e-mail us

Spring Books



What’s happening and what has been happening, ecclesially speaking, is the focus of this month’s choices.

Missionary Servant of the Most Holy Trinity Br. Loughlan Sofield and Sister of the Holy Child Jesus Carroll Juliano, in Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry (Ave Maria, 189 pages, $11.95 paperback), give something of a picture of the Holy Spirit at work in the modern world and church. They know that the question is not whether collaborative structures will be developed, but how. They describe collaboration at work in ministry and what they believe is required to further the collaborative ideal.

They approach their worthy task not just with a set of their own opinions, but rather with quotes and excerpts from those entrusted with the church’s teaching ministry. They chart an “explosion of church documents that advocate collaboration,” but seeing implementation lagging behind articulation, they offer assistance and guidance to those who serve the developing church.

Reflection questions are included that individual readers or groups may find helpful. Issues and ideas and questions that can move readers and workers to the kind of conversion necessary for collaboration are nicely dealt with here. The authors recognize that theirs is not the last word on collaborative ministry, but that these reflections can serve as a catalyst to invite others to share experiences and insights about the collaborative process that will form its participants into a community of love, life and truth witnessing to God’s presence at work in the human community.

Changing Churches: The Local Church and the Structures of Change (Pastoral Press, 262 pages, $12.95 paperback) is edited by Michael Warren. I have appreciated his take on ecclesial issues ever since reading his Faith, Culture, and the Worshiping Community: Shaping the Practice of the Local Church, the revised edition of which is also published by the Pastoral Press. (I take every opportunity to praise this book and to suggest that not enough attention is given to keeping it in print.)

In introducing this new book, Warren begins by pointing to the major influence in the lives of most people -- not religious education, he asserts, but culture. His previous writing has asked if local churches, the key bearers of the possibility of gospel practices, can be firmly enough located to see what in the wider culture is not acceptable. If not, the local church is doomed to shrivel.

Warren invited 11 other scholars to consider the general problem and has collected their essays, which examine how local communities of religious people live out their purpose, with suggestions for reconfiguring life in these communities. His own essay aptly leads the pack, “Writing the Gospel into the Structures of the Local Church.” He highlights the insight that Christian living is forged from the particularities of everyday life and concludes that the goal is fidelity to the way of Jesus and his quickening Spirit present in the communities of disciples.

Joseph Komonchak’s essay is “Culture and History as the Material Conditions of the Genesis of the Local Church.” This Catholic University professor looks at the church as clothed in a many-colored garment: He sees an ecclesiology in which specific situations produce many churches as they did in the Pauline and Johannine communities. So the churches of Mali and Peru, Thailand and the United States are at once both catholic and particular. He sees catholicity as redemptive integration, a sign of what the world of God’s creation is supposed to be like as well as an instrument of the realization of that purpose.

Martin Kennedy, an Irish theologian, looks to Protestant warnings that lay control is good, but only so long as the laity has a deep gospel commitment. Without that, the church is doomed to point down blind alleys. He embraces Hans Küng’s argument that a monarchical paradigm is not credible to modern or post-modern sensibility. The challenge then is not to recover the past, but to develop a new strategy in anticipation of a different future.

Mariane Sawicki, in “Going to Church: Parish Geography,” speaks to a familiar truth: The key ecclesial organs are the feet, making tracks and pathways. She criticizes both the practices that domesticate the church in the suburbs and the theories that would identify Christianity with its metaphorical inscriptions and situations. She proposes the development of diffuse ecclesial satellite bases, mobile units (“The church must learn again how to make house calls”) and Web sites (“When I want to hear a bishop’s teaching, it is easier for me to get it from Bishop Gaillot of partenia.fr than from my own bishop”). She also calls for the overhaul of educational ministry, new interpersonal, organizational and interpretive skills to be developed and taught. I didn’t know whether to feel staggered or awed by her essay and vision.

Paul Lakeland, a former Jesuit, writes from the perspective of a liberation theologian who sees the consequences of marginalizing lay voices in the local churches. He suggests that the most theologically educated Catholics in the United States are not clergy, and that it is essential to the practice of the church to acknowledge that “the discourses of the ordinary people” are essential to the practice of the church. I am a bit unclear if he sees those whose theological credentials are superior to the clergy as part of the everyday people. How ordinary folk, theologically sophisticated lay folk and clergy can work together “to reverse this clearly dysfunctional aspect of the life of the church” was also not immediately apparent to me in this essay.

Rosemary Luling Haughton, a lay voice heard in the church for over 35 years, contributed “What Does a Local Church Look Like?” and writes of offering a vision and learning the means to make it real, drawing community need and hope into worship, bringing the power of faith to the tasks affirmed in prayer. Her essay is at once challenging and affirming, offering and celebrating a hopeful vision for local churches.

Stanley Hauerwas writes refreshingly in “In Defense of Cultural Christianity: Reflections on Going to Church.” He teaches at Duke and is a member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. He is attentive to the problems that could occur if theology begins to appear as ideas rather than the kind of discourse that must be imbedded in the practices of actual lived communities. His critique will be a good read and offer fine considerations both for Catholics and Protestants.

While, like any collection, a bit uneven, there is much to provoke discussion, thought and prayer in this volume.

The Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century: Renewing and Reimaging the City of God is a collection of essays edited by John Deedy (Liturgical Press, 244 pages, $24.95 paperback). Perhaps this book would be best read before Changing Churches, since it reflects on and evaluates the century through which the church has just passed, highlighting events and decisions that will shape the future. The 14 essays included focus on the papacy, religious life, ecumenism, church and state, social action and education, Humanae Vitae, the exodus of many priests and nuns, the decline in vocations to replace them, as well as evolution in Catholic education and catechesis.

Deedy writes that this book is intended as a counterpoint to those exploring the church’s prospects in the new millennium. Those who intend to look to Changing Churches for prescriptions or prophecies would do well to begin with Deedy’s collection, which looks back, tracing and weighing the events and developments of the last century.

Some of the notable authors at work here include Jesuit Fr. Gerald P. Fogarty, who contributes “The Papacy: From Low Regard to High Esteem”; Sally Cunneen, “The American Catholic Family: Reality or Misnomer?”; David J. O’Brien, “Catholic Youth: The Presumed Become the Pursued”; and Christian Br. Jeffrey Gros, “Ecumenism: From Isolation to a Vision of Christian Unity.”

I was pleased to see an essay co-authored by Catherine Lupori, from whom I took a course in Shakespeare at College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., when I was an undergraduate at the neighboring College (now University) of St. Thomas. I have often thought of her wonderful way in the classroom and still exhort students, as she exhorted us, to memorize the bard (I include the psalms and canticles) as a way to entertain oneself and pray while otherwise occupied (waiting in line, for example).

Her essay, written with Mary Jo Richardson, is titled “Women and the Church: Rooting Out Stereotypes,” and looks to the women’s movement and Vatican II as the notable events of the last century that have affected American Catholic women. As they carefully and succinctly sketch their historical account, they hope that a similar volume at the end of the 21st century will find women so integrated into the church’s life that a separate chapter on women would be unnecessary.

This is an excellent volume that seers as well as historians ought to read with diligence. Parish discussion groups and college classes are two venues where it might be first and best appreciated, as well as by thoughtful individual readers and seekers.

A future Bookshelf column will consider books and resources geared to parish celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours. Authors and publishers who have suggestions can alert me at NCRBkshelf@aol.com

Fr. William C. Graham is a guest professor at Lewis University in suburban Chicago.

National Catholic Reporter, February 2, 2001