RAG AND BONE: A Journey Among
the World's Holy Dead, by Peter
Manseau. Henry Holt and Company.
243 pp. $25.
Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL P. ORSI,
research fellow in law and religion at Ave
Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.
MY MOTHER'S FAMILY comes from a
small town in Italy called Bitetto, which
is located in the southern province of
Bari. Since I was a boy, I can remember
talk of the local patron, Beato (Blessed)
His skeleton, on display in a Franciscan
monastery there, continues to be
an object of veneration, for both current
residents and former townsfolk
who have joined the Italian diaspora.
Over the years, the relics have served as
a unifier for the "Bitetese."
In fact, since many of Giaccomo's
devotees live abroad, a finger has been
removed and sent on a
Rag and Bone: A Journey
Among the World's Holy Dead focuses on some of the most
renowned relics and the
psychological power which
these various bones, teeth,
hairs and tongues have exerted
over time and culture.
Author Peter Manseau is
a writing instructor and student
of religion at Georgetown
University. He examines
the religious and secular purposes
which relics serve for the living, teasing
out their political and even historic
Manseau observes that the bodies, or
the dismembered parts, of the holy
dead have a metaphysical aspect that
can affect someone who views them,
whether or not a person is religious in
the traditional sense.
"A relic concentrates the beliefs surrounding
it until they can be seen,"
he writes. "It is a faith so intense it has,
at times, set the world on fire."
The authenticity of a relic often has
little bearing on its worth, according to
Manseau. Rather, it is the human significance
given to it that makes it a
viable conduit of power.
He cites several relics of dubious
provenance to support his point: a
whisker allegedly from the beard of
Mohammad, held in Kashmir, India;
the questionable tooth of Buddha, now
in Kandy, Sri Lanka; and the foreskin of
the Christ Child (of which there seems
to be more than one).
Such items serve as symbols that
reinforce religious sentiment, boost
ethnic pride, confer political power and
provide a boon to local economies. (Of
course, so much the better when a venerated
object is authentic, such as the
remains of St. Francis Xavier, which
reside in Goa, India.)
Manseau writes that the cult of relics
among Christians began
"as a fringe movement
of a fringe faith," gaining
general acceptance by the
fourth century. Veneration
of sacred objects served to
promote a sense that revered
individuals are somehow
There are three classes
of relics acknowledged in
Catholicism, but Manseau
explains these incorrectly.
Actually, first-class relics are
the items associated with the life of
Christ or a saint's actual body or parts
of it. Second-class relics are articles of
clothing worn by a saint or something
else used by a saint. A third-class relic
is anything that has come into contact
with a first- or second-class relic.
Manseau cites guidelines for authenticating
relics. He shows how the contemporary
science of paleopathology
(the study of human remains) can help
determine the probability of the relic's
alleged relationship to the holy figure
who gives it its significance. (His
account of the scientific investigation
into relics associated with Joan of Arc
And he notes that a relic may not be
bought or sold, though a gratuity given
to procure one is appropriate.
Two comments included in the book
help to clarify Christian practices pertaining
to the use of relics as devotional
objects. The first is from Mother
Catherine, a Russian Orthodox nun
living in Jerusalem, who observes:
"When you venerate or kiss or show
reverence to an object or the body of
a saint, you give that veneration not
to the body itself, but to what the
body represents....We don't pray to St.
Elizabeth's bones; we pray to live the
kind of life those bones lived, and to die
their kind of death."
The second is from Archbishop
Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.
Speaking about the relics of St.
Thérèse of Lisieux, which had been on
a monthlong loan from France to England
and Wales, he said: "The real
meaning of relics is, of course, that
they are but a sign, a token of the holy
life of this much-loved saint. They are
God's way of opening our hearts to His
unwavering love. We do well to draw
all the encouragement we can from
this time of grace."
Relics are a cultural phenomenon—transgenerational, transnational and
sometimes transcendental objects that
have the power to unite (and sometimes
divide) us, as they inspire the living
with the heroic virtues of those
who have gone before.
Their potency is not limited to the
confines of churches. Witness the
recent attempt by the prime minister
of Albania to obtain the remains of
Mother Teresa (turned down by the
government of India) and his negotiations
with France for the bones
of Albania's only post-independence monarch, King Ahmet Zog.
Pious devotion to relics fulfills a
mysterious and timeless need deep in
the human heart. The bones of Beato
Giaccomo have been a rich source of
blessing for my kin and me, and
Manseau's book helps to explain why.
You can order RAG AND BONE: A Journey Among
the World's Holy Dead from St. Francis Bookstore.
THE NAKED NOW: Learning to See as
the Mystics See, by Richard Rohr. The
Crossroad Publishing Company. 162
Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M.
VENTLINE, D.Min., a Catholic priest for
33 years. Among other ministries in his
special assignment for the Archdiocese of
Detroit, he's chaplain at Selfridge Air
National Guard and presides at Mass in
the Macomb County Jail.
A SUMMONS TO LEADERS: That's
what Franciscan friar Richard Rohr
advocates in a time of endless terror
from the Middle East, to New York, to
Detroit where a passenger attempted
to blow up an airplane last Christmas.
Yet it's toward the end of the book
that the author includes tips for governments,
politicians, parishioners and
estranged alike. This sane voice needs
Rohr's tome praises Jesus, Buddhists,
Hindus and others who practice a path
of a holistic being by viewing one world
without walling others in or out. Rohr
says Jesus was the first non-dualistic
religious teacher of the West.
In this, perhaps Rohr's best treatment
of contemplative prayer, he wants
us to end fragmented black-and-white,
us-versus-them thinking. He wants
people to accept and surrender to paradox,
contradiction and mystery amid
the misery and joy of life's treks. The
revered retreat master and founder of
the Center for Action and Contemplation
in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
helps believers along this road of
Rohr says: "If you surrender to the
fear of uncertainty, life can become a
set of insurance policies. Your short
time on this earth becomes small and
self-protective, a kind of circling of the
wagons around what you can be sure of
and what you think you can control—even God."
Rohr reminds me of the marks of
the Church that we were taught: one,
holy, catholic and apostolic.
Here, for our purposes,
"one" seems to be what
Rohr, and those before him,
emulate in moving from
dualistic, harmful thinking.
"The Principle of Likeness"
is how the author
entitles a final chapter.
He writes: "The enormous
breakthrough is that when
you honor and accept the
divine image within yourself,
you cannot help but see
it in everybody else, too, and you know
it is just as undeserved and unmerited
as it is in you. That is why you stop
judging, and that is how you start loving
unconditionally and without asking
whether someone is worthy or not.
The breakthrough occurs at once,
although the realization deepens and
takes on greater conviction over time."
When at home with one's self, it
seems, a person can be one with neighbors
and even enemies. Accepting life's
unfolding each moment
finds this mind-set adjusting
and aligning with what
Couple that with mystical
traditions that have persevered
through the ages
as routes of living with
paradox by non-dualistic
thinking. "If we are honest,
everything is a clash of contradictions,
and there is
nothing on this created
earth that is not a mixture
at the same time of good and bad, helpful
and unhelpful, endearing and maddening,
living and dying."
In three parts, with large and practical
appendices and notes for the 22
chapters, this is well worth the effort.
Having reread it for clarity and understanding,
savoring and relishing the images integrated with Rohr's own
acceptance of ambiguity and contradiction,
I found myself nodding in oneness
with succeeding paragraphs and
The author is not concerned with
being right: "God does not exist so
that we can think correctly about
Him—or Her. God instead desires the
flourishing of what God created and
loves—us ourselves. And
it's ironic, but we flourish
more by learning from our
mistakes and changing than
by a straight course that
teaches us nothing."
Perhaps it is time for
world and civic leaders with
clergy and parishioners alike
to exalt "a renaissance of
the contemplative mind,
the one truly unique alternative
that religion has to
offer the world."
Don't save your money for another
book—spend it on this one. The world
You can order THE NAKED NOW: Learning to See as
the Mystics See from St.
A PARABLE OF WOMEN: Poems, by
Philip C. Kolin. Yazoo River Press
(14000 Hwy. 82 W. #7142, Itta Bene,
MS 38941-1400). 31 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by KATHY COFFEY, author
of Hidden Women of the Gospels,
Women of Mercy and several articles for
this publication. She gives retreats and
workshops about women's spirituality, and
has won awards for poetry from the
Catholic Press Association.
THIS SLENDER BOOK is a collection
of women's voices from Hagar to
Herodias, then to contemporary women:
living under a viaduct, attending
a singles party or doing the waltz of
In the final poem, Mary speaks with
rich mystery and little of the sentimentality
that often characterizes
poetry about the Blessed Mother.
Juxtaposing biblical women with the
ones we might meet for lunch shows
the continuity of the female line and
the commonality of women's experience.
Kolin captures the poignancy of
unique lives in nuggets such as this
one about a waitress: "The 13th
Amendment means/No more to her
than/A wink to a hearse rider." Her
only dream: to get a job at Wal-Mart
Herodias leads a similarly empty life
of vicarious thrills through her daughter
Salome. Her cameo for the beheading
of John the Baptist:
"The first platter is coming
in./It's a delicacy to kill for/
I am so discomforted by
While most of the women's
lives depicted here
seem grim or melancholy,
a few are more uplifting: A
mellow woman at midlife
is described by the oxymoron
"a steady surprise,"
and a nun at prayer counsels
an observer to relax and
remove the starch from his petitions.
Kolin, a professor of English at the
University of Southern Mississippi, has
a knack for compression, succinctly
describing a character in a few words.
He is at his best with the brief, direct
line, often ironic or unexpected.
You can order A PARABLE OF WOMEN: Poems from St.
THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST)
EVERYTHING: A Spirituality for Real
Life, by James Martin, S.J. HarperOne. 416 pages. $26.99.
Reviewed by MARION AMBERG, an
award-winning freelance journalist currently
writing a book on location in northern
IF YOU'RE LOOKING for a short course
in "life" à la Jesuit, then
this book is for you. Billed
as a practical spiritual guide
for the devout believer to
doubtful skeptic, author
and Jesuit priest James Martin
helps readers tackle real-life
problems. These can
range from discerning a
career path or even the
right spouse to managing
money to finding God (or
letting God find you). To
all of these, he brings the 450-year-old
spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, a
16th-century soldier-turned-mystic and
founder of the Society of Jesus, or the
Jesuits for short.
If you've heard the Jesuits are an
intellectual and not-so-humble lot, fear
not. This book is reader-friendly and
loaded with Jesuit humor and asides.
Did you know that the Jesuits invented
the theatrical trapdoor or that 35 craters
on the moon are named for Jesuit scientists?
Or that the Vatican disbanded
the Jesuits from 1773 to 1814?
Martin, who is associate editor of
the Jesuit magazine America and author
of the best-selling book My Life With the
Saints, bares his soul to illustrate the
way of St. Ignatius. Before entering the
Jesuit novitiate at age 27, Martin confesses
he knew little about prayer—let
alone a personal relationship with God.
Martin surmises that, if Jesuit spirituality
could help him find his way to
God, it can help anyone.
Martin also draws heavily from the
writings of living and deceased Jesuits,
such as Father Walter Ciszek, the American
Jesuit held captive for decades in
Soviet prisons and Siberian labor
The book's 14 chapters cover the
basics of Jesuit spirituality (finding
God in all things, becoming a contemplative
in action, looking at the
world in an incarnational way and
seeking freedom and detachment);
the six paths to God; the spiritual
exercises and traditions of prayer; naming
and telling God one's desires in life
(desires come from God and he wants
to fulfill those desires); and the interior
battle to do the right thing.
Martin ends the book with a section
listing his favorite
resources on the life of St.
Ignatius Loyola and all
If readers familiar with Alcoholics
find some insights familiar,
it's because Jesuit Father
Edward Dowling was spiritual
director to Bill Wilson,
a founder of A.A.
Because life is filled with
change and decisions, many readers will appreciate the chapter
on Ignatian discernment or decisionmaking.
During one part of the discernment
process, readers are asked to
imagine making a decision. Did it give
them a sense of peace? Or agitate their
Unlike many books on Ignatian discernment,
Martin presents the process
in an easy-to-follow, albeit structured
manner. St. Ignatius was, after all, a
swashbuckler before his conversion and
While Martin deftly weaves together
his journey and the Ignatian
way, he makes no mention
of the number of Jesuit
priests and brothers worldwide
today. Is the Order
growing or decreasing in
And it's curious there
isn't a Jesuit female counterpart—an order of Jesuit
sisters or nuns—though
Martin does report that two
women in St. Ignatius' day
took vows as Jesuits.
While the book is a relatively easy
"how-to" in Jesuit spirituality—and
it does cover just about everything—it may appeal more to people with
concrete, analytical temperaments.
Intuitive or creative personality types
who don't like routine may find the
Jesuit way too regimented. But then, St.
Ignatius did say that it's dangerous to
make everyone take the same road.
You can order THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST)
EVERYTHING: A Spirituality for Real
Life from St. Francis Bookstore.
HEARING GOD'S VOICE, by Father
Mark Burger. St. John the Evangelist
Catholic Church, 9080 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester, OH
45069-3129. 337 pp. $13.95.
Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, formerly
on the staff of this publication and
author of several books published by Abbey
ONE REALLY SHOULDN'T read at one
sitting a book with 365 entries. I didn't
mean to. But I couldn't help myself!
It seemed fair to ponder the entries
for the month the book came into my
possession and then sample the rest.
But the author engaged me, and I
wanted very much to see what else he
had to say. It's a very comfortable read
for anyone on the journey of faith
who wants to take just a few moments
each day to reorient his or her spiritual
Something I particularly liked about
Father Mark Burger's approach was
that it had little formula about it. The
reader is guaranteed a story, but the
source of that story often surprises.
The author pays attention to his own
life, prays over it and draws lessons
from that reflection. (He
has more than one entry
about asking directions.)
But he also offers a generous
sampling from his
wide reading, which includes
biographies, history, science
and health. In a given
week, he's as likely to
quote Abraham Lincoln,
C.S. Lewis, Anthony de
Mello and Brother Lawrence
as he is Jesus Christ. But
Jesus might have used some of the same
stories, had he possessed a library card
of his own.
Some days, Father Mark concludes
with a sentence of admonishment or
encouragement. Other days he poses a
question or teases out a moral. I like the
Readers of this magazine will be
glad to know that Father Mark prays to
St. Anthony and includes stories from
the life of Francis. The troubadour-based
tale for July 21, however, was
unfamiliar, and I question its authenticity,
though that doesn't invalidate
the spiritual question drawn from it.
Another lesson from the writings
of Salman Rushdie reminded me of
Francis of Assisi's respect for the written
word. Rushdie wrote that it was customary
in India to kiss the holy books
or Scriptures before and after reading
them. In his home, that custom
extended to all books, which he felt
was one reason he became an author—his reverence for words.
I believe that Father Mark Burger
shares that reverence for words as well.
It would not be inappropriate to kiss
Hearing God's Voice before and after
reading the entry of the day. Surely, it
would indicate a willingness to hear, to
reflect and to acknowledge the inspiration
reflected in this volume.
You can order HEARING GOD'S VOICE from St. Francis Bookstore.