INVITATION TO CATHOLICISM: Beliefs + Teachings
+ Practices, by Alice Camille. ACTA Publications. 240
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
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 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.
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
Reviewed by JOHN B. TURNBULL, O.F.M., ordained in 1955 and in parochial ministry
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
You can order Letters From the Hearth from St.
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
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.
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.
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