Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More recommended reading for Advent

Sister Ruth is hard at work on her family history, but she wanted to pass along these recommended books during Advent: Dangerous Memories, A Mosaic of Mary in Scripture, by Elizabeth A. Johnson. One review said:  “If you read only one book on Mary in your lifetime, let this book be the one!

And Advent and Christmas Wisdom, from Henri J.M. Nouwen,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Recommended reading during Advent

These books are especially good for the season of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming into our world, and realize more fully His constant presence with us: Hymn of the Universe, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu Explained, by Louis M. Savary, and The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander. See book covers below:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recommended Reading

I am not writing book reviews until I get my family history done, but I would like to recommend three excellent books in the St. Clare Library all dealing with the universe, the earth and caring for creation.

Holy Ground, A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, Edited by Lindsay Mosely and the staff of Sierra Club Books, c. 2008

The Universe Story, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, c. 1992

Judgment Day, The Struggle for Life on Earth, by Paul Collins, c. 2010

If you've not read them yet, I recommend you try them, they are well worth reading.

Sister Ruth Nistler

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seeds by Thomas Merton, Selected and edited by Robert Inchausti

Thomas Merton, renowned author and Trappist monk, defines himself as one who is "in opposition to the world" in both word and deed.  He  has written many insightful books, often with critiques of all sorts of things.  In this series of meditations or essays, he treats of Real and False Selves; The World We Live In; Truth, Silence, Solitude; Meditation and Prayer;  Monasticism, Faith, Charity, Humility, Vocation and God; Nonviolence, Sainthood and other topics.

In the section "The World We Live in" he says we live in a world of upheaval and revolution, a spiritual crisis, resulting from the chaotic forces that exist in everyone.  The good and the evil are bursting out, boiling over, like never before.  He calls the world an "Unquiet City", where some of its citizens merely pretend they are living, are  obsessed with lack of time and  lack of space, where we are so crowded together in cities that there is no room for nature.  He decries the indifference, meaninglessness, lack of true communication  -- and countless other traits that typify our society.

Merton claims that the distance between the poor and the rich is greater now  than ever before, where racism is rampant, and that we think we can solve all our problems by ourselves; that we have a schizoid society, schizoid national structures, schizoid military and business, and even schizoid religious sects.  He says the problem is that our habits of thought and action are basically idolatrous and mythical…and he explains each of these scathing critiques as only he can do.

In the final section, dealing with love in action and sainthood, Merton gives invaluable comments, observations and suggestions for better living.  In the entire book, merely paraphrasing what this author says is totally inadequate for capturing his entire message.  You need to read the book for yourselves to fully comprehend and benefit from the precious "Seeds" that he offers.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thin Places: Where Faith is Affirmed and Hope Dwells by Mary Treacy O'Keefe

The author defines thin places by a quote from Edward Sellner, an expert on Celtic spirituality as "geographical sites located throughout Ireland and the British Isles where a person experiences only a thin divide between past, present and future times, or places where a person is somehow able, possibly only for a moment, to encounter a more ancient reality within present time; or places where perhaps only in a glance we are somehow transported into the future."     
Another author, Marcus Borg, defines thin places further, saying  in The Heart of Christianity:  " There are minimally two dimensions of reality, the visible world of our ordinary experiences and God, the sacred Spirit…"Thin places are places where these two levels of reality meet or intersect…where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God, experience the one in whom we live, all around us and in us."
O'Keefe wrote this book as a gift to her nine brothers and sisters, in remembrance of their parents who had died a few years earlier…three months apart.  When their father died, the mother was already very ill, and the family knew her days were numbered,  making their life/death experience actually one, lasted for three months.  Their strong Catholic faith,   their firm family bonds and their love for one another and for their parents brought them closer together and to God in this painful time.
During these months, and even after, some of them had truly "thin place" experiences, when they felt keenly the presence of God or heavenly spirits, with signs such as a rain-bow occurring to assure them that all was well, and that both God and their parents were with them even after they had entered into eternal life.
This book would be an invaluable aid to families who face the death of loved ones, or who would soon be called to do so.  It is a wonderful testimony of a vibrant, lived faith.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Book Review - No Impact Man, The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, By Colin Beavan.
In this remarkable book the author, a young man living in Manhattan with his wife and   infant daughter, decides to do a nearly impossible experiment.  He decides to live for an entire year without making any impact on the environment.  He does this, along with his wife and daughter.  He covers all aspects of modern living --transportation, food, travel, recreation, paper and cardboard used in packaging, even Kleenex and toilet paper.  He decides to buy and use only food produced within 250 miles from his home. He walks or uses a bike, never a car, and sets a strict limit on flying.  He buys cloth diapers for the baby, and uses neither elevators or subways, and electricity only for washing clothes.(As he and his wife are both authors, they have flexible time. 
Beavan does an amazing amount of research on the impact on the environment that is done word-wide, especially by Americans.  Here are some of his findings:  The average American produces 4.6 pounds of trash every day, roughly 17,00 pounds per year; - In the Pacific there is a swirl of garbage, mostly plastic, the size of the U.S.; -  A child by age two, goes through some 4,000 plastic diapers; - There are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean (U.S. Environment Program); - Food packaging makes up to 20% of our solid waste nationwide; -  Many plastics take hundred of years to deteriorate; -  While 1 billion of people in the world lack clean drinking water, Americans flush 2.5 trillion gallons a year down the toilet; - A single round-trip by plane pours  three tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as much as an entire year of driving by car.  (These are merely a few of his discoveries.)  
The author acknowledges that perhaps no one could do the drastic experiment that he did.  But he said that it's imperative that we all do something.  He ends with an appendix of sources and ideas…some 25 pages… to help those who decided to make an impact on the environment, on the harm we are doing daily to our earth.  He writes with humor, conviction, and a realistic admission of the problems he encountered in his attempt to "save the planet."  His is a book well worth reading.  (It will soon be in our library.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton

Book Review - The Sign of Jonas, by Thomas Merton
This is a marvelous book, a diary written by Merton during a five-year period of his living as a Trappist Monk at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky.  Some of his entries are brief and others are quite lengthy, including philosophical wonderings, poetic   descriptions of the beauties of nature he sees all around him, theological treatises and remarks about  his daily experiences, with bursts of delightful humor sprinkled in.  He gives a detailed description of the life of a Trappist, the perpetual silence, the hand signs they learned    for non-verbal communications, the long hours of prayer, beginning in the early morning, the long hours of work in the monastery and outdoors, the frugal diet and the simplicity of life.
Merton had a great passion for writing and his Abbot recognized his remarkable talent.  He gave him various assignments such as document for the monastery and lives of the saints, and also allowed him time for the many books he was inspired to write.  The problem Merton had in being faithful to his duties as a monk and finding time for writing caused him several physical breakdowns, with time spent in the infirmary. The publication of his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, brought him instant fame, even internationally, and the countless letters from all over the world, the stream of visitors and a number of speaking requests made this problem all the more difficult. He   eventually had to compose a general response to his letters and to have help with his letter-writing.
When Merton began his diary he was not yet an ordained priest, nor even a deacon, and he expresses his fervent longing for this to happen. His depth of spirituality is evident in the eloquent prayers and preparations he made before ordination, and the joy he felt at being able to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. But in his religious fervor he still remained the lovable, remarkable human he had always been. You would enjoy this book, as well as some of the countless others he has written, a few of which have reviews in this blog.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beauty and the Soul: The Extraordinary Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal Your Life by Piero Ferrucci

The author, an Italian  psychotherapist and philosopher, tells us that beauty is essential for a fully human and satisfying life.  It is not an "extra," as many people think, but it is a genuine human need.  Different people find beauty in different things, and not only in  such universal appeals as a sunrise, a sunset, lovely music, good art, a newborn baby and the smile of a child.  A man who is attracted to old cars might find beauty in an old wrecked automobile.  A woman found beauty in the vegetable peels that others simply throw away. She sees the delicate lines of an onion peel, the rich color of a ripe tomato and other remains of such beauty that she displays them in water to better admire them.
Ferrucci says that beauty is all around us, but we need to look for it and to take time to allow it to enrich our life. The aesthetic appreciation of beauty can be overpowering, and it can come to us through any of our senses, not only sight or hearing. It is not always easy to find, as immigrants experience in a new land, where the music, the food, the people, the art and architecture and even the natural landscapes are unfamiliar and do not appear to them as beautiful.  With time and greater exposure, the unfamiliar may become familiar and beautiful.  Beauty expands intelligence, breaks down stereotypes, helps us understand other cultures, and gives joy.
In the final chapter, entitled "Beauty Is The Opposite of War", the author says that beauty cannot stop a war, but that it is incompatible with aggression, violence, hatred, killing, nuclear threat, and all the horrors of warfare, that it has the power to dispel or reduce violence and fear, and that a society based on the enjoyment of beauty would not likely be a warrior society…a thought worth pondering.     

Monday, June 27, 2011

Peace Reader: Essential Readings on War, Justice, Non-Violence and World Order, edited by Joseph Fahey and Richard Armstrong

Peace Reader: Essential Readings on War, Justice, Non-Violence and World Order contains 475 pages of selective readings including documents, statements, case studies, letters, essays, points of view, and non-violent strategies for social change and national security. It is divided into four sections:  War and the Arms Race; Justice for All; Non-Violence: Philosophy and Strategy;  Other Forms of Conflict Resolution; and World Order.  Each of the sections has a variety of writings on various aspects of the main topic, each of them preceded by an introduction and followed by  questions for discussion.  It is a valuable resource for high school and college courses, for adult education programs, and for individuals dedicated to peacemaking.
To indicate the thorough treatment of each topic, here are the titles included in Section One, War and the Arms Race:  The Causes of War; Escalation of Arms Races; Military Spending and Economic Decay; Militarism in America; Deep Roots of the Arms Race; Nuclear Terror: Moral Paradox; ROTC Today and Tomorrow; Investigation of New Conflicts and Defense; Military Service; and The Conscientious Objector.
Of the letters written, you will find most interesting three of them in Section Two on Justice for All:  Chief Seattle's message to President Pierce, on his acceptance of the request to sell his tribal lands to the U.S. Government (in which he says that to his people, all land is sacred and they cannot understand how anyone can "own" land, but that yes, he would agree to sell it to the "Great Chief in Washington"…as he knows that if they do not accept the offer, it will be taken from them by force); a long letter by Martin Luther King from a Birmingham Jail (explaining  to his fellow-clergymen  the urgency of taking action in the form of demonstrations to achieve social justice for Black people); and a letter of William Penn to the Delaware Indians, (offering peace and signed with "I am your loving friend.") 
You will find this peace compendium a treasure, informative and  thought-provoking.

Simplicity: The Art of Living by Richard Rohr

Once again, Richard Rohr, an international spiritual leader, calls the Church back to its roots in his book, "Simplicity: The Art of Living."  The book contains a series of talks he gave in Germany, full of insight, wisdom and challenge.  Each talk is followed by questions and answers.  The author speaks with authority, citing the joy that follows a life of simple living and love of God and of all creation, as lived by St. Francis of Assisi.

As usual, Rohr used provocative titles for some of the chapters in his book -- "God the Father --God the Mother?"; "Getting Rid of the Church;"  and  "What is this "Women's Stuff?"  He also speaks of the challenge of contemplation, the political commitment of Christians and their vocation to live the simple life.  He gives guides to that simple life, evoking the principal that "Less is More."
Of our concept of God, he says many of us have a Santa Claus image, others a Zeus-image, of a god who hurls thunderbolts. But when God calls Jesus "dear son", and even speaks of himself as a hen gathering chicks under her wings, and Jesus calls God "Abba", we see something of the feminine in God, the sympathy, compassion, love and  forgiveness. It may be our need for the feminine that we have a devotion to Mary, God's Mother.
Of the Church, Rohr reminds us of Jesus' speaking of the Church as a community of human beings, a little flock, the yeast, the leaven, not the "whole thing."  But we often see the Church as only institutional, sectarian, legalistic.  The early Christians and the base communities in Latin America portray another image of "church" and their reciprocal relationship with the institutional Church.
Richard Rohr offers surprising and original thoughts about the Church, the Reign of God, the importance of the simple life, prayer, contemplation, the Body of Christ, the Christian vocation in the social and political life of the world and the "patriarchal view" vs. the women's contribution to Church and society.  I invite you to read his book.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David C. Korten

Dr. David Korten is founder and president of the People-Centered Development Forum.  His many books include  When Corporations Rule the World, an international great-seller.  The Great Turning begins with 22 expressions of praise of the book, written by such "greats" as Matthew Fox and several Founders, Executive Directors , co-Founders and board Members of Human Rights groups, of other People and Peace-oriented organizations and the Earth Charter.  The book is acclaimed as "prophetic";  "a call to compassion and a blueprint for survival";  "a profound and inspiring masterpiece";  and "a must-read" for everyone who yearns to create a positive, human future" --among other praises.
Korten traces the history of the human species from the very beginning of its existence, and he claims that the people of the first billions of years lived as "Earth Community," in harmony with creation and in relative peace with one another.  But in the past 5,000 years, gathered into villages, cities and nations, humankind has yielded to greed and the desire for power, and they governed in the Empire model.  Throughout the centuries, attempts were made, primarily by the Greek Hellenists and leaders of the American colonies, to create democracies with "people power" and equal rights.   But all these attempts were flawed.  The very proponents of equality were the wealthy elite; some had slaves with no rights at all; servant s had very little rights, and the same can be said of  women  in those days.   Proclaiming the presence of   equal rights and "democracy" was merely political rhetoric.   Korten claims that we are not a true democracy and we never were, that in reality we are still in the Empire mode, governed  by a wealthy elite of predominately white men.  We have kept our position by force, might and warfare.
He does see signs of hope, however, as a growing number of Americans are "waking up" to reality.  Read the book.  It is powerful!  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Finding My Way Home, Pathways to Life and the Spirit, by Henri Nouwen

In this book Nouwen, one of the greatest spiritual writers of our time, speaks of the concept of power and of powerlessness, understood in various ways.  First, power as related to success and productivity, measured by how busy we are, what work we do, what our accomplishments are, how many friends we have, how much money we make, how our children do, and what our titles are.   People with this kind of power tend to force, enslave, and to cause envy and fear in others.  They can go where they want, and do whatever they want to do.  The author says that God wants nothing to do with this kind of power; in fact, God has chosen the path of powerlessness, coming into our world as a tiny baby, totally vulnerable and dependent on others. 

God became human, in the mystery of the Incarnation.  And where did this bring Jesus, the incarnate God?  It brought him to the cross, where he refused to save himself from death and suffering by a show of power.  It was only after redeeming humankind by freely offering his life,
that Jesus rose again, using his divine power to complete the Paschal Mystery.  In his ministry Jesus  taught, "Blessed are the poor", Blessed are they who mourn."  His self-portrait is that of the powerlessness of God.  He used only the power to forgive sins, the power to heal, the power to bring life, the power to multiply food for hungry people.

Nouwen also explores powerlessness which can be interpreted as weakness, being totally overcome, but the theology of powerlessness can also claim the power of God, admitting of one's weakness, and relying on the transforming power of God's love.  It is through our admission of powerlessness that we can become brothers and sisters together in need of God.                                                       

Nouwen speaks eloquently of the path of peace, of the path of waiting, of life and death, and he dwells on his favorite topic, that we are God's beloved.  He says that if we truly believe in this relationship, we will not be so afraid when the day comes for us to leave this life and to be with the God Who loves us with an unconditional love.

This review is one of several in this blog of a book by Henri Nouwen.  If you have not yet read any of his writings, please do.  His wisdom and insight, written in small, conversational style, easy-to-read form, will delight and inspire you.   

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Circle of LIfe: The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr

Both authors have each written a sizable number of popular books on spirituality, and as close friends , they decided to do one together. Since they graciously give permission to copy any part of this book for use as a prayer resource or in a review such as this, I will accept their generosity and offer you several direct quotes. I would never be able to match the beauty and poetry of their writing in a paraphrase. The introduction begins with the statement:  "The four seasons tell a story of transformation every year."  --and continues with --"The seasons invite us to honor the earth out of which new birth germinates, sprouts, blooms, blossoms and grows.  Listen to Earth's song of the seasons passing through her sacred body.  Listen intently to these seasons as they reveal our story of unfolding growth as well."

In a section on prayer, the seasons are referred to as "Winter, Humble Servant of Creation"; "Spring, Graceful, Playful Child of Creation";  "Summer, Earth's Fruitful Season";  and "Autumn, Season of Wisdom and Transformation." -- And later, they  reflect that "Each of the four seasons is a classroom for the heart.  If you sink your roots deep in the soil of a season's truth, it can become your mentor."  For each season there are childhood memories, prayers, poetry, and celebrations, all related to the seasons of our lives.  The authors claim that "We long for connections in the midst of disconnected lives -- connections to ourselves, to others, to the world we live in.  Most of all we yearn to connect with the sacred."

Here are two additional quotes, one from each author, on the season in which we are -- winter:

"Blesses are you, winter, frozen and cold on the outside, within your silent, nurturing womb you warmly welcome all that longs for renewal."  (Joyce Rupp)
"Tonight I honor the darkness and sing of the life I was given in the holy darkness of my first home, that nurturing, earthy womb where I grew bright with life and blossomed in God." (Macrina Weiderkehr).

Even if you do not live in a geographical area of dramatic change from one season to the next, where all that is written "rings true" from life experience, I expect you will find beauty and inspiration on every page.  I heartily recommend The Circle of Life to any reader who has an interest in deepening your life through a closer relationship with creation.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Michelle, A Biography by Liza Mundy

The author has painted a marvelous portrait of a remarkable woman, Michelle Obama, who was born in Chicago in 1964 to Fraser and Marian Robinson, a city-worker father and a stay-at-home mother.  She also has one brother, Craig.  The family lived on Chicago's South Side, in a  mostly black neighborhood.   In about 1970 the Robinson's moved from the predominantly black area to the bi-racial neighborhood of South Shore.  (Michelle's mother still lives there, alone, as Fraser had died of MS in his early 50's.   As a young man he had moved from Alabama to Chicago for better economic opportunities than could be found in the South.  Both parents were exceptional people and believed in the value of hard work, doing your best, education and community service.  Besides his work, Fraser served for a time as a volunteer precinct captain for the Democratic Party  

Although the Civil Rights Act was signed into law six months after Michelle was born, schools were still segregated in Chicago, but after massive protests were waged, the city built a few magnet schools that were bi-racial.  Michelle left her neighborhood to attend one of these schools, where she made many friends, both black and white, worked hard and was admitted to the National Honor Society.  The school had leadership opportunities and provided an excellent preparation for college-bound students.  After graduation she was accepted at Princeton, where her brother Craig was also a student and a "basketball star."  She later studied at Harvard Law School and became a lawyer.  She was more concerned with helping the poor than in winning awards, and she left her law position to work in city planning.

Michelle proved to be intelligent, witty, a bit sharp-tongued, well-organized and an excellent leader.   These traits, plus a lively sense of humor, attracted attention and won a number of influential friends, loyal and committed as she was.  With her Harvard  background and her positions in law and in city planning, it was not long before she and Barack met.  (In fact, her law firm appointed her as Barack's adviser and mentor!)  They were very much alike, both being highly intelligent and service-oriented, with a strong desire to make the world a better place. 
They also had differences, which became another attraction to both of them.

Barack's interest in politics soon became evident, an inclination that Michelle did not share.  However, she realized his potential and was convinced that he could be more influential in the political arena.  So as their friendship grew and they married, she devoted herself whole-heartedly to help him in his political ambitions.  She became a key player in Barack's campaigns,  first as a contender for the state Senate, then in his race to the U.S. Senate, and later to the presidency.  She became extremely effective in this new venture, with the strong work ethic that she had inherited from her father, her magnetic appeal, pleasant personality and good humor.  She soon won many friends and supporters for the cause.  For both of them, family was of the highest importance, and after their two children were born, they found it a constant struggle to find the time they needed for one another.  More than once this caused a strain their relationship,  but their love and loyalty triumphed.  -   Since this biography was published before Barack Obama was elected president, Michelle's possible role as First Lady was not addressed. -   The book is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an age of Anxiety, by Richard Rohr with John Bookster Feister

In this insightful book we are presented with the models of Jesus and Francis of Assisi, both of whom lived in times of crisis similar to our own, and how they found a way to make a difference.  As he almost always does, Rohr gives us a strong dose of cultural criticism.  He cites the unhealthy attitudes, cynicism, sarcasm, darkness and confusion that are rampant in our postmodern era.  But in the midst of the darkness and confusion, even perhaps because of it, he sees that people of true greatness are emerging.  They have somehow captured the transformative vision of Jesus and Francis of Assisi.  In them he sees a glimmer of hope that all our wounds can be healed.

Rohr offers insight after insight, in his familiar and inimitable style, along with practical solutions for healing ourselves and our society.  He ends with a "Reconstitutionist Creed" as an aid for rebuilders to begin anew.

This is my third consecutive review of a book by Richard Rohr, a world-known writer, speaker, retreat master and a Franciscan priest.  Besides a countless number of books, he has also produced many audio-cassettes, all on matters of religion and culture and filled with insights and inspiration.  I invite you to check him out and discover for yourselves just how good he is.   

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Job and the Mystery of Suffering, Spiritual Reflections, by Richard Rohr

This book is a spiritual commentary on the many themes to be found in the story of Job as is grapples with the question of why there is suffering in the world, even for people who live a good and upright life.  Rohr says that in its essemce , it is a call to let go of old certitudes and goals and to place faith and trust in God alone.  He adds that instead of showing the patience of Job, the story portrays the “impatience of Job,” and the patience of God.

Besides being a study of the mystery of evil, Rohr regards it as “the anatomy of a conversion,” and he says it speaks most strongly to those whole world has fallen apart.  Based on an ancient legend of a man named Job,  a pious person of faith, the anonymous author expands it and creates a profound theology of the problem of evil.

As the story begins, we see Job richly blessed by God, with ten children and many possessions.  Then Satan appears, and when asked by Yahweh if he has noticed that God-fearing man, Job, he replies that Job would end up cursing God if all his possessions were taken away.  But even after Job lost everything, including his children, and his body was covered with painful ulcers, he did not curse God. But he did become very angry, at his wife, at his “friends”, and even at Yahweh. He maintained his innocence and complained bitterly at the unjust treatment he was getting. 

After a long and colorful conversation between Yahweh and Job, God finally restores to Job twice as much as he had before, plus ten beautiful children and 140 more years of life.  The Book of Job in the Old Testament, all 24 chapters of it, is well worth reading again, and even more so, the reflections on the mystery of suffering that Richard Rohr so masterly weaves into the story and relates to our everyday life.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tatoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

This very recent book, published in 2010, is written by a Jesuit priest who has worked for many years  in an area with the highest concentration of murderous  gangs in the city of Los Angeles, sometimes called the gang capital of the world.    As of the year this book was published, he had buried a young  person  killed  in gang violence 167 times.   To encourage gang members to leave their lives of violence and death and to learn the mutual respect that comes from working together, Fr Boyle created an organization to provide job training, jobs and other incentives for wholesome living and respect for themselves and others.  He occasionally took some of them along on his frequent speaking tours. “G”, as they called him, lived with, suffered with, and counseled  these young people and got to know  their incredibly sad stories of broken homes, irresponsible parents, multiple conflicts with the law and some  even having had more than one jail sentence.   He saw that the tattoos that covered their bodies and even their faces were symbols of the tattoos on their hearts from all they had suffered.  Most of them were young men, teen-agers to their later twenties, but girls were also involved.

“G” opened his heart and offered unconditional  love to his “homies,”  spoke their language, and was loved and respected by them.  He suffered  keenly, even cried with them,  when one would wander into another gang’s turf and be shot , or when rival gangs would  battle it out.  He consoled their mothers as they sobbed uncontrollably at the sad news that yet another child had been killed.

The book is filled with fascinating stories, told in “gang language”, with a sprinkling of both humor and pathos, with successes and failures.  Fr. Boyle often quotes from Scripture and also from a great variety of authors, showing himself to be an extremely well-read and highly educated man, engaged not in some university but in the coarse amphitheater of the gang world.  You will find it hard to stop reading once you begin.

Simplicity, The Art of Living, by Richard Rohr

Rohr is a Franciscan priest, an internationally known spiritual leader, retreat master, speaker and the author of countless books, essays and articles on the spiritual life.  He has also written several books on the Sufi  Enneagram.  In 1971 he founded he New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, and later the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of which he is presently the director.

This book is Rohr at his best.  It consists of talks and sermons he gave in 1990, in several cities in Germany.  The titles of the nine chapters reveal not only the scope of his subject matter but also the originality and “freshness” of thought and expression that permeates his writing and speaking.  The titles are:  God the Father—God the Mother?;  Community Life as a Challenge;  Getting Rid of the Church;  Christians and Political Commitment;  Contemplation –the Spiritual Challenge;  The Freedom of the Sons and Daughters of God;  What Is This “Women’s Stuff”?;  The Social and Political Vocation of Christians;  and Less Is More.   Each chapter ends with questions that his audience asks of him after each of his talks.

Each answer shows the depth of spirituality, wisdom, common sense  and knowledge of Church, Society, Scripture,  Humanity and any other topic  -- that is expressed  in whatever Richard Rohr writes or says.   You will find this book both enlightening and delightful.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Meeting Place, by Janette Oke and T. Davis Bunne (book one of a 5-volume series: Songs of Acadia)

The story begins in 1753, in the disputed lands of New France, north of the New England colonies, where French settlers had lived for 150 years in their “beloved home” of Acadia.  With the arrival of the British, tensions arose, as France and Britain had battled as enemies for over 600 years in Europe.  Although there were no open conflicts, both groups lived in constant fear and suspicion, avoiding contact with their “enemies.”

One summer day, in a secluded flowery meadow, two young women met by chance, one British and the other French.  In time they became close friends, but secretly, for fear of retaliation by their families and compatriots.  When their secret was discovered, and at the same time the French refused the British demand to swear allegiance to the King,  tempers flared.  Without warning, British troops were ordered to force the peaceable  French villagers to leave everything except whatever they could carry, and to board ships in the harbor that would take them to unknown lands in separate destinations.  To prevent them from returning, their goods were confiscated and their homes were burned.  We can  imagine the fear and pain and heartbreak they suffered as they ran for their lives, not only losing home and possessions, but also being separated from neighbors and friends, and even from family members,  brutally forced into a totally unknowable future.

The subsequent volumes in the series continues the incredibly sad and at times heroic saga of these banished French Acadians and their eventually settling in hostile lands. Look for the Songs of Acadia in your library. They are a fast and enjoyable read.

The Humility of God, A Franciscan Perspective, by Ilia Delio, O.S.F.

In this book the author, a Franciscan Sister/Theologian, presents a cosmic Christology, relating Christ to the cosmos and its history in the light of contemporary science in a world of evolution and diversity.  She also presents the internal relation of the mystery of the Incarnation to that of the Divine Trinity.  She builds her thesis largely around the scholarship of Bonaventure and other Franciscan theologians, as well as the writings of Theilard de Chardin and other noted theologians of the past and the present, and on the spiritual experiences and words of Francis of Assisi.

To all these sources she unites her personal knowledge of theology and contemporary scientific understanding of the cosmos.  She also offers insights on issues concerning the history and present practice of Christianity, and discusses the problem that well-educated Christians have today in reconciling their faith in a creative God with a world full of pain and suffering.  At the end of each chapter she offers practical questions relating to everyday life, plus a copious list of references.  She posits that the humble God is always with us because we, and all creation, have always been with God.  This is what the Incarnation is all about –Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us.  God , as Omnipotent Creator, chose from all eternity to come down to earth and take on human form, and continues to humbly relate to us in our suffering and in all aspects of our life.

In the final chapter Ilia speaks of divinization, the call of every Christian to not only become “like God”, because we are made in God’s image, but also to divinize the world around us.  This is our Christic vocation, to participate in the completion of the Body of Christ.  She writes in a style that is unique, clear and understandable.  I highly recommend  The Humility of God,  as well as the several other books she has written.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Uncommom Gratitude, Alleluia for All That Is, by Joan Chittister, OSB and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr. Williams deals with scenes from everyday life, and Sister Joan reflects on each if these, and many more, uncovering the spiritual value, the “alleluia view,” of every present moment in our lives.  She begins with the attack on the New York’s Trade Center of Sept.11, 2001, and its world-wide impact on Faith of all who believe in God. She shows that despite the horror of that day, the heroism displayed in rescuing survivors and in caring for those who lost their lives and for those who were mourning brought a glimmer of light into a disastrous moment. 

She continues with a broad array of life’s realities, including Doubt, Wealth and Poverty, Conflicts and Unity,  Past and Future,  Death and Life.  She suggests that in all of them there are “alleluia moments,” even in those we consider to be negative.   “Alleluia for all that is,” we say with grateful hearts.

In the final chapter, entitled simply “God”, we ponder together the disturbing dilemma of how a good God could allow gigantic tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters dealing death and misery to endless numbers of innocent people that God has created and loves.  With the author we consider questions such as these:  “If God could prevent such “evils”, but does nothing, how can we call God good?”   “How could anyone possibly find anything worthy of an “alleluia” in such cataclysmic events?” Joan assures us that just as in the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, so in natural disasters of great magnitude, and in everything that happens, there are redeeming factors, something to evoke gratitude to God, to proclaim that God is indeed good.  

I believe you would find this book both thought-provoking and challenging.