Spring Reading for April 2015

The Charism of Priestly Celibacy. Edited by John C. Cavadini (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2012) 184 pages; $13.25. (Reviewed by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby)


The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and Its Pleasures. Fr. James V. Schall, SJ (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2014) 155 pages; $27.00. (Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ)


Meditations before Mass with Foreword by Eugene F. Hemrick. Romano Guardini (Indiana: Christian Classics, 2014) 224 pages; $13.95. (Reviewed by Patricia Dillard)


The Charism of Priestly Celibacy. Edited by John C. Cavadini (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2012) 184 pages; $13.25.

The topic of clerical celibacy is often raised within a context of scandal or within an objection to it as a mandate for priestly ministry in Latin Rite Catholicism. The Charism of Celibacy seeks to go above such different contexts and begin afresh by presenting celibacy within a broader spiritual, theological, and pastoral context. The book is a collection of papers presented at a conference co-sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame in February, 2012.

The book consists of eight papers, with each paper as its own paragraph. The first paragraph is a paper by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher of the Papal Household. In his paper, this Capuchin friar gives a broad introduction to celibacy. Using Vatican II’s Decree on Religious Life (§12), he highlights the prophetic, missionary, and spousal dimensions mentioned in the decree, but also adds the charismatic dimension to his paper. He begins by explaining that his paper will place “ecclesiastical celibacy in completely positive terms.” In his explanation of the prophetic dimension, Fr. Cantalamessa explains that celibacy affirms marriage and asserts: “It is precisely the institution of this second state of life (celibacy) that now makes marriage itself a ‘vocation,’ and not simply a natural obligation” (p. 8). He continues: “That is why I say that the alternative state of life created by Christ (celibacy) is a help to married people themselves. It frees up marriage and each of the two spouses from the unbearable burden of having to be everything to each other and to take God’s place” (p. 9). Fr. Cantalmessa’s description of the missionary and spousal dimensions of celibacy are also highlighted by other writers in the book. In his explanation of the charismatic dimension, he writes: “One chooses celibacy, not to enter the kingdom, but because the kingdom has entered into one” (p. 19).

The second chapter of the book is by Dr. Mary Healy, who gives a summary of the Old Testament view of celibacy as a “curse.” She explains the radical reorientation of celibacy in light of God’s kingdom as lived and preached by Jesus. She summarizes these points in this way: “Jesus was celibate … the Incarnate Word who embodies God’s ineffable, undivided, faithful, eternal love for his people. His identity and mission would be completely incompatible with marriage. … Far from a refusal to marry, his celibacy is intrinsically nuptial” (p. 35).

Fr. Joseph Lienhard is the author of the third chapter of the book. In his paper, he provides a systematic review of the history of clerical celibacy. Chapter four stresses the importance of human formation in preparing for celibacy. In the chapter, Msgr. Heintz writes: “Thus, human formation is not about overcoming, transcending, or escaping what is most human, but of cultivating, nurturing, healing, and elevating by grace all that is authentically proper to our nature” (p. 68).

In chapter five, Archbishop Vigneron places clerical celibacy within the virile virginity of Jesus Christ. He develops his argument from the assertion: “I am convinced that understanding the celibacy of priests as a participation in Jesus’ virginity is the key to our being able to fulfill this part of our mission in the Church” (p. 88). Flowing from chapter five, Fr. Carter Griffin gives us chapter six by placing priestly celibacy within the context of spiritual fatherhood. He writes: “The celibate priest, then, is called ‘father,’ not from pious exaggeration or mere sentimentality, but as a statement of fact” (p. 111).

Chapter seven by Archbishop Sartain is a treasury of pastoral wisdom. Using the context of the beloved disciple from John’s Gospel, he presents four aspects of the experience of celibacy in pastoral ministry, and develops each point with biblical and lived insight. The four points are: 1) the priest’s life of prayer; 2) priestly celibacy as an abiding sign of the living presence of Christ, an eschatological sign of the kingdom of God, and a necessary sign of contraction for the world; 3) the priest as father to his spiritual family; and 4) priestly celibacy as a participation in the sacrifice of Christ, and, thus, Eucharistic in its deepest reality (p. 128).

Chapter eight concludes the book. Written by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, the paper illustrates statistical findings surrounding priestly celibacy. Among its findings: priests are happier than the average person; celibate priests who do not have preexisting psychological or emotional problems are less likely to be lonely than the average American; priests who have developed interior lives tend to be healthy, well-adjusted, very happy people. Msgr. Rossetti illustrates each of these points (and others) from collected research and data, and explains each one in detail. He concludes his paper by summarizing his research with this statement: “In the beginning of this chapter, we explored the experience of our celibate priests and the truth that emerged. Clearly, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom does not cause one to become lonely and unhappy” (p. 161).

The book could have been slightly enriched by further divisions among the chapters, such as a “pastoral part,” “biblical part,” etc. Additionally, when two authors differed in opinion, it would have been helpful to have a response from the opposing scholar, or a commentary from the editor. Nevertheless, the overall book is well worth reading and rereading. It is rich in biblical and patristic insights, spiritual perspectives, and pastoral wisdom. It is a book that should be read by every priest and seminarian, and by those in Church leadership who desire to understand the celibacy of their priests.

-Fr. Jeffrey Kirby
Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. He can be reached at his blog:


The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and Its Pleasures. Fr. James V. Schall, SJ (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2014) 155 pages; $27.00.

The great Fr. James Schall is known to most of us as a faithful Jesuit, political theorist, beloved Georgetown (Emeritus) professor and, perhaps, above all, as one of our age’s greatest essayists. Now, nominally retired, and able to enjoy the otium of having no pesky undergraduates around has allowed Fr. Schall to be more productive than ever.

This most recent volume is a collection of 53 previously published essays, testimony to how some of us just might age better with time. Unlike his earlier collection of 54 essays in Idylls and Rambles—a number chosen to correspond with a 1949 collection of Hillaire Belloc’s essays—The Classical Moment is an excellent exhibit of the Catholic mind at work in exploring and explaining what is, Schall’s preferred term for one’s wonder of reality. Each essay is around 3-4 pages and includes such reads as, “On Saving Sinners,” “On What Not to Forget,” “The Simplest Truth about Man,” and “On Lying to Oneself.”

What struck me when reopening these little treasures is how “Augustinian” Schall is, in that he appreciates deeply the ongoing narrative of one’s life story. Sure, we can sin and we can lie and we can choose to think wrongly. The problem is that we cannot divide our lives up into disparate and disconnected pieces, and then go on living as if there is no sustained identity or influence: “We can, of course, go ahead and cut our lives up into sections, into ‘idylls’ and ‘episodes,’ as Chesterton called them. But in so doing, we will soon discover that life does not allow us to forget the relation of one idyll to another episode” (p. 27). As such, Schall insists that regardless of one’s highest academic level, we all learn to see rightly, not only what is, but Who is—namely, the Love Who is the origin and goal of all that is.

As the next generation of Catholics come to age, collections of these kinds of essays are quite necessary in sustaining a vibrant culture, so, thanks to St. Augustine’s Press for this release. The inherent brevity of an essay, not only fits more realistically into the business of our days, but men like Schall keep the past alive. Without these sorts of constant reminders, we just might forget to return and re-return to the great voices of our Tradition. So, thanks to Fr. Schall for allowing, not only Plato and Aristotle, but the Church Fathers, Dante and Beatrice, Charles Williams, Samuel Johnson, Maurice Baring, Dorothy Sayers—and even Charlie Brown and Lucy—to speak through him.

-Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ
Saint Louis University


Meditations before Mass with Foreword by Eugene F. Hemrick. Romano Guardini (Indiana: Christian Classics, 2014) 224 pages; $13.95.

Fr. Romano Guardini, ordained a priest during the pontificate of St. Pius X (1903-14), was the “… founder of the movement toward (Catholic) liturgical reform. …” In Chapter 6, Composure and Participation, he assesses the achievement of the liturgical movement which “… worked to bridge the gap between the altar and people.” His chapters serve as “… discourses held before Holy Mass in order to prepare for its celebration …” (p. xii). They are the bridge that closes the gap between the Gospel and Liturgy of the Eucharist. Part One, Sacred Bearing, is “… concern(ed) with the attitude necessary to allow for, and preserve, full participation in Holy Mass” (p. 117). Within it, Guardini presents eight main “reflections on the Liturgy” (p. 6), namely: Stillness, Composure, The Holy Place, Holy Day and Holy Hour, The Sacred Act, The Word, The Congregation, and Hindrance.

Chapters 1 through 5 explore the liturgical word (p. 28), including chapters on the Stillness and Composure reflections, and the relations of silence to speech and the word. Here, Guardini states the stillness note is “… essential to the book as a whole” (p. 202). It answers the question, “When do such moments (of stillness) come into being …”—at Mass? The note also helps answer two of the first three questions in Chapter 1 that indirectly concern the purpose of the discourses, “… to reveal what the Mass demands of us and how those demands may be properly met” (p. xiii): “What do these intervals of quiet signify? (and) What must we do with them?” (p. 3).

Chapter 1 answers the third question, “What does stillness really imply?” (p. 3). For Guardini, stillness implies “… above all, that speech ends and silence prevails …” (p. 3), the negative aspect of stillness. But he defines stillness itself as “… the tranquility of the inner life—the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream” (p. 5). Guardini also suggests three time frames in which to practice stillness.

Included in one of the suggestions is the exercise of composure, the companion of stillness. The Composure reflection consists of Chapter four, Composure; five, Composure and Action; and six, Composure and Participation. Chapter 4 is concerned mostly with the differences between silence and composure, composure and the liturgy, how to practice composure, and composure as part of eternity. Chapter 5 includes, as one of its discussions, what it means “to gaze full of faith at the altar …” (p. 25).

Chapter 6 begins with a discussion on “… taking part in the sacred act …” (p. 28). The Sacred Act reflection itself explores mostly the nature of the action of the Mass, such as the various origins of a religious act: immediate experience, inner promptings, and institution. The Holy Place reflection includes Chapter 7, The Holy Place; 8, The Altar: Threshold; and 9, The Altar: Table. Chapter 7 continues a discussion (begun in Chapter 1) of the church, not only as a building, but also as a sacred room. Chapter 8 describes the altar as the threshold, the door that has two significances, “… border and crossing over” (p. 42). Chapter 9 describes the altar as the “… sacred table …” (p. 49) where, in the Old Testament, animals and first fruits were sacrificed, and now in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is re-presented as the sacrificial victim.

The Holy Day and Holy Hour reflection is taken up in the next few chapters: Chapter 10 mostly discusses the holy Sabbath of the Old Testament as a day of rest, while Chapter 11 treats the act of the Memorial of the Lord as the holy hour when “… the eternal reality of God’s earthly destiny … steps into time” (p. 59). Next come discussions of the “Revelatory Word” (Ch. 13), “Executory Word” (Ch. 14), the “Word of Praise” (Ch. 15), and the “Word of Entreaty” (Ch. 16).

The Congregation reflection (Chapters 17 and 18) concerns the relation of the congregation to injustice rectified, based on Matthew (5:23-24). Chapter 18 concerns the relation of the congregation and the Church as “lifted up out of personal narrowness by the total vitality around us …” (p. 95). The final reflection, Hindrance (Chapters 19, 20, and 21), identifies habit as “what actually hinders us from taking part in the Mass …” (p. 99). The meditation on Sentimentality provides a complete understanding of the relation between hindrance and sentimentality. Chapter 21 on Hindrance: Human Nature, reminds the reader that “God’s sacred act is planted in human imperfection” (p. 113).

Part Two is dedicated to “The Essence of the Mass,” and considers the Memorial of the Lord. Then, Guardini discusses the “… institutional nature of the Mass …” (p. 126), with explorations into the liturgical details, such as where the Mass can be celebrated (Ch. 22), the reason why the Mass is a Memorial (Ch. 23), and the fact that Jesus instituted the Memorial of the New Covenant upon the Memorial of the Passover, instituted by God (Ch. 24). Guardini discusses the nature of sacrifice, blood, and covenant, culminating in Chapter 27, in which he explains the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross—through his own sacred Body and Blood—which the Mass alone offers liturgically.

The final few chapters read best as a comprehensive unit. Chapter 28 concludes: “… participation in Holy Mass demands that we make our concept of the meal, the feast, a living one (p. 176).” Chapter 29 adds “… participation in Mass also consists in our awareness of our encounter with Christ” (p. 176). Chapter 30 sustains earlier chapters with the thought, “His self-offering is revelation; to receive him is to receive Truth” (p. 179). Finally, Chapter 32 discusses the eschatological aspect of the words of Jesus in Matthew (26:29) because he believed it was “… strangely neglected” (p. 192).

In conclusion, Guardini’s arrangement of the text established a causal relation so that Parts One and Two of his book emerge as interdependent meditations, thus challenging the reader “… to compare, differentiate, and discern causal relations and interdependencies” (p. 161) in order to acquire a true understanding of the Mass. Consequently, this restored classic provides ample prayer and insight to all those who come to be fed at the great Supper of the Lamb.

-Patricia Dillard
Freelance Writer

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