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GOD'S CHOICE: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church
eucharist with a small 'e'
A FRANCISCAN VIEW OF CREATION: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World

GOD'S CHOICE: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel. HarperCollins. 307 pp. $26.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a teacher and writer at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently edited (with Bill Madges) Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).

ONE YEAR AGO, the world heard the news: “Habemus papam” (“We have a pope”). For the first time in a generation, these words were proclaimed announcing the election of a new pope. I must confess that, when I saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emerge, I was surprised.

Like many others I had him as a possible papabile (“papal contender”), but thought him too old, too curial, too European and too controversial to succeed Pope John Paul II. But as George Weigel, senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and biographer of Pope John Paul II, examines in God’s Choice, in the end Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) was the right and natural person for the office of Bishop of Rome.

Before Weigel tells the story of Benedict XVI, however, he necessarily looks back at the last days of Pope John Paul II, with whom Benedict, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was a close confidant for close to 25 years. Weigel captures well how it seemed for a moment that all eyes and ears were focused on Rome and the last hours and, later, funeral of Pope John Paul II.

With his death, the Catholic world felt great sadness but also anticipation as to who would be his successor. As was evidenced by the phrase echoed at his funeral, “Santo subito” (“Make him a saint now”), everyone agreed that whoever succeeded John Paul II could never fill his shoes.

Here Weigel considers the impressive legacy John Paul II (whom many already call John Paul the Great) has left the Church. Whether through his travels, encyclicals, canonization of saints, interpretation of Vatican II, invitation to youth or political involvement, Weigel sees John Paul II expressing a much-needed Christian fearlessness: a belief that Jesus must be proclaimed to the world.

The next part of the book explores the preparations for and the actual days of the papal conclave. This could be summed up in the adage voiced by one cardinal: “God had already chosen the next pope; the cardinals’ task was to discern the man who was God’s choice.”

Though dismissed by some, Ratzinger’s tide would rise during the interregnum—the period of time between the death of one pope and the election of another. As dean of the College of Cardinals, it was Ratzinger’s responsibility to supervise the cardinals in the next conclave. Both the Church and world saw him center stage, almost as a pope-in-waiting, as he celebrated the funeral Mass for his “co-worker in the truth.” In all of this, his listening and organizational skills impressed many, and went a long way to getting him elected pope. Thus, on the second day of voting and on the fourth vote, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, taking the name Benedict XVI.

Weigel provides three words as clues to just who this new pope is: priest, professor and peritus (expert adviser at the Second Vatican Council).

In Benedict, one finds a deeply spiritual person, committed to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. He is also someone who, as a former professor, is concerned about ideas, or as Benedict himself says, “the truth.” Finally, as a young theologian advising the archbishop of Cologne, he attended the Second Vatican Council and continues to implement its teachings.

This is not to discount his many years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was his tenacity and zeal during these years (1981-2005) in dealing with the high-profile cases that he supervised which led to his being caricatured as “God’s Rottweiler.” Weigel points out that there is much more to Benedict than his former office, however.

Benedict faces significant issues that must be dealt with which will shape the Catholic Church of the future. Chief among them are the continued secularization in Europe, interreligious dialogue and the demographic shift in Catholicism to Latin America, Africa and Asia.

For those who want information on the latter days of Pope John Paul II, a sense of how the recent papal conclave took place and an understanding of who Pope Benedict XVI is and where he may take the Catholic Church, God’s Choice is a good place to start.

You can order GOD'S CHOICE: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookshop.


eucharist with a small 'e', by Miriam Therese Winter. Orbis Books. 153 pp. $15.

Reviewed by MADGE KARECKI, O.S.C., of the Poor Clares in Cincinnati, Ohio, who holds a D.Th. degree in missiology. She was an associate professor of missiology and spirituality at the University of South Africa and adjunct professor of liturgy and mission at St. John Vianney Seminary, Pretoria, South Africa, before joining the monastery.

MIRIAM THERESE WINTER’S book makes a plea for living the eucharist in our daily lives, what she calls eucharistwith a small “e.” Though she says quite clearly that the book “is not about the sacrament of the Eucharist but about a parallel practice with Christian tradition,” she spends chapters three and four examining the origins of the celebration of Eucharist with a big “E.” These two chapters are foundational for following the author’s argument through the rest of the book, and it is here that the basic problem I had with the book first shows itself.

Winter sets up a dichotomy between the celebration of the Eucharist (Mass) and discovering Christ’s presence in the situations of everyday life. She juxtaposes St. Paul’s account of the celebration of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 with the account of the early Christian community’s eucharistic assembly in Acts 2:42-47 and then draws a questionable conclusion.

Winter is of the opinion that, while Paul’s description is of a ritual meal in which participants remembered Christ’s death and resurrection, the celebration in Acts is described as an ordinary meal in which the community did not eat Christ, but ate with Christ as they experienced him in one another.

This seems to be, at least to this reviewer, an unnecessary distinction that fragments what is meant to be the Church’s very holistic and inclusive teaching on the meaning of the eucharist.

Winter offers a feminist reading and interpretation of 15 parables about meals told by Jesus in the Gospels, 19 stories of meals at which Jesus participated and three post-resurrection meals. Here she takes great liberty with the texts. For instance, in her account of the wedding feast at Cana she conjectures that the bride was Mary’s niece.

She seems to have missed the point of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins by interpreting it as a story about sharing, while other Catholic exegetes contend that the parable is about being prepared for the Lord’s coming in glory, hence, its use in the liturgy near the end of the Church year.

The main message of the book is best summarized in the last chapter in which Winter writes with conviction about her belief that the Spirit is calling us to “a radical reorientation not only of how we view the world, but how we behave within it.” This reorientation is what Winter believes will transform our understanding of the eucharist so that all our meals become sacramental meals and we become eucharist for others.

The 18 chapters are clearly written and engaging, though unequal in length. The author succeeds in her aim, that is, to create an awareness of the eucharist outside of ritual celebrations.

In the Preface Winter’s disclaimer that the book is not for scholars because it has no footnotes or bibliography needs to be taken seriously. While her book is interesting, her interpretation of biblical texts reaches beyond what I have garnered from biblical scholars, so readers need to be able to sift fact from creative speculation.

You can order eucharist with a small 'e' from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE JOY OF PRIESTHOOD, by Father Stephen J. Rossetti. Foreword by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. Ave Maria Press. 221 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. He was ordained to the priesthood in June 1975.

EVEN THOUGH many priests have felt pretty battered since early 2002 when the nationwide extent of the clergy sex-abuse crisis became obvious, approximately 90 percent of them report high satisfaction with their call and ministry.

This reinforces Father Frank McNulty's quote that opens Chapter One: “Priesthood is a lot better than I thought it was going to be...and a lot tougher.”

As president and chief executive officer of Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, Father Rossetti, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, has worked there and elsewhere for over 15 years with many priests. Saint Luke Institute is a residential program for clergy and religious men and women requiring psychological treatment, including but not limited to sexuality issues.

He has often been invited to speak to diocesan gatherings of priests. Between September 2003 and January 2005, he surveyed 1,172 priests from 15 U.S. dioceses. This volume shares some of what those surveys revealed.

Arranged in 15 topical chapters, ranging from “Priesthood Is Difficult” to “Priesthood of Joy,” this valuable book presents what Father Rossetti has learned through his unique ministry. Perhaps it is best to allow him to speak for himself.

• “Young people want a life of meaning and challenge. Priesthood, when lived with integrity, is such a life.”

• “Suffering is part of every life: married, single, and celibate. Questions arising about our vocation can be an invitation to move even deeper into this life and commitment.”

• “Human life is challenging. It requires self-sacrifice and hard work, regardless of the vocation to which one is called. Priesthood is particularly difficult.”

• “One of the many learnings from the 2002 Church crisis in the United States is that we [priests] are called to a life of full integrity and to a level of holiness that we might not have thought possible.”

• “Ministry, without a foundation of prayer, easily becomes social work.”

• “While evaluating priests suffering from personal problems, a common theme that emerges is a distorted image of God. They intellectually know that God is loving and forgiving. Upon deeper examination, however, it is clear that they really live as if God were a harsh and demanding tyrant.”

• “No amount of external signs or work can substitute for a solid inner identity.”

This volume, geared to diocesan priests, is filled with much wisdom for them, for priests in religious communities and for everyone who cares about the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

I was surprised that the author did not address the issue of material and spiritual poverty more directly. Even though they do not take a vow of poverty, diocesan priests—like all of us—can be tempted to greed in subtle forms.

Six pages of endnotes complement the main text. “The countenance of a happy priest,” Rossetti writes in the final chapter, “is our best vocational tool. It witnesses to the true Christ and invites others to share in his joy.”

You can order THE JOY OF PRIESTHOOD from St. Francis Bookshop.


A FRANCISCAN VIEW OF CREATION: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World, by Ilia Delio, O.S.F. The Franciscan Institute. 56 pp. $5.

Reviewed by THOMAS SPEIER, O.F.M., who holds graduate degrees in biology and philosophy of science, and taught those subjects as an assistant professor at Duns Scotus College in Detroit.

THOMAS OF CELANO, an early biographer and contemporary of Francis of Assisi, wrote: “Even for worms he had a warm love, since he had read about the Savior: I am a worm and not a man. That is why he used to pick them up from the roads and put them in a safe place so that they would not be crushed by the footsteps of passersby....”

A spiritual practice? A theological teaching? Or just another quaint little story about Francis of Assisi, the friend of the birds and the bees? What led Pope John Paul II to name Francis the patron saint of ecology in 1980?

In this small book, Delio sets out to explore these questions about Francis of Assisi and his early followers. She has produced a true jewel in what promises to be a treasure chest: the Franciscan Heritage Series of publications.

Delio helps us to understand the theological foundations of such current questions as:

Why should I bother recycling those plastic milk bottles?

Is there anything that will help pro-choice supporters understand that a living fetus is to be reverenced and not discarded in a garbage can?

What can explain the sense of the sacred I experienced standing among the forests of redwoods and giant sequoias in California?

Who cares about spotted owls?

Delio’s concluding chapter (“What Is Ours to Do?”) applies Franciscan insights to the real world.

Is this just another “tree-hugger” book? Or does Delio accomplish her goal of helping us develop “a new Franciscan consciousness [that] also means an awareness of the intrinsic value of everything that exists...a way of seeing Christ?”

I emphatically believe that Delio does achieve her goal. The three chapters that form the heart of this little book help us see the intimate link between the material world of creation and that marvelous mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation.

Francis of Assisi was not a scholar. Some say his gift was that of a “vernacular theologian” or a nature mystic. Delio shows us that Francis’ famous “Canticle of the Creatures” was the result of his lifelong love affair with the crucified Christ. Francis came to see all of nature as the “sacramental expression of God’s generous love.” Because all of creation is united in Christ, one who loves Christ as Francis did has to be united to everything in a family of love relationships as “sister and brother.”

Francis was followed by two Franciscan scholarly theologians who absorbed his spirit and reflected on his mystical experiences. St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio writes, “Christ embraces something of every creature in himself.” In other words, the fullness of this incarnate Word embraces the whole of creation. In the next century Blessed John Duns Scotus develops the Christocentric teaching that every creature is an outward expression of the Word of God through whom all things are made.

I make Delio’s masterful synthesis of the lives and teachings of these three lovers of the cosmic Christ sound simple. But I recall all too well the glazed looks of my students in medieval scholastic philosophy as I tried to explain Bonaventure’s doctrine of exemplarism! Not to mention Duns Scotus’s teaching on haecceitas (or “thisness”)! Delio’s ability to demystify the teachings of these intellectual giants leaves me thoroughly humbled.

For anyone with a modicum of scholastic background (or intellectual curiosity), the chapters on Duns Scotus and Bonaventure will be a delight as the readers finally understand what these Franciscans were trying to convey. Others might be amazed that they really do get the point. But the chapter on Francis of Assisi will be worth the book by itself. Now you will appreciate why he felt such a deep relationship with a leper and brother wolf—and could hug both. It was easy for him after embracing the love of the crucified Christ.

Thank you, Ilia, for this gem!

You can order A FRANCISCAN VIEW OF CREATION: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin started Earth Day, first observed on April 22, 1970, as an opportunity to educate people about the environment. Besides having scientific and political aspects, environmentalism has theological, spiritual and poetic dimensions.

WHAT ARE THEY SAYING ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL THEOLOGY?, by John Hart (Paulist Press, 166 pp., $14.95), explores official statements from the Vatican and American bishops, plus theologians like Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry, Leonardo Boff and Ivone Gebara. A whole body of Catholic ecojustice teachings has developed since the Second Vatican Council, contends this professor.

EARTH PRAYERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD: 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations for Honoring the Earth, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (HarperSanFrancisco, 451 pp., $15, U.S./$22, Canada), starts with the awareness that we are body and spirit, one with the Earth and with all creation. These incredibly diverse thoughts and prayers can help heal what we have disrupted and polluted.

A POETIC APPROACH TO ECOLOGY, by Peter Milward (Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, 210 pp., $14.95). This Jesuit expert on Shakespeare, Hopkins and Chesterton thinks we won’t be able to harmonize man and nature until we acknowledge the mess we have made of things and reconcile with God, who can put all things right.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6493, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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