The Latest Book Reviews

For September/October 2012

Reviews on the following books:

THE MEANING OF SEX. By Jay Budziszewski (Reviewed by Fr. James Schall, S.J.).

THE SECRET LIFE OF JOHN PAUL II. By Lino Zani with Marilu Simoneschi. (Reviewed by Peter A. Huff).

DOCTRINAL SERMONS ON THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.  By Kenneth Baker, S.J. (Reviewed by Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian).

THE MODERN AGE. By Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (Reviewed by David C. Paternostro, S.J.).

WOMEN DEACONS: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. By Gary Macy, William T. Ditewig, and Phyllis Zagano. (Reviewed by Matthew Chicoine).

THE INNER LIFE OF PRIESTS.  By Gerard J. McGlone, S.J., and Len Sperry. (Reviewed by Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.).

The Sacrifice and Solace of Sacerdotal Service: Three New Books on Priesthood (Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.), including:


THE MEANING OF SEX. By Jay Budziszewski. (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2012), 162 pp. ISBN 193519124-1, Hardback, $27.95.
Peter Kreeft states that after reading many, many books on this perplexing topic, Budziszewski’s book is “simply number one.” This short, remarkable book is grounded in hundreds of conversations with friends and students at the University of Texas. It is, likewise, based in experience and wisdom, in knowing where the logic of our sexual nature leads, and does not lead. It is a beautiful and touching book about the relation of love to spouses, to children, to those who do not marry, and to the very essence of our corporate being.

The title of this book is very specific. What is the “meaning” of sex, its intelligibility? Not just what it is, but what it means. Sex, like all our being, is open to understanding. While there is mystery to it, there is also mind. How are we to understand it as a reality embedded in our very being?

One might expect that a book on this edgy topic, just published, would go into the pervasive question of homosexual or lesbian “marriages.” The fact is that I do not recall either word ever coming up in the text. The correct implication for this omission is that, granted what sex means, neither of these two “relationships” has anything to do with marriage as such, nor anything to do with what sex is. Neither can achieve, in any way, what the essence of marriage is: a relation of man and woman for the purpose of begetting children.

In reading the text, it is important to keep in mind the word “meaning.” Budziszewski implies and argues that this meaning is intelligible and normative. We do not put it there. We discover it to be already there, as part of a coherent whole of what man is. Since we are free beings, however, we can choose to reject what we are, or what the meaning of our faculties is. If we do deny this meaning—the standard—consequences will follow. This is not a “consequentialist” argument. That is, something is not wrong primarily because of the consequences, but rather since it is wrong, certain consequences will follow.

These consequences when spelled out will harm either oneself, or others. To justify the acts that produce the harm, a counter argument will have to be proposed that pretends to show that the dire results are not due to violating nature. The fact is that the disorder is rooted, not just in our intentions, but also in the reality of sex itself, when it is not treated according to what it is.

It is often suggested that the unitive and procreative aspects of sex can be separated, in such a fashion, as to render them independent of each other. One of the very great contributions of this book is the careful discussion of how the personal, spousal friendship of a married man and woman is directly related to the well-being both of themselves, and of their children.

All through the book, moreover, Budziszewski points to the fact that marital love is itself an openness to the love of God. He is playfully aware that most people will not accept this further implication, but since it is there, he points it out.

We rarely see an adequate discussion of the fruitful relation of marital and celibate life. Catholicism has been long aware of the positive connection between family life and religious life, between celibacy and the priesthood. But there are many people who are, or should be, celibate, who are not religious. An honorable celibate life carries on many of the loves and services that society needs.

Budziszewski, in other words, makes a remarkable case for the all-around benefits to individual persons, and to society, in the proper understanding of sex. The book is not a book of casuistry, of cases of things to do, or not to do. But it is a book of light, on why the observance and understanding of the meaning of sex is intelligible and leads, better than anything, to the health of individual persons and to society.

It is popularly held that divorce and abortion are “rights.” It is assumed that the promiscuity existing in society is “natural.” The notion of faithfulness, parenthood, the need of both father and mother, are often considered out-of-date. On reading this book, we suddenly realize how very central they are. It is not that there is no case to be made for family and love within the confines of sexual responsibility. There is a case, and it is made brilliantly in this book.

What is fact, is that few—often because of how they choose to live—are unwilling to admit that sex has a meaning; the violation of which has the most dire consequences for the individual and society. This book is not to be missed.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Georgetown University

THE SECRET LIFE OF JOHN PAUL II. By Lino Zani with Marilu Simoneschi. (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2012.)  ISBN: 978-1-61890-404-1.  190 pages.  $21.95.
Blessed John Paul II is fast becoming the most storied pope of all time.  During his pontificate, scores of books, articles, and films explored the rich narrative of his extraordinary life.  With each new publication, we gained more insight into his heroic, even epic, attempt to live the fullness of the Gospel in an age of global conflict and spiritual compromise.  Since his death, and especially since his beatification, we are learning more about his intriguing interior life.  Before he was pope or prophet, Karol Wojtyla was a man of prayer.

This book sheds new light on that hidden life—in this case, dazzling sunlight glinting off an alpine glacier at 12,000 feet.  Written by the pope’s ski instructor and mountain guide, this first-person account is one of the most unusual volumes in the canon of John Paul studies.  Italian sportsman, Lino Zani, chronicles the evolution of his friendship with the pope over the course of twenty-one years.  He even extends the story into the present day.  The uncommon bond between the pope, and his “apostle to the mountains” (96), exhibited a curiously other-worldly dimension from the beginning.  Today, the supernatural is the expansive context for Zani’s on-going relationship with the man he calls a “special being” (13).  John Paul’s death, he says, has only enhanced his companionship with this most unpredictable of popes: “I have not let him go.  He is with me, like every drop of my blood” (178).

From his own testimony, Zani was not always on such intimate terms with sainthood.  Raised in the Italian Alps near the historic city of Trent, he grew up to be an intrepid outdoorsman, inveterate thrill-seeker, and self-confessed ladies’ man.  As a boy, he got his kicks detonating long-lost World War I explosives near his family’s ski lodge on Mount Adamello.  As an adult, he risked life and limb to scale North America’s Mount McKinley (20,000 feet), and Nepal’s Ama Dablam (23,000 feet).  He describes, in hair-raising detail, his near-catastrophic accident on the slopes of Nepal’s Dhaulagiri (26,795 feet), and his aborted attempt to conquer Everest (29,029 feet).  His exploits with the fair sex, he leaves largely to the reader’s imagination.

Zani’s greatest adventure began in the summer of 1984, when four Polish priests made an unannounced visit to the Adamello lodge.  One of them was Monsignor (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz, about halfway through his forty-year tenure as Karol Wojtyla’s personal secretary.  Within days of the visit, the humble vacation spot—with shared bath and no telephone or auto access—became one of the most sensitive security zones on the planet.  An army helicopter deposited the 264th successor of St. Peter on the remote peak. Zani’s life was changed forever.

The author affectionately describes the pope’s visit to the frozen getaway, confirming what we already know of the Holy Father’s love of nature and family.  The pope imbibed the brisk mountain atmosphere, relished his time with Zani’s parents and siblings, and embraced the deep silence of the secluded wonderland.  Zani is at his best when he remembers John Paul’s natural athleticism, and even his distinctive skiing technique.  The pope, he says, was “a bit of a daredevil.  He loved the slope, the steepest runs” (49).

John Paul’s “secret life” becomes a factor in the narrative as Zani reveals the full historical significance of Adamello.  What is today a peaceful retreat from the modern world, was once the scene of bloody combat in modernity’s first global war.  The mountain marked the early 20th century border between Italy and Austria-Hungary.  Hundreds of alpine troops, on both sides, lost their lives in WWI’s “Battle of the Glaciers” (8).  Due to the harsh climate, few of the fallen received anything close to a proper burial.  Over time, nature simply absorbed the remains of war into the snow-covered landscape, with Adamello becoming one of the world’s largest, high-altitude, military graveyards.  For decades, only a rude wooden cross on the summit—Cresta Croce—served as a memorial to the slaughter and the sacrifice.

According to Zani, it was this cross that forged a unique link, between the place of beauty and brutality, and what John Paul II increasingly came to see as the mystery of his own vocation.  The heart of the book is Zani’s effort to describe how John Paul wove the war-scarred highland terrain into the fabric of his distinctively providential view of historical events.  The author is especially driven to interpret the pope’s unusual attachment to the place in terms of the much debated legacy of Fatima—drawing provocative connections between Mehmet Ali Agca’s 1981 assassination attempt, the famous third secret of Fatima (with its references to an imperiled bishop in white, a steep mountain, and a cross of rough timber), and the cross of Cresta Croce.  The book concludes with the little-known story of the erection, in 1998, of a ten-foot, four-ton granite cross on Adamello, and the transformation of Cresta Croce into Punta Giovanni Paolo II.

Blessed John Paul’s rejection of “mere coincidences” (158), is a fundamental part of his still under-examined, and deeply Marian, theology of history.  Arguably, it was one of the main ingredients in the unforgettable, and unrepeatable, Karol Wojtyla phenomenon.  This slim volume is testimony to what such a countercultural philosophy can do in the life of a playboy ski instructor.  Our Lord spoke of faith that could move mountains.  This very personal contribution to the literature on John Paul’s spirituality reminds us that mountains move faith, too.
-Peter A. Huff
Xavier University
Cincinnati, Ohio

DOCTRINAL SERMONS ON THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.  By Kenneth Baker, S.J. (St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Ind., 2012), 216 pp.  PB $22.00.
To write simply without being simplistic, and to explain complex subjects, and the mysteries of faith, without being obscure or abstract, is a masterful skill of a gifted teacher and author. This book of sermons exemplifies the art of saying much with few words, explaining the fullness of Catholic truth with lucidity, succinctness, and substance, but never oversimplifying, or reducing, the depth and breadth of Catholic doctrine.  Addressing the entire gamut of Catholic belief, the sermons clarify the principal teachings of Catholic doctrine, revealed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by tradition, and taught by the Magisterium. An ideal catechetical text for converts and adults needing to master the fundamentals of Christian teaching, while being a valuable book for students in theology classes, the sermons explicate the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, The Commandments, The Cardinal and Theological Virtues, the Four Last Things, The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the Our Father. The book, however, also deepens the knowledge and love of the Catholic faith for the advanced, as well as for beginners.

For example, the sermon, “Faith,” teaches that this supernatural virtue is neither subjective, nor irrational, but “an act of the intellect—the assent of the mind to truth revealed by God, and that assent is moved by the will influenced by grace.” In other words, faith engages the entire person “because the will, influenced by grace, commands the mind to assent.” A person freely chooses to believe. This free will, however, is moved by God’s action, grace. Man’s free will, influenced by God’s touch, informs man’s reason which gives assent—a cognitive act that offers a way of knowing that transcends sensory knowledge—“the conviction of things not seen,” in St. Paul’s words. Faith is not blind, imaginary, or vague but real, objective, and definite. The sermon illuminates all the human and supernatural elements that define this theological virtue, the intellect seeking understanding by means of faith.

The sermon on the third article of the Creed, “Who Was Conceived by the Holy Spirit and Born of the Virgin Mary,” explains the significance of Christ being born of a woman, and assuming human flesh. This fact combats the heresy of the Docetists “who taught that Jesus only appeared to be a man,” the heresy that “Jesus had a celestial body, but not a human, material body,” and the heresy of Valentinus that “Jesus’ body passed through the Virgin without receiving anything from her, just as water passes through a canal.” The sermon on “He Descended into Hell, and on the Third Day He Rose Again,” clarifies the profound significance of this great event. All the saints of the Old Testament, and great men and women who died in the grace of God honoring The Ten Commandments, now “might enter heaven and enjoy the face-to-face vision of God.” This sermon answers the perplexing question about the meaning of “He rose again.” Because Jesus died only one time, and rose from the dead only one time, the word “again” seems misleading. Another way to translate again, however, is “‘in addition’ or ‘on the other hand’ or ‘however.’” Thus, the precise translation is “‘however,’ on the third day, he rose from the dead.” This careful elucidation of the historical context of the Creed is most instructive.

A sermon on one of the cardinal virtues, “Prudence,” provides an illuminating distinction between human prudence—gained from experience—and infused prudence—“a special power we receive with Baptism and sanctifying grace.” Whereas human prudence learns from the mistakes of the past, the infused virtue operates as “an activity of reason, enlightened by faith, and informed by charity.” In other words, prudence has nothing in common with worldly wisdom, or small-minded self-interest. Prudent moral reasoning selects the right means to achieve the good, but never stoops to the view that the end justifies the means. Considering the memory of the past, the actual circumstances of the present moment, and the immediate and far-reaching effects of actions, prudence—exercising “the three mental acts” of deliberation, judgment, and execution”—reflects foresight on behalf of others, a sense of the common good, and a love of justice. Prudence and charity complement each other and contradict the worldly saying that “charity begins at home.”

These few examples capture the integrity, consistency, goodness, and wisdom of the Catholic faith that receives clear exposition, and precise explanation, in every one of these sermons, offering excellent individual lessons on all the subjects—from Baptism to Eternity—and a comprehensive understanding of Christian faith as a whole—from the articles of the Creed to the Last Judgment. Anyone reading these sermons, will learn his faith, grow in his faith, and come to love his Catholic faith.
-Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian
Warner, New Hampshire

THE MODERN AGE. By Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2011)
The past year has seen heightened tensions between various religious and secular groups. Not that there haven’t always been tensions, but that these tensions have gone from a simmer to a boil as of late. With the call for a sharper delineation between government, and anything that smacks of religion by individuals, both inside and outside the government, the question of how Church, State, and culture ought to interact with one another has become far more urgent. Thus, Benedict XVI, this past January, emphasized the Church’s role in the public square, stating that “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” 1 With this context, Fr. Schall’s book, The Modern Age, is a much welcomed addition to the conversation at hand, capable of shedding much light on the deeper origins of the controversies going on presently.

The book’s thesis is itself critical to understanding why conversations on the subject play out as they do, and often seem to go nowhere. The book’s underlying thesis is:

…that the modern age, at its core, is an effort to redefine the transcendent purposes in man initially outlined in revelation so that man’s happiness is now to be achieved solely by human effort for the benefit of human beings who still exist on this earth. 2

What Schall proposes is hardly a controversial idea. Perhaps, the most notable book to advance this thesis up to now has been Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age. Schall is quite consciously following upon Taylor’s works here, citing and expanding upon a passage of Taylor’s Catholic Modernity in the conclusion of the book. However, this work is no mere re-hash of old arguments. Schall’s Modern Age offers several features which distinguish it from Taylor’s Secular Age.

The first major difference is brevity. Schall’s book comes in at just under 200 pages, while Taylor’s is just under 900. This is due, in no small part, to a difference of approach. Taylor tends to favor a narrative style, taking us from A to B in great detail. Schall, on the other hand, describes A and B with the pertinent details, generally skipping over the transformations that occurred to get us there. While Taylor’s lengthy analysis allows for a thorough examination of the shift to secularism, Schall’s briefer study allows for the contrasts between the classical and modern worlds to stand in greater relief against one another.

Related to the brevity of Schall’s work is its accessibility. With A Secular Age, one needs either a decent background in philosophy, or solid reference material at hand, in order to fully comprehend what is being said. The Modern Age, on the other hand, is written in such a style that it can serve as an excellent introduction to anyone interested in the subject. This is one of the strongest aspects of the work. It is a major reason why it serves as a great aid in Benedict’s call for every Catholic to be aware of the Church’s diminishing role in the public square.

Finally, Schall’s work is notable in that it proceeds from an explicitly confessional stance. While Taylor is a Catholic, A Secular Age focuses much more on explaining the “how” of secularization, leaving evaluation of the result to a minimum (a perfectly acceptable approach, to be sure). Schall, on the other hand, is constantly evaluating the state of affairs we are currently in, and where we should go from here.

The essence of Schall’s argument is that the modern human era seeks to explain itself, and the world in which it exists. As he says: “{This} explanation is a burden that he allows no one outside himself to bear.” 3 Descartes’ musing over the principle that he could proceed from to attain “clear and distinct ideas” in all things would be the paradigmatic example of what Schall is referring to. This move of attempting to explain all things by one’s own power has a multitude of effects, among them cutting off reception to divine revelation, and viewing human beings as the highest point of existence. As a result, we take our existence for granted, view ourselves as the ultimate reference point for good and evil, and lose sight of the salvific and eschatological message of revelation. This has a twofold significance for the political sphere: (1) With humans as the highest point of existence, politics ceases to be that which orders human society towards something higher, becoming something done for its own sake; (2) With the eschatological message of revelation set aside, the ultimate redress of wrongs (if it is to happen at all) becomes the purview not of God in the afterlife, but of the State in this life. In this argument, the chapter, “Revelation and Political Philosophy,” is of particular note, and is really the heart of the book. There, Schall lays out, with clarity, both the problem and the solution: a re-thinking of politics along Aristotelian lines, which views politics as the highest of the practical sciences, but is still beholden to the theoretical sciences, to those disciplines which show us the unchanging truth about human beings, and the world around us.

Perhaps, the one criticism that may be made of Schall’s book, is that it is virtually silent on how contemporary views of science help to fuel the modern secular worldview. In the past decade, a renewal of the Enlightenment dream of natural science as the ultimate arbiter of truth has taken hold of the contemporary imagination. In the New Atheist movement, Christopher Hitchens was one of the few (if not the only) major figures who was not a scientist by training. Works by other figures, such as Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, is an attempt to promote neuroscience as the arbiter of morality. A survey of other proponents of secularism would likely show a consensus that the landscape of morality and politics should be determined, in large part, by the natural sciences. Because of the role that science plays in the modern imagination, and in contemporary debates, any critique of modernity is necessarily incomplete without at least some treatment of science, and how it shapes our worldviews.

Given everything that Schall’s book manages to accomplish, however, such criticism seems relatively insignificant. Overall, The Modern Ageoffers an excellent diagnosis and prescription for the times in which we find ourselves.
-David C. Paternostro, S.J.
Jesuit High School
Tampa, Florida

WOMEN DEACONS: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. By Gary Macy, William T. Ditewig, and Phyllis Zagano. (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press 2011), 128 pp. PB $10.17.
A compilation of three essays by experts on the diaconate, Gary Macy, William T. Ditewig, and Phyllis Zagano, presents the issue of women deacons from three different vantage points: historical, contemporary, and future. But while they clearly wrote on a topic of importance for the Catholic Church, and may have sincere concerns in solving practical ecclesial matters, the authors’ conclusions are laden with presuppositions contrary to Catholic teaching.

Within the introduction, the authors explain the current ministry crisis facing the Church. They then portray the lack of academic consensus over whether women ever were to be ordained to the diaconate. Scholars such as Aime Georges Martimort asserted that females never received such ordination, while Roger Grayson believed women historically were ordained. Jumping into the debate themselves, Macy, Ditewig, and Zagano utilized the term women deacons as opposed to deaconesses. This modern terminology should be the first clue to the reader that the authors’ conclusions would not match the traditional Catholic stance on deaconesses.

The first essay of the book is given by Macy, where he gives an historical sketch of women deacons. Beginning with biblical texts of Romans 16:1-2 and 1 Timothy 3:8-11 as evidence to support women serving as deacons in New Testament times, Macy then goes on to discuss women deacons in both the eastern and western Churches. Using letters from John Chrysostom, Severus, and the Canonical Collection of the Patriarch, Photius of Constantinople, he reports that women deacons were more common in the East. Using papal letters, scholars’ attestations, and conciliar texts, Macy shows that female deacons existed in the West, as well. He then continues by giving excerpts of ordination rites for women deacons in the Eastern and Western Churches. Here he notes similarities and differences between male and female diaconal ordinations. The last couple sections in Macy’s essay talks about abbesses as women deacons, and ponders the cause of the quick disappearance of the female diaconate in the 1200s.

William T. Ditewig, in the second essay, writes on the present situation of the diaconate. Here, he offers a theological perspective to complement Macy’s historical approach. For Ditewig, the diaconate never vanished, but rather was transformed and redefined, in the Middle Ages up until Vatican II, as a transitory stage on the path to the priesthood.  Now, with the restoration of the permanent diaconate as an ordained ministry, and “strengthened by sacramental grace” (Lumen Gentium 29), Ditewig sees many theological questions arising about the relationship of deacons to other offices of the episcopate and presbyterate. The sacramental identity of the deacon is problematic because the theology of orders has clearly been developed over 2,000 years, whereas the permanent diaconate is still in its infancy. In the next portion of his essay, Ditewig maps out the events leading to Vatican II, and its vision for the diaconate. Portraying Cardinal Suenens as a major player in renewing the diaconate, Ditewig asserts that the permanent diaconate was a flexible response by the Church—modeled on Christ the Servant—to combat the evils of the modern world. Ditewig also says that the 2002 International Theological Commission document never ruled out the possibility for women deacons. He concludes the essay with a question by Cardinal Dopfner: “Why should these people {women} be denied the grace of the sacrament?” (67). This statement is just the opinion of one cardinal, and not reflective of the whole Magisterium.

Phyllis Zagano focuses on the future of women deacons in the Catholic Church. For her, having an ordained female ministry would grant women governance power within the ecclesial hierarchy. She asserts that females carrying out ministerial duties are not enough—they must be ordained as clerics. Dismissing Cardinal Kaspar’s response that ordained women are not needed because the unordained already fulfill diaconal roles, Zagano states that such women lack the ability to preach at Mass. In rejecting the arguments against women priests as barriers to female deacons, she sees only the “superstition surrounding menstruation” as the only deterrent to them being ordained (83). Zagano finishes her essay by predicting the future of the Church with females serving as deacons, and anticipating practical or theological issues arising from their admission to an ordained ministry. She also wonders about the obstacles and questions arising from married women becoming deacons.

This short book presents the authors’ theories, in very readable and clear language, on the admission of women into the ordained ministry of the diaconate. The notes at the back of the book provided good information on the sources used, and giving an insightful context to their arguments. Finally, despite being three separate articles, the introduction added flow and a consistency to the book.

While Women Deacons: Past, Present, and Future presents a “hot-button” ecclesial issue in a readable manner, ultimately the book’s conclusions that female deacons should be allowed in the Church as an ordained ministry, will only lead to the slippery-slope argument for women priests. Zagano makes the traditional Catholic stance against women priests, based on Christ choosing only men, and the iconic argument—that only a man can stand in the place of Christ—into a rather weak argument. She completely dismissed these as rational reasons for barring women to the priesthood, and thus, to the ordained life. What is more, Zagano shows a lack of full understanding of the sacrifice and dedication it takes to become a priest when she scornfully calls the time spent in seminary as “years of leisure” (88).

Additionally, some of the evidence given in the historical section overstates the roles women had. For instance, the translation of Romans 16:1-2 refers to Phoebe as a deacon, whereas the Revised Standard Edition, and New American Bible, have translated the word as “minister” and “deaconess,” respectively. In good utilitarian fashion, Macy picks a translation of the biblical text that fits his terminology. Secondly, he makes mention that women had read the Gospel, in certain cases, in the Western Church. He repeatedly makes this claim, but does not provide any qualifications of whether such reading occurred in a Mass setting, or simply in the presence of women in a convent. Nevertheless, that failure to mention such a qualification leaves his claim rather vague and questionable on that particular liturgical function.

Though, at first glance, Women Deacons: Past, Present, and Future, looks enticing  and offers a practical solution to the current ministry shortage in the Catholic Church, a closer analysis will show that the conclusions—however logically consistent with the authors’ reasoning—seems to be: do not follow the Magisterium’s teaching on the ordained ministry. It dismisses what is theologically correct, and an ancient tradition arguing against women’s ordination to the priesthood, as mere prejudicial anachronisms, and it reduces the ordained ministry to an exclusively judicial status. In the end, the assumptions in this book will only lead to a liturgical quagmire, and the destruction of truth. Because of these pitfalls, it is this writer’s opinion that it would be best to avoid this book altogether.
-Matthew Chicoine
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Steubenville, Ohio

THE INNER LIFE OF PRIESTS.  By Gerard J. McGlone, S.J., and Len Sperry.(Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 2012), 201 pp.  PB $19.95.
Given the recent problems in the Church, the growth of our secularistic culture and the recent sex abuse scandals concerning priests, there has been a corresponding increase in the role of psychology with regard to priests and seminarians.  Bishops, superiors of religious orders, and vocation directors are rightly concerned about the good, moral qualities of candidates for the priesthood.  In order to be able to evaluate young men who are considering the priesthood, they have turned to psychologists and psychiatrists for help.

That tendency seems to be the moving force behind the twelve articles in this book.  The articles are by different specialists, but the main work comes from Fr. Gerard J. McGlone, S.J., a psychologist, and Dr. Len Sperry, a psychiatrist. The articles defend the role of psychology as one element in forming a judgment about the qualifications for the priesthood of young men.

The authors deal frankly with difficult problems, like the sex abuse scandal, but they do not do so from psychology alone.  The role of faith and the supernatural is not neglected in this analysis.  It is not a treatment of the three stages of the spiritual life—the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways to God— since it is not a book on Christian spirituality or mysticism.  The focus is more practical, in helping bishops and vocation directors decide who to admit to the seminary, and who to turn away.

The articles deal with the role of psychology in the Church, and ways to help young men grow in holiness and affective maturity.  The book offers some good insights into the training of young men today, and should be helpful for all those who are involved in selecting candidates for the priesthood, as well as those who are now called “formators.”

I found two chapters especially helpful: “The Church and the Role of Psychology” by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB; and, “The Joys and Struggles of Priests across the Life Span in View of the Sexual Abuse Scandal” by Fr. McGlone and Fernando A. Ortiz.
-Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.,
HPR Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington

Three New Books on Priesthood:

WHY PRIESTS ARE HAPPY: A STUDY OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SPIRITUAL HEALTH OF PRIESTS.  By Fr. Stephen J. Rossetti. (Ave Maria Press, 2011) xvii + 238 pages; PB $18.95.

CALLED BY NAME: TWELVE GUIDELINE MEDITATIONS FOR DIOCESAN PRIESTS.  By Fr. Michael E. Giesler. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011) 99 pages; PB $9.95.

 At baptism, Christians receive the status of adopted son or daughter of the Father Almighty.  As with any Christian office received, all the baptized must strive to unite the gap between who we are as sinners, and who we have been claimed to be in Christ.  For us priests, this charge to become more and more the office bestowed upon us is all the more crucial, to close the gap between who we are as fallen men, and who we are as other Christs.  Spiritual reading has long been an integral tool in this process of growing in sanctifying reflection, and these three, recently-printed, books on the priesthood are worth our attention.  While they are all very different in style and tone, they all seek to take the priest “away” for a while and have us meditate on the nature and purpose, as well as the particular challenges of priesthood today.

First, Dr. John Cavadini is known to most of us as one of Notre Dame University’s premier patristic scholars (along with Fr. Brian Daley, S.J.).  In this collection of eight essays, Cavadini utilizes his reputation as an eminent Catholic scholar to enroll some of today’s best theologians.  This collection thus opens with the papal preacher, Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M., Cap.,writing on “Dimensions of Priestly Celibacy.” Cantalamessa describes, with his usual brio, that the gift of celibacy must be incessantly nourished by “pastoral zeal and a certain rigor in our schedules and habits” (24), or we otherwise risk becoming pampered bachelors with (ultimately) hardened hearts.   Next comes an essay on “The Biblical Foundations of Priestly Celibacy” by Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary’s Dr. Mary Healy, an outstanding biblical scholar (e.g., see her article entitled: “St. Paul, Ephesians 5, and Same-Sex Marriage” in HPR May 2011).  She is followed by Fr. Joseph Lienhard, S.J. (Fordham), who provides us with an excellent historical survey, “The Origins and Practice of Priestly Celibacy in the Early Church.”  Lienhard admits mandated celibacy’s “complex history,” but also maintains that the West’s insistence on priestly celibacy is not only an authentic development of doctrine, but is also the most radical way to be conformed to Christ. Thus, it ensures the Church will not become “a merely human institution, a corporation that hires the best resources.  By asking candidates who have the personal charism of celibacy, the Church confesses it is God who elects priests, not a corporation that hires them” (64).

In “Configured to Christ: Celibacy and Human Formation,” Monsignor Michael Heintz (also at the University of Notre Dame) strongly shows how there is nothing magical or automatic to appropriating Christ’s gift of celibacy. He suggests that every priest must develop an affective maturity throughout his own sexuality that preserves him “from any sense of resentment for his own commitments, and from wistfully and overly romanticized fantasies about the nature of married life and love” (71).  Yet, celibacy is more than preservation, as Heintz makes clear. It is foundationally about loving relationships, with both peers and parishioners, and is ultimately about being conformed to Christ’s own love for all those put into our lives.  Fr. Carter Griffin (Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.) shows that what makes fatherhood so beautiful (and thus so divine), is not the replication of biological life, but the generating of supernatural fruit. Here,  loving Christian fathers and mothers, as well as the faithful Catholic priest, converge.  In his essay, aptly entitled, “The Fatherhood of the Celibate Priest,” Griffin also provides helpful reflections on the triplex munera of Christ’s priests—to sanctify, teach and govern, three implications of priesthood. He closes his article with a prayerful reflection on the person of St. Joseph.

Two bishops have also contributed to this volume. Seattle’s Archbishop Peter Sartain, and Detroit’s Archbishop Allan Vigneron share their reflections as shepherds and theologians in “Beloved Disciples at the Table of the Lord,” and “The Virginity of Jesus and the Celibacy of His Priests,” respectively.  Whereas Sartain tends to emphasize how celibacy is simultaneously an availability for those we meet on earth, as well as an eschatological sign preparing us all now for heaven; Vigneron highlights how the virginity of Jesus Christ bespeaks an intrinsic espousal between the Lord, and every human soul.  Here, Vigneron magisterially points us to the nuptial covenant between Christ, the great Bridegroom, and his Church: “It was with a virginal love, a love only for his spouse, the Church, that he gave himself to her, and to no other” (96).  Together, these essays provide priests with various, and always worthwhile, reflections. Each entry is worthwhile reading alone. While read together, this volume could make great reading for one’s annual retreat, or for anyone interested in the history and theology of priestly celibacy.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti appears in Cavadini’s collected essays presenting a very syncopated version (“A Recent Study of Celibacy and the Priesthood”) of the data he amassed for his monograph, Why Priests Are Happy.  Rossetti, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, and a doctor of psychology, is known mainly from his work at the Saint Luke Institute in Maryland.

This work, he tells us, began when he was asked to help with a television documentary on why so many priests today are depressed.  “Well, they’re not,” Fr. Rossetti countered. He then set out to show that most of us are fairly content in the vocations we sense that God has given us to fulfill.  In Why Priests Are Happy, then, one will encounter why 92 percent of priests surveyed are “happy in ministry.” Prayer emerges, of course, as the key factor in maintaining healthy equilibrium, both within the priest’s own self, as well as in his myriad relationships throughout the day.  For the most part, these pages conclude, priests who pray, and who have cultivated a sense of Christ’s spirit, are not lonely. They are not “burned out.” They joyfully embrace (and recommend) consecrated celibacy to those who are asking if they are being called to priesthood or religious life.

Finally, Fr. Michael Giesler, an Opus Dei priest in Saint Louis, has pieced together a dozen meditative essays aimed at, as the title denotes, the diocesan priest. Yet, it is not altogether clear why the religious could not profit from these contributions.  Following an illuminating preface by Archbishop Robert Carlson, Giesler’s writing is clear and straight-forward.  This book is comprised of, roughly, ten-page chapters, dealing with a range of topics pertaining to the daily life of the cleric. It includes:  Vocation, Prayer, Service, Humility, Hope, Ecclesial Fidelity, Holy Mass, Celibacy, Holiness, Sacrifice, Caring for our Brothers in the Priesthood, and Mary Our Mother.  While these reflections may lack a bit of the depth offered by the more scholarly approach of Cavadini’s anthology, they are, oftentimes, more meditative, and thus, serve as better, and more extensive, chapel reading.  For example, Giesler rightly recommends that:

With meditation, we should also try to pray from the heart.  Mere consideration of truth cannot be enough for us; somehow that truth must become interiorized in us.  When we pray, we must, therefore, try to have personal contact with Christ and His Father, through the inspiration and love of the Holy Spirit” (11).

Sound theology, that!  As one would expect, Giesler draws heavily from the writings of St. Josemariá Escrivá, but he also utilizes John Paul II’s insights. Giesler’s writing is replete with citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, resulting in a volume useful for any priest looking for brief meditations on many central aspects of his ministry and life.

These three works deserve to be counted among the renewed emphasis given to priestly spirituality, in general, and the dominical example of consecrated celibacy, in particular.  The “world” will never understand why Jesus lived the way he did, and why he founded the Church for whom he laid down his life.  This is why Vatican II called for a renewed emphasis on a distinct training, and subsequent spirituality, for priests (cf. Optatum Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis); why John Paul II (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis) dedicated much of his pontificate to raising up a new generation of priests; and, why Pope Benedict has stressed that the priest be one who is wholly conformed to the person of Christ in charity.  Cavadini, Rossetti, Giesler, and company, understand the challenges of priesthood today, and have provided different, but complementary works to illumine this world through the study, sanctity, and service of our priests.
-Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.
Editor, Homiletic and Pastoral Review

  1. Benedict XVI, “Address to the Bishops of the United States of America on their Ad Limina Visit,” 19 January 2012. Accessed at… on 27 August 2012.
  2. James Schall, S.J., The Modern Age (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2011), p. 12
  3. Ibid, p. 17
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