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The Broken Can Find a Home


HOME TONIGHT: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son
GOD’S WAR: A New History of the Crusades
GOD AT THE RITZ: Attraction to Infinity
ENCOUNTERING THE MYSTERY: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today
Creative Spirituality

HOME TONIGHT: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Doubleday. 131 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by NORM LANGENBRUNNER, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church, and popular speaker and mission preacher.

HENRI NOUWEN is the “wounded healer” personified. To his last days he was afflicted by bouts of loneliness, depression and an intense hunger to be loved. His ministry, however, and his books have provided others who are hurting with the healing, hope and peace for which he himself longed. His biographer, Michael Ford, calls him the “wounded prophet.”

Among Nouwen’s most popular books is his meditation on Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son and Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son, which interprets that parable.

Having spent several years reflecting on the Gospel story and many hours sitting in front of the actual painting in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nouwen wrote a beautiful book focusing, one by one, on the younger son, the elder son and the merciful father.

Home Tonight is a posthumous publication of the spiritual conferences for a three-day workshop Nouwen gave to a group of caregivers from L’Arche communities around the world. One of the residents at L’Arche Daybreak, the home for people with multiple disabilities in Toronto, Canada, where Nouwen served as chaplain, was fond of asking him, “Are you home tonight?” That question struck a chord in Nouwen, who recognized that the parable of the prodigal was a story of coming home.

Transcribing portions of Nouwen’s conferences based upon the parable and the painting, the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust has reproduced, 13 years after his death, an insightful, inspiring and intimate retreat for all who are still looking for their spiritual home.

The tragedies and suffering in Rembrandt’s life undoubtedly sensitized the artist to the compassion and unconditional love of the prodigal’s father. The clinical depression and dysfunction in Nouwen’s life unquestionably sensitized the priest/teacher to the comfort and acceptance depicted by Rembrandt and recorded by the evangelist Luke.

Now in Home Tonight, those of us who are afraid, broken or condemned can find the same solace and sympathy which Rembrandt and Nouwen discovered in the homecoming of the prodigal son.

Even more than in The Return of the Prodigal Son, this second set of reflections gives the reader a sense of having Nouwen as one’s personal retreat director. Reflecting on his own story, Nouwen finds consolation in the younger son’s coming to see that, although he had squandered everything he owned, there remained one possession that his father preserved—the prodigal’s place in the family. Nouwen also puts himself in the place of the elder son and discovers in him a resentment which makes the “good son” even poorer than his brother.

Fans of Nouwen will not be disappointed in this latest offering. Small Church communities will find it a valuable resource for prayer and reflection. Anyone in pain, regardless of his or her religious affiliation, will find in Home Tonight an encouraging, consoling, liberating presentation on God the Father’s unconditional love for his children.

You can order HOME TONIGHT: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son from St. Francis Bookshop.


GOD’S WAR: A New History of the Crusades, by Christopher Tyerman. Harvard University Press. 1,024 pp. $35, hardcover; $22.95, paperback.

Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL P. ORSI, Ed.D., research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

CHRISTOPHER TYERMAN is a fellow in history at Hertford College, Oxford. His book God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, is a tour de force that goes well beyond the historical events described.

Tyerman richly wraps the sporadic episodes of the Crusades in three sets of ideas: 1) the underlying theology of the “Just War” that was seen as giving the Crusades their validity; 2) the pragmatic hopes for a unified and expanded Christendom (augmented by the prospects for personal gain that motivated many of the promoters and participants); and 3) the liturgical rituals and personal piety that helped to keep the vision of reclaiming Christ’s patrimony in the Holy Land alive for approximately 400 years.

The vision of Christ’s reign on earth spurred the development of the medieval just-war theory. It combined some of the best motives for evangelizing nonbelievers with the promise of sanctity for those who “took the cross” (who were known as the crucesignati) and went on crusade.

Visions of martyrdom for Christ, along with the promise of indulgences (special pardons for past sins), encouraged the devout, such as Peter the Hermit (1095) during the First Crusade and the pious King Louis IX (1270) during the last great Crusade.

Significantly, Tyerman disabuses us of the notion that there is a parallel between the Crusades and the jihad against the West preached by the radical Islam of today. Crusading, he notes, was a public civic activity carried on by the forces of civil government (whereas the contemporary phenomenon of jihad, as practiced by Al Qaeda and other Islamic groups, is a “holy war” being prosecuted specifically by a religious community).

In the popular religious mind, crusading encouraged unity with the papacy, the one institution that held the dual swords of temporal and spiritual power, and furthered cohesiveness among Europe’s people.

The Crusades were ultimately unsuccessful in establishing a Christian kingdom in the East. Tyerman says that the Crusades, however, “encouraged sensitivity to Christendom’s place in the wider world of the three classical continents of Europe, Africa and Asia” and, after 1500, “made possible the extension of Western European culture and power to all parts of the globe.”

A particularly fascinating aspect of Tyerman’s book is its explanation of how liturgical events promoted the vision of a purified Christian world and generated enthusiasm for crusading. Moderns tend not to appreciate the psychological impact of ritual. The denuding of liturgical pageantry and symbol in the Protestant Reformation and, more recently, within Catholicism itself has jeopardized a powerful tool for strengthening the external cohesiveness of the faith and for advancing the Church’s mission.

Tyerman demonstrates how liturgical theatricality, combined with preaching and the promise of Urban II in 1095 that whoever “for devotion alone, not to gain honor or money, goes to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God can substitute this journey for all penance,” captured the medieval imagination.

“The concentration on the figure, passion and redemptive nature of Christ crucified with the Mass,” he writes, “provided the closest association with the aims of the Crusade sermons and rituals for wearing the cross [becoming a crusader].”

A confluence of events and circumstances, occurring at a particular point in time, gave rise to the crusader mentality, which was a phenomenon of history that had its moment, exerted its influence and then passed from the stage of Christian experience.

Today, religion-justified warfare is viewed as reflecting an antiquated cosmology embraced only by a marginalized fringe of radical Muslims, premillenarian Christians, and ultra-Orthodox Jews intent on restoring the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Crusades, however, should not be dismissed as an anachronism, because they provide caveats and lessons for us today, especially regarding the power of religion to move world events. Pope Benedict XVI favors a dialogue based on reason. His undelivered speech at La Sapienza University (January 18, 2008) on the role of the pope, the university, religion and primacy of truth in Christ is an excellent road map for human progress in avoiding any legitimizing of a present or future “God’s War.” (This speech is available at in the section “Papal Speeches.”)

You can order GOD’S WAR: A New History of the Crusades from St. Francis Bookshop.


EXILES: A Novel, by Ron Hansen. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 226 pp. $23, hardcover; $14, paperback.

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).

READERS MAY WELL recognize the name of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the late 19th-century English convert and Jesuit priest who wrote such famous poems as “Pied Beauty” and “God’s Grandeur.” Some may also recognize the title of another long poem Hopkins wrote, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” It is this last poem that inspired Santa Clara University teacher and author Ron Hansen’s most recent novel, Exiles.

Hansen’s earlier novels include a contemporary classic spiritual novel, Mariette in Ecstasy, Atticus (a finalist for the National Book Award), Hitler’s Niece, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (which led to the 2007 movie of the same name) and a collection of theological essays, A Stay Against Confusion. Hansen is also a deacon of the Diocese of San Jose.

“The Wreck of the Deutschland” is not generally thought of as one of Hopkins’s more accessible works. In it Hopkins pondered poetically the December 1875 wreck of a German sailing ship in a storm off the English coast. In particular, Hopkins was moved by news reports that among those who lost their lives were five German nuns.

Virtually nothing is known today about the five nuns. Considerably more of a biographical nature is available about Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

Ron Hansen recognized that the nuns, on their way to missionary work in the United States, could certainly be thought of as exiles. But Hopkins, too, was an exile. Spiritually, by virtue of his conversion to Catholicism, he was an exile from his family—who didn’t even attend his priestly ordination—and from the dominant English culture.

He was an exile, too, among many of his Jesuit confreres, who failed to understand him as a person and his genius as a poet.

Finally, he was an exile in the community of English poets who failed to comprehend his spirituality and poetic inspiration.

Together with fictionalized biographical discussions of each of the five German nuns, Ron Hansen weaves narratives of various episodes in the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The crew and other passengers on the Deutschland also become real, intriguing, three-dimensional characters who take their rightful place in the narrative.

Hansen draws the reader into the story in ways that deeply touch heart and mind, holding him or her enthralled from first page to last.

Exiles is one of the best contemporary short novels this reviewer has ever read. It’s a masterpiece both as fiction and as what earlier generations called “spiritual reading.” Don’t miss it, whatever you do.

You can order EXILES: A Novel from St. Francis Bookshop.


GOD AT THE RITZ: Attraction to Infinity, by Lorenzo Albacete. Crossroad Publishing Company. 208 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by PATRICIA M. BERLINER, C.S.J., Ph.D., a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, and a licensed psychologist in private practice in New York City. She is the author of Touching Your Lifethread and Revaluing the Feminine: A Process of Psychospiritual Change.

THE “ACCLAIM” PAGE, which prefaces Msgr. Albacete’s work, would suggest that this is an entertaining book, “filled with edgy humor,” according to Publishers Weekly. This was not my experience. I view the book as an autobiographical treatise on science and God, and perhaps the interaction of each to the other.

Presented as a sort of “Chicken Soup for the Intelligentsia,” the chapters range from deeply scientific to bordering on the wondrous.

Several of Albacete’s essays/conversations adeptly and compassionately address the great mysteries of life—including the painful recognition of evil in the concentration camps of the Nazis, as well as in our own individual hearts. I was deeply moved by the chapter “Cursing the Infinite?,” which recounts a conversation between Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Francois Mauriac, whose wife was aghast at the sight of Jewish children being torn from their mothers’ arms at the Austerlitz train station. Then Wiesel told his own story, a painful recognition of evil, not only in the concentration camps, but also in our own hearts and lives.

Msgr. Albacete’s media career was launched when PBS-TV invited him to be a consultant on their Frontline series. By his account, one of the most difficult segments was the one dedicated to faith, a conversation centered on whether it was possible to reconcile fidelity to faith with the culture of the Third Millennium. This question—and the challenge it presented—thrust Albacete and his media colleagues more deeply into the search for truth, justice, solidarity and personal development, a search that leads into mystery.

Albacete maintains that “the first way in which a truly human society promotes human creative work is by protecting those structures of companionship through which we enjoy the help necessary to work creatively.” But he almost alienates one from the other by his assessment that science is unable to grasp spiritual realities, while using spirituality to undervalue the contribution of modern science, social sciences and psychology.

As a practicing psychologist, as well as a disciple of the spiritual life, I found his analysis of psychology and its relationship to the life and work of the spirit to be somewhat simplistic. The hunger for God, “the good,” is universal and multidimensional. I would have preferred a more holistic framework, in which the complex interaction among body, mind and spirit is affirmed.

In truth, the more “together” each of us becomes within our own persons, the more freely will individuals, societies and civilizations approach the throne of God, in whom we live and move and have our being.

You can order GOD AT THE RITZ: Attraction to Infinity from St. Francis Bookshop.


ENCOUNTERING THE MYSTERY: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today, by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Doubleday. 302 pp. $22.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE of his “ecclesiastical colleagues”—Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI—Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has communicated his extensive understanding of the Christian tradition in book form—not from a Catholic perspective, mind you, but an Orthodox one.

Yet, in so many ways, Encountering the Mystery rang “catholic,” or “universal,” to me. I was surprised to read that Patriarch Bartholomew had done some of his advanced theological studies in Rome at the Pontifical Oriental Institute during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Here he was introduced to the thought of the great 20th-century Catholic theologians Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac. The book reveals Patriarch Bartholomew’s deep knowledge of his own tradition and other Christian and non-Christian ones as well.

The book begins with an informative Foreword by Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware (Oxford, U.K.). Bishop Ware provides the reader an interpretive lens through which to understand the person and writings of Patriarch Bartholomew, the 270th archbishop of Constantinople and spiritual head of Orthodox Christianity. It is a lens focused on the value of the human person and the connecting themes of mystery, freedom, relationship and wholeness. This is followed by a biographical note by Professor John Chryssavgis. What emerges is a person whose worldview has been permeated by the Orthodox faith.

In regard to his own role, Patriarch Bartholomew is the shepherd of some 300 million faithful. Lacking the centralized authority of the Catholic Church, Patriarch Bartholomew serves as a point, or center, of unity for Orthodox Christianity. As “first among equals,” he seeks to coordinate and foster consensus among the independent and equal national Churches.

According to Patriarch Bartholomew, Orthodoxy sees itself “as a seamless continuation and spiritual succession of the early Church of the apostles, martyrs, confessors, monastics, great teachers and saints.” Though strongly rooted in the past, Orthodox Christianity also looks toward the future. Patriarch Bartholomew’s own initiatives in the area of interreligious dialogue and concern for the environment (for which he has been called the “Green Patriarch”) only serve to highlight how Orthodoxy balances tradition with present-day concerns.

For a Western, Catholic Christian like myself, Patriarch Bartholomew offers a powerful reminder of the lasting significance of Orthodox Christianity, calling it “the hidden treasure of the West.” One need only mention the first several Church councils (Nicea, 325 A.D.; Constantinople, 381 A.D.; Ephesus, 431 A.D.; and Chalcedon, 451 A.D.), Apostolic Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp, and other Church fathers like the Cappadocians—Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus—and John Chrysostom to see the foundational role that Orthodoxy played and continues to have in the formation of the Christian tradition.

One thing that has always drawn me to Orthodoxy has been its art, particularly icons. Patriarch Bartholomew emphasizes that the role of icons (sacred images) is to make the invisible visible. It is a very incarnational form of artistic expression. Whether through art, architecture or liturgical worship, the goal of Orthodoxy is to bring heaven to earth. In this sense, it is a sacramental, or “Catholic,” view of the world.

Orthodoxy also has a rich theological tradition. For Patriarch Bartholomew, theology is not chiefly about the intellect but rather about relationship. According to him, theology “derives from, is produced by and is interpreted within the experience of the total community.”

Recognizing the transcendence of God, the Orthodox tradition states that sometimes the best we can say of God is what God is not, or remain silent. It is called apophatic theology. It makes clear that God is with us, yet also beyond us.

A strong feature of the book is Patriarch Bartholomew’s engagement of Orthodox Christianity with the modern world. Necessarily, he addresses issues of ecology, conscience and human rights, poverty and globalization, racism and fundamentalism, and war and peace.

Patriarch Bartholomew writes, “Concern, then, for ecological issues is directly related to concern for issues of social justice and particularly world hunger.” All are interrelated. In this vein he calls for a new worldview, one that recognizes the earth as a “gift inherited from above” which must be joined with a “eucharistic spirit” and “ascetic ethos.”

The book serves as a valuable introduction to not only the Orthodox tradition but also the whole Christian tradition in general.

You can order ENCOUNTERING THE MYSTERY: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today from St. Francis Bookshop.



Creative Sprituality

We were made in the image and likeness of God the Creator, who also endowed each of us with a share of the divine creativity.

GOD OF SURPRISES, by Gerard W. Hughes, foreword by Eugene H. Peterson (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 163 pp., $18). This third edition (the first was published in 1985) comes from a Jesuit priest from Birmingham, England. Hidden in our moods and feelings, thoughts and daydreams, experiences and hopes is our inner life. Father Hughes says: “God is in all things, so there is no particle in creation and no experience of yours in which God is not with you.” The author provides ways to clear the inner chaos and find the treasure within.

SOUL FIRE: Accessing Your Creativity, by Thomas Ryan, C.S.P. (Skylight Paths, 138 pp., $16.99), contends that creativity is something we all have. Myriad opportunities exist for expressing it: cooking, gardening, painting, writing, weaving, singing, raising children, to name a few. A Paulist priest, Ryan wants to help people of all faiths find their creative medium and consciously cultivate it. The book is filled with provocative questions and practical exercises to get the fire going.

CONTEMPLATIVE CROCHET: A Hands-On Guide for Interlocking Faith & Craft, by Cindy Crandall-Frazier (Skylight Paths, 187 pp., $16.99), is a creative look at how the loops and patterns of crochet can help one discern a spiritual path. It shows the connection of handwork to God’s work, of heart to hands.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4.50 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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