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Answering Evil With Forgiveness

Q U I C K S C A N

EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD
MEMORIZE THE FAITH! (And Most Anything Else): Using the Methods of the Great Catholic Medieval Memory Masters
SHADOWPLAY: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare
WHAT PAUL MEANT
LIGHT THROUGH THE CRACK: Life After Loss
CATIE THE CATERPILLAR: A Story to Help Break the Silence of Sexual Abuse
Light Reading for Vacation



EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD, by N. T. Wright. InterVarsity Press (www.ivpress.com). 165 pp. $18.

Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL P. ORSI, Ed.D., a research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

N.T. WRIGHT, A RENOWNED New Testament scholar, is the Anglican bishop of Durham. His previous book, The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003), provides a bright backdrop for this volume. Evil and the Justice of God is a theological reflection on how God deals with evil and how we can pastorally address it today.

Wright’s book is particularly germane in light of the Virginia Tech massacre. While the public debates whether the perpetrator suffered from a mental disorder or was morally flawed, the indisputable fact is that evil erupted, causing death and heartbreak. Wright presents us with a paradigm for dealing with such events and bringing about healing.

In the first of the five essays that make up the book, Wright shows how both the optimism of the Enlightenment and the relativism of postmodern thought fail to come to grips with the reality of evil (the undeniable fact of which is made manifest in recent times by the word Holocaust).

Wright’s answers as to evil’s existence and the checks God imposes on it are found in the biblical narratives of both the Old and New Testaments. In his second essay, he offers exegesis of the stories of Job, Isaiah and David, showing us how God put things right in each case. “We observe [in the stories],” he says, “a divine action, to judge and punish evil and to set bounds to it without the responsibility and agency of human beings themselves, and also the promise to bring about a new moment of grace.”

The fundamental biblical belief, according to Wright, is that God made the world good and will work from within the world to correct it. Wright explains how biblical history shows that God tolerates only so much evil, and then restores the world as he intended it.

The first two essays are a lead-in to the mystery of Jesus and his confrontation with evil. In his third essay Wright explains why the cross is the only antidote to evil. In the crucifixion, Jesus took upon himself evil in every form the world proposes it: political, personal, moral and emotional. Wright explains that the Good News at the heart of the Christian message is Jesus’ victory: over the evil in the regime of Caesar; over the corruption within Israel; and over evil in its supra-personal, demonic form.

Returning to the often neglected theology of atonement, Wright reminds us that Jesus took upon himself our sins, and that through the cross we have been forgiven.

Wright sees Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the charter of the new creation that overcomes the evil which is “anticreation, anti-life and the force which seeks to destroy God’s good world.” It is through the resurrection of Jesus that evil is exhausted and the new creation begins. The resurrection, Wright says, is “God’s proper no to sin.”

Wright insists on the need for us to personalize the atonement of Jesus by repenting of our own sins and offering forgiveness to others. Implementing the cross in our lives, he says, conquers evil with love, and makes the world a better place.

He suggests as a model for this Christlike forgiveness the three-step approach to reconciliation proposed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness (2000): 1) to name the evil committed; 2) for the perpetrator to apologize; and 3) for the injured party to accept the apology. Wright believes this procedure can be used in both civil and organizational conflicts, as well as to heal the personal rifts that demean human dignity.

This personal answer to evil, Wright contends, makes us important players in God’s ultimate plan for correcting a world gone wrong. He insists that Jesus’ atonement for sin, God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others are what bring the Creator’s restorative justice to the world. Forgiveness, Wright says, “is the knife that cuts the rope of sin, anger, fear, recrimination and death.”

The Pennsylvania Amish community well modeled this antidote last year when they extended forgiveness to the schoolhouse murderer of their children. This impressive act clearly demonstrated to the world that, through forgiveness, the heavenly future can begin now.

You can order EVIL AND JUSTICE OF GOD from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

MEMORIZE THE FAITH! (And Most Anything Else): Using the Methods of the Great Catholic Medieval Memory Masters, by Kevin Vost, Psy.D. Sophia Institute Press. 249 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor of this publication. She is a graduate of Marquette University’s College of Journalism.

THOSE OF US OLD enough to have had The Baltimore Catechism in Catholic schools or CCD programs can probably still rattle off answers to questions like “Why did God make me?” and “What is a sacrament?” (For parties, I can also recite the Gettysburg Address and three stanzas of “Paul Revere’s Ride.”)

I’m part of the generation brought up on memorization, a learning tool with which Catholics under age 50 tend to be unfamiliar and disdainful. Education today favors reasoning and understanding over rote recitation, although some schools are rediscovering memorization’s value, and homeschooling especially prizes it. (The best spellers at the national spelling bees all seem to have been homeschooled.)

Dr. Kevin Vost, who has taught psychology at Lincoln Land College, MacMurray College and the University of Illinois at Springfield, aims his book Memorize the Faith! at those who want to remember Catholic teachings, Bible verses and theological terms. But Vost explains that his technique can also be used with any bits of data a person wants to recall: birthdays, names, grocery lists, PINs.

The technique he describes is visualization, creating mental “memory mansions” (loci) and linking the rooms and their furnishings to things to be remembered such as the Ten Commandments, the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary or the 73 books of the Bible (in order).

The technique comes from the Greeks (poet Simonides and philosopher Aristotle), the Romans (statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero) and medieval theologians (Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas). It kept their thoughts organized for public speaking and writing. I personally think it works because it brings some of the power of the right brain (spatial and artistic) to support the left brain (verbal and mathematical reasoning).

Of course, repetition is still essential, too, for memory to take hold. Vost says, “[E]ven with a mnemonic system, repetition is the mother of memory.”

Besides young people in school who have huge quantities of information they need to remember, older people worried about the decline of their mental faculties or Alzheimer’s could profit by Vost’s book. Certainly, more knowledge of the faith would help the state of Catholicism today.

Last week I used the book to nail down the Beatitudes and to renew my acquaintance with Aquinas’s five proofs of the existence of God. All I can say is that the loci technique works. Granted, I was familiar with these concepts before, but today I can recite them.

The book includes diagrams, illustrations, humorous drawings (e.g., a bear with a purse for “bearing persecution”), lists (some with blanks for the reader to fill in) and boxes with Q&As (in the best Thomistic fashion). The book concludes with chapters on applications for all ages, how to teach this system to children, how to move from memory and understanding to faith and works, and an ode to memorization.

Perhaps when I grew up, religion classes overused memorization, slighted understanding and ignored application to life, but as Vost says, “Even saints can’t live by truths they can’t remember.”

You can order MEMORIZE THE FAITH! (And Most Anything Else): Using the Methods of the Great Catholic Medieval Memory Masters from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

SHADOWPLAY: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, by Clare Asquith. PublicAffairs/ Perseus Books Group. 348 pp. Hardcover $26.95, U.S./$37.95, Canada; paperback $14.95, U.S./ $21.50, Canada.

Reviewed by BILL CAREY, who has a B.A. from Siena College in Loudonville, New York, and an M.A. from the University of Dayton. He has taught English at Roger Bacon High School since 1970.

REMEMBER WHAT YOU learned about the history of England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I? Forget it. History is written by the victors and, according to Clare Asquith in Shadowplay, 16th-century English history—both political and literary—is being rewritten and corrected now.

Unlike the relatively benign view of the transition from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, the revisionists tell of violence and intrigue—bloody and terrible—marring the period. Shakespeare’s plays, produced in the middle of the turmoil, are products of their age.

Asquith, a noted lecturer and contributor to several literary publications,including an essay on Love's Labour's Lost in Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England, contends that Shakespeare used ambiguity and coded language to veil his sympathy with the cause of recusant Catholics of his day. Because the Bard was such a master of his craft, the authorities never quite deciphered his code.

Now historians are revisiting the era and noting the energy and animosity of the movement opposed to the Reformation in England. So Asquith revisits Shakespeare to discern what, if anything, he had to say about the most disputed question of his lifetime and when and how he said it.

Asquith touches on virtually every piece of the Shakespeare canon, but this is no erudite treatise aimed at literary scholars. In chronological order and with frequent references to contemporary events, she enables readers to recognize certain telltale signs. These “markers,” as she calls them, alert audiences—both then and now—to the presence of an additional reading of the text related to the local religious controversy.

Some markers are fairly straightforward. Storms and their resulting chaos and confusion refer directly to the English Reformation and the resulting social and political turmoil. The opposing images of light and darkness represent the Catholic-Protestant dichotomy.

Early in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo implores Juliet to come out to the balcony to resume the conversation of young lovers: “Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon/Who is already sick and pale with grief.” For some time readers have recognized Romeo’s seductive subtext urging Juliet to allow her beauty to overcome the moon associated with Diana and virginity. Now we are encouraged to recognize Shakespeare’s plea that the light of the Catholic Church might overcome the Protestantism of the virgin queen, Elizabeth.

Some markers are much more complicated. In 1582 throughout most of Europe, the calendar of Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar, skipping 10 days that October, in order to correct certain mathematical inaccuracies in the calendar calculations. England balked, however, and the English calendar was out of step with the one used on the Continent until early in the 18th century.

Hence, when Hamlet learns of his uncle’s treachery, he cries out, “The time is out of joint, O cursed spite/That I was ever born to set it right.” Asquith’s reading of the passage has Hamlet representing Catholics whose unhappy duty it was to rectify the wrongs of the Reformation.

What exactly were the messages Shakespeare was sending to the faithful? Primarily, he seems to be urging caution on members of the audience who wanted to overthrow the queen. Thus Julius Caesar, a usurper of legitimate authority, is overthrown by conspirators avowing high-minded purposes, who are in the subsequent turmoil turned out by men not so highly principled. Asquith sees this play as a message directed at those extremists who believed that violence would be the answer to their prayers.

Unfortunately, the attempt by Catholic sympathizers to blow up Parliament and kill King James I suggests that the cautionary tales were undeciphered or unheeded.

Asquith has provided some tools for would-be code-breakers to venture further into the canon to discover new examples of Shakespearean code. Happy hunting!

You can order SHADOWPLAY: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

WHAT PAUL MEANT, by Garry Wills. Viking Books. 192 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by JULIE DONATI, a freelance writer and teacher of theology at St. Agnes Academy in Houston, Texas.

WHEN I HEARD that Pulitzer Prize-winner Garry Wills was following his hugely successful book What Jesus Meant with a companion volume on Paul, I was thrilled. If precedence meant anything, I could expect another innovative synthesis. Sure enough, I was not disappointed!

“Many people think that Judas was the supreme betrayer of Jesus. But others say Paul has a better right to that title.” And so begins author Gary Wills’s exploration of the controversial Christian figure, the Apostle Paul, in this very slim volume.

St. Paul has been accused of many things, from founding his “own” religion, to being a “tool of Satan,” to being a faithful witness to Jesus. This book is an attempt to tell us who the real Paul is.

While not a biblical scholar, Wills is a leading Catholic intellectual and a masterful writer who has effectively synthesized current biblical research, producing an eminently readable work.

Relying only on the letters that scholars agree were actually written by Paul, Wills peels away the layers of misconceptions about Paul.

Particularly noteworthy is Wills’s careful treatment of Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion experience. While not dismissing Luke, Wills suggests that Luke had a particular agenda when writing the Acts of the Apostles, and that agenda has distorted our understanding of Paul. He reminds us that Luke wrote Acts years after Paul had written his letters, so Acts should be treated “with great caution” while learning about Paul!

In the first chapter alone, Wills notes eight problems with the Lucan story of Paul’s conversion, yet Luke’s version is the one most of us know and remember. Clarifications continue, chapter after chapter, as Wills addresses Paul’s stormy relationships with Peter, with the Jews, with women and with Luke’s claim that Paul was a Roman citizen.

Paul has been accused of holding a negative attitude toward women, an attitude which Wills says is simply wrong. “Paul believed in women’s basic equality with men,” he writes, offering support of women leaders as evidence. He explains how and why Paul advocated celibacy, not on sexist grounds. Wills defends other Pauline comments, such as requiring women to cover their heads, as a product of his culture.

Wills uses his mastery of classical languages to illuminate subtle nuances in the biblical Greek which have been lost due to poor translation over the years. Additionally, Wills includes an annotated appendix to clarify words like salvation, apostle and bishop that historically have had poor translations.

This book is not an introduction to Paul but is for people already versed in the Pauline corpus. Written for a lay audience, this book would be an excellent resource for individual or parish groups, guaranteed to stimulate lively discussion.

You can order WHAT PAUL MEANT from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

LIGHT THROUGH THE CRACK: Life After Loss, by Sue Mosteller, C.S.J. Image/Doubleday. 156 pp. $10.95.

Reviewed by MARY JO DANGEL, assistant managing editor of this magazine who has lost two adult sons to cystic fibrosis.

THE TITLE of Sister Sue Mosteller’s book is appropriate but can be misleading: It covers loss suffered in relationships due to death, betrayal, addiction, fear and the like. The title is inspired by words from one of Leonard Cohen’s songs: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The author has been involved with L’Arche Daybreak Community for 30 years and is executrix of her friend Henri Nouwen’s literary estate. Rather than focusing on L’Arche residents, who have developmental disabilities, Mosteller shares her own experiences and inspirational stories of staffers she has met. These accounts reveal how the cracks in their relationships can allow healing light to enter.

The first chapter, “Change of Heart,” focuses on a woman with a heart defect who, at first, refuses to have a transplant and then changes her mind. Mosteller’s reflection at the end of the chapter refers to her own need for a change of heart in a fractured relationship with a friend.

This chapter hit close to home: My older son, Tim, died in 2001 while waiting for a lung transplant, and my younger son, Ritch, died in 2006 because of a rare liver condition which would have required a transplant if he had lived.

Mosteller’s chapter “Like a Nail in My Heart” describes how a childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father continued to affect a man’s life years after the father’s death. While on a retreat, the adult son discovers how to talk to his father and forgive him.

The last chapter, “Choose Again,” describes a man who was addicted to drugs and alcohol at birth. Despite being raised by loving adoptive parents, the boy becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol as a child and continues on a downward spiral. After many failed attempts at rehab programs, healing light finally penetrates. Today, he’s sober, married and has an intimate relationship with God.

The poignant stories in the seven short chapters are independent of each other. Thus, it’s a nice book to crack open when you have only a brief amount of time to read. This book reminded me of the 2004 film Crash and how little I know about the personal lives of people I encounter: Everyone has a story.

You can order LIGHT THROUGH THE CRACK: Life After Loss from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

CATIE THE CATERPILLAR: A Story to Help Break the Silence of Sexual Abuse, by Tracy M. Schamburg, L.P.C. Illustrations by Melanie Ellis Riley. Liguori Publications. 31 pp. $6.95.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this publication and mother of three.

ONE IN THREE girls and one in seven boys will be victims of abuse. As a parent, I find that statistic horrifying. Sex abuse is one of those subjects that every parent dreads and struggles with how to address. Fortunately, there are helpful resources like the book Catie the Caterpillar.

Here, the subject of sexual abuse is broached through the story of Catie, who struggles with the secret that her Uncle Cad would touch her “in places and in ways she did not like to be touched.” Keeping the secret is preventing Catie from developing into a butterfly. But luckily, Catie is surrounded by people who help her face her problem.

This story presents the subject of sexual abuse in a very realistic but approachable way.

Author Tracy M. Schamburg is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in St. Louis, Missouri. She has obviously used her experience in dealing with both child and adult sexual-abuse survivors in writing this book. She includes many lines that abusers will use on their victims and realistically portrays how a child might react to such abuse.

As difficult as it may be for parents to talk about sex abuse with their children, fortunately, resources such as this book make having that talk a whole lot easier.

You can order CATIE THE CATERPILLAR: A Story to Help Break the Silence of Sexual Abuse from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Light Reading for Vacation

Summer’s long, hot, lazy days tempt all of us to curl up with a good novel and a pitcher of iced tea.

THE HAUNTED RECTORY: The Saint Francis Xavier Church Hookers, by Katherine Valentine (Image Books/Doubleday, 277 pp., $13.95, U.S./$18.95, Canada), is a story of hookers—of rugs! Four women friends create their colorful rugs for the parish festival in a rectory two priests have fled. Now the archdiocese has sent in a new pastor with personal demons to wrestle. From the author of A Miracle for St. Cecilia’s and the Dorsetville series, this is a story of good and evil, friendship and faith. It includes questions for discussion as part of Doubleday’s Reading Group (see www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/readers).

THE MASTER OF SECRETS: A Novel, by D.S. Lliteras (Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 269 pp., $19.95), is the story of Addan, who is searching for his father, a disciple of Jesus. The boy meets bandits and lepers before he encounters a mesmerizing charlatan. This is Lliteras’s fifth novel that starts at the Crucifixion.

THE LUMBY LINES and STEALING LUMBY: Novels, by Gail Fraser (New American Library, 319 pp. and 329 pp., respectively, $14, U.S./$17.50, Canada). Classic cozy reads, both of these are based in a fictional Northwest town. The first book centers on a ruined abbey being restored as an inn; the second on the town’s annual cow race and the theft of a painting and barn. Includes a reader’s guide.


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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