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Old/New Understanding of Authority

BY WHAT AUTHORITY? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful, by Richard R. Gaillardetz. Liturgical Press. 156 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School (Cincinnati, Ohio). He recently co-edited (with William Madges) Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories, available through Twenty-Third Publications.

THOUGH IT HAS YET to rise to the level of a “dirty” word in the Catholic vocabulary, mention authority today and look out. While some may nod admiringly or roll their eyes apathetically, the vast majority raise their voices critically. Far from being experienced as liberating, many see authority as oppressive and limiting. Presently, especially in light of the clerical sex-abuse scandal, the Church is at a critical juncture in its understanding of authority—its sources, various levels and exercise.

In this book, Richard Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo, guides the reader to a better understanding and appreciation of authority in the Catholic Church.

He does this first by stressing that authority is more about a relationship than a possession. As parents or professionals, many of us have learned the hard way that titles or offices get us only so far. “True authority,” writes Gaillardetz, “is always maintained in a relationship between two realities, the one acknowledging the authority and the one manifesting that authority.”

In the Church, especially for those who are Catholic, there are more authorities than we may think—Scripture, the pope, tradition, creeds and doctrinal teachings, theologians—and all the faithful.

History has witnessed the sad legacy of division as one authority has been pitted against the other. Just remember, in response to Rome and the pope, the refrain of Luther and the Reformation—“Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture alone”). Here, Gaillardetz sees that “a healthy Catholic view of authority will try to avoid these oppositions and instead demonstrate how these various kinds of authorities interrelate and support one another.”

In his consideration of authority, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) looms large—both its spirit and documents. Old antagonisms—Church/ world, clergy/laity, science/faith—collapsed in the face of the Council’s aggiornamento, or “updating.” With it a newer, or some might say more ancient, understanding of authority emerged characterized by collegiality, inclusively and relationship.

Gaillardetz’s book is divided into three parts, three chapters each. Part One examines the authority that Scripture and tradition hold within the Church. The age-old questions of inspiration, inerrancy and canon are dealt with in depth.

Part Two explores the teaching office and role of the pope and bishops, commonly referred to as the magisterium. Awash in a sea of conciliar documents, papal encyclicals and episcopal pronouncements, Gaillardetz offers guidelines for how to distinguish the various levels of Church teaching.

Part Three explains a little-known authority in the Church, that of individual believers and the larger faith community. Helpful here are his suggestions for those who find themselves in disagreement with some official Church teachings.

If only the exercise of authority in the Church weren’t so messy! If only we were able to follow it with great certitude! If only it weren’t abused! Yet “we will cling to these modest, human instruments of divine authority nevertheless,” Gaillardetz comments, “because, though flawed, we recognize in them a precious and necessary connection to the one true ‘Author’ of our lives.”

As the subtitle indicates, the book is a “beginning.” It is very successful in this regard, giving clear and concise information about subjects which for many are confusing, to say the least. It is well suited for a variety of audiences—college students, seminary and religious formation programs, adult education and the interested “person in the pew.”

Many will find the “Disputed Questions” section at the end of each chapter interesting. It doesn’t seek to answer the questions as much as keep the conversation going. In By What Authority? Gaillardetz has indeed started a valuable and timely conversation.

You can order BY WHAT AUTHORITY? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE SAINTS' GUIDE TO HAPPINESS, by Robert Ellsberg. North Point Press. 221 pp. $23.

Reviewed by the MOST REV. ROBERT MORNEAU, auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

AT THE END of The Saints’ Guide to Happiness Robert Ellsberg writes: “...I was trying to explore, through the lives of holy people, what makes for a whole and happy life.” In eight chapters the learnings from the saints cluster around these themes: learning how to be alive, to let go, to work, to sit still, to love, to suffer, to die and to see.

Drawing upon the canonized saints (Augustine, Aquinas, etc.) and from other God-seekers (Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, etc.), Ellsberg creatively weaves together their responses to the large questions of life.

In what or whom lies happiness? This perennial question simply will not go away. The thesis in this book is that happiness and holiness have an intrinsic relationship. To be happy one must somehow be able to love and to be loved. It is in healthy relationships with God, others, the world and ourselves that wholeness and happiness are experienced.

Quoting the poet William Blake, Ellsberg points us in the direction of what holy people are about: “We are put on earth for a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

It is obvious that Ellsberg is extremely well read (as is evident from his earlier, excellent work All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, Crossroad, 1997). Extracting the wisdom from the experts in holiness—the saints—the author gathers together insights into the human search for happiness.

The bottom line about the saints: “In general they were renowned for their balance and good humor, their compassion and generosity, their spirit of peace and freedom in the face of obstacles and adversities, and their ability to find joy in all things.”

We are given in The Saints’ Guide to Happiness more than some chicken soup for the soul. What we have here is an eight-course meal, one that is delicious, delightful and demanding.

The first course is “Learning to Be Alive.” The saints address how to avoid deadness, “a truncated life” and “worldliness” (questing for power, possession, pleasure and status).

The second course is “Learning to Let Go.” Through emptiness, freedom and simplicity we transcend that acquisitive spirit that hinders our ability to love.

Meister Eckhart is of help with the third course, “Learning to Work”: “Doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.”

In the fourth course, “Learning to Sit Still,” the saints address our ubiquitous temptation to be always doing, seeking diversions and distractions, unable to embrace the present moment. Blaise Pascal is quoted: “...the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

“Learning to Love,” the fifth course, shows the path to happiness and holiness. St. Thérèse of Lisieux understood well our universal vocation. “My vocation is love,” and this most recent doctor of the Church understood her mission well: “ make Love loved.”

In course six, “Learning to Suffer,” the saints, from St. Paul down to the “Little Flower,” instruct us on how suffering can be redemptive and how it can open up new possibilities for spiritual growth. When suffering becomes an experience of compassion as an alternative to despair and resignation, the will of God can be known and loved.

In “Learning to Die,” the saints speak time and again of the enigma of death but always in terms of new life and resurrection. How we die is conditioned by how we live and when we surrender in trust and confidence to God’s plan. Peace will be a gift received and given.

In course eight, “Learning to See,” our Tradition speaks of the Beatific Vision, the seeing of God as the essence of heaven. The saints keep reminding us that heaven and eternity are not just beyond our mortal existence but that the “gate of heaven is everywhere” if we have faith, if we have eyes of the heart.

One of the tasks of our time is to retrieve our Tradition. Our library is vast and our sacred tomes, from lack of use, can gather dust that covers up so much wisdom. Robert Ellsberg has spent many hours and years in the library and has retrieved for us, in accessible language and a fluid style, the insights of our “experts in holiness.”

Both this book and his All Saints volume deserve our reading and rereading.

You can order THE SAINTS’ GUIDE TO HAPPINESS from St. Francis Bookshop.


LET'S WATCH A MOVIE: Using Popular Videos to Enrich Your Marriage, by Mary F. Moriarty. Twenty-Third Publications. 82 pp. $9.95.

PRAYING THE MOVIES II: More Daily Meditations From Classic Films, by Ed McNulty. Westminster John Knox Press. 245 pp. $15.95, U.S.; $24, Canada.

Reviewed by SISTER ROSE PACATTE, F.S.P., the “Eye on Entertainment” columnist for St. Anthony Messenger and a teacher of media studies. She is coauthor, with Peter Malone, of Lights, Camera,...Faith!: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Scripture (Pauline Media, one book for each liturgical cycle). Sister Rose also teaches in the Summer Institute for Pastoral Initiatives at the University of Dayton, with Ed McNulty.

THESE TWO BOOKS give some suggestions for using movies to improve our lives. The first, an innovative workbook, can help couples to enrich their marriage. The second offers readers an opportunity to “pray a film.”

Newlyweds, parents with kids at home, empty-nesters and even seniors looking to deepen their “spiritual and emotional connection” with their spouse can use Let’s Watch a Movie as a conversation-starter.

The book gives brief summaries of 36 films, their ratings and running times and asks 10 questions to keep the conversation going. The questions encourage a kind of deep viewing. A journal-type page for notes is provided for each film.

For example, in Field of Dreams, “Mark doesn’t see the ballplayers in the field. When have you missed the obvious? What were the consequences?”

Mary Moriarty introduces the book with a page of what not to do with it. It is not for groups, but for couples; if an uncomfortable topic arises, set a date to talk about it later; accept each other’s “attitudes and experiences and celebrate the differences!”

Some of the films included are Chocolat, Family Man, Hope Floats, The Shipping News, When Harry Met Sally and Nine Months (a set of questions for those with children and another for those without).

I would have wished for more cultural diversity in the selection of films so as to offer a more inclusive perspective on marriage and life.

But this book looks to be a winner for couples and perhaps even those preparing for marriage.

The second book from a religious perspective on films is Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations From Classic Films, by Ed McNulty, an NPR commentator and retired Presbyterian minister. McNulty has taught at the Catholic University of Dayton’s Summer Institute for Pastoral Initiatives and edits a monthly sermon guide to movies called Visual Parables.

Part daily devotional and part filmography, Praying the Movies II brings 31 more mainstream films into dialogue and prayer with the Scriptures. McNulty sets the scene with appropriate Scripture citations, introduces the film, selects a scene (he both describes it and gives the time code if you want to use a clip from a video or DVD), explores the scene, lists questions for reflection, suggests a hymn and closes with a prayer.

I like the selection of films in this volume which begins with American Beauty and Babe, and includes others such as Chocolat, The Color Purple, The Iron Giant, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and To Kill a Mockingbird.

McNulty ranges wide and invites the reader to consider the possibility that God speaks to us in cinema stories in varying ways. The appendices are informative (availability of films) and practical (how to build a video library).

You can order LET’S WATCH A MOVIE: Using Popular Videos to Enrich Your Marriage and PRAYING THE MOVIES II: More Daily Meditations From Classic Films from St. Francis Bookshop.


THANK YOU, SISTER: Memories of Growing Up Catholic, by Beverly Pangle Scott. Thomas More Publishing. 172 pp. $11.95.

Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, author and editor emeritus of The Criterion, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

AFTER THE RECENT FUNERAL of my aunt, who died in the town where I grew up, the ladies of the parish had a luncheon for us in the school. As my five siblings and I explored the school, we couldn’t help but observe how little it had changed in some respects since I started first grade there 66 years ago. There was even the same painting of a guardian angel protecting two children that greeted us as we entered the school.

As we saw the classrooms, we also recalled the sisters who taught us—Franciscans all: Sister Margaret, Sister Rita Clare, Sister Munda, Sister Ruth. Back in the 1930s and ’40s, the Franciscan nuns taught all our elementary grades and joined with Sisters of Notre Dame to teach in the Catholic high school. The only lay teacher was the coach, who also taught health/safety and driver’s education.

The Catholic school system in the United States was a remarkable achievement that couldn’t have been accomplished without the religious sisters. At its peak at about 1965, there were 114,000 sisters, brothers and priests (but mainly sisters) teaching in our Catholic schools. That has fallen to about 9,000 and today almost 95 percent of the teaching staff are laypeople.

Beverly Pangle Scott has written a memoir of what it was like to grow up in those Catholic schools run by sisters. In her case, the nuns were Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the school was Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the Diocese of Nashville. (Today it’s in the Diocese of Knoxville.) She was a student there from 1955 to 1963.

This, obviously, is a nostalgic book that will be of interest mainly to those who were educated by nuns in Catholic schools. It is the very personal story of one shy little girl who grew up under the influence of sister-teachers.

Although it’s a paean to her teachers, it is not meant to be more than that. None of the statistics mentioned above are in the book. Nor is there a lament that the sisters who taught her are no longer around.

Ms. Scott has a phenomenal memory for small details. There are eight chapters in this small book, one for each grade, plus a prologue and an epilogue, with each chapter crammed with reminiscences that most of us would have long forgotten.

The author seems fortunate to have had only excellent teachers. She has no memories of any of the stereotypical ruler-wielding nuns frequently lampooned by comedians who joke about their experiences in Catholic schools. The closest she comes to that is when she writes about being glad that she did not have as her third-grade teacher a sister who “had a very severe look about her.” Her friends who did have that teacher, however, were shocked that she had that opinion of the sister.

Much in this book has nothing to do with the sisters or Catholic schools. The author was ill much of the time and she writes about that.

The book would also be more interesting to women who grew up during that period. Although boys are mentioned from time to time, this is essentially a memoir of an elementary school girl. Boys in the class might have had much different memories.

Priests of the Diocese of Nashville who taught in Chattanooga might like to see how they are mentioned. There is a mention of “Father Campion, my high-school American history teacher,” whose influence “made me want to pursue history as a course of study.” That would undoubtedly be Msgr. Owen Campion, now associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.

And she recalls Father Niedergeses was her new pastor when she was in the eighth grade. That would have been the future Bishop James D. Niedergeses, bishop of Nashville from 1975 to 1992.

You can order THANK YOU, SISTER: Memories of Growing Up Catholic from St. Francis Bookshop.


DYING WITH JESUS: Meditations for Those Who Are Terminally Ill, Their Families, and Their Caregivers, by Angela Hibbard, I.H.M. Liturgical Press. 35 pp. $4.95.

Reviewed by the REV. JAMES VAN VURST, O.F.M., a Franciscan priest who ministered for 11 years to the residents and patients of a major Midwestern retirement and nursing facility.

IN A SERIES of 14 brief meditations, Dying With Jesus explores the deepest of all human experiences: dying and death. It is written for the benefit of people who are facing death as well as their families and caregivers.

The format of each meditation is threefold: a short quotation from Scripture, including a brief explanatory note; the “voice” of the person who has entered the dying process; and a response from Jesus to the dying person. The last five pages of this little booklet offer some favorite traditional prayers.

What I found most appealing was the author’s ability to hear in an authentic way what the person approaching death is thinking and feeling. “I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t have a normal life. Every anchor I had is gone. I get so impatient with myself. I’m afraid to live like this. I’m not sure I’m doing very well.

There is no philosophical speculation or analysis here—it is what really happens in the body, mind and heart of the dying person. What are some of the emotional and faith struggles we hear? Fear, anger, guilt, frustration, hurt, feelings of loneliness and abandonment and depression.

In reading these reflections, I was reminded of the many moments I spent listening to dying patients in the large nursing home where I served. Their voices spoke to me again.

Rather than giving the family or the caregivers mere advice to pass on, the dying person hears the words of Jesus himself. What this response conveys is that Jesus, in fact, does know how the person is struggling. “Beloved,” Jesus says, “I am with you in your fear. You see, I was afraid too. I wanted to believe my Father could change the hearts of my enemies, that he could make them see.”

The Gospels are so descriptive of Jesus’ feelings and thoughts as he sweat blood in the garden and experienced betrayal and denial by his own closest friends. Jesus experienced those same emotions and physical pain as he approached his own death.

I recommend this book to anyone who is close to or ministering to the dying. It may be one you want to give to the person to read. But perhaps it would be even more helpful for a loving caregiver to read a meditation quietly so the person can hear his/her own voice and that of Jesus.

This is a 35-page booklet, but good things often come in small packages. Dying With Jesus is one of them.

You can order DYING WITH JESUS: Meditations for Those Who Are Terminally Ill, Their Families, and Their Caregivers from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

How many readers remember the brilliant, charismatic, witty Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979)? In the 1950s his TV series, Life Is Worth Living, put Catholicism on the American screen—literally and figuratively. The cause for Sheen’s canonization has been introduced. His clear presentations of Catholic teachings remain popular on screen and in print.

• THE ROCK PLUNGED INTO ETERNITY, by Fulton J. Sheen (Alba House, 146 pp., $9.95), explores the Church as Jesus’ continuing presence, his Mystical Body. Delivered in 1950 against the backdrop of Communism, Sheen’s words can remind us that this human/divine institution has weathered many storms and scandals.

• THROUGH THE YEAR WITH FULTON SHEEN: Inspirational Readings for Each Day of the Year, compiled and edited by Henry Dieterich (Ignatius Press, 216 pp., $13.95), offers daily selections that provide fresh perspective on what it means to be a follower of Christ.

• FULTON J. SHEEN: An American Catholic Response to the Twentieth Century, by Kathleen L. Riley, Ph.D. (Alba House, 357 pp., $22.95): More than a biography, this in-depth analysis of Sheen and his times started as a doctoral dissertation. Riley considers Sheen a major figure in the post-World War II religious revival in the United States.


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 7.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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