LETTERS TO EXODUS CHRISTIANS:
Comfort and Hope for Those Who Have Trouble Going to Church, by
Edward Hays. Ave Maria Press. 144
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, who
teaches religion at St. Xavier High School
in Cincinnati, Ohio.
WE MIGHT NOT LIKE to admit it, but
only about one third of baptized
Catholics in the United States attend
Sunday Mass. Add to this a recent study
that found that one out of every 10
U.S. adults is an ex-Catholic.
In the past it's been easy to blame
and describe them as
"lapsed" or "fallen away."
In Letters to Exodus Christians:
Comfort and Hope for
Those Who Have Trouble
Going to Church, however,
Father Edward Hays, longtime
pastor and spiritual
writer, sympathizes with
these people and validates
For Hays, "these Exodus
Christians are not simply
percentage numbers or faceless
people. They are good friends of
mine, former students, converts, family
members and past parishioners."
Giving them the benefit of the
doubt, Hays argues that, in many cases,
far from falling away, Exodus Christians
were pushed away. The reasons
are numerous: divorced and remarried
Catholics who lack annulments, gays
and lesbians who refuse to see their
sexual orientation as a disorder, women
who feel excluded from full participation
in the life of the Church, and victims
of the sexual-abuse crisis.
Hays adds another reason, which he
believes is most important—boredom.
He writes: "I propose that the vast
majority of those who have stopped
going to church regularly have not
done so because they are lax or indifferent,
but simply because they've been
bored out of it. They have been bored
away, finding worship uninspiring and,
most of all, empty of nourishment."
Following the example of St. Paul,
Hays speaks to these wandering and
departed Catholics in a series of letters.
Some of them are ones he has
written, while others emerged from
conversations or exchanges he has had
over the years. In total they provide
comfort and support, encouragement
and strength to those struggling to live
out their faith.
The first group of letters is written to
individual Exodus Christians. For varied
reasons, the persons
addressed here have found
themselves on the margins
of parish life and the institutional
Church. Some have
joined other faith traditions,
while others no longer practice
their faith. Hays still
wants them to see themselves
as members of the
Body of Christ and the Pilgrim
People of God.
The next section contains
letters addressed to Christian
churches (or specific cities like San
Francisco or Denver). Throughout the
book, whether it pertains to an individual
or a larger faith community,
Hays counsels, "Don't let anyone or
any institution, regardless of how holy
it claims to be, steal your joy and
delight in being alive! Become exorcists,
and with laughter and good
humor expel the demons of hostility,
negativity, resentment and sadness."
There is also a section that responds
to those questioning their faithful attendance.
Contrary to what you might
expect, given the title of the book, Hays
advises these people "to remain as committed
as you can to the Church. While
likely you will never see the harvest of
your efforts, this possibility shouldn't
diminish your commitment."
This is followed by letters to the
anointed members of the priesthood of
the baptized. Here, recognizing the situations
that many people find themselves
in today, Hays offers rituals and
prayers to those who wish to mark
important spiritual events in their lives,
when ordained clergy aren't available.
Hays finishes by writing apostolic
exodus letters to his brother priests
who often find themselves in the
uncomfortable position of trying "to be
a faithful disciple of Christ, striving to
live his gospel teachings while also
being a loyal minister of your Church,
obedient to her many regulations."
Rather than bemoan the current situation
of Exodus Christians, Hays sees
something of God in all of it. The
Hebrews journeyed in the desert for 40
years to get from Egypt to the Promised
Land. Likewise, the wanderings of Exodus
Christians are taking them and the
Church in new directions and places.
My one concern is that the Exodus
Christians for whom this book is most
meant may not buy it. It is up to us,
then, to bring this book to their attention,
perhaps purchase it for them, as
it will prove a valuable and reassuring
guide on their faith journey.
You can order LETTERS TO EXODUS CHRISTIANS: Comfort and Hope for Those Who
Have Trouble Going to Church from St. Francis Bookstore.
A PILGRIM IN A PILGRIM CHURCH:
Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop, by Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. Wm.
B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
429 pp. $35.
Reviewed by NORM LANGENBRUNNER,
who was ordained in 1970 as a priest of
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He retired as
a parish priest last July and now preaches
parish missions for St. Anthony Messenger
Press's Padua Project.
REMBERT WEAKLAND is an extraordinary
man. This Benedictine monk
and graduate of Juilliard School of Music became the abbot primate of the
Benedictine Order and later the archbishop
of Milwaukee (1977-2002).
As a seminarian he was
in St. Peter's Square in 1950
when Pope Pius XII declared
the dogma of the Assumption.
As vice president of the
Union of Superior Generals
(of religious orders), he had
frequent access to Pope Paul
VI to promote the reforms
of Vatican II. As abbot primate
he happened to be
in Thailand when Thomas
Merton, a Trappist, was
found dead on the floor of
his room; it was Weakland who was
summoned to anoint him.
In 1964 Weakland was appointed by
Pope Paul VI to be a consultor to the
Commission for Liturgical Reform. In
1981 he was named chair of the United
States bishops' committee on capitalism,
which was charged to assess the
American economic system in the light
of social justice and which produced a
pastoral letter on the U.S. economy.
In 2002 he was accused of a homosexual
encounter that had happened 20
years earlier. After his public apology,
he immediately resigned as archbishop
of Milwaukee. Now 82, he lives in
Some critics have pilloried Weakland
for revealing the faults and flaws of
Church leaders and their politics. His
displeasure with the Curia's efforts to
block Vatican II reforms, with the Vatican's
misunderstanding of the Church
in the United States and with papal
undermining of the authority of bishops'
conferences is a constant thread in
this book, which reviews the past 50
years in the life of the Church and the
His praise for dedicated Church men
and women (lay as well as clerical), his
sympathetic description of Pope Paul's
often misunderstood efforts to please
opposing factions in the Church and
his support for Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin (whom he calls "every
bishop's friend") ought to be acknowledged
as much as Weakland's criticisms
of the Church.
Historians who seek a comprehensive
analysis of the past 50 years of
Church history will consult Weakland's
memoirs. He had, as he describes it, "a
front seat in that history."
He experienced through his
worldwide visitation of
the impact of Vatican II on
In his efforts to renew the
Archdiocese of Milwaukee,
Weakland endured the tension
and progressive Catholics.
He suffered the mixed messages
and occasional reprimands
of cardinals, Curia
and fellow bishops. At the risk of cliché,
he was a man of his times.
His criticism of some high-ranking
Church leaders and his support of
women's roles in the Church will be
cause enough for some Catholics to
reject him and this book out-of-hand.
Those who think Church leadership is
deserving of criticism and who promote
the role of women will embrace
the man and his memoir.
Weakland's romantic infatuation with
a male friend and his public apology
for it casts a shadow on the litany of his
accomplishments. It was his letter breaking
off the relationship which came
back nearly 20 years later to haunt him
and bring him public disgrace. The productive
years before and after the affair,
however, can too easily be overlooked.
Anyone who hates the sin and loves
the sinner will find in the memoir of
George Samuel Weakland (his monastic
name is Rembert) the portrait of a truly
compassionate Church leader.
You can order A PILGRIM IN A PILGRIM CHURCH:
Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop from St.
LIVING TOGETHER: Myths, Risks
& Answers, by Mike and Harriet
McManus. Howard Books. 202 pp.
Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE VENTLINE,
D. Min., on special assignment for
the Archdiocese of Detroit. A Catholic priest for 33 years, he founded www.interfaithwork.com, and is founding director
of Cura Animarum, inspired by St. Gregory
MARRIAGE IN OUR COUNTRY is in
trouble. The declining number of people
getting married proves
it. The United States of
America has the highest
divorce rate among developed
nations. Yet it seems
that same-gender couples
want in on marriage.
Pope John Paul I, the
honeymoon pope of only
33 days, used the birdcage
as a metaphor for troubled
marriage: "Those in are
dying to get out; those out
want to get in!" Personal
unhappiness, self-centeredness and narcissistic
personality disorder running
rampant around here may provide
some clues to marital strife.
This book directly addresses the issue
of cohabitation. Living together—whether or not marriage follows—usually
winds up in failed relationships,
according to authors Mike and Harriet
McManus. Cohabiters cite mistrust of
marriage, lack of positive role-modeling
by parents and families of origin, minimal
commitment by males, rising cultural
acceptance of divorce and
cohabitation as a lifestyle with financial
benefits. It all comes down to money,
Marriagesavers.org, set up by the
McManuses, has been around for decades.
It aims to restore and strengthen
matrimony. Over 226 cities or towns
have signed on to a community marriage
covenant, thanks to these authors.
This very important work dispels popular
myths about cohabiting or trial marriage,
as they want to call it. Scripturally
forbidden and historically ineffective,
living together without the seal of the
covenant seems as fruitless as couples
playing house. Couples married decades
will tell you how satisfying their lasting
work at relating with each other has
been for them in the desolate and consoling
moments of legitimate marriage.
Some ways the Church can counter
cohabiting are by using premarital
inventories, providing mentoring couples
(especially for young marrieds),
highlighting matrimony and anniversary
couples, teaching effective conflict-resolution
and communication skills,
and explaining the Church prohibition
on unmarried couples living together.
More and more
young persons are taking
the pure love pledge, vowing
to remain celibate until
they are married. Stronger
formational tracks from
early childhood will make
A quick read, this book
can do a world of good for
youth who are watching
Mom and Dad's fidelity and
how they respond to instances
As the family goes, so goes society,
You can order LIVING TOGETHER: Myths, Risks
& Answers from St.
WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER
ANGELS: Faith, Mental Illness, and
the Journey to Wholeness, by Nancy
Kehoe. Jossey-Bass (Wiley imprint).
176 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a freelance
writer who lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
A PIONEER in addressing the spiritual
needs of mentally ill persons, Nancy
Kehoe is both a nun (a Religious of the
Sacred Heart) and a psychologist (a
clinical instructor in the Department of
Psychiatry at the Cambridge Health
Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical
Wrestling With Our Inner Angels explores the complex relationship
between spirituality and mental illness,
explains the development of the Spiritual
Beliefs and Values groups she
began in 1981, and introduces us to
some of the remarkable men and
women she has met through that work.
Kehoe validates the authenticity of
group members' creativity, compassion
and spiritual desires.
For one man, Bud, she was "God's
businesswoman" and "he was anxious
about being mad at my Boss." Far from
criticizing him, she admired the fierce
integrity of his anger. "The man
reminded me of the Prophet Jeremiah,
who felt it would have been better not
to have been born. Examining his fate
and those of his closest companions,
with an expression of intense desperation,
Bud asked, 'What kind of God
would give someone a life like this?'"
Wrestling With Our Inner Angels introduces
us to the rich inner lives of people
most of us see only through the
lens of stereotype and fear, but it is
much more than a series of compelling
narratives. The book's uniqueness and
strength lie in the fact that Kehoe narrates
her spiritual autobiography in
tandem with that of mentally ill persons.
In doing so, she illustrates the universal
yearning for God, the desire to
grow in wholeness and holiness, and
the different but common ways that
people approach the central work of
the spiritual life: how to seek, understand
and accept the will of God.
Kehoe experienced a call to religious
life when she was a freshman in college.
"I was kneeling alone in the chapel,"
she writes, "when I heard a Voice that
told me to go to Kenwood, the house
of formation for the Religious of the
Sacred Heart....Appalled, with tears
streaming down my face, I remember
saying, 'Not my will, but Thine be
done.' My whole young life, my parents
had taught me that our purpose here
on earth is to do God's will. But this was
too much. I never wanted to be a nun.
I wanted to be a nurse, to get married
and raise a family. I sat there sobbing,
but felt I had no choice. Because the
Voice was so clear and the message so
specific, I never doubted that somehow
it was the Voice of God."
That experience gave Kehoe an
exquisite sympathy for the religious
difficulties of mentally ill persons who
suffer from auditory hallucinations or
religious delusions. "Unlike many mental
health professionals, I didn't assume
that all voices are part and parcel of
their disease. I began to wonder how we
discern which voices are constructive
and which are destructive? Are some
the Voice of God? Are they all symptoms
of illness? What do the voices prompt us to do or to believe?"
Perhaps the most moving passage
of this beautiful book occurs when
Kehoe narrates a conversation with
a client in whom she had confided
about the Voice. "Russell fixed his kind
eyes on me and said with
Buddhist clarity, 'Nancy,
maybe that was deepest
part of you.' Startled, I said
nothing at the time. But his
words kept echoing in me.
At first I told myself, No
way—that was God, not me.
I continued to reflect on
what he said and knew,
deep down, that it was time
to rethink my Voice. In
some ways I've spent most
of my religious life fleeing
the Hound of Heaven—and myself."
The freedom that Russell bestows on
her in that delicate exchange can serve
as a metaphor for the healing Nancy
Kehoe has given to, and received from,
mentally ill persons. Wrestling With Our
Inner Angels is an amplification of that
gift, and thus it becomes a compelling
protest of our exclusion of mentally ill
persons from our religious communities
and our lives.
You can order WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER
ANGELS: Faith, Mental Illness, and
the Journey to Wholeness from St. Francis Bookstore.
ST. THOMAS MORE: Model for Modern
Catholics, by John F. Fink. St.
Pauls. 176 pp. $14.95.
Reviewed by DONALD J. McGRATH, a
retired English teacher at Roger Bacon High
School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
VISIT ANY public library or a library of
a Catholic college or university and
you are apt to find numerous biographies
of Thomas More, most of which
will contain more proper names, dates
and footnotes than you would care to
remember, much less read. St. Thomas
More: Model for Modern Catholics, by
John F. Fink, is refreshingly distinct.
In the foreword Fink clarifies that
this biography is intended not as a
scholarly work but as a popular one. He
even calls Thomas More a "unique
guy." There are no footnotes, but Fink
does reveal his sources and provides
an extensive bibliography.
Navigating this book is like paddling
a canoe on tranquil water. The vocabulary
is relatively simple. Fink's style is
clear and crisp.
Unlike many biographies in which
the subject's life is presented in chronological
order, this book is
more or less divided into
three sections according to
More's roles in life: the early
years; his roles as husband,
father, lawyer, author, lord
chancellor and defender of
Catholicism; finally, his
conviction and execution
Fink states some of the
well-known Thomas More
facts, such as wearing a hair
shirt under his outer garments, being
the patron of lawyers and politicians,
and writing the famous book Utopia (literally "Nowhere").
Of course, the entire friction between
More and Henry VIII is treated thoroughly.
Fink, however, also tries to convey
the style and integrity of the man.
For instance, he explains that if Thomas
felt that he could not win a case for his
client, he would inform the client of
that fact and advise him to secure a
When a fire destroyed all
of More's barns, he wrote
to his wife, "Let us heartily
thank God as well for
adversity as for prosperity,
and perhaps we have more
cause to thank him for our
loss than our gain, for his
wisdom sees better what is
good for us than we do ourselves."
In a letter to his daughter
Meg, More wrote, "It is not
a sin to have riches, but to love riches."
Thomas More was the first Englishman
to recognize the importance of
the education of women. Even his
friend Erasmus reversed his opposition
to the education of women when he
met Thomas's daughters.
Fink focuses on some unusual facts
of More's life. Among his many civic
duties, Thomas was made commissioner
of the sewers, thus responsible
for their maintenance. At home, he
sustained a menagerie of pets including
a fox, rabbits, a monkey and several
breeds of birds.
More could be very opinionated. He
made fun of lazy friars and greedy ecclesiastics,
as well as lawyers and scholastic
theologians. More was a fan of
St. Augustine. He disliked the theology
of St. Thomas Aquinas, especially
his Summa Theologica. (Remembering
some of my required college philosophy
and theology courses, I could identify
Thomas More wrote that he liked an
emphasis on love rather than on
knowledge. At one time there was a
friar who was preaching that anyone
who recited the Rosary every day was
assured salvation. Thomas replied that
it seemed unlikely to him that anyone
could purchase heaven at so little cost.
Of special value is the epilogue. Here
Fink writes succinctly of what happened
after Thomas More's death. He
includes some thought-provoking comments
about More by such authors as
Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, John
Donne and Jonathan Swift.
At their canonization in 1935, Pope
Pius XI stated that More and John
Fisher are two figures who deserve our
admiration and imitation.
Blood and death are only
one kind of martyrdom.
There are other martyrdoms
that one experiences
in following the ways of
God in the fulfillment of
everyday duties. That is precisely
the theme of this
book, and John Fink does a
first-rate task of developing
If you are searching for
an inspirational biography
that is not ponderous, then John Fink's
story of Thomas More is the one for
You can order ST. THOMAS MORE: Model for Modern
Catholics from St. Francis Bookstore.