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PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR ULTIMATE DECISIONS

Q U I C K S C A N

MEDICAL CARE AT THE END OF LIFE: A Catholic Perspective
THE LAST WEEK: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem
THE COLLEGEVILLE CHURCH HISTORY TIME-LINE
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN HISTORY: Legend and Reality
KEY MOMENTS IN CHURCH HISTORY: A Concise Introduction to the Catholic Church
CONSPIRACY AND IMPRISONMENT, 1940-1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16
Living in Easter's Light


MEDICAL CARE AT THE END OF LIFE: A Catholic Perspective, by David F. Kelly. Georgetown University Press. 192 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by MARK WILKINS, a teacher of religion at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati and a college adjunct lecturer in health-care ethics.

THIS IS A RARE perspective on healthcare issues. David Kelly, who has worked as a chaplain in hospitals and nursing homes and on their ethics boards, has also taught at Duquesne University. His book is a practical guide for thinking about decisions that more and more people face every day.

Kelly draws on the long history of medical ethics in the Roman Catholic tradition, as well as contemporary American law and public policy. He also focuses on formal papal statements and current events.

This is not a lengthy book, but is in no way superficial. There is a lot packed into the 192 pages and eight chapters.

Chapters 1 through 5 develop what Kelly calls the “American consensus” on forgoing treatment. First, since the 1990s, Kelly says, there is a greater sense that not all treatments that prolong biological life are beneficial to the patient. In the Catholic context, this has been debated as the difference between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” means.

Second, he argues, there is a moral difference between killing someone and allowing a terminally ill patient to die. Active euthanasia and termination of futile medical treatments are not in the same moral order. Decisions to forgo treatment can be changed if conditions warrant reassessment, but active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is a definitive and final choice.

Kelly points out that in the U.S. legal system these two insights have combined to produce the legal concepts of autonomy, privacy and liberty. Taken as a whole, these are the foundation for the current consensus, which would have been impossible had the first two pillars not already been developed in Catholic moral theology.

The “ordinary” versus “extraordinary” distinction has its roots in the 16th century, with the discussion furthered in the 18th century by St. Alphonsus Liguori. This point was emphasized by the teaching of Pope Pius XII in the 1950s. Kelly stresses that this is a moral—rather than a medical—distinction based on the Catholic understanding of the meaning of human life. Some of his distinctions will surprise the casual observer, but not the thoughtful reader.

Chapters 6 through 8 cover feeding tubes, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, then medical futility. Each of these issues covers a specific application of the general principles presented in the first five chapters. The author combines legal precedents, personal experiences and specific cases to build his arguments. He doesn’t quibble over minor points or oversimplify dissenting views.

The very best sections in the book are the ones that he devotes to Terri Schiavo’s case and Pope John Paul II’s allocution on hydration and nutrition. Both deal with whether hydration and nutrition are morally ordinary treatment for patients in a persistent or permanent vegetative state (PVS).

Kelly writes: “To claim that treatment can be morally extraordinary only when the person’s death is imminent, regardless of whether the treatment is given, is to give biological life itself an absolute value that supercedes all other values.”

He finishes by stating that this is a move toward vitalism that would undercut and even eliminate the centuries-old Catholic distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means. This chapter alone is worth the price of the purchase.

My only suggestion to the author would be to add a concluding chapter to give an overview and synthesis of all the points he has covered. The book just seems to end.

On the positive side, there is much to recommend this book. It is probably accessible for most readers who keep up with current events. Interestingly, Kelly asserts that Catholic medical ethics is ahead (in many cases) of recent legal and policy debates. The Church has been discussing these issues for hundreds of years. Only the specifics of each case change as the technology changes.

His handling of the Terri Schiavo case is an excellent example of the nuance and perspective that both his experience and scholarship bring. Too often these books are written by well-intentioned authors who are either scholars or health-care professionals. Kelly has the advantage of being both. He has written a book that should get a wide audience among laypeople and professionals alike. Maybe they should talk to each other afterward.

You can order MEDICAL CARE AT THE END OF LIFE: A Catholic Perspective from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE LAST WEEK: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. HarperSanFrancisco. 240 pp. Hardover, $21.95, U.S./$28.95, Canada; paperback, $13.95. (Also available in large-print paperback for $21.95 and as an audio CD for $32.95.)

Reviewed by JORIS HEISE, the author of Hosannas of an Ordinary Life (Authorhouse) and Literature: Discovering Ourselves Through Great Books (American Press). He lives in Waynesville, Illinois, with his wife.

THIS BOOK OFFERS a prayerful guide through the last week of Jesus’ life, as Mark’s Gospel tells it. Acknowledging the Catholic understanding of inerrancy and inspiration, the authors insist that, for Mark’s Gospel, the writer selected and arranged events to show what faith in Jesus means. Mark’s readers see Jesus’ last week less as disconnected memories and more as a coherent parable designed to bolster their faith.

The authors were both fellows in the Jesus Seminar. Marcus J. Borg is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. He is also president of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a regular columnist for Beliefnet.com. John Dominic Crossan, a Catholic, is a professor emeritus in religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

Borg and Crossan note that Mark’s Gospel frames Holy Week in terms of time: “In the morning,” “When it was evening” and so on. The two authors make it clear that, no matter what the factuality, this Gospel “frames” moments to correspond to one another, and indicates prophetic acts by comparing befores and afters, this event with that one.

Mark’s Gospel, for example, contrasts Jesus’ Kingdom with human “domination systems,” such as that of Rome. Domination systems use military, political, social and economic means to control people. This Gospel contrasts the “way” of Jesus with how Rome and its Jewish collaborators oppressed people.

The authors ask us, for example, to consider Palm Sunday. Pontius Pilate’s entrance into Jerusalem for Passover is not mentioned in the Bible. Mark’s readers, however, would compare Jesus’ modest entrance into Jerusalem with that of the Roman procurator. Jesus rides humbly while the oppressor parades triumphantly. Followers of Jesus should reject Rome’s domination system and any Jewish accomplices.

That domination system brought Jesus to his cross. His resurrection, however, shows that it is Jesus who is the true Lord, the real Son of God, not the Roman emperor.

A second feature of Jesus’ last week in Mark’s Gospel emphasizes how much Jesus’ closest followers misunderstood him. The Gospel singles out the failures of Peter, John and James (Jesus’ inner circle). Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joses), Salome and “many other women,” on the contrary, follow Jesus on his way of the cross and to his grave. Because of their loyalty, it is these women who first see him risen.

This book also argues for us to reconsider the belief that Jesus redeemed us by substitution. According to this theological misconception, Jesus substituted for us like a sacrificial lamb. God demanded payment for sin, and, in place of us, Jesus accepted the wrath of God directed at human sinfulness. His innocence substituted for our guilt.

This whole notion is absent from Mark’s Gospel. Instead, it emphasizes our participation in Jesus’ suffering; we are redeemed by sharing his passion to confront the abuse of political power. Jesus fought injustice passionately and was martyred by legitimate, though unjust, authorities. By partnering with him now in courageous passion for God’s justice in this world, we come to share his ongoing Resurrection.

Presenting the “harrowing of hell,” “apocalyptic eschatology” and the conflicting accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, the authors bog down in theology. Nonetheless, readers can see clearly the approach they are offering—that this Gospel uses parabolic, or mythic, language to tell meaningful truth.

The value of this book is that Borg and Crossan offer us a view of Mark’s Gospel as parable rather than as history. Like Jesus himself, Mark’s Gospel uses parabolic language to teach. “Parable[s],” the authors write on page 193, “independently of historical factuality, can be profoundly true. Indeed, it may be that the most important truths can be expressed only in parable.”

Centuries ago, humanists of the Enlightenment convinced even religious people that truth is limited to scientifically provable facts; that is not how Jesus taught people his Way. The most profound truths come to us in stories that cannot easily fit into facts or analysis.

It should be no surprise to find out that Mark’s Gospel sees the last week of Jesus’ life not as facts but as truth told in structured, meaningful parables.

You can order THE LAST WEEK: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE COLLEGEVILLE CHURCH HISTORY TIME-LINE, by Joseph F. Kelly. Liturgical Press. 24 pp., plus a six-page foldout time-line. $12.95.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN HISTORY: Legend and Reality, by Keith D. Lewis. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 183 pp. $19.95.

KEY MOMENTS IN CHURCH HISTORY: A Concise Introduction to the Catholic Church, by Mitch Finley. Rowman & Littlefield. 195 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication and a lifelong student of history, especially Church history.

CATHOLIC BOOKSTORES these days give more shelf space to Church history than they did a few years ago. The success of The Da Vinci Code book and movie has caused some people to learn more about their Church’s story.

Anyone seeking a short overview of the history of the Catholic Church should find Kelly’s book extremely helpful. Chair of the religious studies department at John Carroll University in Cleveland, he devotes a single page to each century (except the 21st, which gets two pages), explaining each era’s principal challenges and developments.

Ten maps, plus 28 photos or drawings, strongly reinforce the text. The foldout time-line lists significant people, missions, Church councils, books, organizations or buildings, political or cultural events, plus conflicts.

In the second book, instead of trying to cover all of Church history, Lewis concentrates on seven “hot button” topics: the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Martin Luther, 16th-century colonization, Galileo, plus Pius XII and the Nazis.

A professor of Church history at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California, Lewis strives to “help the reader to a clearer understanding of how objectively to place the topic within the larger context of Roman Catholicism.”

People who mistakenly assume that they know these seven topics well may be surprised at what they learn from this book. Every chapter contains surprises. For example, prior to his flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D., Muhammad emphasized the importance of Moses; later he stressed Abraham. Before the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, approximately half that city’s population was Christian.

The Spanish Inquisition was a network of regional tribunals but not a single organization. Jesuit missionaries initially enjoyed greater freedom in lands colonized by the Portuguese than in areas under Spanish control.

By 1932, the German bishops collectively endorsed a ban on joining the Nazis—though some bishops dissented. According to Donald Dietrich, between 1870 and 1894, approximately one third of the anti-Semitic literature was written by French priests.

What Lewis does, he does well. I was surprised that his chapter on Martin Luther made no reference to the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification, which had been a key issue during the Reformation.

This volume includes 10 pages of Endnotes and a six-page Index.

The Finley volume is the third edition of this text. In the Introduction, he writes, “One of the most important lessons a volume such as this can offer is that change in the Church is not only nothing to fear but is necessary for the Church to remain faithful to its true identity.”

Many of Finley’s 30 books have been reviewed in these pages. He tells this story well in 11 chapters. His 10 pages of Endnotes show that he has read widely, especially the works of Thomas Bokenkotter, John Dwyer, Roger Aubert and Hubert Jedin. He has also consulted Anthony Gilles, whose books have been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Finley has a master’s in theology from Marquette University.

There are, however, several mistakes that should be corrected in a future edition: Cicero wasn’t a Greek philosopher but a Roman statesman; it was Pella in Jordan and not northern Greece that was the refuge for Jerusalem Christians in 70 A.D.; an incorrect date for the First Crusade is given; the terms Cistercian and Trappist are not interchangeable; Pope Gregory IX was not alive at the time of one reference; the Council of Trent did not issue the Roman Missal (although it set this in motion); and the title of Vatican I’s document about papal infallibility is given incorrectly.

I was quite surprised that St. Benedict of Nursia is not mentioned in Finley’s volume, which gives very little attention to monasticism. Finley, a husband and father, apparently finds U.S. parishes to be more anti-family than I have observed.

Librarians will appreciate this volume’s nine-page Index.

Studying Church history can be frustrating, but this subject is never dull with guides such as Kelly, Lewis and Finley.

You can order THE COLLEGEVILLE CHURCH HISTORY TIME-LINE, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN HISTORY: Legend and Reality and KEY MOMENTS IN CHURCH HISTORY: A Concise Introduction to the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

CONSPIRACY AND IMPRISONMENT, 1940-1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16, edited by Mark S. Brocker and translated by Lisa E. Dahill & Douglas W. Stott. Fortress Press. 882 pp. $60.

Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M., editor of Homily Helps, published by St. Anthony Messenger Press.

IN MANY WAYS this is a terrific book. Top-notch scholarship, it documents the last six years of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and the experiences of the Confessing Church (Protestant groups who confessed the gospel and resisted the Nazi government). Historians will find it a gold mine of material for understanding many important events of 1940-1945 in Germany.

But this is a complicated book. There are so many names, dates, German institutions and offices mentioned, and so many footnotes and cross references that it is easy to get confused.

The “Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition,” however, provides helpful background for following the course of events. Later in the book there is an “Editors’ [there are three editors for the German edition] Afterword to the German Edition” that helps to complete the picture. My recommendation to those brave enough to undertake the monumental task of reading this book is to read the Introduction and Afterword first.

The book has three parts. Part 1 is “Letters and Documents,” which contains mostly letters by Bonhoeffer to family, friends, fellow ministers in Germany and elsewhere. They reveal an affectionate human being, a zealous pastor and a hopeful ecumenist, a lover of classical music and a man who loves his country but must plot against its evil government.

Bonhoeffer was also a man in love. He became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, but was imprisoned before he could marry her. His letters to her are restrained but indicative of a loving and caring heart.

Part 1 ends with various letters and documents connected with the imprisonment and indictment of Bonhoeffer and some of his friends. The final piece is a letter from a friend of Bonhoeffer informing another friend of Bonhoeffer’s execution, which took place in Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945.

Part 2, “Essays and Notes,” and Part 3, “Sermons and Meditations,” are short, but give us a taste of Bonhoeffer’s theology and spirituality.

Yes, this book is difficult. Yet one feature of this book was especially helpful and even fascinating, namely, the “Index of Names.” There are 76 pages of names. Repeatedly, I found myself checking names that appear in Bonhoeffer’s letters. Gradually, I got to know a number of Bonhoeffer’s friends and acquaintances who were especially involved in his life. They became quite real. It was sad to find some of them executed before the end of the war. It was also consoling to find that some escaped the horrible death he suffered.

The book prompts some questions: How much did Bonhoeffer struggle in conscience while conspiring to put an end to Hitler? How was he able to concentrate on theology in such precarious circumstances? (It was during this difficult time that he worked on his Ethics.) Was it his prayer life that sustained him?

Such questions may lead us to ask questions of ourselves: What would we have done in his place? How would we act in such precarious circumstances? And the more pertinent and impertinent question: What are we doing to resist and counteract the evils of our time—and in our hearts?

This book may not be a book for all, but it prompts us to appreciate a man whom many consider a martyr for Christ. His life and death may also inspire the reader to a greater love of the gospel.

You can order CONSPIRACY AND IMPRISONMENT, 1940-1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16 from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Living in Easter's Light

The central feast of the Church’s liturgical year challenges us to find new ways to let it nourish our faith.

STATIONS OF THE LIGHT: Renewing the Ancient Christian Practice of the Via Lucis as a Spiritual Tool for Today, by Mary Ford-Grabowsky (Image Books/Doubleday, 214 pp., $11.95, U.S.; $16.95, Canada). This lovely devotion, recognized by the Vatican in its Jubilee 2000 celebration, marks 14 events in the post-Easter story. The Via Lucis draws its inspiration from an ancient inscription in the Roman catacombs.

LIVING EASTER THROUGH THE YEAR: Making the Most of the Resurrection, by John Pritchard (Liturgical Press, 133 pp., $12.95). The empty tomb—that symbol of resurrection—was rolled away to let us in, points out this Anglican bishop of Jarrow, England. This little book is full of reflections, worship ideas, poetry and resources on how to extend the Easter message throughout our lives.

LENT AND EASTER WISDOM FROM POPE JOHN PAUL II, compiled by John V. Kruse, Ph.D. (Liguori, 116 pp., $9.95), and IMAGES OF HOPE: Meditations on Major Feasts, by Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) (Ignatius Press, 107 pp., $14.95). Both papal meditations focus on this season—and beyond.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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