Winter Reading for January 2015

New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today. Cardinal Donald Wuerl.  (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) 91 pages. (Reviewed by Dr. Edward Peters)

A Future Built on Faith: Religious Life and the Legacy of Vatican II. Gemma Simmonds, ed. (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2014) 1 + 164; $18.95. (Reviewed by Romero D’ Souza, SDB)


New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today

Cardinal Donald Wuerl.  (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) 91 pages.

Without making a formal prediction at the time, my hunch that Pope Benedict XVI would not write a post-synodal apostolic exhortation after the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization proved accurate when, just a few months after the Synod, he resigned without having written the synodal synthesizing document he said he would write, and which he and John Paul II had made almost de rigueur in the 35-year course of their closely linked pontificates.

Instead, as I listened to various episcopal leadership addresses during the Synod, followed the interventions of individual bishops therein, and observed the language-group debates on synodal propositions, I had the sense, if one still short of prognostication, that the specifically episcopal contributions being made to the documents generated by that 13th General Assembly in 2012 were going to enjoy a significance in excess of those produced by their predecessors in earlier assemblies. Again, that seems to be coming true, in so far as Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (which does not even claim the title “post-synodal”) does not, despite some quotations of synodal statements, qualify as a pontifical synthesis of synodal positions. It seems, after all, then, that the only official materials produced by the 2012 Synod are going to be precisely those documents produced by the bishops themselves, especially the two Reports of the General Relator, the 57 Propositions, and the Message to the World.

In the commotion following Benedict’s resignation and Francis’ accession, the documents of the 2012 Synod and even, to some extent, the discussion of the New Evangelization itself, have retreated a bit in the public’s mind. I do not believe, of course, that this will be a permanent state of affairs, but it does make one all the more grateful to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington and General Relator of the 2012 Synod of Bishops, for his slim, but illuminating, observations on the New Evangelization as envisioned by that synod.

There are almost as many theories about the New Evangelization are there are theorists discussing the New Evangelization, so it is refreshing to read along with Cardinal Wuerl as he returns, time and again, to the writings Pope John Paul II to see how the “Father of the New Evangelization,” building on the first ideas of Pope Paul VI, focused the New Evangelization on the steady catechesis of churched Catholics, of course, and urged the faithful on to the traditional evangelization of the world, but, in what I think is the defining act of New Evangelization, called for outreach to those persons and cultures already baptized, but who have fallen away from the Faith. This third project is the central characteristic of the New Evangelization.

Cardinal Wuerl organizes his short reflections into nine chapters (more like vignettes) on the relations between, for example, traditional evangelization and New Evangelization, the role of Church in both projects, the special place of parishes in modern Catholic life, and the wider theological tasks of the New Evangelization. Each chapter is followed by a summary and useful reflection questions. These materials lend themselves well, I think, to Catholic book club reading, to confirmation preparation, or to general parochial adult faith formation. In everything Wuerl writes herein, whether it be a theological analysis of the urgency of the New Evangelization or personal anecdotes offered in demonstration thereof, the priest, as it were, is not cut off from the prelate, and Wuerl’s clear treatment of complex matters will especially help those who want to read this book on their own.

I especially found useful Wuerl’s thoughts on the “Theological Tasks of the New Evangelization.” He acknowledges that concepts such as “incarnation, resurrection, redemption, sacrament, and grace—core themes in theology used to explain our belief in Jesus Christ—have little meaning for the practicing Catholic and the fallen away Catholic in a culture where rationalism prevails.” But, while recognizing the need to present these truths in terms accessible to modern men and women, Wuerl stresses that this presentation must be done “without losing its rootedness in the great living faith tradition of the Church expressed in theological concepts.” Wuerl then, in just a few short pages, outlines a plan to present the human person as made in the image of God, to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Son of God come to live among us, to explain the role of the Church in presenting to new generations Christ, and to urge Christians in building up the Kingdom of God in this world in anticipation of our life with God in the next.

His plan is well worth considering.

-Dr. Edward Peters
Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit Michigan


A Future Built on Faith: Religious Life and the Legacy of Vatican II

Gemma Simmonds, ed. (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2014) 1 + 164; $18.95.

Gemma Simmonds is a sister of the Congregation of Jesus. She is a senior lecturer in pastoral theology and director of the Religious Life Institute based on Heythrop College, University of London.

Encouraged by the success of A Future Full of Hope? (2012), Gemma Simmonds decided to venture into a second collection. Like the first book, this one is based on a series of papers given at a symposium, this time held in Heythrop College, University of London, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and, in particular, its document on the religious life Perfectae Caritatis. The chapters of this book are mainly the contribution of their authors, each an authority on religious life in her or his own right.

In “How Did We Get Here? The Renewal of Religious Life in the Church since Vatican II” (19-44), Joseph Tobin, CSsR, (Redemptorist missionary since 1973) offers us an overview of the issues currently facing religious life. He emphasizes the ecclesial nature of the call to consecrated life while acknowledging that religious life, by its very nature and history, models a different kind of Church than that often reflected within the structure of the institution.

In “Consider Your Call: A Theology of Monastic Life Today (1978): A Post-Conciliar Process of Reflection on Monastic Reality” (45-62), Mark Barrett, OSB, (Benedictine monk of Worth Abbey in Sussex, UK) presents a scholarly monastic perspective from the English Benedictine Congregation and its implications for all other religious.

In “Some Reflections on the Religious Brothers’ Vocation since Vatican II: Its Present and Future” (63-80), Benedict Foy, FSC, (De La Salle Brother, Oxford) raises the question of clericalization within religious life and within the wider Church. His contribution is from the perspective of non-clerical male religious brothers.

In “Aspects of Mission in Religious Life since the Second Vatican Council” (81-102), Vivienne Keely, CHF, (1974 to 2011, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Holy Faith) brings her years of leadership and service at diocesan, provincial, and general level to bear in her chapter on the question of mission. She asks searching questions about the impact on religious life of individualism as the by-product of secularization.

In “The Challenge of Community Today” (103-114), Patricia Rumsey, PC, (Abbess of the Poor Clare Monastery, Arkley, and Lecturer in Christian Liturgy, Sarum College) speaks from the perspective of an enclosed contemplative religious on the challenge of community today. She looks at the idealized early Christian community, as found in Acts, and the effect of that idealization on the more or less successful subsequent attempts by religious to reenact community based on those ideals.

In “Half Way Home: A Reflection from a Mendicant on Religious as Dialogue in Honour of Fifty Years of Perfectae Caritatis” (115-126), Brian Terry, SA, (Novice Director in Assisi of the Friars of the Atonement and an invited professor of Ecumenism at the Angelicum, Rome) considers the role played by St. Francis himself in attempts at dialogue and peacemaking, whether in his native Italy, or with the Muslim leader Saladin during the Crusades.

In “Religious ‘Praying Daily’ as Church” (127-148), Thomas R. Whelan, CSSp, (Spiritan missionary, Ireland) studies the question of the relationship of religious to the Prayer of the Church and the challenges that face them in their commitment to it in various forms. He offers a theological reflection on the Council’s reform of the Liturgy of the Hours, in light of the paschal mystery and the specific role of religious to proclaim the eschaton, encouraging a more theological understanding of it importance within the community of believers.

“Epilogue I: Vatican II—Whose Inheritance?” (149-154), Gemma Simmonds, CJ, (member of the Congregation of Jesus, instructor, Pastoral Theology and Spirituality at Heythrop College, University of London, and director of the Religious Life Institute) is a prolonged reflection on the dynamic of continuity and change with an overview of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Orientale Lumen (1995), in which he speaks of the urgent need for East-West dialogue. Gemma introduces a new indicator to model a “different Church—bruised, hurt, and dirty” which has been a constant theme of Pope Francis and prompts us to advocate for, and commit to, a “Church of dialogue.”

In “Epilogue II: The Challenge of History” (155-163), Erik Varden, OCSO, (Superior of the Cistercian community, Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire) explains the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the post-conciliar renewal and its effect on the identity of religious life. He reminds us that if we are to walk into a future built on faith, it must be with an openness to the questions and challenges of those who come after us, as well as an understanding of those who went before us.

This book addresses one of the most significant soteriological questions of the current age. In recent years, evangelicals across the theological spectrum have been increasingly sympathetic to inclusivism. Gemma Simmonds correctly notes the importance of the subject and the need for clarity on the nature and necessity of the legacy of Vatican II and religious life.

The collected papers make clear that the necessity of faith in the future has profound ministerial and theological implications. They are exegetically grounded, theologically nuanced, historically informed, and pastorally appropriate. The writers have adopted an irenic tone, a missionary perspective, and a worshipful style. Their convictions and perspectives are epistemologically a necessary presentation of the current state of religious life. Their contribution calls for a care-confrontation of the challenges faced by religious life.  This book is highly recommended for theologians, religious, pastors, and all Christians living their faith.

-Romero D’ Souza, SDB
Salesian Pontifical University, Faculty of Theology
Jerusalem Campus, Israel

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