CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE 21st CENTURY: Finding Hope for Its Future in the Wisdom of
Its Past, edited by the Rev. Michael J. Himes. Liguori Publications.
139 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by JOHN J. BRODERICK, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology, Stonehill
College, Easton, Massachusetts.
LARGE INSTITUTIONS such as the Catholic Church are like ocean liners; changing course
for both is slow and requires careful preparation. This short volume uses wisdom
of the past to suggest course changes for the Church.
On May 31, 2003, more than 500 people gathered at Jesuit Rockhurst High School in
Kansas City, Missouri, to hear a panel of theologians discuss how the history of
the Church might provide lessons for today.
Following an introductory chapter by Richard W. Miller are six chapters by various
theologians who spoke, as well as a transcript of the panel discussions and questions
from the audience.
All six chapters begin with the phrase, “What Can We Learn From....” They
explore the following topics: the Church in the New Testament (the Rev. Daniel J.
Harrington, S.J.), the Church in the First Millennium (the Rev. Michael J. Buckley,
S.J.), the Medieval Church (Dr. Catherine M. Mooney), the Tridentine and Baroque
Church (the Rev. Thomas F. O’Meara, O.P.), the Church in the 19th Century (the
Rev. Michael J. Himes, also the editor) and Vatican II (Dr. Richard R. Gaillardetz).
Panelists agree the Church is always in need of reform. As Father Himes observes, “If
you try to stand still, the world moves around you, and you aren’t where you
thought you were.”
Sin and crisis are not new phenomena in the Church, Harrington notes. In fact, the
first century was not the golden age of untroubled growth that we imagine. Paul’s
First Letter to the Corinthians contains reference to problems similar to those facing
the Church today.
During the first millennium of Church history, the laity had a voice in the selection
of their own bishop, Buckley points out. He also suggests that the Church restore
the enduring commitment of the bishop to his diocese; a bishop should not usually
expect to be moved to a larger see.
Buckley recommends that national conferences and regional gatherings of local bishops
be restored or strengthened. Nowadays he’s found that Vatican congregations
are setting aside virtually unanimous judgments of national hierarchies and that
this has contributed to the growing restiveness in the Church.
Everyone, including the hierarchy, needs to listen more carefully to what the Spirit
is saying to the Church through the laity, says Dr. Mooney. This will require a structured
place for the voice of the laity within the government of the Church. Advisory bodies
spawned by Vatican II have been shown to be ineffectual, she thinks.
Father O’Meara covers the entire period from the Council of Trent until Vatican
II. He uses the term “the Baroque” to stand for the past several centuries
when the Church was more about “submission and obedience” than quest
for community. He likens the Baroque Church to a kind of electric company distributing
grace to Church members. Now it’s time to develop a model of Church in which
parishes are “concentric circles of ministry” surrounding active leadership.
Father Himes relies upon John Henry Newman, who wrote about the sensus fidelium (the
sense of the faithful), but adds that we need to find out just what that is in the
contemporary Church. Things can be learned from the experience of sister Churches.
For example, the Episcopal Church supports a house of laity as well as a house of
clergy and a house of bishops.
The principle of subsidiarity (retaining decision-making at the level of the local
communities) needs to be practiced more consistently, Dr. Gaillardetz says. It underlies
many of the suggestions in this short volume.
Gaillardetz also quotes from Pope John XXIII’s opening address at the Vatican
Council: “...Sometimes we have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of
persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion
In this volume we find both zeal and discretion. The contributors use the wisdom
of the past to suggest hopeful changes for the future.
For readers who wish to explore these issues more fully, the publisher has made
this symposium available in sets of videos and audiotapes which are accompanied by
a study guide. They would make an excellent starting point for small-group discussions
of changes in the Church.
You can order THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE 21st CENTURY: Finding Hope for Its
Future in the Wisdom of Its Past from St.
FROM THE COUNCIL, edited by Michael R. Prendergast and M.D. Ridge.
Pastoral Press. 328 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. As a high school
freshman, he missed five minutes of Latin class because of bells ringing to mark
the start of Vatican II.
THE LIMITED SPACE HERE prevents me from doing full justice to this excellent volume
of interviews with 32 men and one woman who were present in Rome during all or part
of Vatican II.
Originally, this book was meant to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy (December 4, 2003). Eventually, people involved in other
aspects of the Council were included.
The interviewees include 13 men who were bishops at the Council, nine experts or
staff persons, three theologians and eight observers or media persons.
The volume begins with Pope John XXIII’s brilliant opening address to the
Council, a key for understanding this event. A six-page Glossary of Terms precedes
a list of the 16 Council documents (promulgation dates given—11 of them in
the Council’s last session). The volume concludes with a five-page explanation
of major Vatican II figures, most of whom are now deceased.
The 27 interviewers posed questions such as: What was the most significant moment
at the Council for you? Which document was most significant for you? Who do you feel
was the most significant figure at the Council? What has happened that you never
imagined would happen? And what hasn’t happened?
Cardinals Francis Arinze and Franz Koenig, Archbishops Denis Hurley, O.M.I., and
Raymond Hunthausen, and Bishop Charles Buswell are the most well-known of the bishops
interviewed in this volume.
Liturgical “giants” among the experts include Pierre-Marie Gy, O.P.,
Pierre Jounel and Frederick McManus. Journalists Robert Blair Kaiser and Irving R.
Levine offer their perspectives, as well as observers Martin Marty, Brother Roger
of Taizé and Sister Mary Luke Tobin, S.L.
The late Archbishop Hurley commented that the world synod of bishops has not lived
up to its potential, partly because theologians have not been involved enough. The
interview with Archbishop Piero Marini, the pope’s master of ceremonies, is
particularly interesting. Sister Mary Luke Tobin says: “I believe that, unless
we incorporate the virtue of hope in our lives, we are not going to get through the
modern period....It’s hope that gives us the courage to go forward.”
Perhaps the last word should go to Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando of Chilaw, Sri Lanka: “The
Church will go on. There will be Roncalli popes in the future, too.”
You can order VOICES FROM THE COUNCIL from St.
LUTHER: A Penguin Life, by Martin Marty. Viking. 224 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a writer and teacher at St. Xavier High
School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently coedited (with William Madges) Vatican
II: Forty Personal Stories, available through Twenty-Third Publications.
AN AUGUSTINIAN PROFESSOR who taught me in graduate school always referred to Martin
Luther as “Friar Martin.” Far from being a heretic who deserved to be
burned at the stake, Luther was and remained a fellow Augustinian, a brother in faith,
who, unfortunately, was about 450 years ahead of his time.
In Martin Luther, Martin Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago
and one of the most catholic non-Catholics I know, presents the story of one
of the most contentious and influential religious reformers in history.
Luther, as portrayed by Marty, is not an exercise in hagiography. He is presented
as a man of his time—both saintly and flawed. In speaking of Luther’s
positive and lingering contributions, Marty impressively lists several: the development
of human liberty, the free expression of conscience, the support of music, the development
of literary style, and Luther’s role in reshaping religious life.
Ultimately, though, Marty writes that Luther “makes most sense as a wrestler
with God, indeed as a God-obsessed seeker of certainty and assurance in a time of
social trauma and of personal anxiety, beginning with his own.”
Though his father advocated a career in law, in 1505 Luther, following a vow made
to St. Anne during a violent thunderstorm, became a monk. Certainty of belief would
not come from a life of asceticism and Church authority, however, but from the authority
of Scripture. Where and how this was discovered would be in Wittenberg as a teacher
To make a long theological story short, in 1517 Luther had seen enough and protested,
nailing 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. He objected to the lucrative
Church practice of selling indulgences which he felt took advantage of the faithful
by granting salvation on the cheap and, furthermore, promoted complacency in the
As a result of his protest, Luther would spend the next few years being chased by
Rome and further refining his theology, all the while winning converts, both religious
and political, to his cause. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, this now-excommunicated “wild
boar,” when asked to recant his positions, declared before the Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V, “I cannot do otherwise; here I stand.”
With neither side seemingly willing to compromise, the break appeared permanent.
In subsequent years, as Luther sought to live his faith, the monk married and had
children. Luther continued to rail against the papacy, but also turned his sights
toward Muslims and Jews. For a man who had brought about such change, he often felt
not like a victor but like a witness to the coming end of the world. His end came
February 17, 1546.
As a Catholic, I must affirm that it does not seem appropriate to sum up by saying: “It
is good to know thy enemy,” because Luther comes across more a fellow pilgrim
Martin Marty has provided for people of all faiths—or no faith at all—a
readable, engaging and informative introduction to the figure of Martin Luther.
You can order MARTIN LUTHER: A Penguin Life from St.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C.
to 1950, by Charles Murray. HarperCollins. 688 pp. $29.95.
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.
CHARLES MURRAY’S Human Accomplishment is bound to upset some people.
Using a statistical method known as historiometry, Murray calculates the space given
to major figures in the arts and sciences to gauge their long-term impact on humanity.
The numbers indicate that the preponderance of human achievement has issued from
white European males, notably from England, Germany, France and Italy between 1400
His astute analysis of the hard data shows that Christianity was a major factor
for human achievement during that era. Because of the decline in the overarching
worldview provided by Aristotelian philosophy and Christian belief, however, Murray
contends that humanity’s golden age of accomplishment has come to an end.
Murray shows how Christianity is built upon the philosophical foundation of the
Greeks. They saw the human person as unique and free with rational power for observation.
He believes their self-conscious awareness and power of perception gave human life
value. These specifically human qualities, combined with metaphysics, provided for
them a vision of the true, the good and the beautiful.
Murray says these attributes, combined with Christian respect for the individual
and the obligation to use one’s intellect and will for the greater honor and
glory of God, were the ingredients that led to an explosion of human achievement.
The process took over 1,000 years to develop, Murray suggests, since early Christianity
was in the beginning more communal than individualistic. The seeds, however, were
certainly present when, in the second century, St. Irenaeus proclaimed, “The
glory of God is man fully alive.”
Protestantism, though less enthusiastic about the world and the nature-grace nexus
than Catholicism, also contributed to the boom in science and the arts by its devotion
to rugged individualism, the hard work ethic exemplified in the scientific method—which
Murray deems to be the granddaddy of mega-inventions—and its embrace of capitalist
Murray contends that neither Eastern Orthodoxy nor Islam ever experienced a comparable
burst of creativity. He attributes this to their hierarchical structure, which is
fixed on obedience and tradition. Autonomy in these societies was frowned upon, leaving
little room for speculative inquiry and experimentation.
He says that Islam’s golden age during the ninth and 10th centuries was actually
an aberration, since the religious leaders did not have a tight grip on the newly
Murray condemns the present zeitgeist that disdains any overarching idea that provides
a cohesive vision for society. He says the elimination of a belief in a transcendent
good has destroyed a basic organizing structure of society. A belief in transcendence
allowed for coherence of thought and shared growth among artists and scientists.
He castigates the present relativism in the arts as at best trite, personal and,
in many cases, disgusting. Robert Mapplethorpe’s obscene photographs and the
dung-covered Madonna displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art not too long ago stand
out among the current genre as cases in point.
While the book contains an abundance of statistical data, the author’s commentary
makes it quite comprehensible for the mathematically challenged. For those who want
to learn inferential statistics, Appendix I is a veritable “statistics for
Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who describes himself as
an agnostic, has provided us with an insightful look at the power of religion in
You can order HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts
and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 from St.
IN HARLEM: A Novel, by Joe Benevento. PublishAmerica. 186 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON, an assistant editor of this publication. In
1997, he graduated with dual majors in English and communication arts from the
College of Mount St. Joseph.
IT ISN’T OFTEN you come across a novel whose main character is a ham-fisted
plumber’s helper with a Ph.D. and an existential crisis. Gus Perazzo, the protagonist
in Joe Benevento’s Plumbing in Harlem, is a man whose life is
not unlike the ramshackle buildings in which he works: damaged, dejected but full
It’s summertime, 1980. Gus Perazzo, a 30-year-old with a job offer to teach
college in Iowa, returns home to Queens to spend time with his colorful Italian-American
family. Among them are Ana, the mother who’s been diagnosed with liver cancer,
and Joe, the father who can’t admit to his wife—or himself—that
her cancer is likely terminal.
Over the course of eight weeks, Gus gladly suffers an onslaught of eccentric, memorable
characters, from inside his own home to the tenants of the apartment buildings he’s
helping to renovate.
But life for Gus isn’t a resolvable, 30-minute sitcom. Crisis and grief are
also part of his personal landscape. An especially moving—and wearisome—subplot
is his strained relationship with his wife, Angela, an academic who resents her husband’s
marital hiatus for quality time with his family. The prospect of moving to Iowa is
a further crack in their shaky marriage.
Gus shelves his marital anguish for a summer of much-needed soul- and self-assessment.
His sojourn in Queens proves invaluable. When anybody returns to his or her childhood
home, reminiscence often collides with new experiences, and Gus lays himself open
to all of it.
Plumbing in Harlem is crammed with moments of beauty and memory. Case in
point: As Gus climbs the steps to take a shower after his first day of exhausting—and
fruitless—plumbing, he remembers as a child counting the same stairs as he
walked them, fretting that the top step ended at the cursed 13. Revisiting one’s
past, even the most benign moments, is a theme the author captures with an almost
Joe Benevento, author, poet and writing professor at Truman State University in
Missouri, has undoubtedly conveyed to his students the famous adage: “Write
what you know.” He draws upon his own life experiences as a plumber’s
apprentice—and son of a sick mother—in the early ’80s.
That authenticity saturates the pages: Each complex character, quirky episode or
line of dialogue is infused with life, pathos and genuine humor. (Rarely has this
reviewer laughed aloud from the pages of a book. Benevento’s story can be blamed
for several such outbursts.)
Catholic imagery can be found throughout this slim novel, from Ana’s tireless
loyalty to the saints—particularly Padre Pio—to Gus’s own struggle
with his faith amid a life ravaged by heartache and doubt.
But this is more than just a story sprinkled with Catholic ingredients. Plumbing
in Harlem is, above all, a human story—a tangible, engrossing
piece of work that weaves together the threads of everyday life: the fear of loss,
the pain of journeying down old roads and the exhilaration of new, uncharted paths.
Benevento’s book is a photo album put into words.
Some readers may find the bits of crass language distracting, but it’s a small
price to pay for this subtle, poignant piece of quasi-fiction. Plumbing in Harlem,
like a grand, tall tale, is the author’s way of saying to the reader, “Sit
back. You’re gonna love this one.”
You can order PLUMBING IN HARLEM: A Novel from St.