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Pilgrim Trail Attracts Religious Romantics

Q U I C K S C A N

TO THE FIELD OF STARS: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela
THE PERFECT GAME
CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE: Toward a Theology of Nature
THE BIG QUESTIONS IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
THE ARCHBISHOP IN ANDALUSIA: A Blackie Ryan Novel
Benedictine Wisdom



TO THE FIELD OF STARS: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela, by Kevin A. Codd. Wm. B. Eerdmans. 271 pp. $18.

Reviewed by BRIAN WELTER, who teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) to adults in Vancouver, British Columbia, 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.

SIMPLY PUT, this is great theology because, faithful to the Church and very mindful of tradition, Father Kevin Codd brings doctrine alive. He focuses on the physical and metaphysical, the individual and the social side of Catholic beliefs and practice. On the famous medieval pilgrim trail through southern France to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, he fully lives the spirituality of the journey.

The author’s romantic, poetic grasp of God and theology underscores the book’s success; in fact, the pilgrim trail attracts religious romantics, people who do not think as most people do in our money- and success-oriented society:

“[I]f you are satisfied being a very contemporary person living in a world formed by the likes of Descartes, Freud, and Henry Ford, if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth’s lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you.”

Codd’s excellent character sketches of the personalities he meets along the way enhance his theology. He uses his personal struggle with people’s rudeness or selfishness to teach something about humility. He reflects on the community spirit and openness to cultures of people from different countries. He appreciates the loving care which religious sisters, brothers, priests and laity offer to the pilgrims.

To the Field of Stars brings alive Christianity’s basic fact as a materialist religion. The Incarnation sanctifies the physical world and reflects God’s loving interest in it, and specifically in the lives of humans.

The author lives with blisters, painful tendons, a sore back and occasionally tasteless food, relying on his hope and faith, both of which pull him toward Santiago.

The depth of this book, additionally, comes from the lack of romanticism from this romantic. While he is a dreamer, he also lets his angry feelings and sufferings come out in the book’s pages. He doesn’t spiritually float toward his destination.

Like any spiritually mature pilgrim, his romanticism is deeper than childish feelings. He describes how his thoughts and feelings—including petty thoughts and immature feelings—roam all over, but how he never loses sight of the big spiritual picture.

This includes a special reverence for tradition’s religious wisdom: “It may seem ridiculous to us altogether modern, practical, well-educated people of the third millennium, but there was a time, not so long ago, especially in Europe, when popular religious belief often included an unshakable sense that the space between God and us in certain places on the face of this earth was especially thin.”

One irritating point to the book is very important. Codd criticizes the comportment of priests at the Mass, especially their speed, lack of holiness and apparent inhospitality toward pilgrims. It is surprising to this reviewer that Codd, himself a priest, would attend Mass as he would a movie or a baseball game. He seems to commit the error of asking himself whether he and others had “gotten anything out of Church.” He erroneously regards the Church and the Mass as therapeutic rather than sacramental.

You can order TO THE FIELD OF STARS: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

THE PERFECT GAME, by W. William Winokur. Kissena Park Press. 342 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).

THE MOVIE VERSION of this book may be out by the time you read this. Take my word for it: If the movie is even half as good as the book, it’s worth the price of a ticket. Whether you enjoy baseball or not, the book is one you’ll want to share with everyone you know and one you’ll never forget.

The Perfect Game is the true story of a Little League baseball team from Monterrey, Mexico, a hardscrabble city. The year was 1957, and the boys who made up the team went from less than zero to winning the Little League World Series.

The boys learned their baseball skills quickly, and their team spirit was second to none. They had a skilled coach in Cesar Faz, who had been a bat boy for an American minor league team and later a janitor for an American major league team. Their goal: to play just one game with an American Little League team, which they expect to lose, and then to return home with their dream fulfilled.

Author Winokur makes it clear that, from Day One, fundamental to the boys’ lives and spirit was their Catholic faith. Each Sunday after Mass, Padre Esteban, the parish priest, lets the boys listen to American baseball games on his radio. The boys play their own games on a dirt field. They have no uniforms, no real bats and only crude, homemade gloves.

But they dream big and, inspired by Padre Esteban, they decide to organize their own Little League team. Tipped off by the priest about Cesar Faz’s background—he exaggerates a little around the city—they talk him into being their coach.

One thing leads to another, one little miracle leads to another, and one day the boys climb on a bus headed to Texas. They wear their new uniforms everywhere because their regular clothes are threadbare, patched and torn, and each one carries a change of underwear in a paper bag. They have a three-day visa and barely enough money to pay for meals for a few days.

But to everyone’s surprise—including their own—they win their first game with an American team.

The Mexican boys average 35 pounds lighter and six inches shorter than their American counterparts. But they win. And they win again and again, and they refuse to take the field for a game until they have received a blessing from a priest.

And the little miracles continue. After their games the boys go into the crowd begging for money so they can eat and keep traveling. Their visas are extended through the kindness of a Mexican businessman with some leverage in the United States.

Eventually, against all imaginable odds, the Mexican boys win the Little League World Series, and they do it spectacularly when pint-sized Angel Macias pitches a perfect no-hitter. Then, they visit President Eisenhower at the White House, attend an American major league game, and return to Mexico as national heroes.

And it all really and truly happened.

I double-dare you to finish reading this book without tears in your eyes.

You can order THE PERFECT GAME from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE: Toward a Theology of Nature, by John F. Haught. Orbis Books. 208 pp. $25.

THE BIG QUESTIONS IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION, by Keith Ward. Templeton Foundation Press. 281 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 33 years. For 15 of those years he has team-taught with a biology teacher a course in bioethics. He has a master’s degree in theology from Marquette University. The following is a follow-up to his February review of six books relating to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

UNDERLYING MUCH of the polemicism about the viability of religious faith in the 21st century is a clash of worldviews. Some maintain their faith by clinging to a pre-scientific worldview. Others conclude that perhaps the universe has outgrown the biblical God said to be its creator. And that is where the either/or dichotomy stalls.

John Haught, senior fellow in science and religion at Woodstock Theological Center, suggests that an exploration of the “three infinities” (the immense, the infinitesimal and the complex) will provide an unprecedented appreciation for the grandeur of God, creation, Jesus Christ and redemption.

Haught’s book is for those who want more than a cursory or superficial analysis of the science-vs.-religion debate. Showing a great appreciation of the writings of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Haught turns the focus of faith from the past to the future so that creation, evolution and scientific discoveries open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the arrival of the future.

Toward the end of the book, he writes that the God of the Bible who “goes before” the people of Israel is also going before us in an evolving universe. The promise of God in Scripture is not of a return to a golden age where all was perfect but of a new heaven and a new earth that have been fully and completely transformed.

Keith Ward, an Anglican priest and emeritus professor of divinity at Oxford University, has written a book that takes on the same topic in a more systematic and thematic way. Each chapter focuses on a different question about the beginning or end of the universe, evolution, miracles, the soul, as well as the impact of science on truth, moral and religious beliefs, revelation and faith in God.

Part of the popular myth of human progress is that religion is a remnant of the infancy of the human race and that science will deliver us from superstition and childish fears of the distant gods.

Ward makes the argument that we will never escape disagreements because we see the world differently based on our perceptions, assumptions and experience.

He also states that believers and nonbelievers should be duly cautious about claims to ultimate truth. He does not argue that truth is relative, but that the human ability to understand and to convey the “truth” is limited.

For those of us who are color-blind, it is easy to understand. Not being able to see certain shades of green has forced me to rely on others to understand that the traffic signals are red-yellow-green, not red-yellow-white. The signal is green—regardless of whether the cones and rods in my eyes transmit that information to my brain. Not “getting it” is not the same as it being untrue, false or wrong.

Both authors want to get away from either/or thinking which ranks material, physical or corporeal experience above immaterial, spiritual, emotional experience. Haught holds that the mind/ matter dualism leads to the stance that deadness is the normative state of being (the cosmos will burn out in the distant future); thus, life is the exception. Both authors show that it is equally credible and logical to hold that life is the norm and we are moving toward greater life.

Haught’s book makes the argument that a theology of nature must do more than look for the theological meaning of scientific discoveries. Further, he states that it must show that the content of revelation can actually support the mind in its quest for scientific truth. Ward stakes the claim that religious experience is like the experience of truth, beauty and goodness—valid ways to interpret or articulate what the world is like.

To counter the argument that all facts are publicly observable and agreed upon by everybody, Ward notes that three hot topics in quantum physics (superstrings, probability waves for electrons and superposed particle quantum states) are not publicly observable. Yet hundreds of Web sites are devoted to discussions of these matters. The world of science has become more paradoxical and more difficult to understand.

Both authors state there still is a place for common sense and for multiple paths to “facts” and “truth.”

You can orderCHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE:
Toward a Theology of Nature
and THE BIG QUESTIONS IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

THE ARCHBISHOP IN ANDALUSIA: A Blackie Ryan Novel, by Andrew M. Greeley. Tom Doherty Associates. 269 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by DONALD J. McGRATH, a retired English teacher of Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

FATHER ANDREW GREELEY has produced another one of his mystery novels that has a contemporary setting. In The Archbishop in Andalusia, Archbishop John Blackwood Ryan, known to his relatives and close friends as Blackie, travels to Spain and ends up solving an attempted murder.

Blackie, who is coadjutor to Cardinal Cronin of Chicago, has been invited to a conference on American philosophy in Seville. While in Spain, Blackie stays at the residence of Cardinal Diego Romanos, who is a friend of Cronin.

Blackie is, to say the least, a very nontraditional archbishop. He is more comfortable wearing jeans, a black clerical shirt (sans collar) and a windbreaker that looks as if it was obtained from the Chicago Cubs.

Blackie wears the customary attire of an archbishop only when absolutely necessary. He differs from many other members of the hierarchy because he abhors long ceremonies. He explains that when he was responsible for the cathedral in Chicago he edited the “ordeals” proposed by the liturgy committee.

He argues that the Roman liturgy should not dawdle but should “move along.” He maintains that we are not Greeks who could not do anything without shaking censers filling the air with various suspicious oriental smells, and we are not Ethiopians who had been infected by the pagan African custom of nightlong services. We are Americans and the last thing we want to do is to bore people. Liturgies should not be boring!

Greeley allows the reader to know the thoughts and feelings of Blackie. Even though the archbishop’s life is one of prayer and service, he experiences the sexual ardor common to men. Upon meeting Dona Teresa, the duchess of Seville, he is so acutely aware of her feminine beauty that he mentally summons the graces of Holy Orders to help him retain his vow of celibacy.

He muses to himself, “Blackie Ryan is a man of the world, is he not? Is it not true that he encounters many disturbing women? He can take care of himself, can he not, even if this is the first Castilian duchess who has disturbed him? He is protected by the grace of holy orders, no?”

This reader found humor in Blackie’s description of a hallway in Dona Teresa’s residence. The corridor had an uncompromising dark wood wall that ran the length of the building. “The place reminded me of the convents we’d built in the United States in the late 19th century: solemn, gloomy and dead.”

The ambience of the mansion is in sharp contrast to the intrigue and liveliness that reside with the duchess and her relatives. I found humor in Greeley’s liberalism, and in the quips he used throughout the book, such as, “The American academic system produces a lot of people who write about philosophy but very few philosophers.”

While John Blackwood is in Seville, someone attempts to kill Dona Teresa. With the skills of a Sherlock Holmes, Blackie solves this mystery by figuring out how the would-be assassin obtained access to Dona Teresa’s bedchamber that was known to be always locked.

There is an array of engaging characters in this novel. Senorita Maria Luisa, Dona’s daughter, is just as stunning as her mother. Isidoro de Colon, with the inherited title of Admiral of the Ocean Seas, is Maria Luisa’s fiancé. As Maria’s rejected suitor, Don Teodoro Guzman consistently causes havoc. Don Diaz, a widower, is Dona Teresa’s private lover whom everyone seems to know about.

A secondary plot revolves around Dona Teresa’s struggle to control the money left to her by her deceased husband. Distant relatives of Dona Teresa maintain that they have a legal claim to some of the money. The case has been dragging in the courts.

A slight familiarity of 20th-century Spanish geography and history would be an asset to readers when navigating this book. People might want to refer to maps, noting that Andalusia is a region in the south of Spain.

There is reference to the Falange, a Fascist political party born in 1938 which advocated a totalitarian nationalism to combat capitalism and communism. Some of the minor characters who dislike the duchess are residual Falangists. The Falangists wanted the Spanish government to retain control over the Catholic Church, thus weakening its ties with the Vatican.

The text is sprinkled with Spanish words such as paseo (walk), siempre (always), de nada (it’s nothing), cierto (true), novio (fiancé), pasado mañana (day after tomorrow), amante (lover). This does generate some Spanish ambience, but a glossary would have obviated constant references to a Spanish-English dictionary.

John Blackwood Ryan is a person whose company you enjoy while respecting him for his integrity. His persona is engaging throughout the entire novel. His unexpected wit keeps you alert from chapter to chapter. This main character makes the novel worth reading.

Fans of Father Andrew Greeley might be relieved to learn that this 80-year-old sociologist and author is recuperating at home now from a serious auto accident he had in November of 2008. He has been making excellent progress with intensive physical therapy, according to his blog, andysword.com.

You can order THE ARCHBISHOP IN ANDALUSIA: A Blackie Ryan Novel from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

 

 

Benedictine Wisdom

St. Benedict of Nursia, whose feast is July 11, was so controversial in his lifetime (480-547 A.D.) that twice there were attempts on his life. He left behind a Rule for monks who wished to live as he did, which is still inspiring religious and laypeople today.

15 DAYS OF PRAYER WITH SAINT BENEDICT, by André Gozier, translated by Victoria Hébert and Denis Sabourin (New City Press, 141 pp., $12.95), was written by a monk of the Abbey of the Source in Paris. This book, intended to be read over two weeks, explores some themes of Benedict’s Rule, such as work, prayer and reading.

A BLESSED LIFE: Benedictine Guidelines for Those Who Long for Good Days, by Wil Derkse, translated by Martin Kessler (Liturgical Press, 95 pp., $11.95), comes from a married layman and oblate with the Benedictine St. Willibrord’s Abbey in the Netherlands. This is a sequel to his very successful The Rule of Benedict for Beginners. Derkse focuses on those basic attitudes and virtues that characterize Benedictine spirituality, such as silence/restrained speech, humility, care, stewardship, mutual respect and taking care for speaking “good words.”

THE RECOLLECTED HEART: A Guide to Making a Contemplative Weekend Retreat, by Philip Zaleski, revised edition (Ave Maria Press, 181 pp., $15.95), is presented as the “essential guide” for incorporating the patterns of the Benedictine Rule into one’s life. The Rule promises a joyous, well-regulated, fulfilling life.

—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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