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INVITATION TO CATHOLICISM: Beliefs + Teachings + Practices, by Alice Camille. ACTA Publications. 240 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher and coach at Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School for 26 years who holds an M.A. in theology from Marquette University. He also has three years experience in retreat work and has been an adjunct lecturer in theology at two colleges.

FOR MANY PEOPLE, Catholicism is an either/or proposition. It can seem foreboding and institutional, like a trip back to the Middle Ages or to a foreign planet. But it can also be a nurturing home where faith comes alive.

Invitation to Catholicism is a succinct profile of Catholic beliefs and Church teachings. Alice Camille, an award-winning columnist for U.S. Catholic magazine, has written a book that will be helpful to inquirers, catechumens and lifelong Catholics.

The organization of this book is based on the author’s firsthand experience as a religious educator working in adult formation and RCIA programs. Invitation to Catholicism starts at the point where so many of my students are, whether at the college or high school level.

Religious truth, Camille says, does not challenge other disciplines, like science, or attempt to replace them. Religious truth addresses the matter of meaning and purpose and direction that exist beyond (or beneath) the questions that other disciplines ask.

She also asks the reader to remember that acquiring information about faith is not the same as having it and living it. With that in mind, the author includes topics for reflection, discussion, prayer or exploration at the end of each chapter.

The next three chapters focus on the Trinity as revealed in Scripture. Camille does a wonderful job of seamlessly weaving the best from theology and Scripture study together. Chapter Five is about the Church. She claims it is “Sandbox Theology 101.” I think she does a masterful job of getting to the essence of the subject.

The following three chapters are about the sacraments, not just receiving them but also living them. Camille does use broad brush strokes to explain terms like sign, symbol and sacrament—but in a way that does not oversimplify.

For example, she writes about the Eucharist that we are all people who hunger, and so our God comes to us as food. The other chapters also ask the reader to pursue a deeper connection to each of the sacraments.

The last four chapters include topics that come up frequently in formation settings: prayer, Mary, morality and the afterlife.

The chapter on prayer, for example, is expansive enough to lead the reader from a consideration of what prayer is and why people pray, to a synopsis of Eucharist as prayer, a consideration of Scriptures (especially the Psalms), Liturgy of the Hours, eucharistic adoration, stations of the cross, the rosary and charismatic prayer. It also touches on retreats, days of recollection, fasting and almsgiving. Amazingly, each is given its due. The Appendix teaches the basic prayers of the Church.

It is hard to know how to review this book, whether as a believer or as a teacher.

As a believer, I found Camille gives me much to consider about issues that I personally struggle with. Many chapters had ideas that challenged, encouraged or filled in the blanks where I had previously come up empty.

The book also got the teacher in me pumped up and enthused. The chapters cover content and process. The author worked hard to make it look simple. Camille covers a lot of ground, but I don’t think she shortchanges any topic.

As she writes in the Afterword, committed or confused Catholics can come away with a deeper appreciation of what is good, true and hopeful in the Church without ignoring the pain or hurt that people cause. Inquirers can read this book for clarification as they consider the community of faith that is the Catholic Church. 

Yesterday I heard a homilist say that the longest journey is often from the head to the heart. He stated that the logic and structure of Catholicism connect to us intellectually while the Good News that we are redeemed through God’s love in Jesus Christ should touch our hearts. He challenged the audience to make the connection in their lives.

For people looking for a friendly guide in how to make that journey in a thoughtful and prayerful way, I recommend this book.

You can order INVITATION TO CATHOLICISM: Beliefs + Teachings + Practices from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE JOY OF USHERS AND HOSPITALITY MINISTERS: Making a Place for Others, by Gretchen Hailer, R.S.H.M. Resurrection Press (an imprint of Catholic Book Publishing Company). 60 pp. $5.95.

GUIDE FOR SACRISTANS, by Christine Neff. Liturgy Training Publications. 57 pp. $5.

Reviewed by JOHN B. TURNBULL, O.F.M., ordained in 1955 and in parochial ministry ever since.

PARISH MINISTERS, take note: These two small books, while not perfect, may give some guidance to those who perform the vital parish roles of usher and sacristan.

Sister Gretchen Hailer believes joy is inherent in “making a place for others.” She uses case stories to illustrate her point about hospitality.

But I found some of the “case stories” a bit much to swallow, like the pastor who plants a decoy to pose as a street person as a test to see how welcome he is made to feel.

But even more surprising to this reviewer is the usher who is praised for the hospitality demonstrated in giving two bags of Cheerios to parents of a small child. No mention was made as to whether that usher’s hospitality was shown in cleaning up the dropped Cheerios for the next service.

I would have liked to have seen more emphasis given to the fact that the ushers do not replace the importance of the whole assembly being welcoming.

It may be outside the scope of this book, but I would also have liked to have read more about how the ushers are themselves to “model” participation in the liturgy. Too often the ushers seem to have their own agenda, conversation, busyness. I must admit that I may be conditioned by stories of ushers who were in the habit of going across the street during the sermon (it wasn’t a “homily” in those days) to a conveniently located pub until time to take up the collection. (A similar scenario was described on a recent Everybody Loves Raymond episode.)

As for the book intended for sacristans, I can imagine a pastor assuring a potential sacristan and saying, “Not to worry. I have this handy little book that will tell you everything you need to know.” And then I can see the hot prospect returning it to the pastor, saying, “No, thanks. It is more than I think I can handle.”

All this is to say that the book seems to deliver too much and hence is a bit intimidating. But, if a person can overcome the initial feeling of being overcome by incense fumes or some other mishap, the book does cover a great deal and would be a help to both the rookie and veteran sacristan. The best approach might be to regard it as a smorgasbord offering many tasty treats from which to pick.

In some ways, the sacristan envisioned in the book is a bigger player now in the parish’s liturgical life than in the past. In these days of fewer clergy, an increased sacristan role might well prove to be a blessing.

You can order The Joy of Ushers and Hospitality Ministers:
Making a Place for Others
and Guide For Sacristans from St. Francis Bookshop.

THOU ART THAT: Transforming Religious Metaphor, by Joseph Campbell, edited by Eugene Kennedy, Ph.D. New World Library. 114 pp. $20.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, longtime religion writer for The Detroit News.

FOLLOW YOUR BLISS. That advice by teacher, author and mythology specialist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was originally penned in his 1949 work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a classic chronicling the hero’s archetypal journey. “Follow your bliss” attracted me to be an avid reader of Campbell ever since first reading those lines.

In this volume, the inaugural book of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, editor Eugene Kennedy gathers Campbell’s thoughts on metaphor and culture’s misinterpretation of symbols, for example. Campbell’s works have been the focus of numerous public broadcasting television programs, particularly interviews with Bill Moyers in 1988.

Campbell starts Thou Art That by confessing: “My beliefs, however, fell apart because the church read and then presented its symbols in concrete terms. I was born and grew up a Catholic, and I was a very devoted Catholic. For a long time I had a terrible resentment...and I couldn’t even think of going into a Catholic church.”

The power of Christian symbols and their meanings in people’s lives are uncovered by Campbell. Yet he complains that signs and symbols point beyond the self, moving one away from their inner purpose for man and woman. Taking a more Eastern approach to religion, this myth man calls for an awakening of the heart of people to the relationship with the Divine and that experience.

Furthermore, understanding myth, signs, symbols and stories so literally in the Western world robs one of the richness of metaphor. Campbell wants people to uncover once more the depth of metaphor’s underlying truths for living.

Thou art that—"you yourself are it"—suggests the individual’s identification and experience with the mystery and transcendence of God. Social institutions prevent this application of metaphor, Campbell asserts. He seems to claim that one’s experience is suspect without a structure to define the meaning of metaphor for one’s life. A Thomistic principle is that grace builds upon human nature without destroying it. The inner quest can seem scary to enter, for some.

Campbell asserts that a deeper, spiritual message resides beyond any literal and historical event. Consequently, many move to meditation to complement their cultural interpretations of symbol and story, to illustrate Campbell’s concerns.

Making mystery and symbol too rational, according to Campbell, loses its power. Campbell decries the vernacular, for example, suggesting that the Latin Mass pulled one directly into transcendence.

Campbell sees themes in his study of the American Indian culture linked with beliefs of the Catholic Church.

A good read, Thou Art That had this reader identifying in so many ways with the earthy wisdom of story, sign, symbol and imagination. It validates the “right brain” and imaginative part of the spiritual quest, the common global themes resonating through all the major world religions.

You can order Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor from St. Francis Bookshop.

LETTERS FROM THE HEARTH, by Father Dan Madigan. Sacramento Food Bank Services (333 Third Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95817, phone 916-456-1980). 288 pp. $22, including shipping and handling.

Reviewed by GRACE ERTEL, a member of the American Society of Journalists & Authors, who has been published in over 150 publications both in the United States and abroad.

FATHER DAN MADIGAN’S newest book, a beautifully illustrated coffee-table edition, consists of many of his letters sent to the supporters of the Sacramento Food Bank Services (SFBS), which he began in a less affluent section of that city over 25 years ago.

It’s said the Irish are great storytellers and, according to Father Dan, sitting around the hearth at the end of the day was storytelling time in his native Ireland. He recalls hearing conversations as a child about many Irish immigrants to the United States, who described places such as the boroughs of New York and the Statue of Liberty, places he could only dream of at the time.

His many poignant and chatty letters written chiefly late at night by the fireside reflect his philosophy of giving and the plight of the less affluent. Having served in both rich and poor parishes, Father Dan finds both poverty and affluence can exist side by side with little communication as the two worlds seldom mix.

His original food bank grew to provide not only “fish” but also the “know-how and the facility to learn to fish.” The 140 letters to SFBS supporters cover the period from June 1984 to December 2000, and 140 full-page color photographs illustrate the text.

In one letter he describes the needy as they stand in line for food and other services as “the mentally ill, the chronically unemployed, the unskilled workers, the physically and socially handicapped, the illiterates and many, many moms with their ragged, unkempt children.”

Today, the SFBS not only feeds the poor and clothes the needy but also provides some housing for the homeless, educates the illiterate, provides moms with guidance and necessary baby items, and furnishes seniors with a social club and meaningful volunteer work. It also offers early childhood education and strengthens families through a program of ethics and self-esteem. Many mentors have been recruited for these programs.

Some of the photos show beautiful scenery while most show people of all walks of life. The latter will tug at the heartstrings, like the photo of the homeless man, head bowed, sitting on a curb with his “whole world stuffed into a shopping cart.” Another shows some Mien refugees from northern Laos working a garden plot. With no schooling or exposure to Western civilization, farming is all they know and so SFBS volunteers made this work possible.

    Some letters ponder the problem of the growing gap between the rich and poor where many hardworking, low-paid family people or the elderly on fixed incomes cannot stretch their resources to cover the necessities. He points out that it takes $1,000,000 to house a lifer, and $100,000 to build one cell. Despite this knowledge, California has built 20 prisons and only two universities in the last 10 years.

Father Dan urges all to “try Christ’s way”: “...together we will promote kindness and downplay the toughness I feel is presently sweeping over our land.”

You can order Letters From the Hearth from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE TRINITY’S EMBRACE: God’s Saving Plan, by Pope John Paul II. Pauline Books and Media. 493 pp. $22.95.

FIRST COMES LOVE: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, by Scott Hahn. Doubleday. 212 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by MARIA KEMPER, a theology undergraduate at Franciscan University, where Dr. Hahn teaches, and an editorial intern with St. Anthony Messenger.

“IT’S A MYSTERY. We can’t explain it.” The Trinity is sometimes viewed as a dogma completely unknowable and thus beyond the reach of any human author since St. Thomas Aquinas. Both Pope John Paul II and Dr. Scott Hahn, however, shatter this myth with their scholarly and inspirational works.

The Daughters of St. Paul, continuing the pope’s series, Catechesis on the Creed, have as their most recent volume The Trinity’s Embrace: God’s Saving Plan. This work explores each Person’s role in salvation history, the essential communion between them and the human response to share in that communion.

Scott Hahn, a prolific Catholic author, has contributed his wisdom to the topic of family and the Trinity in his book First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity.

Pope John Paul II, known for his depth of insight, again presents his audience with a knock-your-socks-off work. This is not light reading, but a meaty, encyclical-like volume compiled from the pope’s Wednesday audiences. Despite its difficulty, it is a worthwhile read not only for the scholarship but also for gems of thought and pearls of wisdom for meditation.

Most authors wouldn’t touch a topic as immense as salvation history, but John Paul II is clearly up to the challenge. He breaks it down into sections: Salvation History, the Holy Spirit, the Father, the Son, the Trinity, and the Eucharist and the Kingdom. The overarching theme is “God’s gradual communication of himself to humanity, which reaches its summit in Jesus Christ....This divine self-communication takes place in the Holy Spirit, the bond of love between eternity and time, the Trinity and history.”

Rooted in a deep love for humankind, the pope challenges each reader to truly “find himself through a sincere gift of himself.” Life on earth should mirror heaven’s community of love. One way we can do this is through participation in the love of family, the earthly counterpart of Trinitarian love.

This volume makes an ideal reference for adult Catholics or cate-chists, as well as college students. The topical index in the back is helpful for those doing research. Anyone who wishes to know just what the Church teaches on the Trinity will certainly find it an invaluable resource.

Those who want a simple way to explore the mystery of the Trinitarian family will enjoy Scott Hahn’s book. It is an extended meditation on the role the family plays in the divine life. This work is extremely readable, for it takes the weighty theological ideas presented by the pope and presents them in lay terms, using images of home and family, fatherhood and motherhood, to understand the nature of God and God’s love for us.

First Comes Love is especially timely in this age that degrades the bonds of family. His book shows the reader the holiness inherent in the marriage covenant. With wit and warmth, he encourages husbands and wives to strengthen the bonds of their own families by uniting them with the family of God, the Church.

Perfect for Catholic married couples, this work is also appropriate for those looking to start a family of their own or anyone with family ties they wish to strengthen. It is a soundly developed, simple (yet not simplistic) meditation on the Trinity.

These two works, similar in theme and yet so different in style, complement each other nicely. For those focusing on scholarly research on Church teaching, The Trinity’s Embrace is sure to be a well-thumbed reference. For those who want a practical application of this wisdom, First Comes Love is certain to be a treasure.

You can order The Trinity's Embrace: God’s Saving Plan and First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity from St. Francis Bookshop.

LEO THE LIGHTNING BUG, by Eric Drachman. Illustrated by James Muscarello. Kidwick Books. 32 pp. $18.95 with audio CD.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this publication, and her three-year-old daughter, Madison.

I’M ALWAYS LOOKING for new books to read to my daughter—especially ones that I won’t mind reading over and over again, as often happens. Leo the Lightning Bug is one of those books.

The book focuses on Leo’s struggle with self-confidence as he tries to get his light to shine just like his friends. Despite being teased for his attempts, Leo continues to believe in himself and eventually gets his light to shine.

This is a wonderful story for kids about believing in yourself. The beautiful color illustrations enhance the story even more.

An added bonus to this book is the accompanying audio CD that allows readers to become part of Leo’s world and enjoy the book without the help of an adult.

Leo the Lightning Bug has definitely made its way onto Madison’s most-read list. And that’s O.K. with Mom.

You can order Leo the Lightning Bug from St. Francis Bookshop.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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