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Pilgrimages: Our Search for the Beyond


THE PLACE WE CALL HOME: Spiritual Pilgrimage as a Path to God, by Murray Bodo, O.F.M. Paraclete Press. 116 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

MURRAY BODO, O.F.M., author and priest, offers a thoughtful little guide to the Christian tradition of pilgrimage. This is not a how-to book or an easy-steps summary for those who want to be pilgrims.

The author, who has written books on St. Francis and St. Clare for this publishing house, has produced a short collection of pieces that combines history, memoir and personal reflection. Bodo places pilgrimage in a broader yet more personal context.

He blends journeys to places like Rome and Assisi with travels back in time to his childhood and formation years, and with his interior journey.

In one of the early sections, Bodo writes that pilgrimages are not about the holy places but about something within us that seeks the holy beyond (his italics). It is not about leaving behind, rather bringing who we are. He writes that we long to find something beyond who and where we are, which somehow will fulfill us completely.

The second section of the book features insights garnered from one such pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi in 2003. His essays on traveling to St. Francis’ hometown and being in places sacred to all who are his companions brought them to life. Connecting the Chapel of La Maddalena/ Mary Magdalene, the dormitory of St. Clare, the Basilica of St. Francis and the caves of Mt. La Verna with themes of transformation, surrendering and waiting made them richer and fuller than simply reading about places where holy people lived.

The final section of the book is a group of eight meditations on returning home. They are an eclectic mix of observations and reflections about the lessons to be gathered from one’s physical travels and interior journeys. He writes how both being “on the road” and being alienated can produce fresh insights into our souls where God dwells.

Going on pilgrimage means that we encounter the world we have been looking at all along in a new way. This can then prompt the pilgrimage of memory, as he calls it, when we connect these present moments with key aspects of our past. Doing so brings another dimension to both the past and the present so that we can continue our travels into the future with confidence and trust. He also notes how the attitude toward the unplanned shows the real difference between the traveler and the pilgrim.

One of the most striking essays in the book centered on the stigmata of St. Francis. I have never been particularly enamored with the Roman Catholic emphasis on the goriness and bloodiness of Jesus Christ’s final suffering. As a teen, I could never figure why the gruesome image of Jesus being scourged terrified me more than recognizing Jesus’ feeling of abandonment on the cross.

Bodo turned my disdain on its head. He writes that the stigmata led St. Francis not to brooding on suffering but into sweetness of the soul. The stigmata are for St. Francis the external sign of the wounded heart. They confirm that holiness is not wholly of the soul, but about the whole person. This experience of St. Francis is to remind us visually and powerfully of the centrality of the Incarnation, of the goodness and holiness of the body. St. Francis is now outwardly who he has become inwardly. He had taken up his cross and now it shows. It is a visual reminder of the cost of discipleship.

If you want more out of your travels this summer, treat them as a pilgrimage. Pack this book with your maps. It will be a handy guide for the rest of your journey.

One request for the publisher: The cover indicates that this book is to be part of “A Voice from the Monastery” series. If it is part of a series, then tell us something about the series itself and the books that are part of it.

You can order THE PLACE WE CALL HOME: Spiritual Pilgrimage as a Path to God from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE PASSIONATE TROUBADOR , by Edward Hays. Forest of Peace Publishing/Ave Maria Press. 638 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian and member of the St. Anthony Messenger Press Advisory Board. She is a Secular Franciscan.

ST. FRANCIS has been paraphrased as having said: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” In this very realistic portrayal of an untutored visionary living amid the violence of medieval times, both Francis’ actions and his very thoughts are intertwined with imaginary events and characters to portray an exemplary man who yet remains at the mercy of his time.

Francis, the pampered son of a cloth merchant in Assisi, dreams of winning glory in battle but suffers a cruel captivity on his first foray and then returns in disgrace from a second attempt. He hears a voice from the figure of Jesus on the cross at San Damiano ordering him to “Rebuild my house,” and is disowned by his father for taking funds to buy construction materials.

Antonio, an aged monk, counsels Francis, hears his confession and becomes his beloved advisor. Bishop Guido is also sympathetic, and both characters are used to comment on the state of the Catholic Church at the time. Here is Guido in prayer:

“...how urgently your Church does, indeed, need to be rebuilt—to be rebuilt by being reformed. Perhaps, O Lord, you are speaking to us through this young Francesco Bernardone. For, sadly, so many of the clergy are scrawny of soul, satisfied in striving to live no higher than their married parishioners. They’re poorly educated in theology and Scripture, and are impotent to stir up any love for you. As a result of their low level of religion, instead of loving you, the common people fear you! On the other hand, those priests who are educated only seem ambitious for power, itching for high positions, lording it over the very people they’re supposed to be serving. Pardon my judging them, but they seem far more interested in accumulating wealth, in wearing rich clothing and enjoying good food and fine wines than they are in personal prayer and devotion.

“[Your Church] has fallen into disrepair by centuries of concessions. Her once holy seamless robe is stitched together by compromises and is filled with the moth-eaten holes of hypocrisy and duplicity. Her theologians are able to rationalize away the challenges of the Gospel, watering down your fiery words into harmless gray ashes to justify their living lavishly like noble princes instead of humbly in the pattern of your simple poverty.”

Father Edward Hays makes the gargantuan struggle of an unlettered dreamer, talented musician and great-hearted lover come alive in just such episodes of prayer, conversation and streams of thought.

The most difficult concepts to portray, and those which help make this work unique, are the struggle with the Church hierarchy over the founding of a lay order of mendicants and Francis’ ineptness at administration. Most earlier biographies touched lightly, if at all, on these topics. Perhaps they were afraid of disillusioning their readers, but these trials were very painful to Francis and played a large role in his tightrope walk between conscience and obeying Church authority.

The founding of The Third Order (now called the Secular Franciscan Order) re-created Francis’ original concept of a lay community. He describes it as “...members...intimately united with the brothers and sisters in the First and Second Orders yet living in the world, continuing to practice their professions and trades. They would not be clerics, as the Church forced our band of brothers to become. And because of family obligations they would not pledge poverty, but only to live simply and be generous in sharing with the poor. They would preach by their example of living the Gospel in the midst of making a living, and prayer would be an essential part of their daily life.”

Founder and past administrator of a house of prayer called Shantivanam, Father Hays is the author of 27 books on contemporary spirituality and prayer. This excellent fictional biography, adeptly illustrated by the author, will surely add to his popularity.

I recommend The Passionate Troubadour for mature readers whose faith will not be threatened by the realization that even the greatest of saints was a human being with human failings, raised to sainthood by his endeavors to overcome them. Realistically, by becoming acquainted with those who first falter and then succeed, we should gain hope for our own salvation.

You can order THE PASSIONATE TROUBADOUR from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

FRANCIS OF ASSISI: Performing the Gospel Life, by Lawrence S. Cunningham. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 160 pp. $14.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. He has an M.A. in Franciscan Studies from St. Bonaventure University near Allegany, New York.

THOSE WHO LOVE the birdbath Francis of Assisi may feel challenged by this unromantic look at the Poverello as a man firmly committed to the Catholic Church, to its sacraments and its teaching authority.

Lawrence Cunningham, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, sees Francis not as a medieval Zorba the Greek or as the “first Protestant” or as a 1960s hippie or as a man who, in more recent terminology, was “spiritual but not religious.” “This little book,” declares Cunningham, “intends to view the saint through the lens of theology.”

He dedicates this book to the Franciscan sisters of Allegany, New York, who were his teachers at St. Paul Parish in St. Petersburg, Florida.

According to Cunningham, “If one does not see Francis within the stream of Catholic reform, one does not see him clearly at all.” Cunningham retells the story of St. Francis, adding the medieval context that is easily discarded in a rush to portray the Poor Man of Assisi as a man for every time and place. Certainly, his message is for all times and places, but we must start with his time and his place.

“The emphasis Francis put on the Eucharist,” explains Cunningham, “cannot be fully explained by appealing to his reverence for Church doctrine or his tacit repudiation of the various heretical sects of the time. Francis saw in the Eucharist a continuation of something far more fundamental: the humility of Christ who took on flesh even though he was the Eternal Word.”

According to Cunningham, the animal stories connected to Francis represent his purity and holiness, his return to the Garden of Eden’s harmony of all creation.

The volume concludes with a six-page “Reading Essay” on recent books in English about Francis, an Appendix on the Peace Prayer of St. Francis and an 11-page Index.

I was surprised at the number of factual errors in this book: The year of St. Clare’s investiture as a nun is given incorrectly on one page and correctly later. Anthony of Padua wrote not sermons but rather sermon notes for preachers. Clare was 13 years younger than Francis, not 10. Norbert (not Robert) of Xanten founded the Canons Regular in Premontre. Ignatius Brady, O.F.M., should be cited as a coauthor of the 1982 Paulist Press volume Francis and Clare: The Complete Works.

Cunningham has written a very useful challenge to the romanticizing of St. Francis. To romanticize him would be to miss his genuine originality and greatness.

You can order FRANCIS OF ASSISI: Performing the Gospel of Life from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

DE-CODING DA VINCI: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code, by Amy Welborn. Our Sunday Visitor. 124 pp. $9.95.

Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, an assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger and managing producer of audiobooks and audiopresentations for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

HISTORY IS NOT my long suit. When I read The Da Vinci Code, I was grateful that Editor Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., had alerted readers to some of the book’s inaccuracies in “Ask a Franciscan” (see February’s issue).

Now and again, I was still troubled for several reasons. One, I’m a trusting person—and novelist Dan Brown asserted a page of facts before he began writing a thick work of fiction.

Second, I resonated with the appeals of his novel to the womanly sense that feminine leadership is undervalued—in and out of the Church.

Third, those spellbinding Arthurian legends all hint at the Grail—and I want to know its secrets.

And (at last count) fourth, I confess a great desire to be in on every secret—and that includes Opus Dei and “underground” rites (though I share fictional protagonist Sophie Neveu’s horror at her grandfather’s participation in clandestine sex rituals).

So Amy Welborn’s manual is a big help, a help I should welcome. I did and I do. Yet this reader grew weary of Welborn’s strong and spirited defense of historical and religious truths I respect and value. I felt like a child being told there’s no Santa, when said child wasn’t even curious to know right then. Could I enjoy this novel—or not?

She helped most with my first and fourth concerns. I hereby declare the Priory of Sion debunked, Opus Dei better understood and Silas, the fictional Opus Dei villain, rendered impossible, a conclusion that most readers would already have drawn. (The Web site opusdei.org is a resource I wish I’d Googled sooner.)

I refuse to abandon all Grail fantasies and symbols, and thought Dan Brown was at his writerly best with imaginative riffs and embellishments on the cup/ womb/ woman themes.

My heel-digging refusal hints at what may be flawed with Amy Welborn’s exhaustive hunt for inaccuracies in The Da Vinci Code. About midway, it began to feel like nagging.

And that’s too bad because, as a reader of the novel, I had moments of shame for the Church—to which Welborn gave eloquent rebuttals. How could I have failed to notice that Dan Brown never cites the Gospels or Doctors of the Church or widely respected mainstream scholarship? In some instances, how would I have known what scholarship or credentials can or should be respected?

The book is small, but I would recommend it be used in even smaller doses. If you doubt Brown’s interpretation of Mary Magdalene, read Chapter Five. If you’re puzzled about the Priory, check out Chapter Nine.

Some chapter titles aren’t transparent unless you’ve read Dan Brown’s novel with considerable attention. The title “Toppled Kings,” for instance, didn’t jog my memory. It’s a citation from the novel’s midsection. That chapter—and its excellent content—could have benefited from a more helpful title such as “Jesus in History” or “Was Jesus Politically Powerful?”

The book comes with review and discussion questions and an impressive listing of sources for each chapter. It is far from being the only book debunking The Da Vinci Code, though that claim is made on its back cover. But it may be the only one to address specifically Catholic concerns.

If you move in a circle where people read the latest fiction and take it seriously, this book will enable you to be an informed apologist for the faith. That is certainly worth $9.95 plus tax!

You can order DE-CODING DA VINCI: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

THE PICKLE PATCH BATHTUB, by Frances Kennedy. Illustrations by Sheila Aldridge. Tricycle Press. 30 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this magazine, and her five-year-old daughter, Madison. Susan writes the monthly “Faith-filled Family” column, and also has a three-year-old son, Alex.

IF THERE ARE two things in this world that my daughter loves, it’s pickles and money. So when I was given the chance to review this book, which addressed both of those things, I knew it would be a hit. I was right.

The book is based on an actual story from the childhood of the author’s mother, Donna Delle.

At the beginning of the book, Donna discovers that her legs have grown too long for the family’s washtub. Since her family can’t afford to buy a bathtub, she makes it her personal mission to raise enough money to buy a new one.

Donna decides that she and her siblings will pool their Christmas and birthday money, and grow and sell cucumbers for the Keokuk Canning Company (an actual company in Keokuk, Iowa).

The book is beautifully and richly illustrated and hits home on a number of important lessons. The story reminded my daughter of how she had once saved her money to buy something she really wanted, and we talked about what she might want to save for in the future.

It also provided an opportunity for us to discuss the fact that not everyone has all the things we so often take for granted, such as a bathtub.

You can order THE PICKLE PATCH BATHTUB from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Book Briefs

St. Francis left a legacy so deep we are still plumbing its depths. These new books explore different aspects of the Little Poor Man of Assisi.

THE ST. FRANCIS PRAYER BOOK: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life, by Jon M. Sweeney (Paraclete Press, 155 pp., $13.95), of course, contains the prayers St. Francis wrote, like The Canticle of Brother Sun and his expanded version of the Our Father. St. Francis had advised his followers to pray the Divine Office, so this book provides Morning and Evening Prayers based on his ideas.

THE GIFT OF SAINT FRANCIS, by John Davis and Don McMonigle, illustrated by Lynne Muir (Ave Maria Press, 128 pp., $14.95), is like an illuminated manuscript, with lush and original drawings. The authors are Anglican priests from Australia. The text focuses on the universal appeal of Francis and his relevance for today.

SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI, by Jacques Le Goff, translated by Christine Rhone (Routledge, 159 pp., $21.95), is a scholarly work from a French medievalist. He situates Francis in his feudal world and looks at the social and political changes taking place at the time. Pope Innocent III had a dream that a “small and ugly” religious was supporting the crumbling Basilica of St. John Lateran (the “Vatican” of the 13th century), so he gave a general approval to St. Francis’ first Rule. Le Goff says Francis did indeed spiritually renew the Church.


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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