The Latest Book Reviews

For June 2012

REVIEWING: Conscience, Cooperation, and Complicity: The Thought of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI; Mystics in the Making: Lay Women in Today’s Church; Passion for Truth: The Life of John Henry Newman; A Shared Vision: The 1976 Ellen McCormack Presidential Campaign.


The Reader by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Ethical problems of conscience and cooperation in evil

CONSCIENCE, COOPERATION, AND COMPLICITY. The Thought of Joseph Ratzinger. Pope Benedict XVI, ed. Kenneth D. Whitehead (Fellowship of Catholic Scholars: 2010; distributed through University of Scranton Press).

Collections of conference papers tend to be mixed in quality.  This anthology of papers, presented at recent conferences of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, is no exception.  Some papers are original, scholarly contributions to major ecclesial controversies; others are overheated exercises in partisan rhetoric.

The first set of papers is drawn from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (FCS) conference held in San Antonio, Texas, in 2009.  Focused on the ethical problems of conscience and cooperation in evil, several papers make illuminating arguments concerning this tormented moral and political question.  Carefully following the writings on the subject by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Joseph Boyle’s keynote address skillfully outlines the somewhat slippery principles of material cooperation with evil.  Especially fine is his crystalline treatment of the problem of scandal, a term much abused in current controversies over the reception of Holy Communion by certain prominent politicians.  Dr. Edmund Pellegrino’s paper poignantly describes the increasing coercion of conscience to which health-care workers are subject.  Particularly alarming, is the growing dismissal of religious concerns by professional medical organizations, which grant only slight concessions to questions of conscientious objection.  In a convincing exercise in casuistry, Stuart Swetland makes prudential judgments on the cooperation-with-evil dilemmas that typically plague a Catholic university campus.  Concrete problems concerning academic freedom, controversial artistic exhibitions, dormitory rules, and controversial student clubs are handled with moderation and aplomb.  These papers provide helpful criteria to deal with the increasingly painful problems of conscience one must confront in the workplace.

The second set of papers was originally presented at the 2009 FCS conference in Providence, Rhode Island.  Consecrated to analysis of the thought of Pope Benedict, several papers provide original perspectives on what might seem to be an exhausted topic.  Tracey Rowland offers an excellent study of how the then Cardinal Ratzinger abandons the “correlationist paradigm” of evangelization, which had dominated the post-conciliar Church.  According to this paradigm, notably present in the anthropological theology of Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., the good news of salvation had to be linked to the appropriate “waiting stone” found in each culture.  The result was often a diminished account of the gospel, turning grace into a banality, and weakening the missionary impulse.  For Ratzinger, however, the Church introduces a new sense of history into each culture and powerfully reorients that culture into the matrix of the Gospel.  This challenging paper astutely analyzes why the passions over “the new evangelization” run so deep in the Church.  Several papers add further context to the thought of Ratzinger/Benedict.  Vincent Twomey’s study of Benedict’s political theology details the intellectual sources (especially St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure) and the existential sources (the struggle against Nazism, Marxism, and the 1960s university revolt) of Ratzinger’s distinctive political theory.  Several papers illuminate Pope Benedict’s particular approach to the use of Scripture.  Both Francis Martin and Scott Hahn explain how Benedict’s biblical exegesis differs from the historical-critical hermeneutic of Scripture, still dominant in academic circles, especially in his native Germany.

Despite the scholarly quality of a number of the papers presented in this collection, the proceedings, as a group, suffer from a monotone voice.  Since its inception, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars has insisted on fidelity to the magisterium’s teaching on faith and morals as a condition for membership.  Such fealty is admirable, but often seems translated, in these proceedings, into an unnecessary political and clerical narrowness.  Of the thirty authors represented in the volume, twenty-five are men; thirteen of the men are priests.  This suffocating clericalism is hardly representative of the orthodox Catholics currently working in academe.  Of the five politicians who have received FCS’s Cardinal O’Boyle Award, all are members of the Republican Party.  In the interest of enriching the debate, perhaps the program committee could institute an affirmative-action program.

Rev. John J. Conley, S.J.
Loyola University Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland    

Laywomen seeking to experience mystical intimacy with God

MYSTICS IN THE MAKING. Lay Women in Today’s Church. By Carolyn Humphreys, O.C.D.S.

The book: Mystics in the Making:  Lay Women in Today’s Church, is a spiritual feast for contemporary laywomen seeking to experience mystical intimacy with God.  Throughout the pages of this book, the threads of ordinary living, ordinary moments, and ordinary people are woven through a tapestry of the supernatural opportunity presented by Christ for us to live a transcendent life, becoming: “Mystics in the Making”.

Accordingly, we observe that, what is apparently ordinary, serves an extraordinary purpose when illuminated by God’s light and love.  And, that is just the beginning of the “Good News” proclaimed in this joyous book, by Carolyn Humphreys, O.C.D.S., who also authored: From Ash to Fire and Carmel, Land of the Soul.  Carolyn invites us to consider the spiritual heights to which God calls us, and the ladder gently lowered for our ascent to the summit.  Carolyn draws us into a dialogue, which challenges us to revisit foundational beliefs and inferences, opening ourselves to growth through divine transformation.

The timing is ideal for the publication of this book.  In our stress-filled society, many women are living with one foot in yesterday, and one foot in tomorrow, negating their potential for peace and happiness today.

Moreover, it is sad but true, that many seeking a deeper spiritual life are not aware of the vast potential, which lies within them, to find a deeper union with the Triune God through following  simple interior steps to holiness.  Of course, we want to take these steps because, as Carolyn reminds us, “Each of us is unique, and we can only find our authentic identity in God.  Jesus tells us who we really are; and to this we must listen.”

But, there lies a paradox within “Mystics”!  Because of our human nature, those seemingly simple steps to holiness often tax us, demanding greater humility and selflessness than we can muster alone.  To better understand our shortcomings and character flaws, Carolyn compassionately takes us back to the beginning of the development of our personalities, our egos, and our mindsets, and traces the relationship between attitude and action.  In doing so, it becomes clear to us why we frequently fail to assume our mystic identity, in spite of our best intentions.  Due to these poor attitudes, we lack the necessary levels of love and trust, the guideposts for mystics.

But, all is certainly not lost. Throughout Mystics in the Making, we are reminded of how very much we are loved by God.  We have been given many guides to enable us to live in mystical friendship with Jesus Christ.  Chief among these guides are:  holy scripture, the church, our blessed mother, the Carmelite saints, grace, contemplative prayer, spiritual friendships and community.  Add to these guides the sacraments, that cement our friendship with Jesus, especially the holy Eucharist and reconciliation.  We must also not forget the useful tools and virtues that are especially made manifest in an atmosphere of prayer and self-knowledge.  They include:  faith, love, hope, mystery, perseverance, self respect, humility, suffering, work, sacrifice, silence, solitude, wonder and laughter.

The extent to which all of these gifts are experienced and utilized, affecting our behavior in a manner commensurate with the will of God, is directly related to the intensity of our prayer lives.  As we deepen our prayer lives, so shall we expect to see the way we live transformed.  Carolyn tells us: “The warmth of our prayer, and the light from our good works, makes God easier to find in our society.”  Thus, the “icing on the cake” for mystics is creating a better world through interior transformation.

Ida Marie Rubin, O.C.D.S.

The courageous life of John Henry Newman

PASSION FOR TRUTH. Passion for Truth, The Life of John Henry Newman. By Fr. Juan R. Velez (Charlotte, NC: St. Benedict Press & TAN Books, 2012 )/ 618 pages; ISBN-10: 0895558718; $19.95.

The book, Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman, focuses on Newman’s intellectual roots and religious formation, culminating in his conversion to Catholicism, and entering the Church of Rome.  The first half of the book describes his life, friendships, family and early career path. The second half delves into his life as a Catholic, defending the Catholic Church in Protestant England.  The author, Fr. Juan R.Velez, also explores Newman’s role as an educator and founder of the Catholic University of Ireland, and the Oratory School in Birmingham. Both reflect his deep concern for an educated laity.

Throughout the biography are insights into the happenings in Newman’s life leading up to the writing of his major treatises.   The Idea of a University, together with his other published works, is shown to reflect Newman’s belief in the harmony of faith and reason, as well as his own Passion for Truth (Faith) in an increasingly secular, non-Catholic 19th century European society.

For this reader, a convert to Catholicism, the ability of Newman to remain true to his beliefs in the face of rejection through most of his working life as an Anglican clergyman, and, later, as s Catholic priest—while refusing to condemn those friends and superiors who abandoned or betrayed him—were personally inspiring.  Newman’s final elevation to Cardinal is as emotionally gripping as any novel.  “How much more can he take?” I would continuously ask.  Yet, not once did Newman complain about his treatment by superiors, neither condemning them, nor their actions.  Fr. Velez has spared no detail in revealing the hardships of Blessed Newman. His perseverance in the face of rejection by the Catholic hierarchy in Rome, and growing secularization of his own English society, at times, brought me to tears.  In this sense, Passion for Truth offers a life-lesson, and role model, for anyone who feels his beliefs are out of favor, and the system is against him.

Fr. Velez has, has written an engaging biography on this extraordinary man, revealing a saintly humility that is never overpowering in its methods, but always patient and forgiving.  The author writes a biography that, by events and actions, shows a man who has a passionate belief in the truth of his ideas, and a tireless willingness to express those ideas and beliefs in reasoned lectures, articles, letters and books.  If all this sounds ambitious in scope, the book includes maps and photographs of the buildings where Newman resided and taught, which bring the reader back to that era, allowing one to track the changes in Newman’s life.  All in all, you will find a very interesting and enlightening blend of personal history, and Newman theology, in every chapter.

Carol J. Buck, Ford Foundation Scholar
Columbia University
New York  

A fledgling pro-life movement’s attempt to place a female candidate to run for president of the United States

A SHARED VISION. The 1976 Ellen McCormack Presidential Campaign. By Jane H. Gilroy. (Outskirts Press: Denver, 2010.) ISBN: 978-1-4327-5506-5. 256pp. (Paper) $12.95.

In 1976, the fledgling pro-life movement took a daring step in working to have Ellen McCormack nominated for president at the Democratic National Convention. With meticulous documentation, paying particular attention to primary sources—such as all legal contracts, committee reports, letters and archived newspaper articles—Professor Jane Gilroy has recorded the entire history of this first-time (and, to date, the only) campaign that awarded a woman matching federal funds in any presidential primary campaign. She has stated: “It is the author’s hope that those who read these accounts will continue to tell others. . . .Such recollections will keep the history of the Pro-Life Movement alive.”

Professor Gilroy’s account of this historic battle re-creates the remarkable work of ordinary citizens dedicated to a cause, who successfully brought to national attention, the pro-life/abortion issue. Realizing that their anti-abortion commercials would be rejected by national television, these pro-life advocates came to the conclusion that, the only way to get their message to the public, was to run a pro-life candidate for political office. In quoting the newspaper columnist, Robert Mauro: “The potential of pro-life television commercials, tied to the campaigns of pro-life candidates, is enormous. The pro-life message, long suppressed by television, can be presented to millions of viewers across the Nation in the future. . ..”

Ellen McCormack, an ordinary wife and mother, with no political ambition or experience, agreed to be that candidate. The rest is a remarkable history. The early primaries (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and Virginia) produced impressive results, especially reminding legislators, around the country, that pro-lifers could and would work together to achieve their goals. By the time of the middle primaries, McCormack’s commercials had reached an estimated 14 to 15 million adult viewers. Three factors led into the later primary challenges: First, Ellen McCormack had succeeded in being granted federal funds for her campaign; second, she had won the two delegates necessary to have a nominating and seconding speech at the Democratic Convention, and, finally, her candidacy succeeded in keeping the abortion issue alive. As Dr. Gilroy stated: “. . .women who were contemplating abortion had decided to keep their babies after viewing the pro-life commercials.”

At the start of her campaign, McCormack’s stated reasons for running were: “to save the lives of thousands of unborn children, to educate millions of people throughout the country on the right to life, and to mobilize political support for a Human Life Amendment.” By the time of the later primaries, the challenges had become formidable. McCormack reiterated in speech after speech “. . .winning could take the form of compelling candidates to discuss abortion, an issue they would rather forget; or of bringing the pro-life message to larger audiences than would otherwise be reached; or of causing pro-life candidates and position to be taken seriously. ”

Professor Gilroy served as vice-chairman/secretary of McCormack’s primary campaign committee. From her insider’s position, she was able to research and record all the difficulties, trials and successes encountered by this dauntless group. The effort to procure matching funds from the government was met with obstacles all along the way. When it was noticed that McCormack’s campaign was gaining momentum, roadblocks were put in their way, far surpassing that of the other candidates. Each complaint was answered with facts, and the committee was able to prove, beyond a doubt, that they were honest and legitimate. Although the task was daunting for these political novices, Gilroy’s book records, for all to read, just what can be accomplished with determination, and belief in a particular mission.

Each of the primaries from February 1976 (New Hampshire) to June 1976 (Missouri) joined together the spirit of a national network of pro-life supporters. Unknown to each other until then, they came out to work for their common cause—the protection of the unborn. Professor Gilroy notes: “While many difficulties had to be overcome in order to fund the campaign, the rewards were great. Those reflecting on their experiences often look back with gratitude at the many blessings received. Even the difficulties were a treasure since they brought so many diverse people together in the cause of life . . .  ”

After viewing the DNC proceedings, the essence of McCormack’s campaign was captured by the Most Reverend Floyd Begin, Bishop of Oakland, California, who wrote the following to her: “May I commend you for your courage and the sacrifices you made to become a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. . . .May God bless you for your courageous efforts to give Him first place in our nation. I think you are one of the finest Americans who ever lived.” (N.B.: Ellen McCormack died on March 27, 2011.)

Professor Gilroy’s book is enhanced by the inclusion of appendices giving, at a quick glance, the important time-line of Candidate McCormack’s appearances, the brief biography of various individuals mentioned in the text, and the number of state-by-state households reached by the paid television programming—an invaluable resource for anyone looking for information on this unique experience. Most of the pro-life materials are archived at the Dr. Joseph R. Stanton Human Life Issues Library and Research Center, Bronx, New York, under the direction of the Sisters of Life. The one omission of an otherwise thorough history of a remarkable story is the lack of an index.

While the book is of primary interest to those involved in the important pro-life movement, it is also a necessary resource for anyone researching the history of presidential campaigns. One thought remains obvious, for those who, more than thirty years later, are still fighting to protect the unborn: their work rests “on giants’ shoulders.”

Dr. Clara Sarrocco
Institute of Religious Studies, St. Joseph’s Seminary
Yonkers, New York



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