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Abandoning Our Spiritual Roots is Suicide


THE CUBE AND THE CATHEDRAL: Europe, America, and Politics Without God
TRUTH AND TOLERANCE: Christian Belief and World Religions
THE JOURNEY: A Guide for the Modern Pilgrim
GOD'S BELOVED: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen
THE LOST ART OF WALKING ON WATER: Reimagining the Priesthood

THE CUBE AND THE CATHEDRAL: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, by George Weigel. Basic Books. 224 pp. $23.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

LONG AGO, I learned that I need to teach against my biases and assumptions if I want my students to do the same. Reading books that challenge my thinking helps me do that.

The latest book to challenge me is The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel’s 12th book. Weigel is a Roman Catholic theologian and biographer of Pope John Paul II (Witness to Hope). He was one of the TV commentators summing up the legacy of the pope at the time of his death and funeral.

Here, Weigel has written a carefully argued and easily accessible book which warns that Europe’s abandonment of its political, cultural and spiritual roots places in jeopardy international democracy, human rights and the content of Western civilization.

The cube refers to the glass-and-marble La Grande Arche that Francois Mitterand intended as a human-rights monument. The cathedral refers to one of Paris’s other great monuments—the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Weigel was struck by the differences between the two—not only in their architectural features but also in terms of the cultures they represent.

In the last part of the 20th century, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq War, deep ties and allegiances between Western Europe (except for Great Britain) and the United States had begun to fray.

Weigel does not explain this by citing political or military differences. Instead, he looks at the furious debate in Europe in 2004 over whether or not to include the role of Christianity in the 70,000-word Constitution for the European Union for some clues to unravel this European problem.

In building his argument, he relies heavily on Father Henri de Lubac, S.J., who noted that the atheism of the 20th century was not just a questioning by skeptical individuals but an atheistic humanism that had a developed ideology and a plan for remaking the world.

This has led to a modern view that secularism should be the world’s highest ideal in order to leave behind all the problems and wars caused by religion in the past. This is a new Europe with a new vision.

For Weigel, this is an argument over the meaning of freedom: freedom for excellence or freedom as willfulness. It continues the debate over Thomas Aquinas’s natural-law views and the nominalists who follow William of Ockham. Aquinas lists freedom as the defining reality while Ockham emphasizes one’s will. This in turn leads to different understandings of law, common good and tolerance.

According to Weigel, this is the difference between having a sustainable and shared culture or having subcultures live side by side as long as no one gets hurt.

Those who won the debate in 2004 would answer in the affirmative, but the latter part of Weigel’s book argues that they are seriously mistaken. His resolution lies in the person and the papacy of Karol Wojtyla. In John Paul II, Weigel sees a thoroughly modern leader who was not proposing a return to the premodern world, but one who continually offered a thoroughly modern alternative reading of the modern world.

Christian humanism is both modern and connected to our civilization’s roots, Weigel says. A thoroughly secular culture (which Europe is and which America is moving toward) from which transcendent referent points for thought and action have disappeared is bad for human freedom and for democracy. Democracy, in the end, rests on the conviction that human beings have an inalienable dignity and value and that freedom is not merely an act of the will.

This is a difficult book to summarize without doing the premises and arguments an injustice. The level of Weigel’s historical and political analysis is quite convincing. Since this is the first of his works I have read, I was caught a little off-guard by his conclusions. Perhaps for too long my filters have blocked a deeper appreciation of what Pope John Paul II stood for and represented in this postmodern world. It’s time to critique my own thinking as thoroughly as I have critiqued that of my students.

This book is accessible to anyone with some basic knowledge of world events; it is challenging to those who think they know the issues in depth.

You can order THE CUBE AND THE CATHEDRAL: Europe, America, and Politics Without God from St. Francis Bookshop.


TRUTH AND TOLERANCE: Christian Belief and World Religions, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Translated by Henry Taylor. Ignatius Press. 284 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication.

IN THE 1990s, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger since 1981, several times addressed the question of world religions and God’s plan of salvation. These efforts ranged from investigations into the writings of Asian theologians Tissa Balasuriya, O.M.I., and Jacques Dupuis, S.J., to CDF’s 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.

The present volume was published in Italian and German in 2003 and in English last November, five months before Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

Four of this book’s five chapters were published between 1964 and 2000. This text addresses how religions “relate to one another peacefully and how they can contribute to the ‘education of the human race’ in the direction of peace.”

In the Preface, Cardinal Ratzinger poses three main questions: “Can truth be recognized? Or, is the question about truth simply inappropriate in the realm of religion and belief? But what meaning does belief then have, what positive meaning does religion have, if it cannot be connected with truth?”

In Part One (The Christian Faith in Its Encounter with Cultures and Religions), Ratzinger presents his chapter “The Unity and Diversity of Religions: The Place of Christianity in the History of Religions,” an Interlude and then a chapter entitled “Faith, Religion, and Culture.”

In Part Two (Religions and the Question of Truth), he offers a Foreword, plus chapters on “The New Questions That Arose in the Nineties: The Position of Faith and Theology Today,” “The Truth of Christianity?” and “Truth—Tolerance—Freedom,” a previously unpublished lecture, which cites references through 2001. Chapter footnotes, a 17-page Index and a two-page Scripture Index complete this volume.

The chapter “New Questions” addresses liberation theology, relativism about truth, the appeal of Asian religions, “New Age” ideas and interreligious dialogue.

In his university lectures at Freising and Bonn (1955 through 1963), Ratzinger explored the philosophy of religion, the history of religions and the importance of world religions. This volume’s first chapter addresses those concerns and was part of a book of essays presented to Karl Rahner, S.J., on the occasion of his 60th birthday. In 1965 the bishops at Vatican II adopted their Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate).

I wish that this volume included a reflection on the Jubilee Request for Pardon service held at St. Peter’s (March 12, 2000). Pope John Paul II presided and Cardinal Ratzinger read the following petition: “Let us pray that each one of us, looking to the Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, will recognize that even men of the Church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth.”

You can order TRUTH AND TOLERANCE: Christian Belief and World Religions from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE JOURNEY: A Guide for the Modern Pilgrim, by María Ruiz Scaperlanda and Michael Scaperlanda. Loyola Press. 257 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by MITCH FINLEY, author of more than 30 books for Catholic readers, including Whispers of God’s Love: Touching the Lives of Loved Ones After Death and 101 Ways to Happiness: Nourishing Body, Mind and Soul (both Liguori Publications).

THE IDEA of going on a pilgrimage as a spiritual exercise goes back to at least the Middle Ages, and has become popular again in recent years, too.

When María Scaperlanda decided to participate in one of the most famous pilgrimages a couple of years ago—to Santiago de Compostela in Spain—it not only proved to be a worthwhile exercise spiritually but also led to the writing of a book that anyone curious about going on a pilgrimage will find helpful and inspiring.

The authors, husband and wife, shared the writing of the book, alternating chapters. The 10 chapters discuss how to recognize the call to go on pilgrimage, cultivating a pilgrim heart, how to choose the right pilgrimage for you, lessons from pilgrims in Scripture, finding friends and companions for your pilgrimage, getting spiritual guidance for the interior dimension of a pilgrimage, how to make any travel take on a sacred dimension, offering hospitality to pilgrims where you are, dealing with obstacles and the process of coming home again.

Helpful appendices offer suggestions for pilgrimages to choose from, suggestions for keeping a pilgrimage journal, “Top Ten” suggestions from the authors, and a listing of travel agencies, pilgrim associations and Web sites that can be helpful. Finally, there is a bibliography for further reading on pilgrimages.

One of my favorite chapters is entitled “Getting Help for the Interior Journey.” María discusses keeping a journal as a spiritual practice, de-votional prayers such as the Way of the Cross and the Rosary, the labyrinth (a spiritual practice that goes back many centuries—see "Labryinths—The Inward Journey"), “walking with Scripture,” being present to the present moment and the central place of the Eucharist. Instead of just saying that a pilgrimage is a spiritual activity, María shows you how to make this a reality.

Among the chapters contributed by Michael, I especially enjoyed “Finding Company on the Way.” His stories about saints and holy people such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) and the place of pilgrimage spirituality in their lives is fascinating, inspirational and informative.

What a wonderful book! Excellent reading any time of year, whether you plan to make a pilgrimage or not.

You can order THE JOURNEY: A Guide for the Modern Pilgrim from St. Francis Bookshop.


GOD'S BELOVED: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, by Michael O’Laughlin. Orbis Books. 198 pp. $16.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian and former member of the St. Anthony Messenger Press Advisory Board.

MICHAEL O’LAUGHLIN, former teaching assistant of Henri Nouwen and a spiritual director, states: “...this book will probably raise as many questions as it resolves.” Obviously a close and devoted friend of Father Nouwen, the author barely skims the surface of the multifaceted personality he wishes to present.

Only the first of the six chapters deals in any chronological sequence with Nouwen’s life. Quotes about him in the other chapters are so fragmented that they can appear to be about another personality entirely.

Nouwen spent his early years in Holland, experienced the effects of the German occupation on his moderately well-to-do family and entered the seminary in 1950. This was a unique time period in Church history, bridging the ultra-conservative years of Pope Pius XII with the more liberal postwar era.

Nouwen requested permission to study psychology, hoping to find a sympathetic, pastoral perspective on the discipline, but no such programs existed at that time in Holland and he failed in two attempts at obtaining doctorates. Serving as chaplain on some Holland America cruises introduced him to the United States, where he completed some studies at the Menninger Clinic, served on the faculties at University of Notre Dame and Harvard, and was professor/chaplain at Yale before he began his journey into “downward mobility.”

O’Laughlin takes it for granted that the reader is familiar with the principal biographical studies of Nouwen, as well as his works, but devotes most of two chapters to explaining Nouwen’s profile on the Myers-Briggs Typology Inventory.

I found the chapter entitled “An Artist, Not a Scribe” much more illuminating in its comparison of the creation of icons and Nouwen’s evolving spirituality. O’Laughlin writes, “Icons are faithful transmissions, artistically rendered.” Nouwen remained orthodox in his theology but created new ways of presenting the truth.

The novelty and simplicity of his ideas, born from long periods of contemplation, were the hallmarks of his spirituality. Other striking examples of artistic license cited are Michelangelo’s Pietà, with its fusion of biblical scenes of the Annunciation, the Madonna and Child, and the Crucifixion, in addition to Vincent van Gogh, whose impressionistic works have little relation to reality and yet are easily understood as a tableau of what his mind witnessed.

One of Henri Nouwen’s most popular titles, Can You Drink This Cup?, deals with the Eucharist, which he perceived as a shared meal. His final mission was at a home for the severely handicapped, run under the auspices of l’Arche in Toronto, Canada.

O’Laughlin writes: “When Henri Nouwen presided over a Mass at Dayspring chapel, as his Daybreak retreat and residence was called, he sat at a low altar so as not to separate himself from others or raise himself above them....He also wore rich vestments in order to reach even the profoundly retarded with a bright color or a sense of happy celebration....

“In these years, Henri’s path through the service became slow and deliberate. In fact, it seemed like he was enacting a special meditation over each ritual. He put so much feeling into every word and gesture that it seemed as if one were watching Jesus say for the very first time: Take, eat, this is my body which is given up for you.”

Adult readers unfamiliar with Nouwen’s writings will not find this work to be an easily accessible introduction. If you are a Nouwen devotee, however, the random insights, selected quotations and 10-page annotated bibliography could provide a fascinating insight into the factors that formed his spirituality.

You can order GOD'S BELOVED: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE LOST ART OF WALKING ON WATER: Reimagining the Priesthood, by Father Michael Heher. Paulist Press. 178 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by FATHER ROB WALLER, pastor at St. Andrew Catholic Church, Milford, Ohio. A diocesan priest for 30 years, he writes a monthly column for The Catholic Telegraph newspaper.

MARRIAGE ENCOUNTER IS a retreat program that is designed for couples who have been married for a number of years and who have good marriages. Among the beauties of Marriage Encounter are that both the presenters and the participants are married couples, and that presentations are more from the heart than from the head.

The Lost Art of Walking on Water: Reimagining the Priesthood is a “priesthood encounter.” Its eight chapters make a good mini-retreat for parish priests. Michael Heher speaks as a diocesan priest and pastor to the reader, who is assumed to be a diocesan priest and pastor. Each chapter is a conversation, a bit of a chat with his fellow priests, more of a witness than a teacher.

Twice, I think, Father Heher heads off on an obscure theological or spiritual trail, but quickly returns home to the path of real, lived experiences, as if he remembers for whom he is writing and why he is writing.

Much of the book is written in the first-person plural, “we.” That is its charm, its attraction and its particular benefit to us diocesan priests. He is a diocesan priest and has served 10 years as a pastor of a parish. I am convinced that he must be about my age, 56 years old, because I connected so well with so much that he writes.

The book may not be particularly appreciated by a newly ordained priest. But it could be helpful for laypeople who know a priest well or who accompany a seasoned priest in his ministry, for it speaks about what is at the heart of priesthood and about what pains the heart and delights the heart of a priest.

I had been looking for a book to help me rediscover why I wanted to become a priest back in 1975. This one seems as if from God himself, out of the blue.

You can order THE LOST ART OF WALKING ON WATER: Reimagining the Priesthood from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

Reading biographies and writings of key religious figures of the past can provide needed perspective on today.

THE SMILING POPE: The Life and Teaching of John Paul I, edited by Raymond and Lauretta Seabeck, translated by Lori Pieper (Our Sunday Visitor, 253 pp., $14.95), presents the story of the gentle pontiff who chose “humility” for his episcopal motto and lived it. He was pope for only 33 days in 1978, but these words, from homilies and letters (some addressed to long-dead saints and literary figures like Charles Dickens), give a clue why Albino Luciani is still remembered.

ORESTES A. BROWNSON: American Religious Weathervane, by Patrick W. Carey (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 428 pp., $28), is part of Eerdmans Library of Religious Biography series. Brownson was one of the 19th century’s most famous converts to Catholicism from Unitarianism and Transcendentalist philosophy.

PEDRO ARRUPE: Essential Writings, selected with an Introduction by Kevin Burke, Foreword by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach (Orbis Books, 215 pp., $16), and ROMANO GUARDINI: Spiritual Writings, selected and translated by Robert A. Krieg (Orbis Books, 158 pp., $16), are part of Orbis’s Modern Spiritual Masters series. Arrupe was the Jesuit superior general from 1965 to 1983, who redefined their mission as “faith that does justice.” Guardini was a theologian who helped prepare the way for the Second Vatican Council.

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 7.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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