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From Grand Basilicas to Stark Chapels


CHURCHES, by Judith Dupré. HarperCollins Publishers. 168 pp. $35.

Reviewed by JEANNE KORTEKAMP, art director of St. Anthony Messenger.

OPEN WIDE the doors and enter. That quite literally is how the reader finds passage into this beautifully illustrated, large-format (over 12" x 16") book, Churches. The front cover depicts Donatello's Annunciation on two flaps that open from the center like the doors to a church. The endpapers underneath contain a glorious display of a fourth-century mosaic from the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, a hint of the exquisite images to be encountered throughout the book.

Churches presents the art and architecture of these sacred spaces in a format that is in itself a work of art. The book contains more than 200 compelling images mostly in the form of color photography. The photographs and art are reproduced with such high definition and clarity that it is not hard to imagine oneself transported in time and space to the various sites.

The book features 59 of the most intriguing churches in the world. From the grand St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to the starkly simple Huialoha Congregational Church in Maui, Hawaii, the territory of Churches is sweeping in scope.

I got lost in the pages as I made my journey through this book. It was like a pilgrimage for me. The book is designed in a way that is clean, clear and approachable on a number of levels.

Just like a pilgrimage, there are many facets to explore, and the desire to return is strong. The first time through the book might entail just taking in the power of the images. Subsequent times beckon the reader to go deeper into the commentaries and essays rich with information about history, architecture and design. The introduction features an interview with the eminent Swiss architect Mario Botta. Quotations from other notable figures float throughout the book.

For a more prayerful approach, color bars of text run across the top of the pages of each featured church. The text, reminiscent of a ticker tape, contains bits of prayer and Scripture.

Similarly, to use the book as a quick reference guide, bars of information are presented across the bottom of these same pages. These bars contain data about the location, architects, construction dates, primary material, denomination and any distinction of the featured church. A small schematic of each floor plan is also shown.

The physical size of Churches seems especially appropriate for the subject. Many of the churches featured in the book are so grand in scale that to do justice to the viewing of them demands large photos. In photos that are so big, one can actually see some of the details of the artworks that richly adorn interiors of basilicas such as San Marco in Venice or Santa Croce in Florence. The sheer vastness of these structures is not lost either.

As I gazed at the dome of the Pantheon, I almost felt as if my head was tilted backward as I tried to look heavenward and grasp the enormity of it. There are many domes and ceilings to ponder in Churches. The ceiling of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is clearly displayed in a two-page spread. This art, as well as others, is certainly food for the soul.

But there is also comfort in pondering the interior of the Cologne Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. It is almost as if these high-ceiling structures shield us from outside evil.

Just as inspirational as the older, classic basilicas and cathedrals are the more contemporary structures. Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a simple, pine-and-glass, gabled structure that wonderfully blends into the surrounding woods. Tadao Ando's Church on the Water in Hokkaido, Japan, is another fine example of a masterful integration of worship space and its natural setting.

Some of the more modern structures like the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, Washington, or Santa Maria Church in Marco de Canavezes, Portugal, may seem stark in comparison to the older ones. Perhaps the stripped-down environments are a soothing relief to the excesses of an overly material world.

Toward the end of Churches, there is a small section about labyrinths, both ancient and contemporary. These sacred paths provide a way to walk in prayer. The labyrinth, like the church, is a means of connecting to the Holy One. Churches gives evidence of the fruit of humanity's most creative endeavors to do just that.

You can order Churches from St. Francis Bookshop.

CATHOLIC EVANGELIZATION: The Heart of Ministry, by Rev. Robert J. Hater. Harcourt Religion Publishers/Brown-ROA. 194 pp. $10.95.

Reviewed by the REV. JOHN E. HURLEY, C.S.P., executive director of the Secretariat for Evangelization at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., since 1997.

SINCE 1974 WHEN Pope Paul VI convened the Synod on Evangelization, and 1975 when he issued his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, evangelization is gaining more and more prominence in the life of the Catholic Church and Catholics in general. The Church and an increasing number of Catholics are taking to heart the message of Pope Paul VI that "the Church exists to evangelize."

The title of Father Hater's book, Catholic Evangelization: The Heart of Ministry, sums up for us this essential mission of the Church.

Evangelization is not a what, but a why. This book informs and inspires Catholics, especially those in leadership roles in the Church, to look at all ministry through the lens of evangelization. It assists us in reawakening the mission in all that we do as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The author admits, in the Introduction, that Catholic Evangelization "relies heavily upon my first book [News That Is Good], connecting original insights with ongoing developments in society and the Church." I believe, however, that this publication stands alone as an articulation of the foundations for Catholic evangelization and Catholic life in general. It also echoes the call to active discipleship. It is not enough for us just to believe and leave ministry up to someone else.

The general format of the book is well done. Each of the 10 chapters is followed by suggestions offered for personal and pastoral reflection. The first five chapters tend to be very systematic in their approach and may be a bit overwhelming for the person in the pew. The last five are worth waiting for and what will catch the ordinary Catholics and pastoral ministers in the Church. They are where the rubber hits the road.

Evangelization, needless to say, has been a word which most Catholics have struggled with for the past 28 years. In Chapter Nine, "Evangelization Catholic Style," the author has a very good section on the contrast between Catholic evangelization and the evangelical Protestant approach. For the ordinary Catholic, this section clarifies what Catholic evangelization is and is not.

Too many Catholics only see the evangelical approach without evangelization being woven into all life in our Church. There are, however, many aspects of an evangelical approach of which Catholics can stand in awe, and some of these positive characteristics should be integrated into our Church life.

The book employs a very good process developed for ongoing discussion and reflection. With all the information given in the chapters, this opportunity for individual or preferably group reflection and discussion is a wonderful component.

The reflection areas include questions raised for action steps. This presents diocesan or parish evangelization committees an excellent opportunity to process the what, why and how in our lives. In many ways, the process resembles that often used in small faith communities when reflecting on the Word of God. What does the Word say in its context? What is the implication of the Word in my life? What will I do as a result of the Word I have heard in my daily life, work and parish?

This approach is helpful when you have well-intentioned parishioners who want to do something, but sometimes do not reflect enough on what it is they are called to do as disciples. Evangelization is not generally something "more" for us to do. Evangelization can, however, put the why back into what we do.

As I travel across North America, I often hear the phrase, "Everything is evangelization." I usually respond by saying this is not the case. But everything can be evangelization if we reawaken the why in what we do. If the Church exists to evangelize, then all members and agencies in the Church exist to evangelize. This is the difference between being a believer and being a disciple.

I recommend Catholic Evangelization: The Heart of Ministry as a fundamental tool for diocesan and parish committees on evangelization. As Father Hater mentions in his Introduction, evangelization is "now seen as central to Christian life and ministry." His book provides a well-structured reflection on why we exist as a Church, and argues that there is no better time than the present to be actively involved as disciples.

You can order Catholic Evangelization: The Heart of Ministry from St. Francis Bookshop.

PEOPLE OF THE COVENANT: An Invitation to the Old Testament, by Dianne Bergant, C.S.A. Sheed & Ward. 185 pp. $12.95.

Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M., editor of Sunday Homily Helps and theological consultant for Weekday Homily Helps for St. Anthony Messenger Press. He is also retreat director at Friarhurst Retreat Center in Cincinnati.

THIS BOOK IS an "invitation" to the Old Testament. It provides an approach, a feel, for these sacred writings. Sister Dianne offers a fine tool for people who are just beginning to study the Bible seriously.

The Preface provides some basic information. It remarks briefly on the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant Bibles. Reminding us that the sacred books were written for times and places quite different from our own, it also tells us that we must find ways to apply the message to our own situation.

Throughout the book the author makes judicious choices in material. She also helps us to see the relevance of the First Testament (her preferred designation for the Old Testament) for the New or Second Testament and for our lives today.

Bergant's chapter "The Ancestors" tells the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

It would seem logical to continue with Moses, but the next chapter is "The Judges." (Moses will show up in the chapter called "The Prophets.") In "The Judges" we read of Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, Samson and Samuel. The next chapter is "The Kings." Saul, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah are considered.

The author begins "The Prophets" with the idea that prophecy is to be "understood not as the forecasting of the future but as the mediation and interpretation of the will of God." She then tells the stories of Moses, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The chapter "The Priests" (which might better have preceded "The Judges") speaks of the responsibilities of the priests, the sacrifices and the shrines. Then we hear about Levi, Eli, Aaron and Zadok.

In "The Wise Ones" the author reminds us that scholars have often approached the First Testament from the standpoint of "salvation history." She goes on to say: "However, new interest in the natural world and the laws that govern it have resulted in another way of understanding the writings of the Bible....This view suggests that the natural world is the basis of everything and that God can be known through the experiences of everyday life, experiences that do not necessarily contribute to the national story of Israel." This is no doubt an important point and helps us appreciate how "wisdom" fits in the Bible and what "wisdom is all about."

The best part of this chapter on wisdom is the section on Job. The treatment of Ecclesiastes is very helpful. This reviewer would like to have seen more on the Book of Wisdom.

There is a chapter called "Mysterious Figures": the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord and the Son of Man. This section throws light on both the First and the Second Testaments.

"The People Who Moved the Tradition Forward" treats Ezra and Nehemiah, the Maccabees, the Book of Psalms, Song of Songs, Ruth, Tobit, Judith and Esther. Though the treatment of the psalms is concise, it is quite helpful.

This book provides a fine treatment of the First Testament. The author is up-to-date with modern scholarship and offers an approach that anyone interested in the Bible will find helpful—both for understanding and for inspiration.

The style is simple and the material easy to grasp. The only criticism along these lines is that the editing and proofreading could have been more careful. For example, it is stated that Sumer and Israel's ancestors were located in what is modern Iran (instead of Iraq). It is also stated that the Hebrew word for law is toro (instead of torah). There is also at least one incomplete sentence and a few other phrases that are out of kilter. The reader may find some of these distracting.

The author does well in including much in brief compass. What this reviewer would have liked to see in this book are the following: a bit more on death in the treatment of Adam and Eve; an explanation of God's wrath and punishment; an expansion on Song of Songs; a reference to Wisdom on the afterlife.

Even with these qualifications, however, I would recommend this book to anyone who seeks a basic understanding of the Old Testament.

You can order PEOPLE OF THE COVENANT: An Invitation to the Old Testament from St. Francis Bookshop.

MERCY'S FACE: New and Selected Poems 1980-2000 by David Craig. Franciscan University Press. 158 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by JANET McCANN, who has taught at Texas A&M since 1969, and is currently Coordinator of Creative Writing there. She has written a book on Wallace Stevens, The Celestial Possible (Twayne/MacMillan, 1996), and has won several poetry contests and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship Grant.

A BEAUTIFUL BOOK, Mercy's Face helps to define contemporary Catholic poetry. These poems include many of the best of Craig's six previous collections, as well as new work.

The powerfully lyrical accounts of saints' lives and Bible stories serve to broaden spiritual knowledge and to inspire. These poems are both an artistic experience and a sharp, electric hit of metaphysical truth. In particular, the saints' stories implicitly provide a clear and persuasive definition of holy living as they bring the saints back to earth.

The sequence about St. Francis becomes both a character sketch—the saint's humanity is made real—and an account of a miracle that is inspiring and believable. In showing the events leading to the saint's receiving Christ's wounds, the speaker enters Francis' mind to perceive the world through the saint's eyes:

"Earth, a place
to be swept, cleaned.
Broom of dirt
on a sea of dirt,
dirt on dirt dancing.

"He wanted to be
a dandelion spore,
tiny piked pinwheel,
silk with a snag,
under the great wooden
cart-like wheel
of the stars."

The sequence describes the conversion of a wealthy man who gives the saint a mountain; the temptation of St. Francis; the gift of the stigmata; and other events in the 13th-century saint's life, with such memorable detail that it seems to bring Francis into the present.

The series of poems on St. Thérèse of Lisieux was part of a longer series first published in Craig's book, Only One Face; these striking poems take the last conversations of this popular saint and use them to show another route to holiness than that of St. Francis. These poems illustrate the humility of the saint in submitting wholly to God's will, but they also show the conflict between the values of the market and those of the spirit, and they place the conflict in our difficult world. They leap back and forth from Thérèse's dying words to the place we all live, its physicality, its beauty, its precariousness:
"This is what she gave, the untuning.
You are there too, if you read this...
    This is us again:
into sunlight, back to grief. One, our
    home,
the other, our story. We fish here,
Mr. and Mrs. Janus, a group called the Optics.
Grab a net, feel the rock in the boat."

The Psalms also are strikingly original and drive one back to the Bible with renewed joy.

Let me share part of Craig's interpretation of Psalm 6:
"Do not punish me, do not
stamp my soul with the seal of who I am.
Lift me up and I will rise,
pity me, I cannot keep
my bones, the rack upon which I starve, knit."

Bittersweet poems of a tough Catholic upbringing show the wounds of a difficult growing up but always express forgiveness, even nostalgia. In all, David Craig's Mercy's Face is not pleasant, vaguely spiritual work. Rather, it is take-no-prisoners Christian poetry.

You can order MERCY'S FACE: New and Selected Poems 1980-2000 from St. Francis Bookshop.

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Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop at www.StFrancisOnline.com or 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45210, 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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