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Young Priest Questions His Vocation


OFFICE OF INNOCENCE: A Novel, by Thomas Keneally. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 319 pp. $25.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian currently serving on the St. Anthony Messenger Press Advisory Board.

PROBABLY BEST KNOWN for the award-winning book Schindler’s List, Australian author Thomas Keneally has returned to the fiction genre for Office of Innocence. Newly ordained Father Frank Darragh has been missioned as curate in a town on the outskirts of Sydney. War has erupted in the Pacific theater and it is rumored that a Japanese invasion is imminent.

Msgr. Carolan, the pastor, is a respected money-raiser and a staunch traditionalist in both personal and religious matters. While Father Darragh is assigned the early Masses, late Benedictions and lowly duties ordinarily completed by a sacristan, the monsignor views the extremely long lines at the curate’s confessional as a self-inflicted penance garnered by his dispensing gentle admonitions and light penances.

It is in the confessional that Darragh is first exposed to the seamier side of life as “...[h]e had been exactly the sort of unsullied, unworldly, yet not stupid young man the seminary sought.”

Most of the Australian fighting force has been away at war for some time. Money is scarce and rationing is in force, but now American forces are arriving with brash confidence in their untested abilities and unprecedented generosity in dispensing their goods and favors. Naturally, they expect some services in return.

When a young American MP requests a Mass for his deceased aunt and later asks Father Darragh to persuade an African-American deserter to surrender peacefully, the curate learns of the racism rife in the U.S. Army.

Then he is confronted with a homosexual man who will make no attempt to control his sexual urges, and a ménage a trois with a Catholic parishioner dying of tuberculosis. An elderly neighbor and friend of his own mother contemplates the morality of killing women to save their bodies from desecration by the invading armies.

Father Darragh’s innocence and religious confidence are shaken. Theoretical seminary disquisitions on similar despicable matters appear inadequate when faced with real-life conditions, especially during wartime.

Then he finds himself strongly attracted to Kate Heggarty. Mother of a young son and married to a prisoner of war being held by the Germans, Kate is accepting groceries from “...a decent fellow, but he is a fellow after all. I was intending...well, let me say, not to give him any encouragement. I am a married woman. But I need to take the risk of those ‘occasions of sin’ you speak of, for my sake and Anthony’s.”

When tragedy befalls Kate, Father Darragh is ostracized by the Church hierarchy and placed under suspicion by the police.

Keneally excels in vivid character portrayals and, with his own personal seminary experience, has outdone himself in creating the very human Frank Darragh—so naïve, so trusting. The eternal struggle between the sacred and the world, the flesh and the devil is recounted with wry irony and delightful humor. The hierarchy of the Church appears to feel that a 10-day retreat will solve all problems of conscience just in time for a return to the busy weekend Mass/Confession schedule!

The unique physical and historical settings emphasize just how universal and timeless is a crisis of faith.

Beautifully crafted, this psychological study of a very dedicated but naïve priest is rewarding but not easy reading. Mature adult Catholics, of both sexes, will sympathize and empathize with the curate’s trials and be reminded of the vast majority of priests who have not only survived their crises of faith but also become more compassionate because of them.

You can order OFFICE OF INNOCENCE: A Novel from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE PRAYING LIFE: Seeking God in All Things, by Deborah Smith Douglas. Morehouse Publishing. 116 pp. $13.95.

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

LUMINOSITY characterizes this thoughtful, inspiring volume. Essay after essay reminds me of the clarity of a trumpet’s lofty note. Whether speaking of prayer or healing, spiritual companionship or fruitfulness, Deborah Smith Douglas is not only on key but even melodic in her sharing both the product of personal spirituality and the harvest of her extensive reading.

The central theme of this work is contained in a clear, direct formula: “realization of God’s presence, trust in God’s purpose, deep availability to God’s will.” The realization is dependent to a large extent upon a life of prayer and reflection; the trust is grounded in God’s healing touch as witnessed in the life of Jesus and the compassion of the community; the deep availability flows out of our relationship with Jesus and the grace of friendship.

The Praying Life is divided into four sections: 1) Ways of Praying; 2) Healing; 3) Spiritual Companionship; and 4) Fruitfulness. The 15 chapters (ranging from four to 12 pages) and four poems present the search for God in all things, or, perhaps more accurately, God’s seeking us out in all the circumstances of our pilgrim journey.

The style is both poetic and narrative. Story plays a major role in the author’s spirituality; image and metaphor become the means of expressing insight concerning the action of grace. It is through narrative that our horizons are stretched. In The Praying Life we are invited time and again into biblical stories and given a prayerful, compelling commentary. Also drawn from Scripture and the Christian tradition are images and metaphors (e.g., vine and branches, fire) that give us a sense of identity and mission.

One of the needs on the spiritual journey is balance.  Deborah Douglas is explicit about the need for contemplation and action, the value of personal friendship and community, and the integration of faith and work.

Life is dialectical; our planet is one of both/and and much less of either/or. This text presents a holistic spirituality.

One of the great benefits in a prayerful reading of this book is to hear the insights and wisdom from a variety of authors: C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill, Henri Nouwen and Thomas à Kempis, Thomas Kelly and Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Simone Weil. Interspersed are the poets: Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rainer Maria Rilke. The Praying Life is peppered with pearls and “patchlights” of grace.

The author is a wife and mother, spiritual director and retreat guide, lawyer and pilgrim. So who would benefit from her reflections? Parents and seekers, professional people and college students, anyone who is desirous of seeking God in all things.

This book is yet another means by which God is seeking us. Be assured that Francis Thompson’s hound of heaven and C. S. Lewis’s Aslan are on the loose.

You can order THE PRAYING LIFE: Seeking God in All Things from St. Francis Bookshop.

MULDOON: A True Chicago Ghost Story: Tales of a Forgotten Rectory, by Rocco A. Facchini and Daniel J. Facchini. Illustrations by David R. Facchini. Foreword by Tim Unsworth. Lake Claremont Press (4650 North Rockwell Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625; www.lakeclaremont.com). 268 pp. $15.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, a native of Chicago and book review editor of this publication. Her uncle’s brother, Edward Reading, was a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and may have overlapped the book’s author at the “Big House,” St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.

A TRUE GHOST STORY, yes—this is the haunting by an auxiliary bishop of his former parish’s rectory. Muldoon is also the story of the immigrant Church in Chicago and the author’s personal story as well—how a young priest was thrown into a miserable assignment under a tyrannical pastor whose main “pastoral” concern was bingo.

Rocco A. Facchini was ordained in 1956 for the Archdiocese of Chicago. After 15 years, he resigned from the priesthood, became a real-estate broker and property manager, and married. His two sons helped him with this retirement project—one as coauthor, the other as illustrator.

Facchini’s first assignment was to St. Charles Borromeo Parish on Chicago’s Near West Side. The church had been built in 1896 by then-Father Peter J. Muldoon, the second pastor of the parish.

Named an auxiliary bishop in 1900, Muldoon was passed over to head the Chicago Archdiocese but in 1908 was chosen to head the new Diocese of Rockford. He died there in 1927.

Muldoon was born of Irish immigrant parents in California in 1862. Muldoon’s appointment as auxiliary rather than Father Jeremiah J. Crowley, who had been born in Ireland, started a rift in Chicago between the Irish-born clergy and the “narrow backs” (American-born clergy of Irish descent).

Irate, Crowley attacked Muldoon, called him inept, a drunk and a pervert—all baseless accusations. Crowley eventually was excommunicated, returned to the Church, then left and wrote vitriolic anti-Catholic tracts, billing himself as “the new Luther.”

According to Facchini and his fellow priests at St. Charles, Muldoon haunted St. Charles, supposedly, because he planned to be buried behind the main altar of this church he had built but was laid to rest in Rockford instead. The St. Charles priests all heard unexplained noises—footsteps, doors slammed, cabinets shaken—and observed opened windows and doors.

These happenings mostly occurred after decisions were made that would doom St. Charles to extinction. After Facchini left, two people even claimed to have seen the bishop in his old study.

Facchini has not used the real name of the pastor of St. Charles but calls him Kane, because what is said of him is damning. On Facchini’s first day at St. Charles, the pastor didn’t shake his hand but instead showed him the boiler room for the parish complex and assigned him bingo duties.

The parish secretary and Kane’s dog were his only confidantes. Kane started a shrine to St. Anne, which was a scam.

Kane told Facchini not to get involved in ministry to African-Americans or with the hospitals expanding nearby—the parish’s new opportunities.

The final straws that broke Facchini were Kane accusing him of stealing six cents from schoolchildren’s offering envelopes and berating him for reading funeral prayers for a non-Catholic child—because he might have missed setting up for bingo.

Facchini lasted four years with Kane (far longer than other assistants). Facchini served at two other parishes before asking to leave the priesthood. (Bishops now carefully select a priest’s first assignment because it is so critical.)

It’s no wonder Muldoon haunted this dysfunctional rectory.

St. Charles Borromeo church, rectory, convent and school were razed in 1969, victims of shifting population patterns and shortsighted leadership.

The book’s chronology is excellent, and the historical photos and drawings wonderful. But lots of diversions in this book—like Chicago being built on ground sacred to the Indians and the 1960 America article, “On Loving the Poor” by the Rev. William A. Schumacher, another of St. Charles’s assistant pastors—could have been skipped.

Muldoon is an exposé of the old clerical culture, with lots of Catholic and Chicago history thrown in. But the book raises more questions than it answers. I wonder, Who or where will Muldoon haunt now?

You can order MULDOON: A True Chicago Ghost Story: Tales of a Forgotten Rectory from St. Francis Bookshop.

PARADOX: The Spiritual Path to Transformation, by Bernard Tickerhoof. Twenty-Third Publications. 225 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by the REV. DONNA SCHAPER, pastor of Coral Gables Congregational Church in Coral Gables, Florida.

IF YOU HAVE ever experienced the sense of being caught between a rock and a hard place, of knowing the no-win and no-way-out situations, this simple and profound theological book can help you. It will reframe your life. From hating these kinds of tensions and feeling helplessly buffeted by them, you will learn to appreciate them.

A Roman Catholic spiritual director, the author has also drunk deeply at other wells, including Zen, Taoism, the Greeks and even chaos theory. The Tao unites yin and yang. The Zen breathes the paradox.

The book is very astute on the Apollonian and Dionysian expressions of life. Indeed, it argues that we need more than a “wise governance” of one over the other. Instead, we need an integration of their paradox.

“A case could be made, for example, that the high degree of addiction to alcohol, drugs and so many other things in our society is itself in large part a shadow reaction to Apollonian repression. My head cannot be truly free if my heart and my body remain captive,” writes Tickerhoof.

Similarly, chaos theory is based on the magnetism of opposites. When Tickerhoof talks about paradox, he is not talking about the simple linking of opposites but about their unity and need of the other.

The stories are also very well told. One tells of a woman who had a finely crafted antique mahogany table. She ordered the table cut in half in her will for her two already quarreling daughters. The reunification of the daughters and the table shows quite deeply what Tickerhoof means by paradox being the spiritual path to transformation.

The metaphor of breath with its exhalation and inhalation is used for the need to go out and then in and then out again. “Once we have entered paradox, we are no longer hampered by fear. We have seen both sides of reality and so there is nothing further that can threaten us....To try to hold on to the Spirit indefinitely is to collapse....You will have to let go of it, so that the Spirit can flow out of you again,” explains Tickerhoof.

My favorite point in the entire book is the playful use of the paradox of freedom. “The best things in life are free. The best things in life come at a terrible price. The best things in life are free at a terrible price. Without the price, the freedom isn’t really there. Freedom, without transforming consciousness, is ultimately an illusion.”

The Reign of God is seen only with eyes that are free. This fine book can free our eyes so that we can truly see beyond the double binds into the Reign of God.

You can order PARADOX: The Spiritual Path to Transformation from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Book Briefs

The old Communist celebrations of May Day inspired Pius XII in 1955 to establish the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. Catholic theology has always seen work as a way that our hands and minds can share in God’s creativity and build up the Kingdom.

WORK WITH MEANING, WORK WITH JOY: Bringing Your Spirit to Any Job, by Pat McHenry Sullivan (Sheed & Ward, 163 pp., $16.95), is a guide to reinvigorating your work life, bringing faith and integrity into the workplace, and creating balance in your life.

DEVOTIONS FOR JOB SEEKERS: Daily Encouragement Along the Way, by Richard Malone (Galilee/Doubleday Books, 211 pp., $10.95), is not about polishing your résumé or sharpening your interview skills, but coping with the feelings of hopelessness and despair that can overwhelm the unemployed. It comes from someone who has been there. Another valuable new book in this series is Devotions for Debtors, by Kristen Johnson Ingram.

NOT JUST A JUST WAGE: A Conversation With Four Popes About the ‘Living’ Or ‘Family’ Wage, by the Business Leaders for Excellence, Ethics and Justice (ACTA Publications, 59 pp., $5.95), should be read by every business executive. This booklet puts a group of Chicago-based professionals in dialogue with Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII and John Paul II about how to create, define and pay a just wage.

 


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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