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