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A Book About Marriage With 'Aha' Moments

A DARING PROMISE: The Spirituality of Christian Marriage, by Richard R. Gaillardetz. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 143 pp. $12.95.

Reviewed by JULIE S. DONATI, a Catholic school teacher who lives in Sugar Land, Texas. She is married to Marcello and has three children—ages 11, nine and a newly adopted baby. She is working on her M.A. in theology at St. Mary’s Seminary.

RICHARD GAILLARDETZ is one of the nation’s preeminent theologians and a world-renowned authority on the Church, but he considers his greatest accomplishment being a husband and father of four. Nationally acclaimed for lectures on the theology of marriage and family life, at long last he has synthesized his thoughts into a powerfully moving and deeply touching text.

Gaillardetz debunks the myth that all marriages are rosy forever. He contends that, to survive difficult moments of marriage, all couples must rely on an authentic Christian spirituality.

He draws on a contemporary Trinitarian perspective to gain insight into the married life. It is developed and explained in clear, accessible language.

To support his reflections, Gaillardetz offers biblical references interspersed with wisdom from the greats of the Catholic tradition, such as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux.

When Gaillardetz relates the everyday realities of his family life, he succeeds in translating the theological abstractions into common terms and experiences. Gaillardetz is not afraid to employ poignantly personal moments in his own marriage to bring the reader to recognize common experiences. His marriage and family come alive in the book—not as a marriage that is perfect, but one that ebbs and flows, with highs and lows. I found myself relating time and time again to his examples in “aha” moments.

Gaillardetz’s vision of marriage is a calling to a life of communion, of relationship, as a primordial human need, in many ways analogous to the Church. He writes, “In marriage we experience communion with our spouses not because we are each half-selves looking for a mate as our completion, but because in marriage we find ourselves in giving ourselves to another.” This is no relationship of hierarchy but one of equality.

In the chapter on human sexuality, Gaillardetz clarifies several common misconceptions. He then tackles the issue of contraception with diplomacy and compassion. As an ecclesiologist, his understanding of the Church’s official positions and the complex historical scenario that led to the writing of Humanae Vitae is insightful. In a balanced manner, he elucidates both sides of the debate in a comprehensive argument, leaving the reader to reflect and decide.

Although Gaillardetz is quick to acknowledge that not all marriages involve parenting, he concludes the book with a chapter on parenting, speaking with the humility of a parent of four boisterous boys! It is nice to read a parenting reflection that is not written by the “perfect parent,” but one as faulty as I am!

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of “quality time” versus “quantity time.” He questions the traditional parenting role of provider and favors parents who are simply present to see the grace that comes “as surprise” in the present moment.

Gaillardetz observes, “But there is a depth and a texture to my experience of my children that often doesn’t emerge in such carefully planned events but rather in the ‘down time’ when nothing important seems to be happening.”

All chapters finish with a few short discussion questions, making this volume an excellent resource for a personal retreat or for small discussion groups.

Gaillardetz has written a thought-provoking book based on the realities of marriage and family life and not on a sentimentalized ideal. A Daring Promise will help readers to revise their perception of the ideals of a Christian marriage, and is well worth it for all to read, time and time again.

You can order A DARING PROMISE: The Spirituality of Christian Marriage from St. Francis Bookshop.

RENEWING CHRISTIANITY: A History of Church Reform From Day One to Vatican II, by Christopher Bellitto. Paulist Press. 232 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. A lifelong student of history, he holds master’s degrees in theology and Franciscan studies.

IN VATICAN II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the bishops wrote, “[T]he Church, containing sinners in its own bosom, is at one and the same time holy and always in need of purification and it pursues unceasingly penance and renewal” (#8).

Christopher Bellitto opens this volume by asking: “Why should the Church, an institution of divine origin, need to be reformed? The answer lies in the fact that the Church is also a human institution. While the Church has Christ’s assurance that he will never abandon her, she still must make her earthly journey with human feet.”

Bellitto holds a doctorate in medieval history from Fordham University, taught at the graduate level and has written popular-level books and articles, including some for St. Anthony Messenger. He is now an editor at Paulist Press.

This book examines the concept and practice of reform in five eras: 300-800, 1050-1300, 1378-1563, 1563-1900 and 1962-65. The story is told mostly from the Roman Catholic perspective, using “reform” to mean “going back or restoring an original form” and ” to indicate “making that original form ‘new and improved.’”

Bellitto bases his survey especially on works by Gerhart Ladner (died in 1993), Yves Congar (d.1995) and Hubert Jedin (d.1980). Each chapter has its own endnotes. A chapter entitled “Conclusions,” a list of books for further reading and a three-page index conclude the book.

There is much to praise in this volume, especially the ambitious overview of reform language (and some initiatives) over the centuries.

There are also shortcomings regarding: Emperor Constantine’s influence, the connection of Jesus’ Incarnation and spreading the Good News to a variety of human cultures, the French Revolution, the alliance of Throne and Altar, plus lack of references to influential books like Antonio Rosmini’s Five Wounds of the Church, Henri de Lubac’s Splendour of the Church (covering some of the same territory as this book) and Yves Congar’s Tradition and Traditions.

This volume’s Index is woefully inadequate. And contrary to Bellitto’s assertion, Francis of Assisi’s Rule of 1221 was never offered to the Holy See for approval.

Human sinfulness within the Church has been evident from its earliest days. The glowing description of Acts 4:32 (“The community of believers was of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common”) is soon followed by the story of Ananias and Sapphira’s deception about sharing all things in common (5:1-11).

“Golden age” thinking is attractive, inexpensive but ultimately unreliable. Over the centuries, numerous reformers have used Acts 4:32 to criticize their contemporary Church while ignoring the information of Acts 5:1-11. Bellitto should have pointed that out.

Renewing Christianity makes a valuable contribution to a dialogue that must continue about the nature of true reform.

You can order RENEWING CHRISTIANITY: A History of Church Reform From Day One to Vatican II from St. Francis Bookshop.

DAILY JOURNAL OF VATICAN II, by Bishop Marion F. Forst. Forest of Peace Publishing. 191 pp. $10.

Reviewed by CYPRIAN BERENS, O.F.M., whose many years in Rome include the time of Vatican II.

BISHOP MARION F. FORST, author of this journal, was consecrated bishop of Dodge City, Kansas, in 1960, appointed auxiliary bishop of Kansas City, Kansas, in 1976 and resigned in 1986. He has resurrected the personal notes he wrote more than 35 years ago, not to explain the documents of Vatican II, not to teach the new trends that originated with the Council, really not to teach anything, but only to share the human experience of one American bishop in those historic meetings.

The result is a brief and very pleasant book, sometimes funny, often inspiring.

“As one of the younger attendees,” he writes in the Prologue, “I decided to take brief notes of each day’s activities. Never was there any intention of publishing this journal.” A few close friends, however, read his jottings and thought they should be made public.

These reflections bring the reader into experiences of beauty and depth. Every page discloses warm and generous relationships as Bishop Forst, with other bishops, seeks out religious sisters who have their roots in their native Kansas, entertains parishioners from Dodge City who came to Rome during the Council, or invites U.S. seminarians in Rome to lunch or to a circus. It is clear Bishop Forst likes circuses.

On weekends, surfeited with long sessions, he would rent a tiny Fiat  and, with other bishops, drive to Florence, Tivoli, Naples, etc. 

Sometimes, almost unwittingly, he shows deep emotions, as in the entry for November 22, 1963. “We had finished dinner and were awaiting coffee when someone announced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot....Italy’s radio and television went off the air until 10 p.m. in mourning—something that certainly would not happen in the United States. The Latin American bishops with whom we had eaten not only expressed their sorrow, but also the love that had been felt in South America and Mexico for Kennedy.”

In another poignant entry dated November 24, 1965, Bishop Forst sums up a trip north to the family home of Pope John XXIII. “If there was one thing that our visit to Sotto Il Monte meant for me, it was to reflect on the virtues of Pope John XXIII. His simplicity reflected in the people and surroundings he called home, and a charity spelled out in his love for his family, his friends and the town.”

After Cardinal Cushing addressed the Council on the Church and Jews, media people asked what was said. Cushing replied, “How should I know? I had to say it in Latin!” A number of humorous episodes are mentioned, and stories that were passed around at the refreshment counters—“Bar Jonah” and “Barabbas”—delighted the bishops.

Regularly, the American bishops gathered for conferences by experts on the Council material under discussion. The journal exudes excitement with regard to the documents about religious freedom and on the liturgy. The bishops never wanted to vote as a bloc, but they did want to compare notes and be well informed.

A private journal is not written to impact other people, and so it is not surprising to find a few repetitions, some casual spelling errors of Italian names, a bit of trivia—“the day is miserable and rainy,” “Got my first Italian haircut.” He laments the hours of listening to long speeches in Latin and yearns for simultaneous translation.

On December 11, 1965, as the Council ended, Bishop Forst made the final journal entry, breaking away from his “just the facts” style, “And thus into history—for me the most eventful involvement of my life—goes Vatican II.”

You can order DAILY JOURNAL OF VATICAN II from St. Francis Bookshop.

MERRY AS A CRICKET, by Lynn Kelley. Illustrated by Judy Jarrett. Whippersnapper Books (P.O. Box 3186, Los Altos, CA 94024, 1-800-910-4482). 42 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by MARJORIE FLATHERS, who has over 20 years experience writing for children and adults. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including St. Anthony Messenger.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a mysterious but likable clown invades a church carnival? Almost everything, including softening the heart of a man who hasn’t been seen to smile in years.

Lynn Kelley, a children’s author and mother of four who has participated in many parish festivals, has written a touching story that captures the essence of these events.

Merry as a Cricket centers around Mr. Demski, lonely and unhappy since his wife died. He refuses to go anywhere, and especially avoids crowds, but longtime friends convince him to make an appearance at the church carnival. There he encounters the odd-looking pantomime clown who is drawing people into the festival without saying a word. The clown twists balloons into animal shapes and leads young and old in a duck walk. No one, however, can figure out how he happens to be there, and Mr. Demski wants nothing to do with him.

The numerous booths that make up a church carnival, such as the white elephant, cotton candy, face painting and, of course, bingo, are seen throughout the book. The ethnic diversity of parishes today is reflected in the details of the International Food Court and by the strolling mariachis.

But who is the clown? Only when he performs a surprise trick with handkerchiefs that softens Mr. Demski’s heart is his true identity revealed, and then the clown is forced into the dunk tank!

This book presents basic Catholic values in a delightful, child-friendly way without preaching or instructing. It is designed mainly to be read aloud, and parents will recognize the various parishioners who make church carnivals successful. It also appeals to beginning readers who will want to learn the words that accompany the colorful characters presented.

Readers of all ages will be captivated by Lynn Kelley’s lilting prose and by Judy Jarrett’s charming illustrations as they follow the antics of this magical jester. Merry as a Cricket has messages about spirituality and God’s love deftly woven throughout the text.

A second story, “A Pocketful of Chocolate,” is also in the book. It is about Steven, who has had to move from his old neighborhood and isn’t happy in the new one. But when a neighbor girl tells him about the St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals and assures him he can even bring his ant farm to the church to be blessed, he ends up with new friends and a new puppy. This story focuses on a touching Catholic ritual that many children (and parents) may not be aware of.

These stories are sure to be read many times over, as new and surprising details can be discovered each time.

Also included is a four-page “Picture Dictionary” that explains 21 terms such as parish, pastor, votive candle, rosary, St. Francis of Assisi and others.

There are few books for Catholic children today that are not educational or curriculum-oriented. Whippersnapper Books is attempting to fill this void by publishing books that are uniquely Catholic yet entertaining and fun. Merry as a Cricket is the second in its series, “Stories From St. Anne’s Parish.”

You can order MERRY AS A CRICKET from St. Francis Bookshop.

AMERICAN CATHOLICS THROUGH THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: Spirituality, Lay Experience and Public Life, by Claire E. Wolfteich. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 212 pp. $24.95

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, who teaches at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a B.A. in theology from Xavier University (Ohio) and an M.A. in religious studies from Villanova University (Pennsylvania). His articles and book reviews have appeared in St. Anthony Messenger, America, National Catholic Reporter and Religion Teacher’s Journal.

“GO IN PEACE to love and serve the Lord.” We’ve heard this dismissal so often; if our bodies aren’t out of the pews and starting our cars, our minds are. If its implications in our public and private lives were truly considered, however, this could very well be the most challenging part of Mass. Instead of the usual, perfunctory response of “Thanks be to God,” there would be quite a few more sighs of “Oh, God, now what?”

Who’s got time to consider the gospel as it applies to the world? It is this very situation that Claire Wolfteich, assistant professor of practical theology and spiritual formation at Boston University, examines in American Catholics Through the Twentieth Century.

In it she describes the lay vocation as complex and one “that requires far more guidance than the Church has provided. The everyday contexts of work, family, public interaction are the spheres of meaning—or alienation—for most. And yet faith can seem far removed from the everyday.”

One thing that aided and abetted this situation was the Church’s deep-seated and two-tiered understanding of spirituality. The commonly accepted belief was that those who were really “holy” came from the ranks of monks and clerics, not laity. Little was expected from the laity save “to pray, pay and obey.” This feeling held not just in spiritual matters but, for a still largely immigrant community, carried over into more public concerns as well. As a result, “clergy were the public face of the Church for a community still ensconced in a separate world.”

The area where lay Catholics were allowed and encouraged to live out a spirituality was marriage and family. Yet, even here, due to industrialization and other social pressures, the Catholic family was undergoing significant change. Into this rather passive, lay environment sprang new movements like Commonweal magazine (1924), the Catholic Worker (1933), the Grail and the Christian Family Movement (1940s).

Theologically, lay Catholics were propelled by three things: a growing liturgical movement which advocated “full, conscious, and active participation”; an image of Church as “the mystical body” which “gave a dignity to the whole community of believers, who together through their diverse gifts become Christ’s presence in the world”; and an emerging social-justice tradition, supported by papal encyclicals, affirming the dignity and rights of workers.

A great chance for a public, lay, Catholic spirituality to be expressed and lived came in 1960 with John F. Kennedy’s bid for the presidency. At first thrilled at the thought of a fellow Catholic in the White House, many later were disappointed when Kennedy asserted “his support of a strict separation between Church and state, which takes precedence over any religious convictions the politician might hold ‘in his private life.’”

With all of its social unrest and public turmoil—civil and women’s rights, Vietnam, race riots—the 1960s evidenced the great need for a public, lay, Catholic spirituality. Additionally, the teachings of Vatican II (1962-65) would call upon Catholics to view their work in the world as a spiritual calling rather than a necessary evil.

But “By the end of the 1960s,” notes Wolfteich, “the emerging public spirituality had to compete with a move inward—away from the complexity of public life.”

Debates about the public and private nature of faith would not go away, however. The most notable one Wolfteich mentions was the clash during the 1980s between Mario Cuomo, governor of New York, and Cardinal John J. O’Connor, archbishop of New York, over abortion. The question basically boiled down to “whether Catholics in good conscience could vote for a candidate who explicitly supports abortion.”

Given that Wolfteich’s book touches upon significant spiritual and pastoral themes past and present, of concern to both laypeople and clerics alike, it merits serious attention.

You can order AMERICAN CATHOLICS THROUGH THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: Spirituality, Lay Experience and Public Life from St. Francis Bookshop.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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