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God's Inexhaustible Love for Us

Q U I C K S C A N

THE FURIOUS LONGING OF GOD
A TASTE OF HEAVEN: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns
CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
SILENT NIGHT
IN DUE SEASON: A Catholic Life
DISPUTED TRUTH: Memoirs II
SIGNS AND MYSTERIES: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols
To Prepare for Christmas



THE FURIOUS LONGING OF GOD, by Brennan Manning. David C. Cook Publisher. 129 pp. $16.99.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE VENTLINE, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit for 33 years. He is founder of www.interfaithwork.com and a longtime religion writer for The Detroit News. A board-certified professional counselor and certified personal trainer, he currently leads aerobic and chair exercises.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER and know that God has a furious longing for each of us: This is the theme in all of Brennan Manning’s books.

Grace is like that. The reader relishes grace, savors it and sits in God’s love like the little boy in the tree mentioned in Shel Silverstein’s children’s classic, The Giving Tree. The wild and wonderful love of God is there eternally, like the tree giving shelter and shade until the boy grows old and needs only to rest on the stump.

In 11 chapters, an introduction, end notes, Bible resources and a couple questions to ponder at each chapter’s end, Manning addresses praying, healing, giving and unimaginable love. Manning’s voice kept calling me to reread lines and taste of our Maker’s mark in loving each of us with fury and fire, as it were.

God showers us in a loving relationship. Love is like that, isn’t it? We want to remain forever in the Presence.

This book stands at the center of all the books written by this former Franciscan priest. His own trek through life allows this 12-step-spirituality advocate to lead retreats, teach seminary students, capture hearts in packed arenas and even live on the streets as he battles his own demons on the way.

Known best for The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning in this spiritual read had my heart locked into imagining God hovering so close, in an intimacy that is rare. With his ability to get close to the reader, Manning paints God as One closer than we realize. Perhaps the best we can do is “eat his body and drink his blood” at Mass.

Manning proposes we develop an ongoing, real relationship with Abba’s son, Jesus the Christ. And so it is for me as each page is turned—an up-and-down ride on the roller coaster of the spiritual life.

The Afterword of this work has Mair, a diva and ragamuffin, telling of her broken, cracked-pot living: “And now, the fury roars again. The furious longing of God has fanned that spark of resident divinity into a blazing flame of burning love. I’ve been swept into the embrace of God, in all his fury. And this fury, this sublime, ineffable fury is not God’s anger. Oh no, it’s his inexhaustible, unreasonable and downright insane love.”

Rare is it for one to let us in so deeply into his love affair with God.

You can order THE FURIOUS LONGING OF GOD from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

A TASTE OF HEAVEN: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns, by Madeline Scherb. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. 209 pp. $15.95/U.S.; $20/Canada.

Reviewed by CAROL LUEBERING, retired St. Anthony Messenger Press editor, freelance writer and ardent practitioner of the culinary arts.

SOME BOOKS DEFY easy classification, and this is one of them. Part tour guide and part catalog of palate-pleasing delicacies, it offers a number of recipes and a lot of monastic history.

Monastic life is, of course, centered on prayer, but work is just as essential an element. For centuries, cloistered monks and nuns farmed to sustain themselves. In the modern world, producing wines and beers, cheeses, fruitcakes and other products requires a smaller workforce and reaches a wider market more easily.

The goal remains sustenance, not profit. Some monasteries have chosen to limit production; others donate anything above their needs to charity. For all of them, creating culinary delights is a way of sharing the delights of God’s creation with the rest of the world.

As a tour guide, Scherb is delightful. Each chapter focuses on a particular type of product: spirits (beers, wines and liqueurs), cheeses, sweets and assorted “other edifying edibles.”

One by one, she takes readers to U.S. and European monasteries that are famous for their products (including itineraries for visiting those clustered in one area), introducing their history, the surrounding landscape and the rhythm of the lives within. You learn which welcome guests and where their delicacies can be obtained.

She thoughtfully provides phone numbers, Internet addresses, retail distributors and even some pointers on monastery etiquette for those who choose a stay. Each section includes recipes that call for the foods these monasteries produce.

The only problem I had with the book—and it is a big one—is that it is too rich for my blood. Few of us can afford the travel involved in visiting many of these places. Neither will the ingredients her recipes require be found in the average neighborhood supermarket; you will have to turn to the gourmet food sources she lists. Many of the recipes call for adding eggs and cream to dishes featuring the monasteries’ cheeses—not an option for anyone who cooks, as I do, for someone on a low-fat diet.

Still, if you’re willing to underwrite your travels and your dining pleasure with your imagination rather than your credit card, here is your ticket.

You can order A TASTE OF HEAVEN: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD, by Brenda Trunkhill. Illustrations by Jeff Carnehl. Concordia Publishing House. 30 pp. $6.99.

SILENT NIGHT, by Vicki Howie. Illustrated by Kriszta Nagy Kállai. Concordia Publishing House. 29 pp. $13.49.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, assistant managing editor of this publication, with some help from her three children, Maddie, Alex and Riley.

GETTING KIDS to think outside of their own lives is not always an easy thing. So I welcome any opportunity to expand their worlds a little bit. Christmas Around the World offered that very opportunity.

The book explores how different countries celebrate Christmas, answering the same five questions for each: How do they celebrate the Christ Child’s birth? How do they decorate? How do they say “Merry Christmas”? What do they eat? What can we pray for?

The introduction to the book advises parents that they may “want to focus on one region at a time. Just as you wouldn’t read an encyclopedia from cover to cover in one sitting, don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t want to read more than a few pages at a time.”

But I was pleasantly surprised that not only did my kids want to read and talk about more than one at a time, they kept going back to ones we’d already read. They marked various customs, foods, expressions from each country that they are looking forward to incorporating into our own Christmas celebration, such as making seashell ornaments as they do in the Caribbean islands. And I guess I better figure out how to make jelly-filled doughnuts as they do in the Holy Land to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

This book would make a great gift for your family or someone else’s.

The book Silent Night tells the tale of how the famous Christmas carol came to be. It was written in 1818 to be accompanied by guitar rather than the organ.

This version of the story provides the perspective and motivation of the mice that are said to have chewed through the organ’s bellows. The mice are frightened by the organ’s loud music, so they decide to chew a hole in the bellows, thus rendering it useless for Christmas Eve Mass. The mice succeed, but then immediately feel bad for what they have done when they see the sad faces of the choir members and children.

Father Joseph Mohr, not knowing what to do, looks to the crèche for inspiration. He saves Christmas Eve Mass at the last minute by writing the lyrics to the song and asking his friend Franz Gruber to write the accompanying music. Thus was born “Silent Night.”

This book is a delightful take on the story of one of Christmas’s most beloved carols, providing both its history and a pleasant tale for the whole family. And the illustrations are delightful, too.

You can order CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD AND SILENT NIGHT from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

IN DUE SEASON: A Catholic Life, by Paul Wilkes. Jossey-Bass. 287 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by MITCH FINLEY, author of more than 30 books for Catholic readers, most recently The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between (The Word Among Us Press). See www.mitchandkathyfinley.com.

IT’S BEEN SOME YEARS since a good Catholic autobiography hit bookstore shelves. One reviewer went so far as to say that this one will supersede Thomas Merton’s classic, The Seven Storey Mountain. I wouldn’t go that far—as I’m sure the author would not—but this is still an honest, finely crafted account of a life and the lessons its author has learned along the way in and out, and in and out, and back in the Catholic faith community.

Paul Wilkes has written some superb books (e.g., In Mysterious Ways: The Death and Life of a Parish Priest) and produced exquisite video documentaries (e.g., Merton for PBS). In this autobiography the reader may find himself or herself commenting repeatedly on choices Paul Wilkes made in his life, “What a dope,” and Wilkes would, again, be the first to agree.

Perhaps the most profound insight presented in this book, however, is not the bad choices or the good choices Paul Wilkes made along the way, but the power of the Catholic faith into which he was born to throw him a lifeline again and again.

And the admirable thing is that Wilkes continued to choose to return to that lifeline until, in the end, he realized that it was the only way he could ever have a life worth living.

Wilkes narrates his life from its humble beginnings in Cleveland, through his years in Catholic elementary and secondary schools and a Catholic university, into his years in the U.S. Navy, on to graduate school at Columbia University, and into a high-octane New York freelance writing career.

Along the way the reader learns of more than a few unremarkable choices Wilkes made that are the same stupid choices flawed humans have been making since forever, and they are basically boring: booze, sex and drugs (ho-hum).

Into the mix is a so-called marriage that ended up failing, years of making do by attending his wife’s Methodist church, then a radical U-turn into a life of voluntary poverty and service to the poor that wasn’t where he belonged, either. Then came an attempt to make a vocation to the Trappists happen, and that also didn’t work.

Finally, salvation came to Paul Wilkes in the most ordinary of ways, by meeting a good woman, accepting his God-given vocation as a writer and living the ordinary Catholic faith he shares with innumerable other ordinary Catholics.

One of Wilkes’s more recent books is The Good Enough Catholic, and he himself—as this autobiography illustrates—is perhaps the best example of the virtues that characterize such Catholics. The author of this book is a good enough Catholic, and that’s good enough.

You can order IN DUE SEASON: A Catholic Life from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

DISPUTED TRUTH: Memoirs II, by Hans Küng. Continuum. 556 pp. $34.95, hardcover; $24.95, paperback.

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

IN RESPONSE to the ongoing debate occasioned by his book Infallible? An Inquiry, Hans Küng and the renowned Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner engaged in a series of letters in the spring of 1973. In one of them Küng asked his theological colleague to stop describing him as a “liberal Protestant” and think of him as a Catholic theologian with an evangelical concentration.

This exchange of letters speaks to the heart of what Hans Küng, emeritus professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen and president of the Global Ethic Foundation, seeks to demonstrate in part two of his memoirs, Disputed Truth. The volume covers from the end of the Second Vatican Council (1965) to the present day. Not only has he been profoundly shaped by the Catholic tradition but he also remains in it as a believer, priest and theologian.

The book begins, interestingly enough, with Küng speaking not of himself but of his one-time colleague, Professor Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict XVI. Here Küng makes it clear that, though their lives will keep crossing time and again, he feels that Ratzinger chose to commit himself to the “Roman hierarchical system.” Küng, however, purposefully placed himself at the service of those both inside and outside the Church. Unlike many of their peers from the days of the Second Vatican Council, he feels that this later enabled him to resist the tempting domestication and curialization by Rome.

The years after the Council are eventful ones for Küng, who emerges as one of the Catholic Church’s leading theologians. Numerous books, articles, interviews, awards and trips follow. The year 1968 is pivotal with political, social, economic and religious unrest everywhere. Though some resort to relying on authority and tradition, Küng stresses the need for continued intellectual freedom and mutual respect, even toward those with whom we disagree.

A major event in that year was Pope Paul VI’s publication of Humanae Vitae, which affirmed the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. It provoked Küng to write Infallible? An Inquiry (1970). In it, Küng does not shy away from “disputed truth,” but demonstrates that history is full of papal errors which call into question the foundation and dogma of papal infallibility.

It goes without saying that the book brought forth a storm of conversation and controversy.

Disciplinary proceedings against the book soon follow from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Küng, well aware of the Church’s preferred practice of private objections instead of public challenges, holds fast to his position even when asked to yield. Two later and best-selling works—On Being a Christian (1974) and Does God Exist? (1978)—only add more fuel to the fire.

The great question that surrounds Küng’s work and his critics becomes whether this is a battle for the truth or a struggle for power.

For close to 10 years, Küng engages in a game of chess with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the German Bishops’ Conference. Each side makes measured and calculated moves, hoping to get the other party to concede. This only leads to positions where concessions appear unlikely.

The hammer finally drops in December of 1979, a few days before Christmas. Though it suffers a public relations disaster for its timing, the Vatican withdraws Küng’s teaching mandate, effectively forbidding him to teach in the Catholic theology faculty at the University of Tübingen.

As one of several pictures in the book attests, however, he still remains a priest in good standing. Deeply wounded and feeling betrayed, Küng fights on and, eventually, is allowed to stay at Tübingen as the head of the Institute for Ecumenical Research.

The book basically ends here with Küng looking to the future with a certain degree of hope, though somewhat deflated by the process he’s just undergone.

As with all memoirs, Küng’s Disputed Truth presents a life from one perspective. Given all that he’s undergone, though, it’s not mean-spirited. Rather, it is an act of self-defense by someone who has been one of recent Catholicism’s most influential theologians.

You can order DISPUTED TRUTH: Memoirs II from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

SIGNS AND MYSTERIES: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, by Mike Aquilina. Illustrated by Lea Marie Ravotti. 188 pp. Our Sunday Visitor. $15.95.

Reviewed by BRIAN WELTER, who teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) to adults in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and writes for a variety of Catholic publications. He recently received a D.Th. from the University of South Africa with a study on Pope John Paul II.

MIKE AQUILINA and Lea Marie Ravotti use symbols to introduce modern readers to ancient Christianity. They make this past come alive by connecting us to the power these images held.

Modern Christians use many of the same symbols as the ancients did, of course, such as Christ, “the alpha and the omega.” These Greek letters signified “fullness in God alone,” which believers drew from the Book of Revelation.

We have lost from early Christianity the idea that this book offers primarily a message of hope. “In it God—who is eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing—guaranteed the victory of the faithful over their persecutors. Thus, the alpha-omega symbol was a source of courage, a reminder of the Christian’s hidden reservoir of strength,” Aquilina writes.

Unsurprisingly, these symbols appeared not only in churches but also at ancient burial sites.

Western Christians have dodged physical persecution for some time, resulting in the loss to this symbol of the meaning of strength under duress. Yet at the same time, misleading movies and bad theology based on the Book of Revelation have given modern Christians a sense of intimidation or embarrassment from this part of the Bible.

Aquilina explains well the basic theology behind symbols. The cross, which was much less widespread among ancient believers than it is among modern Christians, leads into a discussion on the simple power of Pauline theology lost on us today.

Christians in the Roman Empire didn’t often use this symbol because the empire was still crucifying people, and the faithful would therefore have seen firsthand the horror and devastation of this punishment.

Aquilina tries to recreate this symbol’s shock value by describing in great detail the process by which the person crucified died a slow death, as the nails in the hands and feet dug into skin and bones, with breathing becoming harder and harder until the person died of asphyxiation.

Signs and Mysteries also contains some surprises, such as the Christian meaning of the peacock. Like many Christian images, it had been a Jewish symbol as well: “Peacocks were, with gold and silver, unmistakable signs of King Solomon’s wealth. With ivory and apes, they bespoke a luxury so great that it bordered on frivolity.”

Many symbols, such as the dolphin, came from pagan culture. Pagans believed that dolphins had superhuman powers and carried the souls of the dead to the afterworld. It was a short step to using the animal as a sign for Christ, especially by Christian sailors.

Signs and Mysteries shows Christianity as a holistic religion and path, with encouragement and meaning for all aspects of life. Ravotti’s simple illustrations give the book added character.

You can order SIGNS AND MYSTERIES: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

To Prepare for Christmas

Advent is a time of prayerful waiting for Christmas. These small books are perfect for making this busy season more meaningful.

MEETING CHRIST AT BROADWAY & BETHLEHEM: Day by Day Through Advent, by Edward Hays (Forest of Peace/Ave Maria Press, 32 pp., $2.25), contains concise meditations to push aside the glitz and glitter of Christmas and explore our longing for Christ. A similar book, DAILY REFLECTIONS FOR ADVENT & CHRISTMAS: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2009-10, by Bishop Robert F. Morneau (Liturgical Press, 105 pp., $2), is the poet-bishop’s second book in this format to help us prepare for Jesus’ coming.

SACRED SPACE FOR ADVENT AND THE CHRISTMAS SEASON 2009-2010, by the Jesuit Communication Centre of Ireland (Ave Maria Press, 96 pp., $2.50), is drawn from the wonderful Web site www.sacredspace.ie. In the Jesuit tradition of the Spiritual Exercises, this booklet helps readers focus on the presence of God and their own freedom and consciousness, using self-conversation starters.

THE MEANING IS IN THE WAITING: The Spirit of Advent, by Paula Gooder (Paraclete Press, 139 pp., $14.99), and A LIGHT TO ENLIGHTEN THE DARKNESS: Daily Readings for Meditation During the Winter Season, by Emma Cazabonne (Cistercian Publications, 124 pp., $16.95), both present original ways to focus on our minds and hearts during Advent and beyond.--B.B.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.

 


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