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Assessing Vatican II's Legacy

101 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON VATICAN II, by Maureen Sullivan. Paulist Press. 133 pp. $14.95.

VATICAN II: Forty Personal Stories, edited by William Madges and Michael J. Daley. Twenty-Third Publications. 231 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. When Vatican II began, he was a freshman in high school.

SULLIVAN, A MEMBER of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, has written this book for her theology students at St. Anselm College  (Manchester, New Hampshire), for collegians everywhere, lifelong Catholics and people in the process of becoming Catholics.

"The sad fact," she writes, "is that few Catholics who are alive today really understand what the Council was all about." She sees this volume as "a popular primer on Vatican II that will help bring everything into focus and show that the Council’s charter is not a dead letter, but a piece of history that still lives and inspires the most serious Christians on the planet."

Sullivan, who holds a doctorate in theology from Fordham University, organizes her questions into nine sections: the council’s preparation (2), each session (4), the immediate aftermath, its legacy today and reflections on a possible Vatican III.

She points out that more than 100 Belgian and Dutch missionary bishops helped the 24 designated bishops from those countries adopt a larger view of the Church. She describes Karl Rahner’s observation that Vatican II marked Catholicism’s emergence as a world religion, taking seriously the many cultures and diverse historical situations influencing its preaching of the Good News.

Sullivan covers the major aspects of the Council well, but I wish she had indicated how some actions outside the Council influenced it: for example, Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope Paul VI’s trips to the Holy Land and to the United Nations, plus the appointment of more Latin American, African and Asian cardinals.

Two minor mistakes: Sullivan refers to the Dogmatic (instead of the Pastoral) Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (p. 67) and has the wrong date for the adoption of that Constitution (p. 122).

This engaging volume concludes with a five-page glossary, two pages of suggested readings and an index.

The Madges-Daley book offers a fascinating glimpse into how Vatican II influenced 40 famous Catholics—all but one currently living in the United States.

The reflections have been grouped thematically. Madges, chairman of the theology department at Cincinnati’s Xavier University, and Daley, a teacher at Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School, each write three introductions to place sections in context.

"We are our stories," note the editors of a volume aimed at general readers, college students and people in adult-education and faith-sharing groups. A sizable biographical note situates each contributor within Vatican II and its aftermath.

The "Council in Context" section contains reflections by Francis X. Murphy, Monika Hellwig, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Joan Chittister, Michael Novak and John Catoir.

"Vatican II and the Liturgy" gives voice to Bill Huebsch, Owen Campion, Joseph Champlin, Cyprian Davis and Basil Pennington. In "What It Means to Be Church" we hear from Ladislas Orsy, Martin Marty, Charles Curran, Richard Rohr, Daniel Pilarczyk, Francis Sullivan, Lawrence Cunningham and Richard McBrien.

"Revelation, Scripture and Tradition" contains reflections by Avery Dulles, John Dominic Crossan, Joseph Komonchak, Donald Senior, Barbara Reid and Joseph Fitzmeyer. The wisdom of Roger of Taize, Jeffrey Gros, George Tavard, Robert Drinan, Walter Burghardt, Timothy Unsworth, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Eugene Fisher and John Pawlikowski enriches the "Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue" section.

Mary Luke Tobin, Mary Jo Weaver, Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Catherine Hilkert, Robert Blair Kaiser and Thomas Groome reflect on "World Issues and Social Justice." Eleven pages of endnotes complete the volume. Only five selections are reprints or adaptations of previously published material.

This book offers a fascinating way to understand Vatican II.

You can order 101 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON VATICAN II and VATICAN II: Forty Personal Stories from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE REAL JAMES HERRIOT: A Memoir of My Father, Jim Wight. Ballantine Books. 371 pp. $25.

Reviewed by EMILY McCORMACK, who is an author and adult education teacher and adjunct faculty member of the College of DuPage in Illinois.

IN 1972 the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Book World published a remarkable review by Alfred Ames: "If there is any justice, this book will become a classic of its kind..." Ames was writing about All Creatures Great and Small.

Fortunately for book lovers everywhere, justice did indeed prevail. Ames’s infectious enthusiasm catapulted the book onto the best-seller list. Translated into several languages, over 50 million copies of All Creatures Great and Small and other books in the series have been sold throughout the world. The highly popular television show based on the stories ran for several years.

In telling his Creatures stories, author Alf Wight used the pseudonym James Herriot. His true stories about life as a veterinarian-surgeon in England’s Yorkshire make for splendid reading. The tales are marvelous—heartwarming, eminently believable and hilarious. Queen Elizabeth II once told Herriot that several made her laugh out loud.

Now Jim Wight, Alf Wight’s son, has written about his father, titling the book The Real James Herriot. It is a beautiful memoir, very much in the tradition and style of the Herriot works: honest, warm, gentle and hard to put down.

In keeping with his strong religious beliefs, at the beginning of each of his four most famous books, Alf Wight (Herriot) quoted the beautiful Christian hymn written by Cecil Alexander (1818-1895):

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

From this loving biography, it is evident that Alf Wight passed on to his son a deep reverence for life. Jim calls his famous parent a Samaritan, recounting the times his father listened to and encouraged others in their personal struggles. Having gone through the dark night of the soul during his own nervous breakdown, Alf Wight could speak from experience.

Alf Wight was a 20th-century Everyman: a devoted son and family man; a true patriot, having served his country in World War II; an author who shared his talent with the world; a loving friend to all creatures great and small; a credit to the human race.

Alf Wight, who died in 1995, will always be James Herriot to those who love his books. After reading Jim Wight’s fine memoir, we readers can smile and say: Like father, like son.

You can order THE REAL JAMES HERRIOT: A Memoir of My Father from St. Francis Bookshop.

WHAT DYING PEOPLE WANT: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life, by David Kuhl. Doubleday. 317 pp. $25.

Reviewed by WAYNE A. HOLST, a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.

"AS TIME IS the most valuable thing we have, because it is the most irrevocable, the thought of any lost time troubles us whenever we look back. Time lost is time in which we have failed to live a full human life, gain experience, learn, create, enjoy, and suffer; it is time that has not been filled up, but left empty," according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a modern-day Christian martyr.

"The moment someone is told that their illness will likely result in death, time changes," writes David Kuhl. It is an occasion unlike any other.

Kuhl, a Soros Scholar associated with the Project on Death in America (based in New York City), specializes in helping people better understand the experience of dying and bereavement. He is committed to influencing change in the way our culture treats death.

The author, a Vancouver-based physician, believes that—dreaded as it is—the realization of impending demise can actually transform the experience of dying into a special time.

What Dying People Want offers a guide for people who have a terminal illness, who know someone who has a terminal illness, or who wish to enhance their understanding of the dying process. It is based on the stories of people who knew they were dying. It recognizes that these are not just stories but someone’s life in the truest sense. The stories of dying people can become healing medicine to strengthen and enhance our lives.

Chapters range from the significance of the present, human vulnerability, being a wounded healer, healing touch and reviewing life; to speaking the truth, longing to belong, self-realization, and embracing life and its transcendent meaning. Dying is a process that fully engages one’s whole being and integrates body, mind and spirit.

The author views his patients as co-researchers. He considers them authorities since only those with a terminal illness know what it is like to live with such awareness. They hold the knowledge of the lived experience.

Talking about death is difficult. As a young practitioner, Kuhl realized that he was good at asking questions of the patient but not so adept at getting the real message the speaker was trying to have him understand. He had to set aside professional bias and avoid trying to explain, predict or control. He undertook a program in communication studies that changed his understanding of what an effective doctor/patient relationship might be.

He began to "be with" that other person and to hear what was really being said. "I had to stop being a detective," he writes. He now seeks to engage in an "I-Thou" relationship and to enter the experience of his patient.

"I had to respect that...whatever those people were saying was their truth, their reality, their experience of living... [because] they were indeed living with dying....I wanted to understand the complexities of the physical, psychological and spiritual components of knowing what it is to live with a terminal illness."

As the doctor took the time and really listened to his patients, he began to learn some very important lessons. For example:

• Time is now. Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of South Africa, spoke of his own experience knowing he had cancer. "When you have a potentially terminal disease, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. It gives new intensity to life. You discover how many things you have taken for granted."

• Communication is of the essence. The way a doctor reveals bad news to an anxious patient can render ineffective all the good that medicine seeks to accomplish and can even increase the suffering. Kuhl has developed procedures for informing a person who has contracted a terminal illness. He has also created a process for allowing a patient to tell his or her story and to deal with sensitive family matters through a carefully structured meeting.

• Speaking the truth. Truth spoken by a loved one, no matter how difficult to hear, can change one’s life. Impending death can provide a marvelous opportunity to say the right word. It can break down long-standing barriers between family members.

• Procrastination in talking about the end of life is not in anyone’s best interest. " is never too early to connect with the people we care about....If you’ve got something you would like to say to someone, it is important enough to say right now."

Dying is a time of transition, of moving from one place to another. It is at this juncture, suspended between ordinary time and eternity, that this book is such a wonderful contribution to human knowledge and understanding.

You can order WHAT DYING PEOPLE WANT: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE WAY OF FORGIVENESS: How to Heal Life’s Hurts and Restore Broken Relationships, by Patrick J. Brennan. Charis Books/Servant Publications. 216 pp. $10.99.

Reviewed by KATHLEEN FINLEY, who teaches, writes and speaks about marriage and family topics, sometimes with her husband, Mitch. Together they are the parents of three young men. Her most recent books are The Seeker’s Guide to Building a Christian Marriage: Eleven Essential Skills (Loyola Press) and Savoring God: Praying With All Our Senses (Ave Maria Press).

WE LIVE in a world so clearly in need of forgiveness, whether we look at the larger world scene or at the smaller scale of our own lives. But although we’ve been told to say we were sorry since we were old enough to hurt a brother or sister—and that was pretty young—no one’s ever really shown us how to forgive. Most of us, I would venture to say, do our forgiving poorly at best.

Father Patrick Brennan has given those of us who need help with forgiveness—which includes everyone I can think of—a wonderful resource in his book, The Way of Forgiveness. He brings his extensive pastoral experience and sensitivity, as well as his background as a psychotherapist and his personal honesty, to this topic. For example, he talks openly about how impatient he can get with his aging mother and how he needs to ask her forgiveness.

He offers helpful steps, stories and reflections for both those seeking forgiveness and those seeking to forgive. He also includes specific situations that may be especially difficult to forgive, such as forgiving someone who has died or an abuser or unfaithful spouse or forgiving systems, institutions or groups—or even oneself.

Father Brennan reminds us, "To forgive is divine. To forgive is to share in the power of God. It is to live in imitation of God. If, indeed, we are made in God’s likeness, we must forgive or we are violating our very nature. If we do not forgive, we cut ourselves off from others, God and ultimately ourselves."

The Way of Forgiveness may not make the process of forgiveness completely easy for us, but we can no longer say that we don’t know how to forgive after reading this gentle, helpful resource. Share it with someone you care about—maybe even yourself.

You can order THE WAY OF FORGIVENESS: How to Heal Life’s Hurts and Restore Broken Relationships from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE HOLY TWINS, by Kathleen Norris, illustrated by Tomie de Paola. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 38 pp. $16.99.

Reviewed by MARJORIE FLATHERS, who has over 20 years experience writing for children and adults. Her work appears in numerous publications, including St. Anthony Messenger.

IS IT POSSIBLE for children today to relate to the saints who lived hundreds of years ago? The answer is yes if these saints are presented to them as appealingly as the two personalities in the picture storybook The Holy Twins are.

Noted spiritual writer Kathleen Norris (The Cloister Walk) and winsome children’s artist Tomie de Paola (Strega Nona and many others) have combined their talents to present the story of brother and sister medieval saints Benedict and Scholastica.

The story begins with their childhood in the mountains of northern Italy, and Norris’s prose shines as she describes how these youngsters played together and squabbled, especially when Benedict would make up "too many rules" about their games, and Scholastica "would laugh and ignore them."

Through both story and illustration, the twins’ temperaments are contrasted. Benedict is seen as serious and rigid, while Scholastica is portrayed as a merry, even sassy soul, who nonetheless continually prayed about her brother’s many difficulties and crises.

The story continues as the twins move through adolescence and into adulthood. In keeping with the times and the family’s station in life, Benedict was sent to Rome to study, and Scholastica went to live with a group of nuns in order to become literate. Dismayed by the realities of city life, Benedict soon retreated to the country to live as a hermit, but as his reputation as a holy man grew, he was asked to be the head of various monasteries and eventually settled as the abbot of the monastery of Monte Cassino.

Meanwhile, Scholastica, contented with convent life, became a member of that community, and brother and sister decided to begin meeting once a year to renew their friendship and love.

It was at this time that Benedict developed his famous Rule to help the monks in their everyday lives of work and prayer. He had learned to temper his impatience and rigidity, and Scholastica helped him to modify the Rule further with common sense and room for experiment, showing him that love rises above rules, however valuable they may be.

Norris, however, doesn’t sugarcoat this story as sometimes happens in books about saints for children. Mention is made of the cruelty and slavery Benedict witnessed in the city and that many of the Christian clergy he encountered were tempted by power and money. She also describes an occasion where the members of an early community gave him poisoned wine because he was such a strict and demanding abbot.

De Paola has used simple lines and basic, muted colors to draw these engaging people and the Italian countryside.

The Holy Twins is a good introduction for children into the rich tradition of saints and their stories. It shows young people that even the most venerated saints were not otherworldly beings but individuals similar to themselves: people who had faults and failings but, by responding to God’s grace in overcoming these flaws, were able to live more fulfilling lives and give greater glory to God.

You can order THE HOLY TWINS from St. Francis Bookshop.

CHRIST THE CORNERSTONE: Christians Coping in a World of Chaos and Confusion, by Susan Blum Gerding, Ed.D. Jeremiah Press. 126 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE VENTLINE, D.Min., a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and a licensed psychotherapist.

Keeping Christ in the forefront, Dr. Susan Blum Gerding integrates spiritual solutions for pilgrims who are on the path of holiness but fractured by stress, trauma, terror, overload, scandal, anger, even rage.

Dr. Gerding is president of Isaiah Ministries and a convert to Catholicism. She has received evangelization medals and awards from Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.

Here she proposes four ways to heal from 9/11, sexual abuse in the Church, a fractured economy and corporate corruption: 1) Name the feelings; 2) Identify the stumbling blocks; 3) Call on God’s healing power; and 4) Become instruments of change.

Dr. Gerding quotes Pope John Paul II at Toronto’s 2002 World Youth Day: "A new generation of builders is needed. Moved not by fear or violence, but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the City of God. Christ alone is the cornerstone on which it is possible to build solidly one’s existence."

She goes on to present a down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts, ready-to-use process for healing the confusion in our culture.

Any formation program in the parish could augment the faith of the People of God by using this book in as few as five sessions. This writer helps readers through the dark night of the soul.

You can order CHRIST THE CORNERSTONE: Christians Coping in a World of Chaos and Confusion from St. Francis Bookshop.



Book Briefs

Prayer is talking to God, and this trio of paperback prayerbooks suggests some new ways to do that.

• A MARYKNOLL BOOK OF PRAYER, edited by Michael Leach and Susan Perry (Orbis Books, 290 pp., $15), is a wonderful collection of favorite prayers collected from the 1,200 Maryknoll missioners (priests, brothers, sisters, laity) at work on five continents, and their supporters. It is contemporary and inspiring.

• ABBEY PRAYER BOOK, selected and arranged by M. Basil Pennington, with an Introduction to Cistercian spirituality (Liguori/Triumph, 238 pp., $14.95), is based on the tradition of lectio divina (reading the word of God) as developed in the Liturgy of the Hours. Half of this book has new translations of psalms and suggested readings for Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer. The second half draws from our "Heritage of Prayers" and includes old favorites like the Morning Offering and new ones like the prayers of Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner and Mother Teresa.

• HOW TO PRAY: A Practical Guide, by David Torkington, with a Foreword by Sister Wendy Beckett (St. Pauls/Alba House, 92 pp., $4.95), is a wonderfully concise primer on prayer, done with a classy, clipped British accent. A lecturer and spiritual director, Torkington uses the key word parousia (Greek for "arrival of the King") to remember eight essential ingredients of prayer.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6493, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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