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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
The book argues that the Church
today has the power to ordain women
because of Paul’s leadership
and the doctrine
equality. The Church
needs only to return
to tradition, not find
new arguments for
women’s rights in the
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
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.
WILL I SEE MY DOG IN
HEAVEN? God’s Saving
Love for the Whole Family
of Creation, by Jack
Wintz. Paraclete Press. 153
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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 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
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.