VOTE CATHOLIC?: Beyond the Political Din, by Bernard F. Evans. Liturgical
Press. 112 pp. $9.95.
Reviewed by TOM CHOQUETTE, a
teacher of religion at St. Xavier High School
in Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1988 to 2000,
he was the director of the Catholic Social
Action Office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
CAN YOU REMEMBER in the 1980s
when Catholic social teaching (CST)
and Catholic social action got together
and produced two extraordinary pastoral
letters by the U.S. Catholic bishops
and numerous spiritual and social
initiatives in dioceses and parishes?
In recent years with the
priest-abuse scandals in the
Church and bitter partisan
struggles in government circles,
it may have seemed
that thoughtful, balanced
voices on social questions
had gone quiet, allowing
more confrontational, more
divisive perspectives to take
A new book by Bernard
F. Evans, a worthy exception
to this trend, invites
Catholics and others who desire to
draw upon the resources of faith in
making political choices to examine
again the merits of a comprehensive,
common-ground approach. This approach
integrates gospel and Church
social-teaching principles with intelligent
analysis of the current political
climate and specific social issues.
The author affirms the importance
of the response of charity, especially
in terms of volunteering in local direct-service
programs. Equally important,
however, is involvement in the political
sphere since so much that affects
day-to-day living and basic human
needs is decided there.
The author argues that this renewed
effort of social ministry must begin
with an honest appraisal of what people
are experiencing, especially the poor
and vulnerable, and then move to a
thorough assessment of the political
climate. This appraisal would seek to
find out what people are most concerned
about and how these concerns
might be turned into a realistic agenda
for political action.
The approach favored by Evans integrates
an inspiring comprehensive
vision framed by the principles of
Church social teaching with in-depth
understanding of how the political system
Three themes serve as the core of
Evans’s vision: 1) promoting the common
good, 2) responding
to the needs of the poor and
vulnerable, 3) protecting
human life and dignity.
It is the author’s hope
that, informed and guided
by these three themes, Catholics
and others will work
together to advance a comprehensive
which would protect and
promote life from conception
to natural death.
Building consensus to
work on this full range of issues may
not be easy because of the divisions
and tensions created in recent years. For
example, the author cites the promotion
in the last general election of a
limited list of non-negotiable issues as
unhelpful. Alternatively, Evans advocates
the promotion of all of the above
themes as part of an overall pro-life
Moreover, this more comprehensive
and more pragmatic approach would
seem to be in line with what the U.S.
bishops in their most recent version of
Faithful Citizenship recommend as
responsible participation in the
national election process.
Other key points emphasized by
Evans include: Avoid focusing on a single
issue, respect a diversity of perspective,
support multiple approaches,
stay informed, follow your passion and
use your gifts.
The author invites his readers to take
up two key tasks:
1) Become an educated voter by paying
attention to the needs of the larger
community and by weighing political
choices guided by the themes of
human dignity, the sacredness of life,
and empowerment of the marginalized.
The moral vision and issue analysis
of the U.S. bishops and other
Catholic social-justice groups at state,
diocesan and parish levels can be very
helpful resources to this process of education.
2) Political responsibility includes
more than just voting. As citizens we
need to stay engaged in year-round
governance by staying informed and by
participating in political life. We bring
to this involvement a moral perspective
shaped by an appreciation of and commitment
to the common good and
human dignity. This engagement will
enrich our lives, bringing about both
personal transformation and policy
changes aimed at helping the most vulnerable
in American society.
In Vote Catholic?: Beyond the Political
Din, we have a book that can help sort out the issues from a faith perspective.
You can order VOTE CATHOLIC?: Beyond the Political
Din from St.
MOMFULNESS: Mothering With
Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace, by Denise Roy. Jossey-Bass/John
Wiley & Sons. 235 pp. $14.95.
Reviewed by JULIE S. DONATI, a freelance
writer, student and mother of three
from Sugar Land, Texas.
FROM THE FIRST LINE of her new book
Momfulnness, author Denise Roy had
me. “I want to be straight with you.
Mothering is not about perfection. It is also not about motherhood as
bliss....Momfulness is practiced in the
trenches—while carpooling, cooking,
working and waiting,
crying and celebrating.”
Reflecting on my harried
life as a mother of
three girls, I immediately
connected, and so will
many readers. Roy, author
of the award-winning
My Monastery Is
a Minivan, has written
this as a spiritual handbook
packed with humorous
anecdotes, exercises and
practices to help busy mothers see the
spiritual in the craziness of family life.
Denise Roy, a licensed marriage and
family therapist, had lofty notions of
using her theological degree in ecclesial
ministry, but the reality of family life
quickly brought her back to earth. She
realized, “My spiritual practice was...not
going to take place primarily in a
church, breaking bread and sharing
wine; more often than not, it was going
to take place in the kitchen, serving up
graham crackers and chocolate milk.”
So what exactly does “momfulness”
mean? Mindfulness, a practice usually
associated with Buddhism, is simply
being aware of the present moment.
Christians, however, have also practiced
mindfulness, although by a different
name. St. Benedict’s first word of
his Rule, the guidelines which monastic
communities still follow, is to “listen,”
to be mindful of God in all
Roy has taken the spiritual practice
of “mindfulness” (active awareness of
God outside of formal moments of
prayer) and ingeniously transposed it to
“momfulness,” meaning conscious and
attentive mothering. Roy explains that
to practice “momfulness” means to cultivate
a “mindful, compassionate,
mothering presence with ourselves,
with our children, and with our world.”
Following an introduction to “momfulness,”
Roy divides the practices into
compassion, mothering, presence, cultivating
and community. Particularly
useful are her concrete practices that are
easy to employ, such as breathing meditation
on centering and dwelling in
the present moment. She is comfortable
with offering insights and quotes from
persons and practice
which enhance the
Each chapter is
(more a meditation
than a dissertation),
and the compact (3”
by 3”) dimensions of
the book allow it to
be slipped into a
purse and read at opportune
Even in small snatches, this small gem
of a book offers nuggets of wisdom,
often accompanied with a laugh!
At the conclusion, she offers an
extensive bibliography of suggested
reading to enable the curious to pursue
I recommend the reading of this
book for all mothers, old and new, who
would like to explore the spiritual practice
of mothering, and they will find
themselves uplifted and rejuvenated!
Roy has planned a book discussion
guide to use in parish groups and prayer
groups—a fitting use.
You can order MOMFULNESS: Mothering With
Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace from St. Francis Bookshop.
THE MORAL MEASURE OF THE
ECONOMY, by Chuck Collins and
Mary Wright. Orbis Books. 212 pp.
Reviewed by CAROL RAINEY, Ph.D., a
retired English professor and longtime
peace and justice activist in Cincinnati,
IN THE SUMMER of 2007, the ups and
downs of the stock market made the
whole world jittery. Many people were
bewildered by what was happening,
economics being a matter of complicated
numbers many of us do not
understand. This marvelous book by
Chuck Collins and Mary Wright looks at the modern American economy not
in terms of numbers but in terms of
moral values, and gives insight into the
real dilemmas which ordinary
men and women in
the United States today are
facing in their work and
Perhaps the key idea of
the Collins/Wright book is
that we need to look at
work itself in terms of its
impact on the worker, the
family, the community and
the environment. When
views of work lack a moral
dimension, things begin
to go wrong and everyone suffers.
The book has two parts. Part One
presents an overview of Catholic teachings
on the economy, concentrating
particularly on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral
letter Economic Justice for All (1986,
updated in 1997). In that letter the
bishops stated clearly that economic
life should be shaped by moral principles,
with particular attention to the
poor and vulnerable.
Many stories are given in this opening
section about the struggles of ordinary
people today to take care of
themselves and their families: declining
wages, growing personal debts, health-care
costs and job insecurities.
Part Two attempts to explain how
the present economic and moral crisis
in the United States has come about
and what can be done about it. This discussion
of the root causes of the problems
today is the heart of the book.
According to the authors, three
things have happened in our society
that are responsible for the problems
we are having today. First, there has
been a power shift in the U.S. democracy
(that is, who now has the power to
shape and enact laws).
Political power is increasingly in the
hands of campaign contributors, lobbyists,
corporations and Wall Street
leaders, and less in the hands of ordinary
voters, small businesses, unions, or
social and religious groups.
Second, there has been a shift in the
rules that govern the laws of society.
Tax policies have shifted so that the
federal tax generated comes not from
wealth but from wages and consumers.
Employers no longer feel a responsibility
to the welfare of workers: Jobs
can be cut at any time; benefits
Third, and perhaps most
important, there has been a
shift in moral values in society
as a whole. What is now
valued is extreme individualism,
excessive wealth and
materialism, not community
and our responsibility
to one another and the
As dire as the present conditions
are, this book is not
without hope. Part Two has many
inspiring stories of individuals and
organizations doing something about
the economic inequalities. There are
individuals working for a shorter work
week (such as other countries have),
which would decrease unemployment
and give workers more time for themselves,
their families and community
life. One hundred forty cities now have
living-wage laws, which require corporations
doing business with those
cities to pay a living wage to their
One drawback of the book is that it
is a little hard to get into.
The opening section, listing
the problems of so many
people today, is presented
without any explanation or
analysis. It seems as if the
editors wanted some human
stories in the beginning to
make the more theoretical
section less intimidating. But
for me this approach had the
opposite effect: I wondered
where the book was going
and almost gave up on it.
The analysis of the economy in Part
Two is excellent, but more personal
stories would have been useful here,
particularly about environmental programs.
Despite these difficulties, the book is
well worth reading and thinking about,
and would be excellent for parish discussions
on the meaning of wealth and
poverty today from a Catholic perspective.
You can order THE MORAL MEASURE OF THE
ECONOMY from St.
HE SAID YES: The Story of Father
Mychal Judge, by Kelly Ann Lynch,
illustrated by M. Scott Oatman.
Paulist Press. 32 pp. $12.95.
THE STORY OF BENEDICT XVI FOR
YOUNG PEOPLE, by Claire Jordan
Mohan. New Hope Publications. 74
YES! I AM CATHOLIC: How Faith
Plays a Role in My Life, by Beth
Dotson Brown. Saint Mary’s Press.
192 pp. $15.95.
Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a
retired public librarian and native Cincinnatian.
ONE OF THE MOST memorable heroes
of the terrorist attacks on the Twin
Towers in New York City on September
11, 2001, was Father Mychal Judge,
O.F.M. As fire department chaplain, he
was among the last to enter the disaster
site and the first official fatality
removed. Kelly Ann Lynch, a lifelong
friend of his, bases this children’s picture
book on the events that led to this
act of supreme love and generosity.
Born in 1933 to poor Irish immigrants
in Brooklyn, Emmet (Mychal
was his religious name)
began helping to support
the family with
odd jobs by age six. He
completed his education
in the local Franciscan
after ordination, was
assigned to St. Francis
Parish in Manhattan,
where he tended a typical
in firefighters, he took
on their chaplaincy and was running to
help them when he was killed. All his
life, “He said yes.”
An excellent biography of a contemporary
hero for children ages eight
to 12, this book should be considered
for all school and library collections.
The 13 illustrations enhance the readable
text and even have hidden images.
Claire Mohan’s Story of Benedict XVI
for Young People targets an older audience with advanced but very readable
vocabulary and stylized black and white
illustrations. When he was born in a
small German village in 1927, Joseph
Ratzinger had a two-year-old brother
and five-year-old sister. Their father
was a police officer whose job required
frequent transfers but, with devoted
parents, Joseph and his siblings had a
carefree childhood until the rise of
Adolph Hitler. Nazism’s effect on all
facets of German society is excellently
portrayed; any kind of resistance would
have meant death.
Their father’s retirement in 1937 provided
an opportunity to escape to a
rural village which still maintained a
religious school, but the children were
forced into Hitler Youth groups, where
physical fitness was emphasized.
Joseph, while a good student, was shy
and not talented at games. At the seminary
he had difficulty studying in a
large hall with 60 other boys. Soon he
and his brother, Georg, also a seminarian,
became paramilitary personnel
and, finally, were forced to be active
participants in the war.
The abiding faith kindled by the
deep religiosity of their parents sustained
the family through these years
of terror and hardship. Ordained in
1951, Joseph was elected pope in 2005.
The author’s imaginative use of detailed
description and lively dialogue
makes this an easily accessible recounting
of family life under a regime of
terror unfathomable to citizens of a
democracy. This pope’s indomitable
spirit of survival recalls the trials that
his predecessor, Pope John Paul II,
underwent in Poland. I would recommend
this book for all youth collections.
Thirty-nine practicing Catholics
address why they chose and what they
like best about their faith in Yes! I Am
Catholic. The participants range from
their 20s to their 80s and include athletes,
college students, homemakers,
social workers, clerics, actresses and
musicians. The myriad ways in which
they personalize their participation in
a universal Church are amazing.
Catchy dialogues compare God to a
net and the soul to a muscle, describe
“lover of God” as a life’s vocation and
marvel that the basis of Catholicism is
a person who came to make changes.
Other essays give insight into the activities
that grew out of their faith like
living in the moment, getting
mad at God, respecting diversity
and questioning some
While similar anthologies
have been published for adult
readers, this work is uniquely
designed for a teenage audience
from its jazzy paperback
format with colored photos,
lots of illustrations and multicolored
pages, to the short
articles and up-front revelations
of very personal religious
beliefs and practices. I would
highly recommend this volume for all
teenagers and as an excellent Confirmation
You can order HE SAID YES: The Story of Father Mychal Judge, THE STORY OF BENEDICT XVI FOR YOUNG PEOPLE and YES! I AM CATHOLIC: How Faith Plays a Role in My Life from St. Francis Bookshop.
CHASING JOY: Musings on Life in a
Bittersweet World, by Edward Hays.
Ave Maria Press. 192 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by MARY LYNNE RAPIEN, a
writer for Homily Helps and Weekday
Homily Helps and a practicing licensed
clinical counselor in Cincinnati, Ohio. She
was the youth columnist for St. Anthony
Messenger for 40 years and is a wife,
mother of six and grandmother of 20.
IF AN AUTHOR tells you only what
you already know and accept, there is
no growth. Ed Hays in his book Chasing
Joy: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet
World gives much to ponder long after
the last word is read. Throughout, this
reviewer kept thinking, “You can’t be
serious.” “Get real, Ed.” “Now you’ve
really gone too far—‘rejoicing even in
The author, however, doesn’t flinch
and backs up his interpretations and
suggestions with insights, Scripture and
borrowings from other traditions.
Based on Paul’s imperatives in Philippians
4:4-6 to “rejoice always, pray
constantly and be grateful,” Hays challenges
the reader to look at authentic
joy and how it is played out in our
lives. He sees prayer and gratitude as
essentially linked to constant joy.
The author begins by focusing on
all the situations in our world, our
Church, our country and our personal
lives that are joy-robbers. Next, he
defines what joy is not—Pollyanna, happy-go-lucky,
Then he launches into
the kind of “joy to the
full” that Jesus offers.
At the core of joy, for
the author, is the belief
that God is all-present—
even in what is evil—so
that he can bring good
out of any suffering.
“Each adversity holds a
seed of some benefit of
equal or even greater joy.” So joy comes
from faithful trust in a God who is in
everything, especially in the core of
Hays sees joy as a desired quality in
our human spirit. He gleans that fact
from many traditions: American
Indian, Jewish, Hindu, Taoist, Islam
and Buddhist. He quotes from their masters and shares their touching,
teaching stories. Father Hays contends
that Christians do not have exclusive
rights to the workings of the Holy
The author spends some chapters
focusing on Jesus’ joy and laughter.
Although Scripture never talks of either
in connection with Jesus, Father Hays
uses examples from Jesus’ life, like children
being drawn to him, to deduce
that Jesus was a smiling, joyful person.
He would contend that Jesus’ intimate
union with and trust of his Father produced
the kind of joy that he wants for
each of us.
For the author, being joyful does not
mean being blinded to our sufferings
and those of others. It allows for our
complaining to God, as friends would.
For those struggling with being joyful
in the midst of a broken, painful
world, the 40 short chapters in Chasing
Joy offer fresh insights, challenging theories,
practical suggestions and hope.
You can order CHASING JOY: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World from St. Francis Bookshop.
VIOLET COMES TO STAY, story by
Melanie Cecka, pictures by Emily
Arnold McCully. Penguin Young
Readers Group. 36 pp. $15.99.
Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an
assistant editor of this magazine and
mother of three.
MY KIDS ARE NUTS for animals. We
have a dog and two bunnies and, at one
time or another, we’ve had gerbils, birds
and fish. The one animal they have
not, however, managed to convince
my husband, Mark, and me to get them
is a cat. To make up for that void in
their lives, they love delving into anything
cat-related—movies, books, etc.
So I knew this book would be well-received
from the get-go.
The book is based on Jan Karon’s Mitford
Years series of books. In that series,
Cynthia Coppersmith, one of the main
characters, writes and illustrates books
about her cat, Violet. Karon “was thrilled
to at last discover Cynthia’s warm and
compassionate voice in a gifted new
Illustrator Emily Arnold McCully was
then recruited to “bring the characters
to life visually,” says Karon. This is the
first in a series of picture books based
on the work of Cynthia Coppersmith.
The story tells the tale of Violet, a kitten
who is struggling to find her place
in the world. After stints in a nursery
and bakery don’t work out, Violet wonders
why she can’t figure out what God
has planned for her. Her mother offers
reassurance that in time she will discover
God’s plan. And eventually she
The connection of Violet with the
Mitford Series was well publicized on
the book. But, honestly, the
connection was lost on my kids.
All they cared about was that
this was a really good story—with nice pictures—about a kitten
trying to find the perfect
home. And they loved it. For
this mom, that’s all that matters.
You can order VIOLET COMES TO STAY from St. Francis Bookshop.
RECOVERING SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS: Catholic Perspectives on American Law, edited
by Michael A. Scaperlanda and Teresa
Stanton Collett. Catholic University
of America Press. 402 pp. $39.95.
Reviewed by JACK CLARK ROBINSON,
O.F.M., who became a lawyer in 1979, a
Franciscan in 1981 and a priest in 1986.
He now lives at Old Mission in Santa Barbara,
SCAPERLANDA AND COLLETT contend
that insights of the Catholic tradition,
“rooted in faith and reason,
revelation and natural law,” transcend
ideological battle lines and offer something
more basic and important to the
discussion of current legal issues.
Every legal system seeks to answer
the basic questions of every legal problem:
who human beings really are and
how they are to live together. This book
proposes that Catholic natural law tradition
offers the best approach to these
questions, with essays on Catholic legal
theory, the human person and the person
These essays, and much of the book,
rely heavily on the philosophical
thought of Pope John Paul II as the
most recent, cogent expression of natural
law in the Catholic tradition.
As the editors state in the Introduction,
the essays in this book draw only
on authoritative and authentic Catholic
teaching without reference to dissenters.
After the editors establish a groundwork
for Catholic consideration of legal
issues, eight essays follow, offering
Catholic perspectives on substantive
areas of law. The editors avoid “hot-button”
issues in favor of classic law-school
curriculum topics: contract, tort,
property, criminal, family,
and international law.
These essays challenge
to apply Catholic and
universal ideas to areas
of the law traditionally
based on English common
law in American
In the Afterword,
Russell Shaw points to
the need for “believing,
practicing Catholics to re-create a viable
subculture” in order to reform secular
culture. The essays here make an unfortunately
uneven, but important, start at
promoting Catholic legal thought.
You can order RECOVERING SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS: Catholic Perspectives on American Law from St. Francis Bookshop.