THE SHACK, by Wm. Paul Young.
Windblown Media. 248 pp. $14.99.
Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL P. ORSI,
chaplain and research fellow in law and
religion at Ave Maria School of Law in
A FRIEND OF MINE recently e-mailed
me asking for prayers. He told me that
his 16-year-old nephew was killed by a
drunk driver while walking home, and
that “the family is devastated.”
Often such traumas elicit a crisis of
faith, raising fundamental questions
about the purpose of life. Human
beings in these circumstances ask,
“Why does God allow such horrible
things to happen?” Indeed, the very
nature of God is challenged.
For many weeks, a novel
titled The Shack has been on
The New York Times Paperback
Best Sellers List. This
book attempts to answer the
above question in a way
that is accessible to the average
person. Those trained
in theology will profit from
It applies sound biblical
teaching, theological reflection,
and psychological insight for all of us
who, in one way or other, must confront
the tragedies that life inflicts.
The Shack takes its title from the
place where a little girl was murdered.
It is also where God invites her father,
Mack, to meet with him and heal his
pain. In a surprising weekend encounter
brought on by Mack’s near-death
experience, God reveals himself,
explaining his way with humans and
his final plans for us.
Author William Paul Young gives
every indication of having meditated
deeply on the revealed mysteries of the
Bible regarding the operation of the
Trinity, God’s will, human freedom,
suffering and forgiveness. His insights
encapsulate the theology of Augustine’s
On the Trinity, the spiritual maturity of
Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment
to Divine Providence and the pastoral
touch of Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s
When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
God’s revelation to Mack comes
through his Trinitarian nature. As
Christianity teaches, the mystery of
one God in three Divine Persons is vital
to knowing the true God, how God
operates within himself and how God
relates to people. In the novel God accommodates
Mack’s limited human
understanding by presenting himself
anthropomorphically in the persons
of an African-American woman (named
Papa), a carpenter (Jesus) and the Holy
Spirit (Sarayu, an Asian
All three impress Mack
with their love, their attentiveness
and their service to
each other. The Trinity informs
him of how he is
called to live with others.
Often people wonder,
“Where is God in the sufferings
that humans endure?”
In one poignant scene Mack
looks at the wrists of Papa
and sees the marks of crucifixion.
The answer is that God is present
and suffers with us. This is a meditation
on the Incarnation. God has truly
become one with his people. This insight
goes to the heart of Circumincession, the
interpenetration of the persons of the
Trinity, a deep theological point that
Young makes accessible to every reader.
Young is sensitive to the confusion
and sloppiness of life. Mack comes to
see that God’s ways are inscrutable,
since we do not have the “big picture”
(God’s perspective). Yet the ultimate
will of God is that each life be a completed
masterpiece, that someday the
sum of its parts will fall into place beautifully.
This is reaffirmation that God can
bring about good even from evil, and
that all of earthly life prepares us for
eternal life. Mack’s seeing his daughter,
Missy, in heaven is touching, and borders
on profound mystical theology. It
alleviates his pain, freeing him to leave
her and go back to his family to share
his vision and relieve the pain they feel.
Forgiveness for one who has hurt us
or a loved one is often most difficult.
God—this time, in the person of Sophia
(Wisdom)—shows Mack how love
means forgiveness, even for his little
girl’s murderer. Forgiveness is one of
life’s most liberating experiences, but it
is possible only if we first realize God’s
love for everyone, the good and the
bad. Not only is this theologically correct,
but it is also spiritually and psychologically
The Shack has touched the lives of
many. It has the power to inform, to
heal and to liberate its readers. It makes
the God of Christianity accessible to
those who have not had the opportunity
to study theology or be counseled
in Christian spirituality. It reminds us
that God is with us, and has mysterious
My friend who lost his nephew to
the drunk driver wrote to me after the
funeral, observing that the boy “was a
[great] kid—wrong place, wrong time,
wrong everything—nobody should die
for staying out too late. Faith is the
only consolation. I never realized how
This book can help our faith to grow.
I sent my friend a copy.
You can order THE SHACK from St. Francis Bookshop.
THE FAITHFUL: A History of Catholics
in America, by James M. O’Toole. The
Belknap Press of Harvard University
Press. 376 pp. $27.95.
Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, veteran
Catholic press editor and author of 12
THERE ARE NUMEROUS histories of
the Catholic Church in America, but
the unique thing about this book is
that it’s a history of the American
Catholic laity. Only a handful of bishops
are mentioned because this is the
story from the perspective of lay believers,
the men and women in the pews—the faithful.
James O’Toole, professor of history at
Boston College, says that it’s appropriate
to call the American laity “the faithful”
because they literally remained
faithful to the Church in which they
claimed membership, even in the face
of challenges—challenges that included
persecution from without and, most
recently, clergy abuse from within.
In telling their story, O’Toole divides
our history into six eras, or ages: the
priestless Church, the Church in the
democratic republic, the immigrant
Church, the Church of Catholic Action,
the Church of Vatican II and the
Church in the 21st century. (It’s a bit
disconcerting for this reviewer to realize
that I’ve experienced more than
half of the book as current events rather
than as history.)
In our time, when the number of
priests is declining, we might recall our
earliest history when Catholics seldom
saw a priest. Nevertheless, they still
wanted to be part of their Church and
held onto their religious identity as
best they could, guided only in the
most general way by a distant clergyman.
That clergyman was almost
always a circuit rider who spent most
of his time in the saddle, traveling
to where the Catholics were.
The Catholics usually gathered in
someone’s home and conducted their
services with prayer books. It was before
the days of Communion services with
pre-consecrated hosts. Besides, it was
well before Catholics began to receive
Communion frequently; that didn’t
happen until the first part of the 20th
The era of the priestless Church was
also a time of great suspicion toward
Catholics. They were disenfranchised,
and it took a long time for them to be
accepted by those with a deeply ingrained
hostility toward the Roman
Church. Catholics were determining
just what it meant for them to be Americans.
As the Church became more established,
there were occasional
clergy and lay trustees. Who
should run the parish, the
lay trustees or the pastor?
Trusteeism began to dwindle
after a council of U.S.
bishops in 1829 determined
that bishops and priests
were “the recognized authority”
and laypeople had
a subordinate role.
The number of Catholics
exploded during the 19th
century as immigrants flooded in from
Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland and
other Catholic countries. All of these
nationalities wanted their own
parishes—and they usually got them.
But the rising number of Catholics
brought persecution again, from anti-Catholic nativists.
The 20th century brought Catholic
Action—“the participation of the laity
in the apostolate of the hierarchy.” In
this chapter, O’Toole is particularly
thorough. He seems to
cover every Catholic Action
group, perhaps with the
most emphasis on the
Christian Family Movement,
founded by Pat and
Patty Crowley, and Dorothy
Day’s Catholic Worker
The 20th century was also
the time when Catholics
became part of the mainstream
of American society,
and O’Toole covers that, too.
Vatican II, of course, changed a lot.
The laity now were told that they have
their own apostolate, not just a participation
in the bishops’ apostolate. In
this chapter O’Toole devotes considerable
space to the changes in the liturgy
and the new roles of the laity in the
official prayers of the Church.
The Church in the 21st century has brought new challenges, and O’Toole
covers the clergy sex-abuse scandal
evenhandedly. Since he was writing
from Boston, he writes about Voice of
the Faithful, which began there, and its
demands for “structural changes” in
Of course, the 21st century has also
returned us to the immigrant Church,
with the growing numbers of Latinos.
They are facing most of the same problems
as the earlier Catholic immigrants
This well-researched book has 60
pages of notes.
You can order THE FAITHFUL: A History of Catholics
in America from St.
AUGUSTINE AND THE JEWS: A
Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, by Paula Fredriksen. Doubleday.
488 pp. $35.
Reviewed by EUGENE J. FISHER, retired
associate director, Secretariat for Ecumenical
and Interreligious Affairs, U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops.
MANY PEOPLE, including many Jews,
are unaware of the crucial role played
by St. Augustine in the survival of the
Jews in Christian Europe in the centuries
after the Church gained political
power at the time of the Emperor Constantine.
Of all of the non-Christian
religions that existed in the fourth century
A.D., Judaism alone was allowed to
maintain its ancient status as religio
licita, a legally recognized religion.
It was Augustine’s brilliant theology
that established the theological base
on which the popes over the centuries
drew to defend the rights of Jews to
freedom of worship and freedom to
practice their religion. Much of his theology
was developed in opposition to
the anti-Judaism theologies of virtually
all other Christian thinkers of the
Even many of those who are aware
of the revolutionary nature of Augustine’s
thought and its positive influence
on papal policy over the centuries
are not aware of how he reached his
unprecedented (save for St. Paul) conclusions
about the Jews. His thinking
about the Jews surprisingly had a role
in his overall defense of orthodox
Catholic Christianity against the chief
heresies of his time.
Fredriksen, of Boston University, is a
Jewish scholar. She carefully, respectfully
and, above all, very clearly narrates
the progression of thought which
Augustine so brilliantly developed.
Briefly, Augustine was a convert to
Catholicism from Manicheanism. This
popular Christian heresy taught,
among other things, that the body (and
everything physical or “carnal”) was
evil, and only the soul (and spiritual
realities) was good.
One extreme of this thought was
found in that of Marcion, a Gnostic
“dualist” who taught that
there were two distinct
gods. The Old Testament
God of justice and vengeance
demanded of the
Jews blood sacrifices and
carnal practices such as circumcision
and resting on
the Sabbath; the New Testament
God was concerned
with love, mercy and the
The coming of Jesus represented
the defeat of the
evil god of the Old Testament, so Marcion
concluded that the Church should
destroy all of its books, and even New
Testament books Marcion and the later
Manichees felt to be “too fleshly, too
Jewish,” and thus evil.
Augustine the convert preserved for
the Church much of its Sacred Scripture
by defending the Catholic faith in these
matters. To him, at stake were the very
nature of Christ as Incarnate Son of
God and the very nature of the sacraments,
especially the Eucharist, as a
physical sign in which Christ is fully
present, not only spiritually but also
Fredriksen narrates the development
and presentation of Augustine’s arguments,
particularly against their greatest
proponent of Augustine’s time,
Faustus. Throughout, she makes Augustine’s
fourth-century rhetoric and reasoning
clear to the modern reader. At
one point, as she herself notes, she
takes 1,600 words to explain a particularly
dense Augustinian passage of only
In Part One, Fredriksen narrates the
social and intellectual history of the
Hellenistic world into which Augustine
The second part is a biography of
Augustine, drawing on sources such as
his own Confessions, which enabled
him to become a biblical theologian
of great insight. He could correct the
(mis)interpretations not only by his
mentor, St. Ambrose of Milan, but also
by his contemporary, St. Jerome, on, for
example, the writings of St. Paul.
This section, entitled “The Prodigal
Son,” reads as a powerful narrative of
the journey of a great soul and a great
mind, one of the greatest
in Christian history.
The third section, “God
and Israel,” draws out just
how Augustine’s understanding
of “the redemption
of the flesh” in the
Incarnate Christ also led
him to his startling (for the
time) defense of the Jews
and of their continuing
right to worship as God told
them to do in their Scripture.
God, for Augustine,
did not lie to the Jews. What he told
them to do must forever be acknowledged
as God’s will, which Jews must
faithfully observe until the end of time.
But unlike many Christian thinkers—then and now—Augustine did not
see the observance of God’s will for
Israel and the Christian observance of
God’s will for humanity in Christ as
an either/or proposition. The Jewish
Way, God’s Way for the Jews, did not,
could not, given the nature of God as
Truth, become an evil or wrong way
with the revelation of the New Way.
While the Jews killed Jesus as their
ancestors killed the prophets, Augustine
does not proceed to accuse them of
“deicide.” Rather, he states that they
have on them the mark of Cain, which
of course is God’s mark, setting the
Jews aside, for all time, as God’s to deal
with. No humans can attempt to do
violence to the Jews or try to force the
Jews to convert without risking the
wrath of God himself.
This book requires close reading, but
will richly reward readers not only in their understanding of the teachings
of Augustine, but with a better understanding
of contemporary theological
issues as well.
You can order AUGUSTINE AND THE JEWS: A
Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism from St.
THE FOUR CONVERSIONS: A Spirituality
of Transformation, by David
B. Couturier. Victoria Press. 241 pp.
Reviewed by PATRICIA M. BERLINER,
C.S.J., Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and
author of Touching Your Lifethread and
Revaluing the Feminine: A Process of
Psychospiritual Change (Cloverdale
Press, 2007). She is the founder of Women
for a New World, offering holistic, psychospiritual
programs and workshops
throughout the United States.
CAPUCHIN FRANCISCAN David B.
Couturier, practiced in both psychology
and theology, has set out to capture
the movements of conversion of heart
and change of life. These are experienced
by those who, drawn by the urgings
of the Divine, open themselves to
the God who dwells within each of us
and walks with us each step of our journey.
The “stepping stones” along our way,
the guideposts and stages are referred to
as “the four conversions,” experienced
and lived out as the personal, interpersonal,
ecclesial and structural components
of our lives.
Each of the four “conversions” is
explored in a way that explicates the
interconnectedness of personal and
From various vantage points, we
explore the kaleidoscopic diversity of
Catholic worship and search for God,
meaning and self within the community
of others who meet to worship.
The goal for all, together and in God,
is to come home to the fullness and
truth of our being.
Through the lens of his roles as
teacher, counselor and minister,
Couturier sees that “modern freedom
seems to manufacture or abandon
God.” He concludes that conversion is
a relational process, in which we must
reach beyond ourselves in order to find
ourselves. He underscores the necessity
and the risk of having to walk
through darkness to find the light
within and around us, confronting our
own feelings, fears, weaknesses and
Unfortunately, by focusing almost
totally on the writings of Luigi Rulla,
who seems to set existential awareness
against Christianity, Couturier diminishes
the power of the alliance he posits
as existing between psychology and
Couturier’s proclamation that “the
Word is preached but filtered through
our hang-ups” is misleading, although
perhaps justified by his personal experience.
The search for truth leads us to
look not only beyond, but also at and
through our “hang-ups,” bringing our
whole being to every aspect of our personal
and communal experiences. As
we seek our place in the family of God,
we are invited by that same God to
stretch beyond where we would choose
One positive model Couturier introduces
is Father Joe, a parish priest struggling
to pursue faithfully a ministry becoming increasingly complex, challenging
and, too often, less and less
The final chapter, “Discernment and
the Four Conversions,” is the highlight
of the book. With community-building
growing more complex amidst dwindling
resources, Father Joe’s community
of compassion, faith and action is
an island of hope and promise.
One weakness of this work is that it
does not adhere to the accepted norms
of publication, thus affecting a reader’s
ability to navigate the contents and
bibliographic references. No sources
are referenced either within the text
or as footnotes/endnotes. The Reference
List (Bibliography) is presented,
not in the universally accepted form of
last name first, but with first name first.
The basic message, though, comes
through clearly. Our greatest task in
life is to come home to ourselves and
to one another. This book provides a
good road map, especially now.
You can order THE FOUR CONVERSIONS: A Spirituality
of Transformation from St. Francis Bookshop.
“OURS”: JESUIT PORTRAITS, by M.C. Durkin. Éditions Du Signe. 120
A JESUIT OFF-BROADWAY: Center
Stage With Jesus, Judas, and Life’s
Big Questions, by James Martin, S.J.
Loyola Press. 252 pp. $22.95.
Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH,
managing editor of this publication. She is
a graduate of Marquette University’s College
of Journalism, a Jesuit school.
SINCE THEIR FOUNDING in 1540 by
Basque nobleman Ignatius Loyola, the
Jesuits have had more than their share
of strong personalities and
unique missions. Formally
called the Society of Jesus,
they pledge to undertake
whatever ministries the
pope thinks to be “for the
greater glory of God [ad
majorem Dei gloriam] and
the good of souls.”
That mission has made
them educators and theologians,
explorers and astronomers,
poets, political activists and martyrs.
Starting with the schoolmates of
Ignatius at the University of Paris, the
Society now has 24,400 members in
Durkin pithily describes the era of
their founding: “Ignatius Loyola, Francis
Xavier and Peter Faber entered
adulthood as the discoveries of Columbus
and other navigators were challenging
rediscovered ancient ‘pagan’ culture.
Science was opening unimagined frontiers,
understanding the world in new
“Festering problems within the
Church cried out for reform....Some reformers,
like Luther and Calvin, formed
new faith communities with their protesting
followers. Others sought to
make the needed changes
within the Church.”
Such challenges called for
“strong foundations” and
“keen forward vision,” hallmarks
of the Society to this
Forty-seven Jesuits are
profiled individually, plus
some groups like the martyrs
of the French Revolution,
the Boxer Rebellion
and the Central American
University in San Salvador.
In fact, their martyrs are numerous,
including Edmund Campion (hanged,
drawn and quartered for opposing the
Church of England), Miguel Augustin
Pro (killed by a Mexican firing squad for
resisting nationalization of the
churches) and Rupert Mayer (who
squared off against the Nazis, was sent
to a concentration camp and died six
months after his release).
Their recent visionaries
include Karl Rahner, perhaps
the greatest theologian
of the 20th century,
and Superior General Pedro
Arrupe, a champion of
renewal in the Church.
Jesuits of the 21st century
still see themselves as
“men on a mission.” This
oversized book is stuffed
with photos (some of very
rare paintings), illustrations,
drawings and maps.
[For more about what Jesuits are up
to in India, see the DVD Jesuits on...India (series 3), which is available from
www.loyolaproductions.com. A former
intern for St. Anthony Messenger,
Father Vinayak Jadov, S.J., is among
Among the more peculiar missions
ever accepted by a Jesuit was that of
Father James Martin, who became a
theological advisor to an off-Broadway
theater troupe. He felt he was carrying
out Ignatius’s goal to “help souls.”
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play, The Last
Days of Judas Iscariot, was produced by
the LAByrinth Theater Company and
performed over five weeks at the Public
Theater in Manhattan in 2005. “His
play,” says Martin, “put Judas on trial
in a courtroom in purgatory
with a host of witnesses
(including Mother Teresa,
Sigmund Freud, Simon the
Zealot, Pontius Pilate, and
Caiaphas), [and] considered
whether or not the betrayer
of Christ deserved eternal
Guirgis, who was raised
Catholic, writes dialogue
that is slangy and, at times,
foul-mouthed. But he had
turned other religious topics
into plays (Our Lady of 121st Street and
Jesus Hopped the “A” Train) before taking
up the controversial figure of Judas.
As a consultant, Martin had to advise
him, the director and actors about
Catholic theology. He became a chaplain
to the theater group as well.
One of the key puzzles in the Gospels
is that Judas seems to lack motivation
for betraying Jesus, and actors have to
know what drives their character. Using
solid scriptural commentary from
Fathers Raymond Brown and John
Meier, Martin led actor Sam Rockwell
(The Assassination of Jesse James by the
Coward Robert Ford) to see his character
of Judas as supportive of Jesus’ ministry,
but losing faith in the end.
The cast included a few practicing
and lapsed Catholics, a Zen Buddhist,
a Baptist and a former cult member.
(Satan was played by Eric Bogosian,
who was raised in the Armenian Apostolic Church and had even gone to
Egypt on an archaeological dig.) All
talked with Martin about their spiritual
journeys and doubts. At the closing
night party, he “danced with Saint
Monica and Mary Magdalene
and Mother Teresa into the
Each night the play was
performed, it reached a new
audience with the story of
Jesus and his circle of friends,
Martin says. This play affirmed
for him the value of
narrative theology, theology
that tells stories. And it reminded
this culture editor of
America magazine how much
drama Mass contains.
Both books are fascinating, enlightening
and fun reads!
You can order “OURS”: JESUIT PORTRAITS and A JESUIT OFF-BROADWAY: Center
Stage With Jesus, Judas, and Life’s
Big Questions from St.
FAILING AMERICA’S FAITHFUL: How
Today’s Churches Are Mixing God
With Politics and Losing Their Way, by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Warner Books. 197 pp. $24.99.
Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M.
VENTLINE, D.Min., a Catholic priest of
the Archdiocese of Detroit for three decades.
KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND
bemoans a loss of focus on the corporal
and spiritual works of mercy. She
longs for churches that model the heart
and compassion of Jesus Christ.
The former two-term lieutenant
governor of Maryland and Robert
Kennedy’s daughter addresses eight
topics in as many chapters, including
the tradition of social justice in the
Catholic Church, the progressive
Protestant tradition, the meaning of a
Christian nation and the vision of
This is a head-turner of a book,
enveloped in a vision of heartfelt compassion.
The writer is convinced that,
if Jesus walked the streets today, “he
would comfort the drug addicts, the
homeless, people living with disease,
children living unhealthy or unsafe
lives. And he would challenge all of us
who failed to come to their aid in the
course of our individual lives or in the
formulation of our collective policies.”
Faith and politics should come
together easily for the Christian,
Kennedy Townsend concludes. “How
can we find our way back? The answer,
I believe, is for religious
progressives, clergy and
laity alike, to return to the
political sphere so that
their words can have an
impact on the shaping of
our nation’s future.”
Another shift the author
notices is “evangelical
Christianity and its
shift of focus from earthly
justice to individual spirituality.”
quotes the Rev. David Beckmann, president
of Bread for the World, which
represents 2,500 Catholic, mainline
Protestant, evangelical and African-American churches that aim to end
global hunger. Citing the story of
Moses, Beckmann says, “God did not
send Moses to Pharaoh to take up a collection
for canned goods. He went with
a political message to let the slaves free.”
Three decades after Cardinal John F.
Dearden of Detroit hosted the national
Call to Action in 1976, I notice a weakened
effort from the Church on behalf
of the excluded, the poor, uninsured
children and adults, the vulnerable
elderly, prisoners and the mentally ill,
innocent women and children and soldiers
dying in Iraq.
Kennedy Townsend’s heart has mine
aching for Churches that stand up to
speak truth in love once more when
others sit in silence. “We are all children
of the same God. Once we start acting
like it, there will be no challenge
beyond our reach,” Kennedy Townsend
writes in this soul-stirring call.
You can order FAILING AMERICA’S FAITHFUL: How
Today’s Churches Are Mixing God
With Politics and Losing Their Way from St.