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Connecting Sunday Mass With Daily Life


THE MASS IS NEVER ENDED: Rediscovering Our Mission to Transform the World
THE GEOGRAPHY OF GOD’S MERCY: Stories of Compassion and Forgiveness
THE LIFE OF MEANING: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World
WIZARDS, WARDROBES, AND WOOKIEES: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars
History Illuminates the Present

THE MASS IS NEVER ENDED: Rediscovering Our Mission to Transform the World, by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce. Ave Maria Press. 128 pp. $10.95.

Reviewed by DEACON WILLIAM F. URBINE, president of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and director of the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Diocese’s Office of Family Life Ministries. He also teaches undergraduate theology courses at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.

DO YOU REMEMBER the words “Ite, missa est”? In English it is translated as “Go, we are sent forth.” In The Mass Is Never Ended, Greg Pierce turns this simple phrase into a challenge—to take the Mass and its message out into our world. This volume revisits the traditional Catholic concepts of vocation and mission, giving them a new spin.

Our vocation, a calling from God, ties in directly with our mission, our being sent forth to love and serve the Lord.

How do we know that we are living out our vocation and have a mission? The first section of this brief, compelling volume provides the reader with an overview of the Mass, highlighting each part and relating it to the vocation/mission we are called to live.

The author assures us that we can’t be on this mission alone and that we need the Church and the eucharistic celebration to ground us. Each part of the Mass is related to the dismissal rite. In doing this, Pierce breaks down the wall in our spirituality—the wall between the Sunday celebration (the sacred) and our weekday activities (the secular).

Pierce blends a spirituality of work, familiar to some of us from his earlier volume Spirituality@Work, with the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives as Catholics. The “Litany of Work” in Appendix One can become a prayerful occasion to help the reader bridge the ordinary and the sacred.

Recommended books and movies on the spirituality of work are also listed. Why do I resonate so well with this volume? It’s short, readable and very challenging. I can connect what happens when I go to Mass on Sunday and what I do during the next six days of the week. I can answer the reflection and discussion questions in my journal, or get a fuller appreciation of the Mass and the call to “Ite, missa est” by discussing it with a faith-sharing group at my local parish.

The book is now required reading for my spirituality-of-work senior seminar. Make it yours!

You can order THE MASS IS NEVER ENDED: Rediscovering Our Mission to Transform the World from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE GEOGRAPHY OF GOD’S MERCY: Stories of Compassion and Forgiveness, by Patrick Hannon, C.S.C. ACTA Publications. 159 pp. $17.95, hardcover; $12.95, paperback.

Reviewed by MARY LYNNE RAPIEN, a writer for Homily Helps and Weekday Homily Helps and a practicing licensed clinical counselor in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the youth columnist for St. Anthony Messenger for 40 years, and is a wife, mother of six and grandmother of 20.

HAVE YOUR EVER HAD a special meal that you savored so much that you did not want to take the last bite? That is how this reviewer felt when reading The Geography of God’s Mercy: Stories of Compassion and Forgiveness, by Patrick Hannon, C.S.C. I didn’t want it to end!

If geography is a study of the earth with its forests, seas, deserts, mountaintops, rivers, plains and valleys, then this book is truly a geography of God’s mercy wrapped in unconditional love, forgiveness and compassion. The author’s stories are set in all of these places. God speaks in the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame and behind maximum-security prison bars, in taverns (many of them) and in slum alleyways.

The author brings you in with the art of his loom with which he weaves words into a story that may be poignant, humorous, earthy or tear-at-your-heart sad. He evokes all the senses with an economy of words. Thoroughly Irish and from a large family (nine siblings), Patrick Hannon tells stories from his life experiences that reveal God’s presence in something as simple as Cream of Wheat® cereal, an old man at the beach or a Chicago boy surrendering his treasured ball cap to a poor Irish youth.

He links the community’s care of a bag lady with the raising of Lazarus and makes it a “now event.” While never preachy, he links the ordinary stuff of life to the transcendent mercy of God.

Father Hannon tells his own story with transparency and vulnerability. There is nothing soupy or sentimental even when emotions run deep and depression is dark. He knows how to laugh at himself and he shares the sting of conviction without condemnation. If nothing else, the author is human and not afraid to show it. It is that humanness that binds him to the reader—like us in all things, even sin.

Now I can’t wait to read his award-winning first book, Running Into the Arms of God.

You can order THE GEOGRAPHY OF GOD’S MERCY: Stories of Compassion and Forgiveness from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE LIFE OF MEANING: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World, by Bob Abernethy and William Bole. Seven Stories Press. 427 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian with a master’s degree from the University of Illinois School of Information Sciences.

VIEWERS OF PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly will be accustomed to the format of sound bites on the meaning of life presented here. Bob Abernethy, executive editor and host, conceived the program in 1997. With William Bole, religion writer and research fellow at Woodstock Theological Center, he has selected interviews with 58 individuals for inclusion in this anthology.

While the articles differ in style and length, and cover a myriad of religious philosophies and beliefs, all are expressed with unembarrassed candor, frequent humor and almost universal optimism.

Loosely collected by subject, the essays can be read in any order and for any duration; it’s a work meant to be picked up frequently, savored and digested, rather than read through in its entirety.

In the “Prayer and Meditation” chapter, former President Jimmy Carter explains that he prayed more while president than at any other time in his life. His fervent prayer in 1980 was to save the country from embarrassment, preserve its integrity and ensure the safe return of the hostages in Iran. He states: “Well, I never did embarrass my nation or violate its principles. Every hostage came home safe and free. So my prayer was answered. God answered my prayer later than I wanted. If my prayer had been answered a week before the election of 1980, I would have been a two-term president.”

In the chapter entitled “I’m Spiritual, Not Religious,” Martin Marty characterizes spirituality as individualistic, as opposed to the bonding practiced in religions. Noted Lutheran theologian Marty agrees with the insightful bumper sticker which proclaims, “Spirituality doesn’t make hospice calls.”

Eileen Durkin, a cradle Catholic, spells out what each part of the Mass means to her in the “Being Religious” section, while George Weigel, a biographer of Pope John Paul II, extols the 140 addresses the pope delivered between 1979 and 1984 on the “theology of the body” as “...the most comprehensive intelligent Christian response—not just Catholic response, Christian response—to the sexual revolution that has been laid out since the 1950s.”

In the chapter “Evil and Suffering,” Rabbi Harold Kushner cites the power of the 23rd Psalm to remind us that God “is on my side, not on the side of the hijacker. God is on my side, not on the side of the illness, or the accident, or the terrible thing that happened. And that’s enough to give me confidence.”

Renowned author Madeleine L’Engle says: “...I know that where there is no suffering, nothing happens. In times when we’re not particularly suffering, we don’t have enough time for God. We’re too busy with other things. Then the intense suffering comes, and we can’t be busy with other things. We should never be afraid of crying out, ‘I need all the help I can get!’”

Most eye-opening for Catholics are the interviews with those of other religions like the mainline Protestants and Evangelicals as well as those of African-American Churches, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. And then, there are those individuals who take what they consider to be the best practices from any of the above! There is no overt proselytizing, just candid profession of which principles rule their lives and what practices help them to hold firm to those principles.

Helpful introductions set the tone for each chapter, and each essayist is pictured and given a short biographical sketch. The name of the interviewer and the date of the interview are also included. While an exhaustive bibliography would be an asset, this is not meant to be a textbook. Further information on the participants is as close as the Internet.

This excellent anthology with its wide-ranging perceptions of the place of humanity in the cosmos is bound to open the mind of any mature reader to the myriad ways we can find for a reason for existence.

You can order THE LIFE OF MEANING: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World from St. Francis Bookshop.


LUMBY’S BOUNTY: A Novel, by Gail Fraser. New American Library. 351 pp. $14, U.S.; $16.50, Canada.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor of this publication.

I’M HOOKED on this series. The fictional town of Lumby, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, reminds me of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where my first professional job was working at the local newspaper. Although Lake Geneva is a tourist mecca in the summer, the rest of the year the city of 5,000 lets the rhythms of rural life keep it grounded—regardless of the boosterism of the Chamber of Commerce.

This is Gail Fraser’s third novel set in Lumby, where cows, Howard the moose and chickens left off at the feed store are major players. But then there’s also Hank, a plastic pink flamingo moved around and dressed by a mystery person to comment on civic events.

Returning are characters from the previous books—Pam and Mark Walker, who remodeled an old abbey into the Montis Inn in the first book; Brooke, an architect, and Joshua Turner, a former monk-turned-agricultural student, who married in the second book; Gabrielle and Dennis Beezer, who own the Green Chiles restaurant and the newspaper, respectively; and so on.

Here, the story revolves around getting ready for a hot-air balloon race. The Beezers’ son Brian has volunteered the town—without any authorization—to host this event, which draws 150 entries. Now the town has to pull together to rise to the occasion, and it must ready its own balloon to lead things off. The enthusiastic Mark is chosen to get the town airborne.

The only experienced balloonists in the area are two young men from Indonesia, staying at Holy Cross Abbey in nearby Franklin. (When Montis Abbey disbanded 30 years ago, some of the monks went there.) One of the Talin brothers, Jamar, flirts with every woman he meets; the other, Kai, is sincerely considering whether he wants to become a priest. But then he encounters his soulmate in Caroline Ross, and has to decide what path God wants him to take.

Holy Cross Abbey has its own problems because of the well-publicized success of its new rum-sauce business. “Seekers” now overrun the abbey, putting a strain on its hospitality.

Whether Holy Cross Abbey is Roman Catholic or Orthodox is never explained, probably because Fraser models it on New Skete Monastery in upstate New York, which has connections to both. Lumby has a Presbyterian church and an Episcopalian church, and the novels show the contribution these houses of worship make to the community—ecumenism in action.

One of the best parts of the book is the growth of Lumby’s two hellions into responsible adults.

Another blossoming character is Hannah Daniels, wife of the mayor. She’s drawn into sewing the balloon’s envelope and comes into her own. And Pam learns about herself in the course of excavating a fishpond after a natural spring threatens the inn’s walls.

The author has described Lumby as “a fictional town that’s gentle and fair and honest,” but she also depicts a town leery of strangers. The Indonesian men challenge Lumby’s xenophobia, and the town grows as a result.

As with others in the series, Lumby’s Bounty includes a reader’s guide, recipes and a dialogue with the author and some of the book’s characters.

Fraser’s series has been compared to Jan Karon’s, but Lumby is a little quirkier. If you want to see characters grow, try Fraser’s Lumby series. I’m just wondering if there might be room on the staff of The Lumby Lines for an old newspaper editor like me.

You can order LUMBY’S BOUNTY: A Novel from St. Francis Bookshop.


WIZARDS, WARDROBES, AND WOOKIEES: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars, by Connie Neal. IVP Books. 229 pp. $15.

Reviewed by P.J. MURPHY, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to graduating from the College of Mount St. Joseph with a degree in English, he completed his M.A. in journalism and communications at The Ohio State University.

CONNIE NEAL LOOKS to seemingly unlikely sources for Christian guidance and spirituality in her newest book. C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George Lucas’s Star Wars movies are used to show parallels in the decisions we make in our daily struggle with good and evil.

These series, though hugely popular with generations of young people, have been met with criticism from conservative Christian groups for allegedly promoting such things as witchcraft, black magic and general heresy.

All of these stories are secular in nature, dealing with ordinary characters who become heroes through the decisions they make and the extraordinary consequences that come with those decisions.

Neal’s unique spin on these stories is that they can show us how to combat evil in our everyday lives the same way many of the stories in the Bible do. All of the main characters are easy to relate to, and all of them encounter decisions dealing with good and evil.

Even though we will not face Darth Vader or the White Witch, Neal contends that we can use the decisions the heroes of these adventures make as parallels to the decisions we face. Like most of the figures in the Bible, none of these characters were extraordinary until they were called to action and acted on that call.

Neal cites Christopher Vogler, a former storycrafter for Disney animation, and his guidelines for storytelling as sort of a blueprint for this book. From the heroes being introduced in the ordinary world to their call to adventure to their “treasure to benefit the ordinary world,” Neal applies Vogler’s guidelines.

Neal references each story’s main characters for their Christlike behaviors, but does not think of them as Christ-figures. This is the crux of her message—and comparisons.

These heroes, though special through their adventures, are ordinary just like us. These heroes do extraordinary things, and their actions have consequences for the greater good.

Anyone who enjoys these stories and also enjoys exploring the Christian faith will enjoy Neal’s thought-provoking book. Looking deeper into these stories for Christian values might seem like a stretch to some, but Neal flows among the adventures of Narnia, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and the Bible effortlessly—and it works.

Ordinary people are called on to do great things, and that message is conveyed very well.

You can order WIZARDS, WARDROBES, AND WOOKIEES: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars from St. Francis Bookshop.


History Illuminates the Present

By looking at the past, we can often spot patterns and discern solutions to present problems.

GOOD NEIGHBORS, BAD TIMES: Echoes of My Father’s German Village, by Mimi Schwartz (University of Nebraska Press, 260 pp., $24.95), is a beautifully written book about a village in the Black Forest where, on Kristallnacht 1938, Christians helped save a Torah from Nazi destruction. By juxtaposing German-Jewish and German-Christian experiences, this book provides personal dimensions “from the sidelines of history, the ones lost in the larger narrative of the Holocaust.” It shows people struggling to be humane in the midst of evil.

MISSIONARIES AMONG MINERS, MIGRANTS & BLACKFOOT: The Van Tighem Brothers Diaries, Alberta 1875-1917, edited by Mary Eggermont-Molenaar and Paul Callens (University of Calgary Press, 424 pp., $39.95), is a scholarly book containing the newly translated diaries of two Flemish brothers who became Catholic missionaries in Alberta, Canada. The book shows how the railroads and the mining industry, and World War I, impacted the area.

THE ROAD TO RENEWAL: Victor Joseph Reed & Oklahoma Catholicism, 1905-1971, by Jeremy Bonner (The Catholic University of America Press, 423 pp., $34.95), is the story of the Oklahoma City bishop who returned from the Second Vatican Council and molded a diocese in its vision. This is well-researched.

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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