and adult education
FOR CENTURIES, winter has had bad press. Those other seasons—spring,
summer, autumn—have been pampered pets of poets and dreamers.
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season challenges that
perception. Editors Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch have gathered into one wonderful
book the thoughts, tales, ruminations, dreams and poetry of more than 30 writers.
They cut across all languages and barriers: Sanskrit, American,
Japanese, African tribes, among others. When it comes to winter and the cold,
the editors recognize that there are no natural human boundaries.
A beautifully written text, Winter has something for everyone:
historians, clergy, writers, scientists, fishermen, explorers.
Despite its name, this is a book for all seasons—not just for winter.
The illustrations by Barry Moser add the perfect touch to the text.
Wintertime means different things to different people, as Winter
shows. Some dread the cold weather, hoping to escape. Others welcome the
challenge that the season demands. Many look forward to the built-in seclusion
that winter sometimes demands, giving time for reading, writing, pondering the
meaning of life, seeking God.
In Winter each writer responds to the season in an individual
way. One writer cuts ice for an icehouse; another watches fish and birds and
animals trying to survive the cold. Still another revels in the incredible beauty
of the snow.
There are sighs and regrets and prayers and heart-stopping
scenes. Cars come to a screeching halt on icy roads; skiers
break their legs; ice fishers brave the elements. During the
winter there always are driveways to shovel, wood to chop
for fireplaces, food to preserve, mail to deliver, houses
In Winter we see old men laughing at their own foibles.
We hear wolves howling. One narrator’s neighbor, an old lady,
dies and is buried. Freezing fish seek refuge in a shipwrecked
fishing schooner. The sound of snowplows is ear-splitting.
A lovely surprise in the middle of the book is finding a section
from Walden, in which Henry David Thoreau asks, "Why is it that a bucket
of water soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever?"
Content and smiling, I closed Winter: A Spiritual Biography
of the Season and remembered poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lovely rhetorical
If winter comes,
Can spring be far behind?
You can order WINTER: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
from St. Francis