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God's Grace Unleashed in the World

Q U I C K S C A N

WHEN THE MOON SLIPS AWAY: Rejoicing in Everyday Miracles
ECCLESIOLOGY FOR A GLOBAL CHURCH: A People Called and Sent
CINDERELLA CHURCH: The Story of Early Christianity
WILL I SEE MY DOG IN HEAVEN? God’s Saving Love for the Whole Family of Creation
SEVEN OX SEVEN: A Story of Some Ways in the West: Part One: Escondido Bound
Mother Teresa Still Teaches



WHEN THE MOON SLIPS AWAY: Rejoicing in Everyday Miracles, by Melannie Svoboda, S.N.D. Twenty-Third Publications. 130 pp. $12.95.

Reviewed by the MOST REV. ROBERT MORNEAU, auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and author of many books on prayer.

THE MOON MAY slip away, but little gets past the notice of Sister Melannie Svoboda, S.N.D. She is a “noticer” of hedgehogs and earthworms, of African violets and dolphins, of cows and crickets. She is also an “appreciator” who cherishes the diversity of God’s creation, of all God’s creatures—great and small.

The methodology in When the Moon Slips Away (37 short chapters of two to four pages) is consistent: an introductory quotation, an explication of the theme, questions for discussion and reflection, a passage from Scripture and a one-sentence prayer.

Each chapter is packed with specificity: The planet Jupiter is 317 times the size of Earth; human adults need eight to nine hours of sleep a day (babies 16-18 hours); adult whales can weigh as much as 17,600 pounds; the memory span of a goldfish is three seconds; Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine (1955) proved 99-percent effective.

These facts and their context are related to God’s grace and elicit both our wonder and our praise. Chapters are well-crafted and prove both informative and entertaining.

Besides sharing how creation is one form of God’s revelation (all these “Everyday Miracles”), Sister Melannie sees God’s grace operative in individuals who used their gifts in ameliorating the world (the term here is stewardship).

We read about Rachel Carson (1907-1964) and her commitment to protect the environment through writing (The Sea Around Us—1952; Silent Spring—1962); we see the witness of George Washington Carver (1864-1943), born into slavery and who found happiness and honor not in fortune or fame but in helping others. We are told that Jesus was one who noticed things and did a great deal of his teaching out in nature.

One description of the essence of spirituality is “just stay awake.” This mindfulness is the context of this informative and transformative volume. We are invited to pay attention to how grand the Grand Canyon is, to appreciate the desert and the magic of flight, to ponder again the mystery of time and the shining dawn. In a hurried, frenetic world, When the Moon Slips Away encourages us to slow down and respond to God’s grace that surrounds and sustains us in so many ways.

Anyone interested in spiritual growth and in fostering a life of gratitude will find a worthy mentor in Sister Melannie’s works (also see When the Rain Speaks, With the Dawn Rejoicing, Traits of a Healthy Spirituality). Families might read together a chapter a day; those preparing talks and homilies can check the index for themes; staff meetings would benefit by sharing various chapters that pertain to their ministry.

One of my favorite chapters presents 20 fascinating facts that the author discovered in the course of her research. Here are three of my favorites: “A ladybug can predict the weather six months in advance”; “The human eye can differentiate seven million colors”; “Fear of getting old is called gerontophobia, fear of chickens is call alektrorophobia, fear of mothers-in-law is called pentheraphobia and fear of the pope is called papaphobia.”

You can order WHEN THE MOON SLIPS AWAY: Rejoicing in Everyday Miracles from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

ECCLESIOLOGY FOR A GLOBAL CHURCH: A People Called and Sent, by Richard R. Gaillardetz. Orbis. 312 pp. $30.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. From 1986 to 1992 he served as director of communications at the international headquarters of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome. That involved reporting on the friars worldwide and included short travels in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

THIS VOLUME, part of the Theology in Global Perspective series edited by Peter Phan, outlines an ecclesiology required by the changing Church. Since 1900, Catholicism has changed from a predominantly white, First World religion to a community in 2000 of 1.1 billion members, including 130 million in Africa and 590 million outside Europe and North America. Other Christian denominations have experienced similar trends.

A professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo, Richard Gaillardetz spent a year’s sabbatical in Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines. Using the documents of Vatican II and other Church events, he reinterprets the Church’s Western experience in light of the changed demographics.

In Volume 20 of his series Theological Investigations (1981), Karl Rahner, S.J., noted that Vatican II marked the emergence of a world Church after a short period of strong Jewish influence (30-70 A.D.) and a much longer period of European and North American dominance (70-1965 A.D.).

Gaillardetz reflects on what the Nicene Creed’s phrase “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” means today. After chapters entitled “A People Called to Community” and “A People Sent in Mission,” the author presents separate chapters on a people called to communion, ministry and discipleship. He ends with “A People Sustained by Memory,” “A People Led by a Ministry of Memory” and a five-page Conclusion.

Footnotes, questions for reflection (chapter by chapter), a 12-page bibliography and a six-page index greatly enhance this volume’s usefulness.

The author explains where Jesus reflected his Jewish roots and went beyond them in preaching a Kingdom of God open to all peoples. “The Holy Spirit does not erase difference but renders difference nondivisive,” Gaillardetz notes. He emphasizes the Church as living in history rather than above history as it proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Within the space available, the author does justice to the Church’s history, including the increasing centralization of authority in its second millennium. Sometimes Christianity’s accommodation to European culture has made it hostile or at least less welcoming to the world’s other cultures.

At Vatican II and in later documents, the Church has shown increasing respect for how Catholics live out their faith in diverse cultures. That respect, however, is sometimes not fully realized, as tensions between the Holy See and individual or regional conferences of bishops on liturgical or other matters show.

According to Gaillardetz, today’s ecclesiologists “tend to reject the view that Jesus first instituted a church and then gave it a mission. It is biblically and theologically more accurate to say that Jesus established a mission in the world, a mission in service of God’s reign, and then called forth a community of disciples for the fulfillment of that mission.”

Two small criticisms: Karl Rahner’s insight about Vatican II is mentioned twice in passing but is not adequately explained in either place. I was surprised that Walbert Bühlmann’s 1977 Orbis volume, The Coming of the Third Church, was not cited.

Though sometimes challenging reading, this book is very rewarding. Students in upper-level college theology classes and all other people interested in Catholicism as a global religion will benefit from this excellent volume, which could prepare readers for the special synod of bishops for Africa that will meet at the Vatican October 4-25, 2009.

You can order ECCLESIOLOGY FOR A GLOBAL CHURCH: A People Called and Sent from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

CINDERELLA CHURCH: The Story of Early Christianity, by R. John Kinkel. iUniverse. 205 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, director of Cura Animarum, a network of support for those struggling with physical, spiritual and social wellness. He has been a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit for 33 years.

THE “WAY” OF JESUS practiced by the first Christians has slipped from that ideal standard of prayer, joy and group consultation. So concludes ecclesiastical sociologist Dr. John Kinkel, who traces the beginnings of today’s largest religion of over two billion Christians from 33 A.D until 430. What fresh air!

Cinderella Church offers readers a glimpse into the life of the Jesus movement after the death of Christ. Kinkel stresses that, when looked at historically, this new religion should not have survived. Like Cinderella, it should have been left unmentioned and unknown in the attic of failed religions. But due to the work of the Holy Spirit and the remarkable dedication and sacrifices of Jesus’ followers, this small Jewish sect succeeded against all odds.

The book tells stories of the rich and poor, slave and free who used their wits and imaginations to spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world. Today, Christianity is the largest religion in the world.

Kinkel attributes the Church’s success to three factors: the work of St. Paul, the women who maintained those early house churches and the ability to deal with conflict.

Around 49 A.D., the Church in Jerusalem listened to Paul’s radical new idea: Drop the requirement of circumcision and the Jewish dietary laws for gentile converts. Almost 20 years after the death of Jesus, Paul was proposing new rules different from those which Jesus himself obeyed as a Jew.

After traveling some 8,000 miles setting up house churches and training Church leaders, the man from Tarsus suffered a martyr’s death around 64 A.D. But the house churches he set up provide historical facts and arguments needed to bolster a new assessment as to the ordination of women. Many of Paul’s house churches were headed by women who taught, prayed, established new churches and died for their faith. Some of these women eventually were called apostles.

The book argues that the Church today has the power to ordain women because of Paul’s leadership and the doctrine of baptismal equality. The Church needs only to return to tradition, not find new arguments for women’s rights in the Church.

Small communities of faith in the early centuries need to be replicated today if the flow of Catholics to churches preaching the gospel of prosperity is to stop. While believers seek supportive circles, and parents and singles, for example, or divorced Catholics cry for household-like communities, today’s Church affords little like that.

Lastly, Kinkel shows how the Church succeeded because it was able to deal with conflict effectively. The book’s last chapter recounts Augustine’s confrontation with Pope Zosimus. The North African bishops in the fifth century had condemned Pelagius as heretical, but the newly elected Pope Zosimus was not moved. These strong bishops were able to face this conflict and force the pope to retract his statements in support of Pelagius.

Cinderella Church uncovers old truths buried for centuries amid Church politics and doctrinal disputes. The early Church had inspiring stories of Jesus, strong leaders, forceful women and saintly martyrs. This is a fine book to celebrate the Year of St. Paul and the lessons of the early Church.

You can order CINDERELLA CHURCH: The Story of Early Christianity from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

WILL I SEE MY DOG IN HEAVEN? God’s Saving Love for the Whole Family of Creation, by Jack Wintz. Paraclete Press. 153 pp. $14.99.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, managing editor of this publication.

HERE, PROFOUND Franciscan theology answers the deceptively simple question posed by the title. Of course, I’m not an unbiased reader. Franciscan Father Jack Wintz has been my colleague at St. Anthony Messenger for 35 years. This book grew out of his July 2003 article in this magazine.

Father Jack is usually one of the priests blessing the pets in Cincinnati for the feast of St. Francis. He has reported on the blessing of the animals at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco and at St. John the Divine in Manhattan (both of which are mentioned in this book). He always had a sympathetic ear for the stories of my three dogs, and cried with me when each died.

The question of whether dogs will be in heaven with us is not as childish as it may appear (although some of the freshest theology comes from first-graders who offer their reasons in Chapter 9 why animals should go to heaven).

Father Jack’s answers tap deep wells of scriptural and Franciscan beliefs about God’s saving plan for all of creation. He demands that we look at what the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection really mean. “Not only was human nature made holy by the Incarnation, but also the whole fabric of creation was charged with the divine presence,” Father Jack contends.

Starting with Genesis’s Chapter 1 story of creation, Father Jack argues that God would not suddenly stop caring for the creatures he had called “very good” and put into existence with great care in the Garden of Eden. He would want them with him in “the restored garden” of heaven.

Father Jack follows that with a reflection on the story of Noah, the great flood and the ark which sheltered two “of every species” to ensure their survival.

The author reminds us that Jesus left us disciples with the charge to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, italics added), not limiting salvation to humans.

Father Jack then tells many stories of St. Francis, who always thought of animals as his brothers and sisters and acted accordingly, like with the wolf of Gubbio. St. Francis put animals into the Christmas scene at Greccio because he firmly believed that Jesus came for their sake as well as ours.

Father Jack’s arguments flow from the theology of St. Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus. It’s not at all “New Age,” as some might protest.

In Chapter 8 we learn about Father Jack’s personal stories of animals in his life: the death of his family’s part-beagle, when Jack was eight; games of fetch with his sister Tese’s golden retriever in Seattle; the joyfulness of a shih tzu who often visits his friary in Cincinnati; and the compassion of a friend’s chocolate lab, who seemed to sense he was grieving after his mother’s death.

I regret that these stories are told so late in the book. But placing them elsewhere or spreading them out might have interrupted the logical flow.

The book ends with an appendix of three prayers for blessing animals.

This book reveals Father Jack’s keen observations of life, his literary interests and his depth of feeling for all creation. It’s a thoughtful and charming book that I just wish could have been illustrated with photos of dogs, cats and pet blessings of camels. Both the front and back covers have heart-touching photos; the inside icon-like drawings of dogs and cats are merely tantalizing and too few—for my taste!

You can order WILL I SEE MY DOG IN HEAVEN? God’s Saving Love for the Whole Family of Creation from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

SEVEN OX SEVEN: A Story of Some Ways in the West: Part One: Escondido Bound, by P.A. Ritzer. Seven Ox Press (Aurora, Colorado). 672 pp. $27.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, unrepentant urban and contemporary educator.

HERE P.A. RITZER embraces the American western, and delivers a convincing novel with authentic characters that represent the good and bad that can be derived from the opportunities central to their pioneer lives.

Cowboys, cattlemen, shepherds, hunters, surveyors and women who braved the frontier in various roles rise up from these pages. They have emerged from the author’s extensive research to honor those intrepid folks who have the courage to follow the call into what lies beyond what is known.

Part One opens with the meeting of two cowboys, Luke Stuart and Tom Schurtz, in infamous Dodge City, Kansas, at the end of their respective trail drives from Texas. It is the height of the cattle-trade season of 1877.

Luke, a devoted family man who manages a ranch for his cousin in Medina County, Texas, holds a secret plan shared only with his wife, Elizabeth. Tom, whose manner hints at a rich and varied past, realizes that, at least for the short term, his future lies in riding back to Texas with Luke. At the Stuart home, Luke and the devout and educated Elizabeth divulge their secret plan to Tom and invite him into it.

The Stuarts and Tom subsequently form a partnership. They head out to the distant frontier to establish a ranch in the canyons region at the eastern edge of the Staked Plains, the Llano Estacado, only recently but not completely vacated by the Comanche.

They seek a place of mystery, Cañon Escondido, the existence of which is not widely known. Their knowledge of the canyon has come from the Gradys, shepherds to the south, whose sources are family lore and the legends of their peoples, both Apache and Mexican.

The pioneers, including the three Stuart children and young Andy Grady, drive their herd and flock across the rolling prairies of central and northern Texas. They journey through notorious frontier settlements and wanton buffalo slaughter, encountering settlers and transients along the way. Their determination will be tested.

With great detail, Ritzer draws us into and immerses us in the uniquely American setting of this story. Within that setting, Tom, Luke, Elizabeth, Andy and others reveal themselves at paces natural to each of them. And it all subtly captivates the reader.

The story unfolds at a very measured pace as the little community faces the challenges of staking their claim, protecting their animals and building their homes. A special feature of this story is how faith and religion are key to understanding these pioneers.

At key moments in the book, different characters reflect on events or exchange ideas with others in a way that would seem more fitting for philosophers or saints. Thoughts on the nature of good and evil, of humans, of complete faith in God are all given a substantial place in the story.

For example, a fight scene towards the end of the book prompts a reflection on justice and revenge. Tom refers back to his reading of Scripture and the Catholic catechism and then quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as he watches Luke fight his neighbor’s foreman. Soon after, he compares a quote from Hamlet with thoughts from Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Tom Schurtz is particularly distinctive since he is a literate, articulate and prayerful man. Ritzer does a convincing job of creating a character totally at odds with the stereotype of the 19th-century cowhand and settler, but one who becomes more and more real as the novel progresses. The novel ends as the group confronts the question of whether it would be better to give up their dream in light of the harassment and abuse they have been taking from the owner of the neighboring spread.

This book challenged me to be open to this author and to this story. Ritzer’s skill as a writer and storyteller held my attention and kept me coming back for more. At times, the story moves at such a slow pace that it takes several pages to present an event that lasted only minutes or hours. But then the pacing conveyed to me how much more slowly everything moved in the 1870s than it does today.

I’m not an expert on the time period or the setting, but I do enjoy reading a good book. This was a very good read. I await the next part of the story.

You can order SEVEN OX SEVEN: A Story of Some Ways in the West: Part One: Escondido Bound from St. Francis Bookstore.

 

 

Mother Teresa Still Teaches

The selfless life and extraordinary wisdom of Blessed Mother Teresa (1910-1997) continues to inspire us. Her feast is September 5.

JESUS IS MY ALL IN ALL: Praying With the ‘Saint of Calcutta’: Mother Teresa, edited and introduced by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. (Doubleday, 64 pp., $9.95/U.S.; $11.96/Canada). This tiny prayer book arranges Mother Teresa’s most stirring words into a novena format. I was most struck by Day Five, “Trust Jesus Blindly”: “Trust in the good God, who loves us, who cares for us, knows all, can do all things for my good and the good of souls.” Reassuring words for hard times!

CREATED FOR GREATER THINGS: Mother Teresa’s Life and Witness, with a commentary by Gloria Hutchinson (New City Press, 132 pp., $13.95). Like the other, this book presents Mother Teresa’s own writings, but Hutchinson, one of St. Anthony Messenger Press’s author/editors, has added a unique commentary. She emphasizes Mother Teresa’s ability to cut through religious language and focus on being Christ for others.

I LOVED JESUS IN THE NIGHT: Teresa of Calcutta—A Secret Revealed, by Paul Murray (Paraclete Press, 125 pp., $18.95). Murray, an Irish Dominican who teaches at the Angelicum (the University of St. Thomas) in Rome, tries to come to terms with the “darkness” described in Mother Teresa’s letters. Murray’s most vivid personal memory of Mother Teresa is how “radiant” she was.—B.B.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.

 


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