Contents Psalms: Heartfelt Prayers Eye On Entertainment Editorial Ask a Franciscan Links for Learners Faith-filled Family Subscribe Book Reviews
New Church/World Relationship


THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD: Gaudium et Spes, Inter Mirifica
FAITH OF OUR FATHERS: Reflections on Catholic Tradition
STRANGERS TO THE CITY: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict
THE WISDOM OF THE BENEDICTINE ELDERS: Thirty of America's Oldest Monks and Nuns Share Their Lives' Greatest Lessons
A BENEDICTINE LEGACY OF PEACE: The Life of Abbot Leo A. Rudloff
THE LURE OF SAINTS: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition

THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD: Gaudium et Spes, Inter Mirifica, by Norman Tanner, S.J. Paulist Press. 144 pp. $12.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, who is in his 30th year of teaching at St. Xavier High School. From 1969 until 1973, he was a member of the Movement for a Better World, a group of laypeople and religious who gave workshops around the world to promote the spirit of Vatican II.

TO COMMEMORATE the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, Paulist Press is presenting an eight-volume series that focuses on what today’s Catholics need to know about the Council in order to live it in our personal and parish lives. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote about Vatican II, the Council’s purpose was to lead us on our journey of faith.

This is the first book of the series and focuses on one of the most significant issues the Council fathers grappled with—the relationship of the Church and the world in which we live. At first glance, the two documents that Tanner evaluates here seem to have little in common.

Gaudium et Spes (GS, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) is one of the longest and most significant of the Council’s documents. Inter Mirifica (IM) is one of the shortest and least remembered.

Inter Mirifica (Means of Social Communication) carries very mixed reviews. On the one hand, the document broke no new ground, was only briefly discussed and debated, and generated more opposition as the voting deadline neared. It is considered the Council’s most incomplete document.

On the other hand, this document led to renewed emphasis on the role of the media and the means of communicating the gospel message to the world. The Council fathers no longer demonized the media, but recognized it as a tool that must be studied, understood and properly used by the Church in the world of today.

The legacy of Pope John Paul II was enhanced by his effective use of the print, audio and visual media in communicating with Christians, the Orthodox, Jews and other people of faith. The pontiff’s funeral last April—in the public square of St. Peter’s—indicates that the Roman Church is presenting a different media face to the world than it did 50 years ago.

IM may be faulty, but it should be noted that, after the Council finished, the new office for communications at the Vatican (called for by IM) produced a pastoral instruction, Communio et Progressio (1971), which elaborated thoroughly themes that IM had sketched briefly.

The opening lines of GS still carry a lot of power: “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (GS, #1).

These words are still a powerful reminder of the vision set forth by the bishops and the magisterium. As Tanner writes, this document’s importance was more than the sum of its parts. Much of its power lay in its overall tone and its approach rather than in the details of what it said (or failed to say). It presented a different way to approach the world. “Us versus them” became as outmoded as a black-and-white television set.

For many, GS could be seen as the crown of the whole Council because of the number of issues it touched upon. Furthermore, of all the documents of Vatican II, it seems to have most closely captured Pope John XXIII’s original vision of a pastoral council.

And that is a key point to emphasize, the pastoral nature of the council and of GS. Part I contains general principles while Part II treats more particular and concrete issues. In Part I, the Church develops its teaching about humanity, the world in which we live and the Church’s relationship to both. In Part II, it concentrates on concerns which seem particularly urgent today: marriage and the family; culture; social, economic and political life; and peace, avoiding war and promoting international community.

Tanner notes that GS’s approach to the human person has been criticized as old-fashioned, too individualistic and based upon an outdated body/soul dualism. Some of today’s key issues (roles and rights of women, globalization, ecology, migration issues, to name a few) were only partly envisaged back then.

Overall, this book is a welcome reminder of the strength and power of the documents of Vatican II 40 years after their appearance. Father Tanner has a done an excellent job of presenting a very balanced analysis of these two works. By understanding more of their development, I was able to understand better what has to be done to make certain that they do not lose their staying power.

I hope that every diocese and parish uses the anniversary as a time for prayer and reflection on the mission and ministry of the Church today. This series might be a useful tool in setting a tone. Reading the opening lines of Gaudium et Spes reminded me of my youthful idealism for what the Church should be. It also reminded me that anything less than that is not good enough for the Church or for the world.

You can order THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD: Gaudium et Spes, Inter Mirifica from St. Francis Bookshop.


FAITH OF OUR FATHERS: Reflections on Catholic Tradition, by Eamon Duffy. Continuum. 187 pp. $19.95.

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.

CATHOLIC HISTORIAN Eamon Duffy’s view could best be summed up as a lament for the loss of poetry in the post-Vatican II Church. By no means a traditionalist or antiquarian, he has an acute sense of how folk religion helped create a metaphysics which lent itself to a Catholic sacramental worldview. Duffy believes that the cultural richness of the faith has been obscured by present theological expression and the somewhat sanitized and didactic rites of the contemporary liturgy.

These insightful articles provide historical perspective on Catholic devotion, along with an explanation of the religious and psychological utility found in various Church traditions.

For example, he shows how developments in Mariology have reflected the shifting emphases that characterize different periods of Church life. Duffy notes the 19th-century emphasis on Mary’s chastity and how it was used to bolster the Victorian moral code. In contrast, the current thrust in Marian theology and devotion—which is a scripturally based emphasis on Mary as a model of perfect discipleship—is consistent with Vatican II’s ecumenical outreach to Protestants.

Duffy’s focus on the “cult of the saints” in Catholic life is both theologically enlightening and spiritually uplifting. He gives us a greater appreciation for the place of sainthood in Catholic ecclesiology, and shows how the late Pope John Paul II was pastorally wise in recognizing the value of the saints in promoting the Church.

Duffy notes how the virtues of particular saints have been used both for inculturation of the truths of the faith and for strengthening the Church’s presence in the regions from which various canonized figures have come. The saints serve as reminders of each person’s call to holiness. Seeking their intercession and relying on their tactility (through the use of relics) highlights for believers the porous state which exists between this world and the next.

Duffy bemoans the present state of the new rites for Christian death. He argues that current funeral liturgy which, he says, speaks only about the joy of the Resurrection, lacks the quality of the old rites that spoke to the cacophony of emotions— sorrow, anger, fear—afflicting all human beings at the loss of loved ones. He sees this as something close to Protestantism which, by rejecting purgatory and the intercession of the saints, ends our conversation with those beyond the grave.

The current Catholic expression, Duffy believes, limits our theological appreciation for the interaction that exists in the full Body of Christ—Militant, Suffering and Triumphant—in the work of salvation. His essay on praying for the dead is a masterpiece in the development of doctrine, and reinvigorates the importance in Catholic theology of having Masses celebrated on behalf of the deceased. Pastors would be wise to reeducate their parishioners on this aspect of the faith.

Duffy offers an excellent assessment of what he sees as the root problem confronting the priesthood. He says that today’s priests are expected to live a Tridentine model of priesthood without the support structures that once upheld and protected it.

Promoting the role of laity in the Church (with the increased presence of lay participants in the reformed liturgy) has, in effect, removed the priest from his unique place in the Church’s hierarchical structure.

Indeed, Vatican II egalitarian reforms make the former type of separation impracticable, forcing the contemporary priest to live a schizophrenic existence. Duffy contends that this confusion in priestly identity was at the heart of the priest sexual-abuse crisis. The data would tend to corroborate his assertion, since the number of abuse cases dramatically increased after the Council. Duffy investigates the Church’s response to the scandal, and wisely cautions that no adequate response can be given unless the current severely compromised identity of the priesthood is examined.

These essays are rich fare, and should be read by all thoughtful Catholics. They emphasize the importance of building on tradition while recognizing the necessity for shedding what is superfluous and no longer meaningful.

The reader will be challenged to look more deeply into Catholic discipline and the rituals used to present Catholic truth in the new millennium. In fact, this book should be a must on Pope Benedict XVI’s “Things to Read” list.

You can order FAITH OF OUR FATHERS: Reflections on Catholic Tradition from St. Francis Bookshop.


STRANGERS TO THE CITY: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict, by Michael Casey. Paraclete Press. 208 pp. $15.95.

THE WISDOM OF THE BENEDICTINE ELDERS: Thirty of America’s Oldest Monks and Nuns Share Their Lives’ Greatest Lessons, by Mark W. McGinnis. Blue Bridge Publications. 281 pp. $14.95.

A BENEDICTINE LEGACY OF PEACE: The Life of Abbot Leo A. Rudloff, by Brother John Hammond. Weston Priory. 316 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by MARY ANN VERKAMP, O.S.B., currently serving as librarian at Monastery Immaculate Conception, Ferdinand, Indiana, where she has been a professed member since 1963.

WITH A POPE named Benedict, now seems an opportune time to look at three books that explore the values St. Benedict and his followers hold dear.

The focus of Strangers to the City is captured in the title of Chapter 1: “Distinctiveness.” Our way of acting as Benedictines (and indeed as Christians) should be different from the world’s way.

In the sixth century a young man named Benedict left the city of Rome where he was studying. Benedict rejected the decadent beliefs and priorities dominant in his day and began a journey that would gradually align his life with gospel values and ultimately lead him to union with God.

Do you experience a lack of balance, stability, moderation and peace in your life? Casey’s book may well be the compass that will point you in a new direction. In so doing, you may discover an exhilarating freedom that comes from choosing the priorities that Benedict found helpful in his search for God.

This is a deeply challenging book for anyone discerning a call to monastic life or desiring to deepen a monastic commitment made years ago.

The second book asked Benedictine elders to share their wisdom, something we seldom do in our culture which glorifies youth. These 30 men and women monastics interviewed are among those who were “not daunted by fear at the outset” of their monastic journey, but rather have “progressed in this way of life and run with their hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (Rule of Benedict).

In the Foreword to The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders, Joan Chittister says our culture is stuffed with knowledge but lacking in wisdom. Where is a better place to seek wisdom than among monks and nuns?

“Balance” is the word which all interviewed mention as very important in their lives.

Some of the biographical data made for tedious reading at times. Additional anecdotes, nuggets of wisdom in the tradition of the Desert abbas and ammas (fathers and mothers), would have given the reader more to “chew on.”

All of the people interviewed were profoundly impacted by Vatican II. Their lived experiences in those turbulent years reflect how they never lost sight of the essential question in Benedictine life: Am I truly seeking God?

I would recommend this book be added to a reading list for those inquiring about the Benedictine life, whether that be for membership or an oblate or associate of a Benedictine community.

The third book, by Brother John Hammond, longtime confrere with Abbot Leo Rudloff in Weston Priory, shares in an honest, straightforward style Leo’s life journey based in great part on his “Reminiscences.”

A Benedictine Legacy of Peace depicts a man who was passionate about three things: reconciliation between Christians and Jews; a lasting Benedictine presence in Israel; and a profound desire to see his “baby,” Weston Priory, flourish with a genuine spirit of brotherhood.

Leo Rudloff did not believe that monastics should live in splendid isolation, unaware of the difficulties facing the world, but rather be attentive to what is happening around them, read the signs of the times and speak a prophetic word when necessary.

Leo did not want monasteries to be like submarines in water but rather like sponges soaking up the suffering of those around them while offering them a place of refuge and dialogue.

He wanted to introduce a new approach to monasticism in America, saying, “Let us give room to the Holy Spirit.” This new approach would be characterized by egalitarian relations, a more contemplative lifestyle, manual work, hospitality and prayer.

Most of the Benedictine foundations prior to 1950 in the United States were deeply involved in parishes and schools. Weston Priory in Vermont would be a new expression of Benedictine life in America, but such would not happen without great pain and struggle.

The book is a positive addition to the history of Benedictine foundations in the United States as well as Israel. An index and a chronological chart of major events in Leo’s life would have been helpful.

You can order STRANGERS TO THE CITY: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict, THE WISDOM OF THE BENEDICTINE ELDERS: Thirty of America’s Oldest Monks and Nuns Share Their Lives’ Greatest Lessons and A BENEDICTINE LEGACY OF PEACE: The Life of Abbot Leo A. Rudloff from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE LURE OF SAINTS: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition, by Jon M. Sweeney. Paraclete Press. 237 pp. $21.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. He has written two books about saints and twice made major revisions to Saint of the Day (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

“THIS BOOK is written,” explains Sweeney, “with the overriding conviction that the stories of the saints are actually stories of God at work in the world in and through us, that the truth of Christianity can only be known in imitation of Christ and those faithful who have gone before us, and that to try and be a saint is definitely a role worth playing.”

He continues: “When we contemplate saints, we are really thinking about our own lives. They reflect what we wish for, what we desire most deeply, and the direction we are headed in....The very human emotions of even the most famous and revered of saints are an indication that saintliness is still much closer to humanness than to godliness.”

Once a student at a Bible college, Sweeney sometimes found himself in the Art Institute of Chicago, gazing with fascination at paintings of saints: “The world of Catholic imagination is different than the world of Protestantism.” He discovered saints as “guides to multifaceted faith.”

Interspersed with this volume’s 13 chapters are 12 sections on spiritual practices related to the saints. Some of these are quotations from authors and reviewers regularly appearing in this column: the late Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., Mitch Finley, Murray Bodo, O.F.M., and the late Wayne Teasdale. Marek Czarnecki, an icon “writer” featured in our December 2003 issue, is also here.

One “Practice” section offers ideas for home celebrations of saints.

Sweeney does not restrict himself to officially recognized saints: Dorothy Day, Mother Maria Skobtsova and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin appear as examples of saintly living and dying.

According to the author, “If you allow God to become as close to you as to enflesh you, being a saint, living your vocation, will become natural.”

Though Sweeney praises Kenneth Woodward’s classic Making Saints, he overlooked Woodward’s explanation that the “Devil’s Advocate” role in the process for identifying saints was eliminated in 1983.

Eight pages of endnotes, a five-page glossary, suggestions for further reading, an index of names and an index of subjects complete this engaging volume.

You can order THE LURE OF SAINTS: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Traditions from St. Francis Bookshop.



Book Briefs

Forty years later, we are still plumbing the meaning of Vatican II.

VATICAN COUNCIL II, with a new introduction by author Xavier Rynne (Orbis Books, 594 pp., $28). No secret nowadays, Xavier Rynne was the pseudonym of Francis X. Murphy, a Redemptorist priest who was a peritus at the Council. His eyewitness account remains one of the finest efforts to make the Church “transparent.”

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH VATICAN II: The Catholic Crisis Explained, by Ralph M. McInerny (Sophia Institute Press, 168 pp., $14.95). This critique by a University of Notre Dame medievalist likens Vatican II to the French Revolution and suggests the Council was “hijacked.”

VATICAN II TODAY: Calling Catholics to Holiness and Service, edited by Judy Ball and Joan McKamey (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 122 pp., $10.95), and VATICAN II: The Crisis and the Promise, by Alan Schreck (Servant Books, 311 pp., $20.99). Usually in the interests of objectivity, books from our publishing imprints are not considered here, but these two are too good to pass up. The first contains essays that originally appeared in our newsletter Vatican 2 Today, developing the idea that the Council’s teachings are still the road map of the future. The second, from a Franciscan University of Steubenville professor, sees the Council as background to the contemporary crisis in the Church and yet the key to its renewal.

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.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ask a Franciscan  | Book Reviews  | Eye on Entertainment  | Editorial
Editor’s Message  | Faith-filled Family  | Links for Learners
Web Catholic  |  Bible: Light to My Path  | Saints for Our Lives
Beloved Prayers  | Psalms: Heartfelt Prayers  | Back Issues

Return to

Paid Advertisement
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster. Include ad link.

An Web Site from the Franciscans and
Franciscan Media     ©1996-2016 Copyright