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'Jewish' Cardinal Reflects on the Messiah

Q U I C K S C A N

THE PROMISE
REMEMBRANCES OF THE ANGELS: 50th Anniversary Reminiscences of the Fire No One Can Forget
ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS WISDOM FROM ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
CHRISTMAS LOVE: A True Story of a Holiday Miracle
TAKE HEART: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time
MEDIA MINDFULNESS: Educating Teens About Faith and Media
THE WORK OF OUR HANDS: The Art of Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
THE VATICAN
Time for Teaching and Sharing



THE PROMISE, by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, translated by Balinski, Malone and Duchesne. Eerdmans. 177 pp. $18.

Reviewed by BRIAN WELTER, a doctoral student in theology from North Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a teacher of English as a Second Language to Adults and holds a B.A. in history from the University of Saskatchewan.

CARDINAL JEAN-MARIE LUSTIGER, the archbishop of Paris who died in 2007 and who never stopped seeing himself as a Jew, claimed to live out the fullness of the Jewish vocation—of the grace of ancient Israel. In this collection of his talks arising from these deep religious roots, Lustiger denounces Christian anti-Semitism and its origins in “paganism.”

Lustiger came from a family of Polish Jews who had emigrated to France early in the 1900s. To protect him from Nazi violence, he lived with a Christian family in Orleans from 1940 to 1942. Lustiger and his sister converted to Catholicism and were baptized Catholic in 1940. His mother was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 and died in Auschwitz. His father survived the war and tried unsuccessfully to get an annulment of his son’s Baptism. So Lustiger always saw himself as a bridge between two faiths, which is clear here.

A pagan is someone without hope, someone who does not know that the darkness can be transformed into light, he writes. Some pagans claim to be Christian but have made Christ into one of their gods. Rather than letting Jesus the Messiah change their lives, they change him.

“Pagan Christians” do not realize that they have to enter the New Testament via the Old. The prophets of ancient Israel denounced the ancient pagans and their fertility gods, whom they called Baal. Paganism has been alive and well throughout Christian history, according to the cardinal, because people who go to Church and claim to know Jesus do not know Jesus of Israel.

Jesus is the Son of Israel. The Chosen People’s vocation is to share their grace with the gentiles, and through Jesus they have done this. How can this grace be truly understood by the gentiles except through knowledge of the Old Testament?

Cardinal Lustiger thus reflects on the meaning of history. The ancient Israelites invented history, for they perceived a vocation from God and therefore a point to history, what Christians later called eschatology.

Lustiger notes, “There is true history only in accordance with an Election, because history is, ultimately, a time period which draws its significance from a relationship with God who calls and toward whom we go. Otherwise, human acts sink into the insignificance of oblivion and death. Otherwise, no memory is possible—it is even better to forget. Otherwise, human history is an abyss of meaninglessness and horror and the moments of light are merely faint sparks marked, too, by oblivion and death. Only God can be the source of man’s memory.”

Lustiger’s deep connection to Israel and Jewishness gives his theology a freshness and directness that parallel the Church Fathers. The cardinal speaks with the same clarity and authority as John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This kind of theological leadership is vitally important to the health of the present and future Catholic Church because of today’s tendency to undermine Catholicism.

Lustiger is keenly aware of the “sociology of power” that developed in secular and Catholic intellectual circles in France after Vatican II, and felt the fallout from this firsthand. He also notes that his philosophical and theological training was profoundly marked by Western atheism.

The only answer to intellectual atheism or the hollowness of pagan Christians (those who fail to accept Christ through Israel’s lineage) is found in the grace that originates in God’s covenant with Israel and is fulfilled in Jesus: “The Spirit of Jesus can be received only on the strict condition of sharing the hope of Israel and having access to it. This is the meaning of baptism, since in baptism...we are ‘incorporated’ into Christ. But baptism is at the same time, and inseparably...an incorporation into Israel.”

In other words, “The Old Testament has not been ‘invalidated,’ according to a current expression, by the coming of the Messiah, but, on the contrary, has been made accessible and open to pagans who, without him, would not have access to it.”

The Old Testament is not a preparation for the New, but “a true pathway.” Christians can avoid being “pagan Christians” only by adopting the Old Testament.

Perhaps, Lustiger muses, the current rejection of Christianity signifies a lack of faithfulness to ancient Israel by Christians: “One of the possible sources of the present crisis of faith in the West is that the God being challenged is nothing other than the god of the pagans disguised as the God of the Christians. Could it be that Christians in the Western world are now paying the price for a too shallow and rapid conversion?”

This challenging book can be read over and over again.

You can order THE PROMISE from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

REMEMBRANCES OF THE ANGELS: 50th Anniversary Reminiscences of the Fire No One Can Forget, by John Kuenster. Ivan R. Dee, Publisher (www.ivanrdee.com). 192 pp. $22.50.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor of this publication. For grade school, she attended St. Viator in Chicago and St. Peter School in Skokie, Illinois, both of which are within 10 miles of Our Lady of the Angels.

ON DECEMBER 1, 1958, I was in fifth grade and came home from school to see the first terrifying TV footage of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School on Chicago’s northwest side. The death count eventually mounted to 92 children and three B.V.M. sisters.

It seems probable now that the source of the fire was a fifth-grader who set alight wastepaper in a cardboard container on the floor of the back stairwell. The tragedy led to improved fire-safety regulations for all parochial and public schools in the United States, but this book goes into the personal toll it exacted on the neighborhood families and anyone connected to the event.

The full story of the fire was told by this author and David Cowan in their 1996 best-seller, To Sleep With the Angels. This new book reveals, 50 years after the event, how vivid the memories are for these 28 people—surviving students, grieving parents, reporters who covered the story, firemen and others—and how times have changed.

OLA, one of the largest schools in the Chicago Archdiocese, had 1,600 students. Classrooms each had 50 or 60 students, with one teacher, no aides. Most teachers were religious sisters.

The school had only one fire escape, no sprinklers, no automatic fire alarms, no smoke or heat detectors. The wooden stairs and floors had been polished with layers of petroleum-based wax. The school’s four fire extinguishers were mounted seven feet off the floor, too high for most of the teachers to reach, much less any students. The school had passed a fire-department inspection only weeks before.

The Humboldt Park/Austin neighborhood in Chicago was then nearly all Roman Catholic, drawing from Italian-, Polish-, Irish- and German-Americans. In the intervening years, the neighborhood has changed. The parish school was rebuilt in 1960 but in 1999 closed because it couldn’t keep the minimum of 225 pupils the archdiocese requires. In 2006, the parish was reduced to a mission, and in 2007 a memorial was placed in front of it.

But the legacy of the fire is more than memorials or even better fire safety in schools. Many of those who experienced the fire still suffer from survivor’s guilt. A boy who was home sick that day watched on TV as two of his best friends died; he remembers sneaking a smoke near the trash container where the fire started.

No counseling was offered survivors—it wasn’t done in those days. Most of the survivors admit they react now when they smell certain kinds of smoke. All of them check fire exits in public buildings they enter and select homes with easy egress. Many OLA alumni continue to be very close to one another because of what they went through.

Some of the parents were quite angry with the school and considered suing. But again, that just wasn’t done then. The Archdiocese of Chicago refused to let the sisters tell their side of the story, ostensibly to protect them, but really to avoid lawsuits, which led to charges of a cover-up.

A nurse, who at the time was a student in the emergency room at St. Anne’s Hospital, comments: “I think the Church’s response to the school fire left a lot to be desired. It’s one thing for the cardinal to walk through the hospital and bless the kids, but there was no notion of talking about it. The Church treated the burned kids like it treated the kids who complained of sex abuse. Church officials didn’t want to talk about it. They made people feel like they weren’t entitled to be sad and to be angry, and to ask questions. That was a time you didn’t ask questions of your Church.”

Did any of the grieving families lose their faith over this tragedy? None of those who participated in this book admit they have, but many have struggled with the question of how a good God permits such horror.

A 40-year veteran Chicago Tribune columnist, who as a reporter had even covered deaths in war, sums it up: “Memories of those dead kids never leave me.”

You can order REMEMBRANCES OF THE ANGELS: 50th Anniversary Reminiscences of the Fire No One Can Forget from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS WISDOM FROM ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI, compiled by John V. Kruse. Liguori. 110 pp. $10.95.

CHRISTMAS LOVE: A True Story of a Holiday Miracle, by Candy Chand, illustrations by Julie Olson. Gibbs Smith. 32 pp. $9.99.

Reviewed by JEAN BARNES, a Cincinnati-based writer.

ST. FRANCIS LOVED CHRISTMAS. He saw in the Lord’s humble birth a confirmation of God’s great love for us, as well as a call to live a simple life. Three years before his death, Francis staged a live nativity scene in Greccio to appreciate the “simplicity, humility and poverty of the scene,” says John V. Kruse.

Advent and Christmas Wisdom From St. Francis of Assisi cites the saint’s words—some written in his own hand—that speak of these same themes. Kruse, a historical theologian with expertise in Franciscan spirituality and teacher at Neumann College in Aston, Pennsylvania, has pulled together Francis’ words from many sources.

The Advent-related first part follows a day-by-day format for the possible 28 days of the season. It pairs Francis’ words with appropriate Scripture quotes, prayers and actions.

The second part does the same for the 12 days of the Christmas season.

The final part has two possible liturgical formats for nightly prayer, if a reader wants to use the book as something more than a daily reader or a guide for a prayer journal.

The other book, Christmas Love, concerns a real public school holiday pageant that somehow got to the religious heart of Christmas. Candy Chand is an inspirational writer who has had stories published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Both of these books are great antidotes to the consumerism of the standard American Christmas.

You can order ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS WISDOM FROM ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI and CHRISTMAS LOVE: A True Story of a Holiday Miracle from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

TAKE HEART: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time, edited by Ben Birnbaum. Boston College, The Church in the 21st Century series. Crossroad Publishing. 240 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a freelance writer who lives in Boston.

BOSTON COLLEGE’S The Church in the 21st Century Center is committed “to explore the neuralgic issues facing the Catholic Church today.” As part of its work, the Center publishes books that address sexuality, priesthood, lay life and religious education, among other topics. This volume is different. It addresses how people can “find or retain...hope in a time dizzy with betrayal, anger, and uncertainty....”

To this end, the Center approached “serious and able Catholic writers” and asked them to “reflect on the nature of hope and its sources and uses in our time.” Thirty-two of them and three non-Catholics contributed the thoughtful essays that comprise this modest but valuable book.

Editor Ben Birnbaum, who is Jewish, is a longtime employee of Boston College. His introduction reveals an affectionate appreciation for the incarnational sensibility of Catholicism, noting the preponderance of things that are mentioned in the essays: “green chile, a blooded crossroad, a Monday evening meditation group, a subway ride, charm bracelets, ‘Danny Boy,’ a neglected church building, an AIDS clinic, and Spanish anarchists.”

The essays vary widely in tone and subject, which adds to the pleasure of good prose and the range of insights, impressions and ideas. Take Heart affirms Cullen Murphy’s conclusion that hope is located “at the miraculous intersection of one person’s faith and another’s charity.”

Many essays narrate situations of pain. Don Wycliff, writing two years after his wife asked for a divorce, reflects on the aching loneliness and disruption of a once-settled life. Colleen Carroll Campbell was a senior in college in 1996 when her beloved father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “It was in Dad’s crucible of dementia that I came to see what his hope was made of: It was there that I learned why he had refused to hope in anything less than the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.”

Now on the faculty of Ave Maria University, Joseph Pearce in his youth was an imprisoned and angry white supremacist who was “utterly alone” in solitary confinement, “surrounded by my own vices, my own sins, my own bitterness, my own hates.” Pearce had never prayed, but someone had given him a rosary and “it was with this thinnest thread of hope in my hands that I climbed downward to my knees.”

Other authors share the fruits of their careful observation. Lawrence S. Cunningham writes about the soup kitchen, hospitality house and respite shelter near the University of Notre Dame, where he is a professor of theology: “When one magnifies and connects living Catholic places by the number of similar ones all over the world, one conjures up a huge skein of goodness that covers the planet.”

No one diminishes the fallout from the sexual-abuse scandal. Brian Doyle is blunt and direct. “I have three small children; I was enraged. And I remain enraged, afraid, and bitter. The organization into which I was born...is revealed to be a place where men at the highest levels shut their eyes to the screams of children in the next room.”

Yet Doyle offers the realistic and clear-eyed hope that “this closed corporation is dying and being reborn before our eyes; it is crumbling and shattering and roiling and churning while something in its institutional heart is struggling to be born anew.”

The authors represented in Take Heart deserve to be included in the company of midwives assisting at this momentous birth. We are the richer because they have shared the fruits of their intelligence, faith and hope.

You can order TAKE HEART: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

MEDIA MINDFULNESS: Educating Teens About Faith and Media, by Gretchen Hailer, R.S.H.M., and Rose Pacatte, F.S.P. Saint Mary’s Press. 150 pp. $25.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“IF I HAD A NICKEL for every time somebody said ___ (fill in blank), I’d be a rich man.” For this teacher of teenagers, it would have to be the phrase “It’s just entertainment.”

In their book Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens About Faith and Media, Gretchen Hailer and Rose Pacatte, both media literacy experts and women religious, attempt to do what at first seems impossible: give teachers like myself the tools to show teenagers that there is a connection (or disconnect) between their media consumption and gospel values.

In light of the all-pervasive quality of today’s media, Hailer and Pacatte make it clear that media mindfulness—media literacy education done in the context of faith formation—is no longer a luxury but a pastoral imperative. The reason is as important as it is obvious. Our culture’s storytellers, the media makers and creators of tomorrow, are in homes, classrooms and pews today.

Unfortunately, many adults are afraid of discussing media. They feel hopelessly left behind and incompetent in its presence. This sometimes results in a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing attitude toward the multiple sources of media that teenagers are exposed to and use every day. Also, rather than opening up avenues of communication, many adults are more comfortable controlling the media to which children and teens have access.

Hailer and Pacatte clearly favor communication rather than a “Just say no” response. They write, “Much as we might want to shield them from any sinfulness in the media, what we really want for them is the ability to recognize what they are seeing and hearing for what it is, and to form a Christian response to it.”

This invites adults—teachers, parents, pastors, youth ministers—to become co-learners in regard to the various entertainment out there. As a result, the experience and opinions of youth must be honored (and admitted). Otherwise, we’ll more than likely, whatever our intentions, be dismissed as judgmental and out of touch.

To this end, the book addresses eight specific media: popular culture, advertising, print, movies, music, television, electronic games and the Internet. Each chapter follows a familiar outline: brief introduction, followed by key issues and points involved in this area of media, and finishes with creative activities designed to get teenagers to become more media mindful.

In envisioning what media mindfulness is, the book offers two lenses. The first one is faith. Here it must be affirmed that all of creation—including the various forms of media—can reveal God to us. Rather than be suspicious, we should be open to “the media as potential locations for discovering the presence of God in all manner of unlikely places.”

The second lens is mindfulness. Hailer and Pacatte encourage teenagers and others to ask questions and be reflective about their lives and the choices they make.

Ultimately, the hope is that a spirituality of media and communication will emerge. Necessarily, the Church can and should play a vital role.

It is to the book’s credit that it allows for multiple uses: a course on media literacy or on ways to incorporate it into the whole curriculum; prayer or retreat experiences; parent meetings; and one’s personal enrichment.

As a teacher who sees teaching teenagers media mindfulness as one of his goals, I found the book to be a rich resource which I highly recommend.

You can order MEDIA MINDFULNESS: Educating Teens About Faith and Media from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE WORK OF OUR HANDS: The Art of Martin Erspamer, O.S.B., foreword by Archabbot Justin DuVall, O.S.B., preface by Guerric DeBona, O.S.B. Pastoral Press. 104 pp. 55 illustrations. $30.

Reviewed by JEANNE KORTEKAMP, art director of St. Anthony Messenger.

WITH GREAT DELIGHT, I agreed to review this beautiful book featuring the artistic creations of Martin Erspamer, a Benedictine brother whose work I have known and admired for a long time.

Twelve years ago, when I began employment with St. Anthony Messenger Press as art director of the magazine, I entered into a working relationship with Brother Steve Erspamer. That was how he was known to me at that time, as a Marianist brother, before he entered the Benedictine Order. By the time I arrived on the scene, Steve’s work had already appeared in St. Anthony Messenger Press’s books, newsletters and in these pages. That tradition continued.

Nearly three years ago, I called the studio in St. Louis where he worked only to discover that he was gone. He left to enter into the novitiate at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana to become a Benedictine brother.

I was surprised he would leave behind his beloved dog. On the other hand, I could see how he might be drawn to the particular spirituality of the Benedictines. He was deeply attracted to the contemplative aspects of Christianity and the rich tradition and history of Christian symbols. It is these symbols, especially from the medieval period, that have found their way into his art.

So now Martin could delve deeper into the transcendent and build on his own rich heritage. The Work of Our Hands is surely a testament to his skill as an artist and craftsman and, above all, to the knowledge of Christian subject matter which he brings to his art. Whenever I commission him to create illustrations for an article in St. Anthony Messenger, I know I can trust his understanding and depiction of the essential aspects of what is written.

The Work of Our Hands is beautifully designed, presenting Brother Martin’s work with the clarity and simplicity it deserves. The color reproductions of the art are each accompanied by a brief explanation of the process, as well as the meaning of the symbols.

The book is divided into four sections: art, glass, ceramics and furniture. This diversity exemplifies the breadth of Martin’s talents. A triptych titled “The Shrine of St. Meinrad” is one such example, as it shows the life of St. Meinrad in a series of paintings on its panels and is also designed to house relics of the saint in the lower central panel.

The Work of Our Hands provides the reader not only with a delightful visual experience, but also with a deeper awareness and understanding of the symbols and transcendent aspects of Christian art. It received an award from the Catholic Press Association last May.

You can order THE WORK OF OUR HANDS: The Art of Martin Erspamer, O.S.B., from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE VATICAN, by Father Michael Collins. Dorling Kindersley Limited. 320 pp. $35.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. During the years that he worked at the international headquarters of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome (1985 until 1992), he regularly walked down the hill and visited the Vatican.

THIS LUSH PHOTO BOOK was written by Father Michael Collins, who spent six summers as a tour guide in St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as seven years studying and teaching in Rome. Ordained in 1985 and now working in Dublin, he gladly accompanies groups of pilgrims to the Eternal City.

In the Foreword, he writes: “With this book, I have taken you behind the scenes of this fascinating city state. You will meet a variety of the people who live and work there, and wonder at the incomparable artistic treasure house and great Christian center that is the Vatican.”

Father Collins tells this story in six sections: calendar (photos of key annual events), history (portraits of many popes and a chronological summary of the papacy’s history), art and architecture (St. Peter’s and other buildings at the Vatican, plus St. John Lateran and the papal palace in Viterbo), daily life inside the Vatican (pope, workers and members of the Roman curia), people (see list below) and treasures (mostly liturgical objects).

The people section includes Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Leandro Sandri, a sacristan, a choirboy, a Missionary of Charity, a seminarian, a mosaic restorer, a photographer, a painting restorer, a Swiss Guard and the director of furnishings for the Apostolic Palace.

The excellent and well-captioned photos (over 1,000) show behind-the-scenes staff members, as well as locations and objects that most visitors will never see. This volume concludes with a chronology of the popes, a glossary of key terms and a thorough index.

You can order THE VATICAN from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Time For Teaching and Sharing

The Christmas season can be a time to teach children about the Holy Family and share messages of hope through Christmas books, such as these three from Concordia Publishing House.

THE WONDER OF CHRISTMAS, by Dandi Daley Mackall, with illustrations by Dave Hill (24 pp., $12.99), takes a modern approach to the Christmas story through illustrations that depict a children’s Christmas pageant. This book asks open-ended questions designed to engage readers about the feelings, thoughts and actions of all those involved in the story, including the angels, innkeeper, shepherds, wise men and the readers themselves.

AWAY IN A MANGER, illustrated by Mike Jaroszko (24 pp., $12.99), pairs the lyrics of the traditional Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger,” with exquisite illustrations. The carol’s first documented publication was in 1885 in a Lutheran Sunday school songbook. No one knows who wrote the first two stanzas, but they have often been attributed to Martin Luther.

FEAR NOT, JOSEPH!, text by Julie Stiegemeyer and art by Cheri Bladholm (25 pp., $12.99), is an interpretation of the traditional Christmas story from Joseph’s point of view. Most of the story is based on Bible accounts, but Stiegemeyer also fills in gaps with her own ideas of what Joseph thought and did.

—Kathryn Rosenbaum


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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